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Cataluña

- by Don Harris

We have found such a kaleidoscope of experiences in Catalonia. Of course, there is vibrant Barcelona, which is the most cosmopolitan of all the cities of Spain. Not far from the French border that is marked by the snow-capped Pyrenees, Barcelona has a familiar feel for those who have traveled in Europe. Strolling down the broad Ramblas boulevard, we have seen everything from stalls featuring pets and parrots, to others with local handcrafts – or the latest sunglasses and DVD’s! Dozens of flower sellers line the long Ramblas brightening the walkway with buckets of freshly cut blooms.

We especially enjoy the vast San Josep de la Boquería fresh market founded in the 13th Century. It is amazing in its vastness, stretching as far as the eye can see. Every possible vegetable, fruit, meat and fish is available in its freshest state.

The Catalan museum of art is one of our favorites – it is filled with rooms of Romanesque frescoes, wall paintings that are distinctly Catalan. Sometimes they have transferred all the frescoes of small mountain churches. However, most of the art beckons us to the winding roads of the Pyrenees. We found the unspoiled town of Vic, was just an hour out of town – its famous sausages and the art collection in the Episcopal palace fed our bodies and souls! Following further north along the road, we discovered the medieval town of Solsona, followed by the abbey church of San Joan de las Abadesas and the castle parador of Cardona. It is an art experience unavailable anywhere else in the world.

Heading due south we passed through the wine country of Priorat, the early-Christian site of Tarrasa, and on to Tarragona where early one spring we stopped to feast on calcots – grilled green spring onions garnished with the local romesco sauce of ground almonds and hazelnuts along with olive oil, peppers, vinegar and red wine. A little further is an under appreciated jewel: the Cistercian monastery of Santes Creus.

Coastal Catatonia has the famous costa brava with Mediterranean surf crashing on the rocks. It is a place where the white anchovies have been harvested since the time of the Greeks. Empordá and the environs has attracted world famous chefs, and vintners. North of Barcelona is the ancient city of Gerona, whose cathedral contains an exquisite twelfth century tapestry of the Creation. The city also has a fascinating Jewish Quarter. Nearby, we went to the historic ceramic center of Breda where terra cotta cazuelas have been made since Roman times, to the ceramic center of La Bisbal and finally the haunting ruins of San Pere de Roda jutting out into the sea.

Catalonia is an amazing place: from the gentle olive groves of the west and the mountain villages to the north, to the vigor of Barcelona and the sea to the east - and vineyards crowning the hillsides throughout. Some would say Catalonia is a country unto itself.

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