day 3 :

tuesday, 13 september

We spent today exploring the Costa Brava. We went to L'Escala in search of anchovies - this town is reputed to produce some of the best in Catalonia. After wandering around the Greek and Roman ruins (dating back to 575 B.C.) at nearby Empúries, we realized that we had let the morning slip away and all of the shops in L'Escala were closed for lunch (typically from 1-4PM in Spain, though each town and shop is a little different). So, we left empty-handed, trekked back to Roses for lunch, and then on to the small town of Portlligat to visit Salvador Dali's house. The drive to Portlligat was incredibly scenic - there's just one twisty little road that follows the contour of a Pyrénée mountain, which is a lot of fun to drive, what with the constant shifting, braking, turning.

Dali's house was definitely worth touring. It's located right on a bay full of colorful fishing boats, with Dali's main painting room looking out onto the water, bathed in natural light coming in through the multitude of windows. The house is, interestingly enough, a combination of several fisherman's huts that were purchased over a number of years, weaved together to form a single labyrinthine house. Dali's eccentric artwork is in full display on the top-floor patio and pool - it produced the appropriate surreal experience for us as we walked through it and marveled at the unusual juxtaposition of pieces.

We were fortunate enough to have one of our best dinners of the trip tonight at a little 5-table restaurant called Rafa's, located in Roses. Many people had spoken highly of it on, and they were right on. The restaurant is only open when there's a good, fresh seafood catch available, and fortunately for us, it was open tonight. We told our hosts that we eat everything, and to bring us whatever they wanted to make us. We had pa amb tomaquet (the best one we had on the trip), boquerones en vinagre (a little too vinagery for our taste), sea snails, tallarines (these are also known as coquinas, and Dawn pronounced them the "best clams ever"), squid and cuttlefish, and langoustine and gamberi prawns (both full of sweet, rich meat). Amazingly, we still had a little room left in our stomachs, so Rafa's wife (our hostess) asked Rafa to prepare us a fish as he was busy talking to the only remaining customers - obviously friends - at the table behind us. He saluted, got right behind the counter, and started preparing a fish for us, all the while continuing his lively and loud discussion with the table behind us. This was one of those times that we really wished we knew more Spanish (and in this case, Catalan, not the basic Castillian we learned before our trip), as we would have liked to know what the exciting topic of the evening was. A few minutes later we feasted on a whole gallineta fish (Redfish ocean perch), which was delicious - the secret ingredient to this and some of the previous dishes was vinegar which balanced the flavors perfectly. We left well after midnight feeling quite full and happy.

As we traveled, we collected notes on things that we'd like to do if we ever return to the area, mostly for our own purposes, but we share them with you here in case anyone finds them useful. Here are our notes for the Costa Brava:
  • Drive the windy, "torturous" drive between Tossa de Mar and the other seaside towns. It's supposed to be like Highway 1 in California: twisty, scary, nauseating, but complete with stunning ocean views from high cliffs.
  • Eat at SnackMar/Las Golondrinas in Roses - the chef/co-owner was the chef of El Bulli Catering, and the menu includes a rotation of El Bulli's greatest dishes. Just across the street from Rafa's. We had only one dinner available to choose either Rafa's or Las Golondrinas, which was a tough choice.
  • Buy some local anchovies in L'Escala, when the shops aren't closed!
  • Visit Girona - we've heard it's a beautiful medieval city, and well worth going to.
  • Take a boat ride between Roses and Cadaqués.

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