The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris

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Catalunya, Spain
April 2010
"The South Beach Diet"

Nonrevenue travelers have one of two choices. You can choose WHERE you want to go, or you can choose WHEN you want to go, but not both. We chose the WHEN this time. The WHERE would be wherever we could get in Europe. Madrid was looking promising, until the volcano in Iceland blew 2 weeks before we were to leave. Volcanic ash disrupted air travel all over Europe for several days and news reports predicted it would be weeks and maybe even months before things got back to normal. We decided to go another direction. Costa Rica was looking good, flight-wise and neither of us had been before. The only deterrent was the weather report. It was to be high 90's and raining every day. Perfect. Perfect, if you like vacationing in a sauna, that is. Thankfully, air travel righted itself much sooner than predicted so Europe again became a possibility.

Madrid turned out not to be as open as Barcelona, so we again switched our destination. We would rent a car out of Barcelona and retrace our steps from our bicycle trip last year. This time, since we weren't on bikes, we would be able to shop at the lovely little pottery shop we had found and make it all the way up the winding mountain road to Cadaques. The weather forecast showed rain all week, but we were optimistic that it would prove to be wrong.

Our loose plans consisted of a car reservation with Alamo for 3 days, a hotel reservation for one night in Barcelona, and an email from a hotel in Cadaques saying they had rooms available and asking for a credit card to confirm with a 48 hour cancellation policy. Of course, we couldn't confirm since we didn't know if we would actually get there. BJ's phone was activated for international email so she could email the hotel to confirm the rooms once we landed.

One difference between this trip and our previous trips was that we had just started the South Beach diet. With BJ's 30th College reunion coming up in September, she felt the need to get into shape, and Tony could stand to drop a pound our two also. It would be especially difficult since we were still in the first, most restrictive phase of the diet. No bread, no pasta, no potatoes and no alcohol, all staples from our previous trips.

We stopped into the Sky Club on the way to the gate. "Club soda, please." Seated in business class on the plane, "Club soda, please." [Tony:  Let me interject here... I ignored the "Tony could stand to drop a pound..." remark but I can't ignore the "no alcohol" inaccuracy. While I agreed to EAT like South Beach suggests on this trip, but I was too weak to skip the alcohol in Business class, or on a trip. Future references to "we", with regards to alcohol, actually means "BJ".]  The appetizer, soup and salad were all probably a bit of a "cheat" for the diet, but not too bad for us. We split the cold entree of roast beef, chicken, and a deviled egg, and finished off with a piece of cheese. All in all, not a bad start for the diet trip.

We managed to fall asleep without the usual glass of wine and slept until we landed in Barcelona. We made it through immigration and took the bus from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 to catch the train to Barcelona's Central train station where we would pick up the car.

3 each and 3 stops later, we were searching the Sants train station for the Alamo/Atesa counter. The agent spoke no English so it took awhile to negotiate the rental counter and finding the car was even more difficult with Spanish instructions. The agent was able to communicate to us that they (Atesa) would not honor the included additional driver that our Alamo reservation showed. No worries, we didn't plan to need an additional driver anyway, we were just asking because the reservation said it was included. We would, however, let Alamo know of the breach of contract. After returning to the rental counter a second time we finally understood that we needed to EXIT the train station before turning left to find the parking deck. The rental cars were on the top deck of the parking lot, but we had to go back to the bottom to get the parking ticket that we had been given validated. The Atesa office in the parking lot was unmanned but we finally found an attendant walking around who gave us the keys to our little diesel Citroen. We made it away from the train station shortly after 11AM, having landed in Barcelona at 9AM. Equipped with 3 GPSes [Tony:  Actually 5 GPSes, BJ's phone and my phone both have GPSes] and an 8.50 map between the 4 of us, getting out of town should have been a breeze, but somehow we managed to make a few wrong turns.

We decided to head toward Pals, the beautiful little medieval town that we had visited before. We each programmed our GPSes and each one gave a different arrival time. They were all Garmins, but probably the different operating systems and different maps accounted for the difference. Somehow, the backseat GPSes always had us arriving a few minutes sooner than the front seat GPS. We figured we would have to back into our destination. We took a couple of toll roads. One of the tolls was calculated by weight, making us wish we had gone on the diet much earlier!

We drove through the little village of Llagostera hoping to find something for lunch, but there weren't many appealing looking restaurants. We drove on to Calonge were we found the little roadside restaurant L'Emporda.

The staff spoke no English and presented no menu, but placed a bottle of wine and a bottle of water on the table. We were quite confused. We figured out that he was asking us if we wanted fish soup or chicken. BJ walked back out to the front of the restaurant to look at the sign board. We finally determined that it was a fixed price menu.

