It never fails to amaze me, that 50-odd friends go off together on a journey (=Fahrt) every couple of years, and throughly enjoy each other’s company, but that is exactly what happens. We call ourselves the Fahrters (what else do you expect?), and our magnificent Fahrtmeister and friend Bruce has led us through Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Madrid, Naples and Sorrento, and the Somme. This year it was Barcelona, and it was up there with the best.
We left our car in the driveway of a friend’s house in Linlithgow (this is significant), and the coach picked us up in torrential rain and driving winds to take us through to Prestwick for the flight to Girona. We settled in to our hotel (excellent), explored the local area (a bit run down), and walked down to the sea for our first meal (for 53) in a good restaurant.
The next day was our city tour with guide Meritxel (I never did discover the full range of differences between Catalan and Spanish, but they use a lot of X’s). The Sagrada Familia quite simply, and for once literally, took my breath away. I gasped when I went inside and stared up at the columns supporting the ceiling, I was hugely impressed by the stained glass, by the stonework, and by the detailing of the surfaces. I think it’s the most inspiring piece of architecture I have ever seen. It’s still years from completion, but even in its present state it’s one of the wonders of Europe, and I don’t say that lightly.
The other Gaudí buildings we saw in the city had too much surface ornamentation for my taste; over decorated with the brightly coloured broken tiles that were his trademark, but the organic shapes, the curves and the inventiveness of this one-off genius are staggering. I suppose my aesthetic is that of a cool Northern European. The evening entertainment consisted of a walk up las Ramblas and another good meal in a local restaurant. The following day we took a trip to the stunning Mostserrat mountain, with its Benedictine abbey. The natural landscape, of weathered sandstone cliffs and weird pillars (the so-called Finger of God), was stunning.
That evening we enjoyed a tapas supper and a flamenco performance, which inspired a new poem. We emerged from the restaurant to find ourselves in the middle of a ferocious thunderstorm, with the water running down the street like a river, and soaking us to the skin. How we laughed. (Well, what else can you do?)
Next day we were off to Tarragona, to see the Roman remains, and thence to La Vinyanova, a restaurant in a converted 16th century farmhouse. It was the best meal I’ve had in ages – one of the highlights of our trip.
The following day was free for us to do our own thing, and we chose to visit the Picasso Museum in the city’s Gothic quarter. The collection is arranged chronologically, and it was fascinating to see the artist’s development in this way. The series of paintings Picasso based on Velazquez’s Las Meninas (which we saw in Madrid on a previous trip) occupies two rooms in the gallery , and they were another of my Barcelona highlights. Picasso deconstructed the original painting into a series of individual paintings, and then re-constructed them into his own personal interpretations. A triumph of 20th century art.
Our final meal was in a local restaurant, with a course which surprised and delighted me. After heavy rains the locals go out collecting snails, and we had them cooked in a spicy, peppery sauce. They were terrific.
We flew back to Edinburgh via London the following afternoon. The Edinburgh plane was delayed by a technical problem – they couldn’t get the auxiliary engine to start – and then at Edinburgh airport a lot of us suffered a delay in getting our bags back – the baggage handlers missed a trailer load of 20-odd bags – and we thought they were lost. So it was after a considerable delay that we got on the coach for Linlithgow. We reached our friend’s house and found another car behind ours in our friend’s driveway. We woke the neighbour and discovered he’d used the driveway while the builders were using his. We got home at 2am, exhausted but happy.