Wednesday 13th May 2009, Torreilles, Roussillon, France
Yesterday was something of a disaster in more ways than one. Firstly this evening, as I went to write up today's blog I discovered yesterday's file was missing with everything I'd written last night lost! I dread writing it all again and in any case life has moved on and I've forgotten much of the detail.
Here goes though! We spent the day in and around Cadaqués and Port Lligat, two beautiful places on the Spanish coast near the border with France. The landscape is one of sharp arid volcanic cliffs towering as a rocky headland above the bay of Roses, near to where we'd been camping. Roses itself has a long, sandy strand and is ideal for surfing. It didn't really appeal so we headed up and over the headland, down to the bay of Cadaqués.
Our French friends from Normandy have strong links with this delightful, picturesque little town and because of them we visited it in 2005 on our journey around the coast of Spain and Portugal. The neighbouring hamlet of Port Lligat was where the charismatic and surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dali lived and worked for much of his life. We have always admired his creativity, though not necessarily understanding the result. In nearby Figueres the Dali museum houses many of his works. We visited that too in 2006 and described it then.
Yesterday we chose to visit his house in pretty Port Lligat, right on the water's edge looking out towards several small islands that were once volcanoes. His home was instantly recognisable by the huge egg shapes on the roof and the rowing boat near the entrance with a tree growing through the centre. The house is formed from several fishing cottages knocked together, extended and adapted to suit the requirements of this most eccentric of characters. Life can never have been dull with him around! Inside the rooms are decorated to reflect the very individualistic taste of its owner. There are several stuffed swans near the fireplace. In life Dali allowed them the use of his swimming pool, surrounded by rotund statues of Michelin tyre men, silk snakes, an elaborate fountain incorporating a classical statue and an iron refuse skip, and a sofa, shaped like a pair of pink lips. His bedroom, with twin red beds, overlooks the sea and contains a large collection of his elaborate walking canes. There is a central, oval shaped lounge with an intriguing echo in the centre and his studio contains a couple of half completed paintings as well as his paints and equipment – including a massive easel on pulleys so that he could work on his larger paintings while remaining seated. Outside there are several pretty, sun-drenched terraces and in the garden behind the house he has created a huge giant of a figure lying out on the sloped terracing looking like a skeletal Gulliver, with an old rowing boat imitating the ribs of the thorax, broken Spanish roof tiles forming the legs and the feet created from driftwood – it is entitled "Christ of the Rubbish".
We'd spent such a very enjoyable afternoon that it came as a particularly unpleasant shock when we returned to Modestine to find a notice from the police attached to her windscreen informing us that we had incurred a fine of 150 euros for parking incorrectly! As it was printed in miniscule type on dark pink paper in Catalan we really couldn't work out what it was about. We'd parked between two Spanish vehicles, still there and completely unscathed by the police, so what we had done wrong was a mystery. We can only assume that, as at Menton in the south of France, motor homes are not allowed to park and we'd missed the sign. In any case, we fitted neatly into the allotted parking space, which a motor home could not do, and Modestine is still officially registered as a car.
We were furious of course and decided not to camp at Cadaqués as we'd intended but to shake the dust of Spain from our heels and cross the border into France for the night rather than try arguing it out with the police. In any case, the only address on the ticket was somewhere in Girona, miles back the way we'd come. Really, if they intend picking on foreign visitors and imposing such enormous fines, the least they can do is to make sure what they say is understandable. Even most of the Spanish don't speak Catalan so why should they expect us to understand what we'd done wrong?
It's such a shame to have to flee the country with an unpleasant memory to take with us. It's exactly the same situation as Menton where we crossed into Italy feeling angry with the local French police. On that occasion we'd stopped to visit the Jean Cocteau museum while this time it was to see the Dali museum.
Before leaving Spain behind, I'd like to say that apart from this one incident, we have greatly enjoyed the last two months travelling around the country, visiting its superb cities, art galleries, museums and churches, and exploring its spectacular mountains and coastlines. The people have been friendly and generally the streets and public facilities have been kept clean and well maintained. Most of all though, the drivers are by far the safest and most courteous we've encountered anywhere in Europe. What a contrast to Italy last year! It's been two months of relaxed, pleasurable driving on well maintained roads, despite the frequently difficult mountain terrain.
The road back into France skirts the furthest tip of the Pyrenees. It hugs the coast and it a complete helter-skelter switchback of a route with wonderful scenery all the way. Concentrating so continuously is very tiring though and it was getting late by the time we finally crossed into France and reached Collioure. Many campsites are still not yet open for the season here and as we wanted to explore the town we needed to find somewhere nearby. We couldn't find a site open but up at the top of the town was a place for camping cars to park over night with water and electricity. So we joined the big motor homes and spent a perfectly peaceful night there. Of course Modestine looked comically small against the other vehicles. It is understandable that the Spanish police don't want huge French camper vans lining the cliff tops during the summer months, but they really were getting things out of proportion picking on Modestine!
So high were we above the town that this morning we were swathed in a clinging damp mist that hung over the hilltops. All around us the vines were showing their green leaves. Around here is the famed Côte du Rousillion wine appellation. The Catalan area, and its language, crosses the Spanish/French border. Roussillion was once part of Spain and both languages are spoken here. The area was once governed by the Kings of Majorca from Perpignan, and in Collioure is their summer palace.
We have written about this area before so do not wish to repeat it here. Anyone interested can read our earlier account here. Below are a few new pictures we took as we strolled around the town this morning, thoroughly enjoying being back in France.
It does feel very different from Spain. The French are generally livelier and very sociable. We seem to have been chatting continuously with different people all day. In particular we were given a personal demonstration on how to use a miracle broom by a young vendor in the market with all the persuasive charm imaginable. Later, as we browsed an exhibition of the work of the Belgian artist Thierry Pinet we were cornered by the director of the gallery who waxed very philosophical about creativity, the workings of the artistic mind and the discernment of those who recognise in a piece exactly what the artist is expressing. The French can be overwhelmingly enthusiastic and passionate sometimes and both these very different people just couldn't restrain their enthusiasm for their products. Somehow we are now on the gallery's mailing list and have been promised invitations to the next exhibition in London.
A free bus runs between the car park where we'd spent the night, and the centre of the town. It's Collioure's rather more civilised way of keeping camping cars out of the narrow streets of the town. So we were picked up by a friendly, chatty driver and whisked back up the very steep hill to Modestine. After lunch we hosed Modestine clean from two months of Spanish dust, also courtesy of the council, before moving off.
It was too late to travel inland today as there are absolutely no campsites that we know if in the area we wish to explore so it will have to wait until tomorrow morning. Instead we pottered along the coast exploring the various seaside resorts on the way. Again many of them we visited before when we were staying at Ambre-les-Espagnolettes. See entry for 10/01/2006There are still not many holiday makers around and the resorts only really exist for that, so they were rather dead and boring with lots of empty cafes and restaurants and deserted seaside souvenir stalls. The coast is flat and sandy with sparse grassland behind. The road runs to the seaward side of the Etang de Canet. Beside it we found a dozen or so fishing cottages grouped together. Their particular charm is that they were built entirely from reeds.
There are dozens and dozens of campsites around here, all open and all empty. In this area at least the prices are a lot lower than in Spain. We are the only people on this very pleasant site and with our discount card we are paying just 13 euros a night. We must be a mixed blessing as they have to keep lights on and supply hot water just for us.