August 15, 2005

August 6 -- Barcelona to Paraza France (The Minervois)

Today our goal was to leave the apartment by 10:00 so we could pickup the rental car by 11:00. Under the best of conditions it would be a 3 hour drive to france. And seeing that it was a Saturday in August, we were not expecting the best.

Our first hiccup of the morning was when Sam had to go to the doctor again for her throat. Pat called from the doctor's office looking for CB. Brian got sent out to find her and began walking the Ramblas. Pat called him a couple of times to see if he found her. Of course while Brian was talking to Pat he walked right by CB who said hi! And Brian didn't hear her. All turned out well when CB returned to the apartment on her own. The only thing was they forgot to tell Brian who was still searching for her.

Finally we got away with Brian being a touch cranky. We walked down to the Ramblas where we quickly caught a cab to the Hertz counter near Barcelona's train station. When we got there Bob was standing outside waiting to go in. Saturday's are busy and they pass out numbers, just like a deli. But becasue of Brian's Hertz Preferred status we were able to get right in.

We headed out of Barcelona in our Renault with no map of Spain. We brought one for France, but not Spain. We wandered through town in the general direction of France. We took several laps around some of the traffic circles. We finally got an an autopista heading north. At one point we had the choice of going the inland route or the coastal route--we chose the coastal route. We drove on and on in the general direction of France, but saw no signs for France.

We stopped at a toll plaza and, at Julie's insistance, Brian asked for directions to France with his very very basic Spanish skills. A smile always helps. We figured out that we were on the wrong road, but also got directions to get to the right one. We headed inland, through a long tunnel, then finallly on the right road.

We stopped for lunch in Girona. For those of you that don't know, this is where Lance Armstrong lives in Europe. We stayed out of the center of the city, but found a great Argentine restaurant that made pizzas and salads. Just what we needed. Julie spent about 45 minutes on the phone booking our airfare to Europe for next summer.

We headed north again and crossed the border into France (finally). We kept in touch with the other families by cell phone, the mileage markers along the highway let us know who was "leading". We heard a little crankiness in some of their voices. We called Thalia and Regis (the owners) to let them know that the Houstons and the Morris' would be there first (short lunches at an autoroute reststop).

We got off the autoroute and started heading down the local highways towards Paraza. Both of us were smiling knowing we had done the right thing in picking du Viala. The roads were lined with plane trees and surrounded by vineyards. Soon we were paralleling the Canal du Midi--we knew that we were almost there. Over the bridge and through the village of Paraza. Up on top of a nearby vineyard covered hillside was du Viala.

We drove up the driveway road (versus the Houstons who drove up a farm track) and as we approached the house CB came out with a huge smile on her face. She loved it. We quickly unloaded the car and got settled. The Morris's arrived a little later (evidently their navigator made a navigation error). Even the kids thought that it was pretty cool. It took about 30 minutes and two bottles of wine to figure out the sleeping arrangements.

Brian and Julie volunteered to go into the village to get some groceries. We were planning on eating out that night, but knew that we needed something in the house for Sunday breakfast. We drove into the village and stopped along the road where several women were sitting on a bench talking. Julie brought out her best french and tried to ask where the grocery store was-- a little difficult when she couldn't remember the word for grocery store. Finally one of the women said "epicerie?". THAT was the word!

We found the butcher shop and asked about the epicerie. The owner mimed "just a minute" as he finished the helping his customer. He then grabbed a key, went outside with us, shut the door, walked across the street and opened the door of the epicerie. You have to love small villages. We stocked up on some basics and ordered croissants, pain au chocolats, and baguettes for morning pickup.

Since we did not have enough groceries for dinner (and we were tired!) we went to the little restaurant in Paraza called La Barraca. Thalia and Regis recommended it and called ahead to let them know that we were coming. If you have seen the movie Chocolat you may remember a scene in which they hold a garden birthday party for the old lady with lots of wine and food. That pretty much sums up the experience we had. The restaurant is outdoors in a garden with lights strung in the trees. There were two swinging chairs hung from the trees that the younger kids played on. There was even a birthday party being held for an old lady. The food was rustic (for french food) and wonderful. And of course we drank lots of wine. The waitress/owner was wonderful and even spoke a bit of english. She had a great sense of humor and we enjoyed her schooling Pat on his pronunciation of french words. (Pat at one point had tried to ask for bread which in french is pain. Instead he asked for pont which is french for bridge. Gotta love him for trying though!)

Finally we got back to the villa and went to bed. It was a busy day and all of us were very happy with the villa choice that Julie had made.


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