The last evening in Barcelona we met friends for dinner: in their neighbourhood, first with a beer in their social club, and then in their favourite restaurant. It’s amazing that people (three youngish guys: two in the kitchen and one waiting tables) can have a restaurant where they do nothing at all to the interior, except keep it scrupulously clean (no decoration at all!) and cook SO EXTREMELY WELL. Okay, the main dishes were just ordinarily very good, but the starters and desserts were quite extraordinarily good. Fish balls again (but much better), tiny artichokes tossed in spiced flour and deep-fried, octopus on very garlicky mashed potato, and flatbread topped with [whatever], which seems to be a Catalan staple. Then we had various meats and fishes, and finally I had mel i mata, which is a fresh cheese more solid than quark and more hanging-together than cottage cheese and firmer than ricotta, with honey and hard twice-baked biscuits that our friend says are what the Italians stole cantuccini from. I wish I’d thought of buying a whole bag of those while I was still in Barcelona!
Then, in the morning, we didn’t have time to go to Mass again because we needed to take a 10:00 train. So we took a taxi at 8:15 and had time for breakfast at the station, and I even went to the station souvenir shop to see if I could get a mosaic lizard (which I didn’t buy in the town centre, though I really wanted one). They had only flat lizards with a mosaic pattern printed on: never mind, then. They did have awesome plush dragons, green and red, but I had only 10 euros in my pocket and they cost 17,99 so I left them. Perhaps on the way back!
The AVE (high speed train) pretends it’s a plane, only on the ground: it has baggage check in a huge machine, but there was only one bored-looking woman looking at a screen and waving us through. Then we had to check in at a desk, where a man first told us to come back 20 minutes before the train would leave, and then waved us through after a cursory glance at our Interrail passes too. We’d been led to expect that they’d want ID, but nobody asked for it, neither in Barcelona nor in Madrid.
From Barcelona to Madrid we had such a smooth train! It was only when it achieved a speed of over 300 km/h that our ears started protesting. Not even in the numerous small tunnels as the train went right through hills and mountains. The South Catalan Plain has more silly-looking small round hills than is seemly for something called a “plain”. Also, the south end of Catalonia and the north end of Aragon are so desolate that one might as well be on the moon: occasional bushes, but most of it arid and empty sandy/rocky landscape. I didn’t see nearly enough people and animals anyway until we were well south of Madrid: north of Madrid Spouse saw 4 black sheep, and I saw one fox (which didn’t look red enough but it was absolutely the right shape) and two large black cows or bulls and a clutch of either geese or swans in a meadow, large and white and far away. Oh, and one man walking a dog, a man on a bicycle, and when we were almost in Madrid some people working on their allotments.
Announcements were in Castilian, Catalan and English, and I wondered whether they’d stop doing it in Catalan after we left Catalonia but they kept it up right until Madrid.
The train arrived in Madrid ten minutes early, so we had 40 minutes to change there, and we needed 33 of those! Because the station of Madrid really thinks it’s an airport, with separate arrival and departure terminals and a moving pedestrian belt. Fortunately the person at the baggage-security machine didn’t even look at her screen, and the one at passenger check-in waved us through even quicker than in Barcelona (though she did type a number wrong and her terminal said ERROR in angry red).
The next train must have been of the oldest generation of TGVs: the interior was a bit dilapidated and it shook a lot, like German trains. There was a woman in my reserved seat, and after some back-and-forth we worked out that she wanted to face forward, and I slightly prefer facing backward, so we swapped and were both happy! (Me, pointing: La dirección? She: happy nod and smile. Later I heard her speaking Italian to her travel companion so my Spanish, though correct and to the point, was probably the wrong thing.)
From Madrid to well into Andalusia we had very samey landscape. Olive orchards, and little hills, and little hills with olive trees on them, and olive trees, and hills, and did I mention olive trees? It was actually exciting to see a flock of assorted sheep (and I mean assorted: white and brown and black, young and old, big and small) among the olive trees. And to see cork oaks among the olive trees occasionally. Then we started seeing orange orchards! And orchards that were obviously going to bear other fruit that we couldn’t determine from the flowers.
We were about twenty minutes late in Sevilla, but at least we were in Sevilla! The taxi took us to the corner of the street that our apartment was on because it’s too narrow for cars. We found the house but nobody was there to let us in, so we tried calling; and again; and someone told Spouse to go to No.1 and the street doesn’t seem to have a No.1 at all, but he’d meant press the #1 bell of the house we’d already found.
We got it sorted out. The man who let us in is the father of the actual landlord, and doesn’t speak anything but Spanish, so we got to exercise ours (and use Google Translate on the phone when words failed us). We got instruction in the use of the keys; now I can use them but Spouse can’t yet, but I think he’ll learn. Two doors and two gates to open and close (and some to lock)!
This apartment is SO GOOD. We have everything — well, except a sharp kitchen knife, but we’ll remedy that tomorrow. We got a whole tray of delicacies and a bottle of very okay wine as welcome present. There’s a slightly larger than small supermarket right around the corner. We’ve already found a church near enough to just pop in, though the morning service is very late (9:30; we’d have preferred 8 but this one best fits our principle to go to the nearest church). We’ve cooked in the kitchen (asparagus and supermarket ready-made meatballs that only needed some extra smoked paprika in the sauce). We’re SO HAPPY! And we’ve got this for another two weeks.