Friday, August 15, 2008

Daytrip to France

Barcelona is only a few hours from the border with France, so on Wednesday, one of my friends organized a day trip to visit. Five of us went – Laurent was the organizer – he’s French and lives in Toulouse, Francois is from Paris, Stephanie is my friend from DC with whom I had just been to Portugal, and Jaisha is also from DC.The trip was incredible. The whole day was full of picturesque little French towns on the Mediterranean and beautiful vistas, so that more than once I felt like I must be standing inside a painting. The area of southern France just across the boarder is where mountains go right up to the sea, so that sometimes you're driving along scenic mountain roads or you can choose the scenic road along the coast.
I wanted to maximize the time in France, so I started the day early – waking up at 6:30am (a feat for me, not being a morning person) to get ready and go with Laurent to pick up the car right when the rental place opened. While we were waiting for Hertz rental to open, Laurent and I started the day in French style, with espresso and croissants for breakfast.

By 8:30am, we were back at student housing to pick up the rest of the group. The drive to France was very nice – it’s always fun to watch the street signs with city names like Perpignan and Montpellier. We stopped for another espresso on the way, and arrived at our destination in the late morning.

Our first stop was in Collioure, (which I'm trying hard to pronounce correctly in my head as I type this - Laurent and Francois taught me how about a million times) which is a small sea-side town. We drove along the mountains next to town and then got out to do some hiking. Unfortunately, I had worn only sandles, but I decided that wasn't enough to stop me from hiking up the mountain to see the view. It was a bit of a challenge, but I made it (and now I call those shoes my hiking sandles).After our hike, we were ready for lunch. We drove to Banyuls, another sea-side town nearby, but we were a bit late for lunch - it was around 2:15pm, and we had a hard time finding a place still serving food. We ended up at an outdoor cafe near the beach, which was very cute, but in the ordering frenzy, I somehow ended up with pizza - not the most French of options. Luckily Francois let me try his mussels, and Laurent shared his goat cheese salad. Also, the pizza may have been a good thing, because I discovered my new favorite condiment - spicy olive oil. It's olive oil with chili peppers in it, so its very spicy. I love it! I'm hoping I can find it in the US or get Laurent to send me some. :) We also had Banyuls wine, which is kind of like port, and Laurent and Francois shared their desserts with all of us, so we finished the meal with creme Catalan (kind of like creme brulee, but as Francois explained "without the brulee") and espresso.

After the long drive, hiking, and a great lunch, we were ready for napping on the beach. We crossed the street and laid down our towels. The beach was rocky, which was kind of nice because all of your things don't get sandy. I swam a bit while we were there - the water was nice. I also went on a short hike up a hill to see the views of the beach and more of the coastline. It's all rocky and dramatic looking, and very pretty to just sit and watch.As the sun started to get low in the sky, we decided to head back to Collioure, where Laurent had made a dinner reservation for us. We spent some time walking around town - Stephanie and Jaisha bough Banyuls wine to bring home, and all three of us bought sundresses.

Collioure has a small bay with an old castle on one side, and restaurants and shops around the other. Our restaurant was right on the water, and we got a table at the edge of the terrace overlooking the bay. Despite the whole day being great, I think dinner may have been the highlight.

I briefly explained the view, but then there were also the sounds - the waves hitting the rocks below us, the French conversations at the tables around us, and the faint wind-instrument music from a concert happening across the bay. And of course the tastes and smells - all of the food was incredible. We started with bread and wine, and as my starter I had goat cheese in a tomato based sauce. Then I had tuna - perfectly cooked and served with two different sauces. For dessert we had rice pudding with apricot, and finally ended with espresso.Despite the fact that it was almost midnight when we finished dinner, I really didn't feel ready to leave France. We decided to do one last walk along the bay and out on a walkway. All being space people, we looked for constellations and ended up seeing a shooting star. Great way to end the evening.

(Also, heading home from an awesome day trip doesn't seem as bad when you start realizing that by "home" you mean Barcelona. This is a great summer.)

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