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Day Twenty Three

Posted by on March 1, 2013

Second Day in Sitges

The mood in the hotel this morning was sombre. It was beyond the ability of the staff to put out the newspapers with their shame riddled headlines. Words like 'debacle', 'impotente' in heavy black typeface poured out the local feeling about their beloved Barca being humiliated at Camp Nou by those metropolitan moneybags, Real Madrid. It was nearly lunchtime before yesterdays papers were replaced. La Vanguardia, the Catalunyan daily, carried six pages devoted solely to the match and every last, painful, sordid, unbearable detail. You didn't have to be able to read or understand Spanish to catch the feeling of hurt, betrayal, wounded pride and the need to explain away what had happened. There were the pictures of Christian Ronaldo imperious, arrogant next to columns, headed 'Messi v Christiano ?' One simple picture said it all. The raised arm of a Real Madrid player wheeling away from the goal in triumph, the chins of the Barca players turned either skyward in disbelief, or downwards in despair. The goalkeeper, from hands on hips, shoulders drooped, to feet splayed outwards, signalled his incomprehension at what had just happened. This is a city and region in shock, suffering from trauma.

The warmest day in Spain so far. In the morning we lounged in the area by the pool and the bar. We knew that Sitges was not going to deliver anything exciting, so we were relaxing for our last full day there.

Only there was something niggling at the back of my mind. We hired a car in Barcelona, drove it to Sitges and parked outside the hotel. Just suppose there was some amazing attraction, just outside town that we must not miss. Would we not feel bad later, when we discovered this?

I asked at the desk. The concierge seemed genuinely puzzled, as if nobody had ever suggested that the attractions in the town were not enough for one lifetime. Or maybe he had never thought about the existence of a world outside the town. It felt as if I had started to destroy an illusion. I could be responsible for this man's whole worldview crumbling to dust. “That's OK, I'll probably just walk the other direction to the edge of town”. I turned to go back to our room. His colleague called over. “There's always Montserrat”. The first guy looked stunned; there was a world outside town. They had lied to him all his life.

No they hadn't. It's true he had not much idea where to go and he even had trouble finding the brochure for the place his colleague mentioned. Having found it though, he was full of enthusiasm for Montserrat and set about finding a route to get there. It took time to do this, obviously you couldn't get to Montserrat from Sitges without a carefully plotted route and when I suggested looking it up myself on Google maps, he was understandably indignant. After several minutes, I heard paper being ejected from the printer under the desk, which he wielded triumphantly and placed on the top, so I could see. There were two sheets. The second was blank. The first had a map of a large part of Spain, Catalunya featured prominently. Sitges however, was too small to be on it. Undeterred by the cartographers prejudices, he began to handwrite over the printed map various towns where we would have to make adjustments to our route and his pen described a line that obliterated the numbers on roads. He was very pleased with the improvements and began to point out which of the roads in grey on white were toll free and which of those in grey on white, were not. I just hoped that in real life the difference would be more obvious.

At this juncture, I ought to have gone to my iPad and Googled the route and full instructions. Better still, I should have returned to the bar/pool and done what all the other visitors to Sitges do and watch the world go by. Instead, I rushed upstairs and burst into our room waving the brochure and map like Neville Chamberlain and his piece of paper.

Buoyed up by the confidence with which the concierge had imbued the map, I began to eulogise the trip. Montserrat has funny shaped rocks, a monastery and finally, the clincher, the top trumps, it has a funicular railway. Christina was hooked. Or at least she vetoed the idea that I might go alone.

We found the car by pressing the key fob until one of them answered with flashing lights loaded up and headed for the open Spanish roads.

I could tell how excited she was by the way in which Christina gripped the door and seat, so firmly. Her eyes were only closed in ecstasy, right? For some minutes we tried in vain to leave Sitges. It was not the sheer rigidity with which they applied a one way system on every street in the town, but the lack of road signs indicating a way out. They really do not want you to leave Sitges.

Montserrat the closest we got to it

Two hours into a trip which the concierge had said would take 45 minutes, maybe an hour at most and we were stationary looking at a view of Montserrat, which we could not find the route to and unable to find, by examining our map, any indication of the road we were on, or locate a sign showing the way back to our hotel.

My explanation for our difficulties is that the road network here is brand new. All of the freeways are still being finished off. The signage does not match up with either the old, nor the new system. In town, it is easier to find a hotel than a route, because the road signs to them are everywhere. Once you get on the way between towns, there are inadequate signs. Some of them change from blue, to white, to yellow temporary ones stuck on the floor behind a mesh fence. Unless you are familiar with it all, have an up to date satnav or a detailed map, you are literally, lost.

We went through the same town Martorell twice and circled it a couple more. What have they done to this place? It used to have a fine old picturesque bridge on the outskirts that led across the river into town. It is a lovely piece of architecture with an archway at one end, a stone shelter, for tolls perhaps, in the middle and it is graceful and beautiful. What has happened to it is a travesty. The bridge is now dwarfed by two ugly, concrete flyovers, six lane highways going to Barcelona, Tarragona and other places. At one end a road has cut the bridge off from wherever it used to go. We saw an old man and a young lad, walking along the highway over the waste from the road building before walking over the bridge, so it obviously is still necessary. It is horrible what they have done in the name of progress, but which could surely have been achieved with greater sensitivity. You have to risk life and limb for a photo from the roadway.

Bridge at Martorell with highways edited out

On our last trip through town we found what promised to be the route back along which we had come, but which turned out to be the highway, complete with toll booths, but which did at least take us back much quicker. So that's the reason why Martorell must lose its character.

The hotel staff had changed shift, so the concierge did not have to answer our questions about the map and its relation to reality. Having given up on Montserrat, which looks like a giant meringue or a poor attempt at a Gaudi mountain from a distance, we chose to go into Sitges centre again. Christina needed to buy another replacement bag. The shop owner told us that February is their winter month. Three weeks of winter he said. These people don't know they are born. He told us it would rain shortly, although the day was fine and sunny. He also informed us that the temperature can change fifteen or so degrees between night and day as the cold winds pour off the Pyrenees behind the coastal area. We left the shop as the first drops of rain fell and within a minute the street was running with water. We ducked into a shoe shop, which had miniatures of shoes made by a real craftsman, probably decades ago. Then across the road into an artisan bakers, where we bought slices of quiche, surrounded by spaniards folding the umbrellas they had with them for this predicted downpour.

Fifteen minutes after that and we had a sight of the clouds being chased across the bay by the rising moonlight and we made it back through town along the esplanade without having to wring out our clothes at the end. Good thing too as we had to pack them away for the next days journey.


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