BJ ordered the chicken. It came with french fries. She tried to order spinach which was on the menu and was told simply, "No". Since we were trying to stick to the diet, we just ate the chicken and some salad with oil and vinegar.

The initial plan had us just making a stop in Pals and then moving on to a new town for the night, but since it was already 4PM when we arrived, we decided to just stay there. We drove to the Barris Hostal at the edge of town where we had stayed before but couldn't get anyone to answer the door. We hadn't brought any of our tourist information from previous trips, so we decided to go back to the Tourist Information office to ask about other accommodations. The TI didn't open until 4:30 and we had a few minutes to kill so we chose shopping as our pastime. There is a really cute little pottery shop next to the TI. We really wanted to go to the smaller pottery shop down the hill where we remembered the prices were cheaper, but it wasn't open. When the TI opened, the really nice girl behind the counter offered to call the hostal for us. She gave us a stack of maps and information about the area too.

Since we knew the hostal had rooms for us, we didn't feel like we needed to rush so we stopped at Cafe de la Pruna near the parking lot for a cup of coffee for the dieters and wine for the others. It was a beautiful day so we enjoyed the unexpected sunshine and were entertained by a family with small children having fun in the courtyard.

Back at the hostal, after a stop at the Spar for some supplies, we knocked on the door. When it wasn't immediately answered, BJ pressed her nose against it, only to be startled by the man on the other side. We communicated in our broken Spanish that we wanted 2 double rooms. The man spoke only Catalan which is similar to Spanish with a little French and Portuguese thrown in. The price for the rooms was the same as it had been the year before, 50. Very reasonable! Breakfast, we remembered from the year before was rolls and coffee for 4 each. We decided against it since it was not "South Beach" friendly.

We did a little more wandering around old town and then had dinner at El Pedro, another repeat from the last trip. The town and restaurant were strangely deserted, very different from our memory of the year before. We, again, struggled to find diet friendly food. BJ ordered asparagus and pork while Tony opted for the traditional Catalune "bottifara"; sausage and white beans. BJ's pork was served with french fries but she resisted! Water "con gas" substituted for our usual wine.

We made it a pretty early night since it was our first night.

Gathering at 9AM on Saturday, we loaded our bags in the car and headed back toward old town Pals. As we left the hostal, it started to hail. We were very thankful not to be riding bicycles in this weather. We stopped for coffee at La Vila and watched several bikers ride up in their rain gear.

The small pottery store was open now and BJ bought 2 large bowls, one for 6,50 and one for 8. Up the hill, she bought an olive bowl and some mosaic animals. Tony was skeptical that all of these items would fit in our carry on luggage.

Once we had finished shopping we struck out for the fishing village, L'Estartit for lunch.

We found the lovely little restaurant Les Salines overlooking the water. We sat outside under an awning while the weather alternated between a light rain and sunshine.


BJ decided on hake as her entree. She was quite surprised at the presentation. Bulging eyes and needle teeth made it look less than appetizing but it was actually delicious. Later our internet research described hake as "the Rodney Dangerfield of the whitefish world. It's the fish that just can't get any respect."  It tasted delicious, however.


Tony ordered roasted chicken. Both were again served with potatoes which we again resisted, and a green salad served as our vegetable.

We made another stop in L'Escala so our travel companions could try the Sangria at La Punxa. Water "Con gas" was the substitute, not nearly as appealing but diet worthy. The Sangria was served in a clear pitcher and we could see about 1/2 cup of undissolved sugar at the bottom. The girls said it was much too sweet. Maybe they were just saying that so we wouldn't feel bad. We sat outside, watching the activity at a sidewalk market, enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze, glad that the weatherman was wrong.


It was a relatively short drive to Cadaques, but very narrow, winding, and somewhat frightening with sheer drop offs. At one point, one of the nervous travelers rather harshly admonished Tony for fiddling with the GPS when he should be watching the road. We teased her about it later, making it sound much harsher than it had really been.

We made it safely to the Hotel Nou Estrelles and checked in around 5PM. The hotel had no private parking but advised that we could park in the pay lot for 18 or on the next street over for free. Of course we chose free. By this time, our luggage was laden with pottery so we were happy that the hotel had an elevator.

We started toward the waterfront and passed another pottery shop. BJ bought yet another large bowl. This one was like the "helmet" bowl she had admired on the previous bicycle trip. She had threatened to buy it then and wear it as a helmet since we couldn't carry it on the bike. Tony reached a new height with the roll of his eyes when BJ emerged from the store with the large bowl.

The shoreline was fronted by shops, restaurants and lodging.

We took a walk out to the point to look back at the town.

We stopped for some tapas of olives and cheese at Meliton. Instead of beer or wine, we chased them with water and coffee. We again, sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

We couldn't pass up the playful mosaic puppy we passed on our way to look for a restaurant for dinner. We also found a mosaic dolphin that would make a great gift for our friends' beach house.


