Barcelona is a BIG city. After arriving late Saturday night it seemed the best way to get indoctrinated the following morning was the hop on-hop off bus that all major European cities offer. This is not a place to discover on foot. As it turned out, the impression from that bus tour (there were actually two) was consistent with our observations that followed. An expansive city with some delightful jewels found in a sea of densely populated square blocks of similar looking buildings. The jewels were well worth discovering, but you had to seek them out. Fortunately our hotel was right in a strategic tourist area very near the Old Town and well known Market.
Among the jewels found around the city were some architectural gems that attract fans from around the world. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Picasso museum. And of course I was most inspired by the flamenco dancers. We saw one show in an old theater with an open bar in the back where loud fans served as the air conditioning. And another in an elegant historic building that may just be the perfect venue to view any show. Yes, I danced the flamenco for Sugar that night on the expensive mall outside our hotel. She videotaped, but too modest to show here.
A few final thoughts. This was the first stop where we stayed in a hotel so for the first time we actually watched some TV. Was good to get caught up in some news from the States, and interesting how virtually every other channel was focused on either local soccer (the Barcelona football club is huge) or old westerns. They love old American westerns, all dubbed in Spanish of course. And all old. I mean Marlin Brando and Ronald Reagan old. Several channels show these old westerns 24/7. Next and last stop: Lisbon.
Never in my life did I ever expect to run into Snow White on a cobblestone street in a Middle Ages city and receive a personal invitation to watch her live performance. But it happened here, and we were delighted with her enchanting performance. Avignon holds around 100,000 inhabitants all tucked inside ancient Roman ramparts, a topography of narrow winding streets. We arrived on day one of a three week theater festival and every street was packed with tourists enjoying the vendors and actors promoting their shows. There are over 800 theaters of all shapes and sizes inside this charming city, so the challenge was to choose which shows to attend. Our choices were quickly influenced by friendly personal encounters with performers or directors, and a tactical decision to focus on dance and music where the language barrier was not such a challenge.
Among the many wonderful people we met was the Italian writer/producer Carlotta Clerici, who was kind enough to give us a free ticket to her dramatic play. She asked that we stop to meet her after the show, and I surprised her with a copy of my book.
Of course not every person possesses the talent to perform. One thing I enjoyed about France is the individualism of people to come out and express themselves however they wish. We saw people dressed in so many unique styles and everyone just seems to accept you for who or what you are.. so when we saw a homeless man contentedly sketching a landscape from his perch we just assumed he was an established artist. He was so delighted when Sugar showed a curiosity in his work, which looked like maybe grade school level. He even dramatically signed his name when Sugar took out some coins from her purse. But rather than accepting the scratchy drawing she simply thanked him for his time explaining the drawing.
So goodbye to France. Barcelona awaits.
Leaving the lavenders of Valensole left us wondering what more the French countryside could offer. An answer came quick and more continually followed with surprise after surprise . Our first impression was an emotional visit to an old mental institution which housed the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh leading to the final year of his life. The tranquil setting exhibited the work he did here and even recreated the room he was housed in. Fortunately, this particular institution bucked popular trends at the time by caring for the patients using art in a tranquil setting vs treating them with cruel procedures to kill the supposed evil spirits. This fortuitous timing allowed Van Gogh to create over 150 works in that year, (including some of his most famous) before his release and ultimate suicide with the belief that he was a failure.. We also visited nearby Arlen, where Van Gogh infamously cut off his ear and where the photo above was taken. If you look close, you may also recognize this cafe as the exact same one which inspired the painting below.
For five days we stayed in a 800 year old home in St. Remy. Thick stone walls cooled the home on the hottest days. And we spent every day driving around the picturesque countryside, where charming cities and villages popped out of nowhere snider the mountain valleys and sometimes mountain tops. My favorite was Fontaine de Baucluse,, a charming village at the base of towering mountains. Here the most refreshing waters pour from the mountains and caves to form a river so brilliant and clear that the green foliage underneath makes the river appear more like a lush green meadow then an actual river.
When she was a girl growing up in a small town in China, Zhen read a fairy tale about a French girl who lived In the region of Venesole, France. The story painted a romantic setting of picturesque countryside surrounded by vivid purple fields of lavender. Ever since that reading, Zhen has dreamed of one day visiting this region…. and now that dream has come to life.
It doesn’t matter which meandering country road you travel, you will be met with endless fields of purple lavender sprinkled in the open fields between rugged mountains and majestic gorges. Much to our luck, we arrived just in time before the harvest season removes these enchanting purple fields for the mass production of lavender products. We did manage to see the beginning of the harvest in one field, and purchased home made products from another local family farm.
As always, it’s the locals who add the true color to each visit. Walking through this small town, I was shocked to learn one resident t walk up and down a steep hill 5 times each morning and evening to fill his water buckets from a spring well to water the plants outside his upstairs flat. We also enjoyed staying on a small farm just outside the village, where Zhen easily adapted to the country lifestyle of her fairy tale setting.
Author - Andrew Bajda
Since publication of my book in December of 2016, so many amazing things have happened on both a personal and professional level. As the journey continues to evolve, I'll update my travel adventures on this blog, and invite you to join me along the way.