Day 11: Leaving Lleida for Barcelona. Karen and Dom’s Road Trip, Spain.

Our morning began with a moan to the hotel. We accumulated about 10 litres of water in our bucket overnight, that’s quite a lot of dripping! But, heh ho we won’t dwell and instead we are off to play a game. X-Door is a cross between the Crystal Maze and the Da Vinci Code – so, bloomin exciting! And, it’s all the rage in Espana. At 11:30 (sharp) we rang on a buzzer at a discreet venue (ooh er missus – not that kind of discreet – more like secretive) where we were greeted by Sergio, the Master Commander, as he instructed us to call him (or just Sergio if we couldn’t be arsed with that).

The premise of the game was that we were locked in a room for 60 minutes and we had to find our way out by solving a number of clues, riddles and challenges. It was Ace!!! Sergio reminded us  that we had to work together and to spot everything. He helped us out a couple of times with some additional clues, but all in all we were impressed to escape with 2 seconds on the clock. Phew! And how very filmic!

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Now, we can’t reveal any further info about the game because of course it is all ‘Top Secret’, but needless to say we recommend it. Apparently you can find it in many big cities, but we think it is a bigger hit here than elsewhere.

If you choose to accept this mission this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds…only kidding! (We felt aptly prepared for our game because we’ve been watching loads of Action films whilst we’ve been away…we know, we should have been writing instead, but Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg were calling.)

So, after all that activity we continued our journey to Barcelona. And as the road took us  along some less interesting motorway we decided to make a pitstop for lunch in Vilagrassa. We found a snazzy restaurant called El Catalunya specialising in BBQ and snails. We declined the snails… Karen has issues eating things that she’s written about, and we played it safe  with chicken and pork. So, Karen tucked in to yummy chicken and chips and Dom had three pigs feet slapped on the plate…eeeew not quite what he expected. But, bravely without complaining he scoffed them all up…Karen would have made a noise about eating anything like it and though it looked like a challenge from ‘I’m a celebrity’… these were also really yummy. (Actually, it looked like a graveyard by the end of the shift and I was half tempted to resurrect the skeleton on my plate, but that was a bit David Attenborough for me, so I had a coffee instead.)

Literally everybody else was eating these fellas… (look through the gap in the pillars and you can see a plate of the slippery little suckers!)

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Barcelona! “I had this perfect dream…” We’ve hit the east coast at last. We’ve been looking forward to Barcelona as a high point of our trip and had expected to drive into the City with Freddie Mercury in our heads and the memory of Linford Christie winning the 100m in 1992. But of course this week has put a different slant on things. We can’t ignore that, and we will have to see how the next few days play out. It is really hard to predict how such events can impact a place, and how that will in turn affect the way that we feel able to experience it too. However, in our next AirBnB venue there is an element of calm because we are staying in Port Forum Marina on a little boat…the bedroom is a bit quirky and Karen’s already blocked the toilet with a giant poo, and Dom’s broken the table, but the mosquitos are good company…(get more citronella)…and just a stone’s throw away seems to be the hippest DJ venue in Spain (our kids would love it, and on another night Karen might also be throwing some shapes, but frankly tonight we are not feeling the vibe). However it’s a peaceful waterfront idyll

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Tonight’s viewing is An Idiot Abroad (just to help us feel a bit better about our travelling selves).

Day 10: Lleida, Spain. Karen and Dom’s road trip.

It’s been a night of frustration, alternating between having the air-con on and hearing an incessant drip filling up a bucket perched on the toilet, or turning the air-con off and gradually melting into the floor. Deciding the night was best done and dusted there was only one thing to say:

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We complained to the establishment and hoped that Lleida could rescue us from our woes.

And it did! In the bright light of day, Lleida scrubs up well, especially if you have a few good recommendations from friendly faces like Andreu in the pharmacy. So we hot-footed it up the Turo seu Vella hill to the top of the town, where the resplendent cathedral looms over the city.

You can see that Karen’s capturing all the shots on camera, so I don’t have to. Tower’s a bit wonky in this one, Kazza.

It turns out that Lleida is a pretty important city in Spanish history – and the friendly receptionists at the cathedral ticket desk got us started with a visit to the Castle of the King (Castell del Rei) and then the gothic cathedral itself. Dom’s dwarfed by the giant windows, so we did a close-up too. We asked the window cleaner to hide out of view while we took these shots. Very obliging.

We had a fabulous lunch at a restaurant recommended by Andreu (thanks!), El Porton, where the staff are lovely and the food is muy delicioso – really regional, really fresh and really tasty. (Trip Advisor only gives it 3 stars, which should keep the crowds away; but take it from us, it’s worth a visit and more stars than that!) Funny how a nice meal can sort you out a treat!

Later we headed to the Connexions exhibition at the Museu d’Art Jaume Morera. There are two small salons for the collection. The first showcased more traditional work, some work by local artists and some by visitors (like John Cage) who have made art while travelling through Spain. It was a limited collection of work, so it only took about ten minutes to take it all in. The second collection was disappointing to us in its presentation and its content – we love art, and we’re real fans of lots of contemporary work, but for us this particular collection didn’t cut the mustard. Judge for yourself  – it’s free, it’s on in Lleida until October, and you might be able to fill us in on some of the virtues of the Connexions collection!

Maybe we feel a bit bah humbug today. Karen’s also gloomy because she’s had the mosquitoes feasting on her in Lleida. With that and the air-con issue, we might be being a bit tetchy.

By the way – today’s banner image is the keyboard to the interesting organ in the cathedral. To organ aficionados it might not be much to write home about, but it appealed to us for being such a tiny organ in an enormous cathedral, for being so compact in its size and piping, and for this clattery collection of keys on its manual.

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Day 9: Talarn to Lleida, Spain. Karen and Dom’s road trip.

Leaving Talarn we headed today towards the capital of the province, Lleida. It’s not a long journey but it twists and turns following La Noguera Pallaresa river, another gorgeous gorge with stunning scenery. So we stopped quite a lot to get some more snaps for the album. These are the blue waters of the Embalse de los Terradets reservoir.

Lots of opportunity to practice our selfie shots… (we know…could do better!)

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And alongside the lake are tunnels hewn out of the rock itself, looking like the naves of churches built into the cliffs.

After all this scenery, it’s a completely different landscape in the final few miles before Lleida, when the hills drop away and the industry begins. Coming into Lleida there’s not much to write home about – except for the San Miguel brewery. Think there might be a cold one waiting in the fridge…

Coming into a new town is always a bit strange, and you have to find your bearings. Lleida’s not the most inspiring city on its first impression, especially if you find yourself located as we were in the commercial district. Lots of shops, and in the back streets quite a lot of run-down residential areas. We even struggled to find a bar or a restaurant.

And although we have a nice apartment, it’s got a fundamental problem. We’ve gone with AirBnB throughout this trip, partly to be able to self-cater, and partly to get a more homely feel from the places we stay in. This apartment is fine in lots of ways, but it’s basically part of a hotel… and the air conditioning leaks into the bathroom… quite a lot… blimey…. get the towels… and a bucket… We’ve gone without air con for days but when you have it and you’re in the middle of a city in the roasting heat and all you have is a drippy air-con unit…. Looks like this is getting a frowny face from us on AirBnB!