We chose the restaurant La Lluna one block from the beach. BJ tried the monkfish which was swimming in butter and served with french fries. Tony's steak was covered in a creamy cheese sauce and served with french fries. Neither were very diet friendly, but maybe the water con gas would counteract the excess calories.


We stayed up late talking. BJ fired up a rivalry between the two who went to public school and the two who went to private school. She concocted a test to prove which was better. The private school attendees were instructed to spell onomatopoeia and multiply 13 x 47 while the public school attendees test consisted of spelling cat and multiplying 2 x 3. She claimed that the test proved public school attendees were smarter. The humorous rivalry continued for the rest of the trip.

The next morning, we were all tired so we got a slow start. We walked to the waterfront for coffee at the Snack bar S'entina and then took a stroll around the tourist section. The view from the top of the village was very pretty with all of the terra cotta roofs.


We walked through the cobblestone streets in the tourist section of town and stopped into the local church with its HUGE altar.

We stopped into one shop where the colorful proprietor made BJ model while he performed scarf magic, transforming a scarf into various forms.

We made one more stop in the pottery shop before heading out of town. The drive down the winding mountain left us feeling a little queasy, so we stopped at a gas station for some salty snacks. We targeted Banyoles as our stop for the night, putting us close enough to Girona to stay there if Banyoles turned out to be a bust (which it did).

We passed three hookers on the side of the lonely country road. They were each standing or sitting in a chair on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It was very strange. We thought the first one we saw might be waiting for a bus, but then we saw the other two in the exact same predicament and decided they were prostitutes.

We found a timely stop for lunch at the Restaurant Bar L'Era, on the side of the road near Fluvia. 

BJ ordered Ham and Asparagus. Tony had the sausage (which came with french fries again, but he was able to substitute excellent grilled red peppers for the diet killers) and the girls had spaghetti.

We rolled through Banyoles twice but couldn't find a trendy tourist area. It seemed to be a very industrial town, so we decided to go to Girona where we knew we could find a good hotel and some good restaurants. We stopped at the Husa Ultonia where we had stayed before. We had emailed them earlier to ask the rate and were told 90 but when we asked at the desk, it was 65. The lobby and halls of the hotel had been renovated but the rooms were still the same. Adequately clean and comfortable but nothing fancy.

We made a stop at the Cafe Irlandes Irish Pub for coffee (or wine, depending on your dietetic needs).

It started to rain while we were in the pub. We donned our rain gear and went out in search of a one more glass of Sangria before dinner.  The girls were sure they could convince the staff at La Toscana to bring them Sangria without the cup of undissolved sugar at the bottom.  We found a seat by the door at La Toscana and tried to explain our request to the waitress.  We thought we had made it clear, but again, the pitcher came to the table with about a half cup of sugar at the bottom.  The agua con gas came without sugar!

Le Cafe Bistrot at the top of the steps had been very crowded on our last trip so we thought it must be good. We were a little disappointed. BJ ordered the goat cheese salad, but it had croutons and raisins and was drenched in creamy dressing which the diet does not allow. Tony's pork medallions were served with cous cous which is also a no-no for the diet. The other girls had pizza which utilized a slice of bread for the crust. The toppings which they shared with us were delicious but they didn't care for the bread.

We made one more stop at the Frankfurter Konig across from the hotel for some wine, sparkling water and cheese before turning in for the night.

Monday, we arose at 8:00AM to a rainy day, planning to leave the hotel by 9. We needed to be back in Barcelona to turn the car in by noon. We made a quick stop at the restaurant Vienna for some coffee and then started the drive.

Again, our GPSes predicted different times of arrival. Tony had set a waypoint at the parking deck at Central station so we honed in on it without all of the confusion we had leaving Barcelona. We had a little trouble figuring out which entrance to use, but got the car back in plenty of time.

We took the metro to the Liceu station and crossed the busy Las Rambles to the Mare Nostrum Hostal where we had stayed before. On our previous trip, we had found the hostal to be an acceptable place for a one night stay before returning to the airport so we booked it again. On the internet, we were only able to reserve one double room with shower at the rate of 65 and one triple room for double use with a shower for 90. We asked at the desk if we could get another double for 65 and were happily accommodated. On this trip, we were either less tired or more sober because we found the hostal to be completely unacceptable this time. As we started to our rooms, we noticed there was, what we presumed to be, a hooker in the hallway. Our tiny room had a shoilet at one end, similar to the one we had on our cruise down the Columbia River. There was barely enough room to walk around the bed and a frosted glass partition separated the shower/toilet combination from the room. It offered very little privacy so when sitting on the toilet, we may as well have been in the bedroom. The tiles on the floor were mildewed, and of course, wet after we showered. If BJ had not brought her flip-flops, it is doubtful whether either of us would have showered at all.

