"The South Beach Diet"
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
through the cobblestone streets in the tourist section of town and stopped into
the local church with its HUGE altar.
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
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
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
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
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
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
We made one
more stop at the Frankfurter Konig across
from the hotel for some wine, sparkling water and cheese before turning in for
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
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
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.
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!
Information For This Trip In A Nutshell