We dropped our luggage and set out in search of the Rick Steves' recommended street, Carrer Merce that was supposed to be packed with tapas restaurant after tapas restaurant. We found the street, but it was deserted. There were many small closed garage doors that could possibly have hidden tapas places, but there were no signs indicating what time they might open. It was rainy and cold by now, so we decided to take a bird in the hand and stop at Cerveceria Vendimia, a tapas restaurant that seemed to cater to the blue-collar workers in the area. Most of the tapas were fried, but we pointed to a what looked like raw beef on a stick, and the girls shared a pizza.

The proprietor cooked our beef and our pizza and brought it to the table along with a hatchet for the pizza. He had to show the girls how to use the hatchet. Our meat tasted like spicy pork and was delicious. We realized we were in Barcelona now when we got the bill. Everything is more expensive in the city. We paid more for meat on a stick and a small pizza than we had paid for some of our full meals at the smaller towns.

Trying not to let the rain dampen our spirits, we took the Metro to the Lesseps station and hiked up to Parc Gruell. On the way up the hill, we found more shopping opportunities, adding a few more mosaic animals to our collection. We admired the giant mosaic exhibit at the entrance and then walked around the park.


We followed the signs to the three crosses (Les Tres Creus). We thought these might be beautiful mosaic crosses but instead they were grey stone crosses on top of a mound of rocks.


There was a nice view of Barcelona from atop the mound of rocks (or would have been, had it not been for the haze).  We were glad we had not spent our entire trip in Barcelona.  It was obvious from the puddles that it had been raining for days.


After a bit, we made our way back to Las Rambles and our hotel to dry off. Our path took us through the crowded market where we admired the fresh meat and produce.


We stopped into the Irish Rambler Pub next door to the hostal for some refreshments, but they served neither coffee nor sparkling water.

We found the Rick Steves recommended restaurant El Xampanyet with the garage door down. Just as we were about to turn away, the garage door started moving and the restaurateur came out. We asked what time they opened and he said, "8:30, but we are fully booked for the night." We were near the tapas street we had been on earlier so we took a chance that those restaurants might be open now and hiked over there. No dice. We passed the El Setial restaurant on the way that looked warm and welcoming. By then, we were pretty miserably drenched so we settled ourselves inside. We had some really good fresh grilled vegetables as appetizers and some mediocre entrees of sea bass and sausage.

Back at the hotel, we hung our coats and backpacks up to dry while we slept.

On departure day, we got up at 5:45AM planning to leave the hotel at 6:45AM for a 7:09AM train back to the airport. BJ packed all of her heavy pottery purchases into her roll-aboard, stuffing the mosaic animals into Tony's backpack.

Watching CNN while getting dressed had us worried, as they were reporting that UK airports would be closing at 0700, since the volcano was acting up again. As we left the hotel, there were two sets of teenagers reeking of alcohol having sex in the stairwell of the hostal. Yet another nail in the coffin for the Hostal Mare Nostrum. We would never stay here again.

We didn't allow quite enough time for the commute to the airport, but luck was on our side. We bought our metro tickets just as the metro train was approaching. We all made it through the turnstile and onto the train but because of the early hour, the train made extra long stops at each station. When we got to the Central Train station, we thought we could buy our train tickets from a machine and avoid the ticket line, but the ticket machines didn't show the airport as an option so BJ stood in line at the ticket counter while the rest of us tried to figure out the machines. BJ finally made it to the counter, bought the tickets and we raced down the escalator to the track just as the train (which was 2 minutes late) was about to pull out.

After the hectic race to the airport, we were pleasantly surprised at the leisurely check-in for our flight home. We were all given business class seats at the check-in desk rather than having to go to the gate and wait to be called. Immigration and security were no problem either so we got to the gate with over an hour to spare.

Chicken and Beef were our meal choices accompanied by various South Beach approved beverages. We watched lots of movies (Crazy Heart, Pirate Radio, Its Complicated, Leap Year, Precious, Book of Eli, Dear John, and A Serious Man) and were soon landing in Atlanta.

We had to go through yet another security checkpoint in Atlanta (heaven knows why). BJ's bag was so heavy with pottery that she needed help lifting it on and off of the belt. It was such a distraction that Tony forgot to pick up the bin with his laptop and toiletries and we left the airport without them. We got all the way back to our car (in BJ's office parking lot) before we realized it so we had to trek back to the airport, wait in the security line and ride the train back out to E Concourse where we found the bin behind the security desk.

Another great trip, even on a diet!

Destination Information For This Trip In A Nutshell