North Catalonia

Heatwave in Perpignan

Mike and I have spent the last week in North Catalonia but we are not in Spain, we are in France.  Apparently this part of the world was ceded to France by Spain in 1659 in exchange for France’s abandonment of the protection that it had given to the recently founded Catalan Republic.  It is interesting to see Basque Country crossing borders and Catalonia Country doing the same.  We are driving into Spanish Catalonia as I write this article. 

Actually, when Mike and I arrived in the small town of Port-la-Nouvelle we didn’t think about coming to North Catalonia, we just knew that we were finally arriving at the Mediterranean.  Our campsite is about one or two kilometres from the Sea.  We have been extending the canal biking we were doing to biking along the Mediterranean.  

Courtesy of www.dalipaintings.com

The capital of Northern Catalonia is Perpignan which is a lovely city to visit.  There is a canal that runs right through the centre of the town.  One of the Catalan painter Salvador Dali’s best known paintings is “La gare de Perpignan” or the “Perpignan train station”.  Thanks to Dali, Perpignan is known as the “center of the world”.  Dali, who was definitely a little strange, saw the universe “similar in its structure to the Perpignan station ”. The station is nicknamed the ” center of the world “, according to the words of this painter, who referred to it several times as the “cosmic center of the universe”.  Perpignan has taken this to heart and so the myth was born.

Salvador Dali

Perpignan was a heavily fortified city a few centuries ago.  The town walls were dismantled toward the end of the 19th century.  In one spot, the old town walls are still standing.  This is because houses were built right on the top of the walls and fortifications.  The old town wall is now a support wall and a retaining wall and so part of it remains standing.  Many of the larger towns or cities have a hop-on hop-off bus tour or a small tourist tram to take you around these areas.  Mike and I often try to take one of these rides when we enter a city for the first time.  It gets us nicely oriented and then we are on our own.

The Catalan flag flies over many towns in this area and can be seen everywhere in Perpignan.  Many people speak the Catalan language and it is available on all the audio  tours that we go on.  In addition to the Catalan flag, you see quite a few Ukranian flags flying. Yesterday, we were in a department store when we saw an entire children’s section where all the clothes where blue and yellow showing support for Ukraine. 

Worst part of long distance cycling

The picture here shows the worst part of our long distance cycling for Mike – trying to get the bikes across the tracks when there is no elevator.  Bridges are worse than tunnels as they are higher with more steps.

Mike and I were staying at another one of these low cost camping spots that are just great for us.  Their location is often excellent and they provide water, electricity and dumping which is all we need.  You don’t see many families camping here unless it is for one night enroute to somewhere else.  There are no washrooms or sinks.  The site we just stayed in was in the small seaside town of Port-la-Nouvelle.  Most nights there were five or six other vehicles in the campground.  One morning we walked out of our camper to a completely deserted campground.  Given that this site has spots for 100 vehicles, being the only souls there was a very weird feeling.  We left for a drive to Narbonne.  On a stretch of highway where the speed limit was posted a 130 km/hr we saw a car towing a caravan start swaying back and forth across 3 lanes of the the road, eventually jackknifing and blocking all 3 lanes.  Luckily we were able to get past on the shoulder.  I don’t think anyone was hurt but both the SUV and the caravan where in rough shape.  That left another bad feeling.  Not a great way to start the day.

Canal in the middle of Perpignan. Lovely to see.

We continued on to Narbonne for our 3rd visit.  Twice we were on our bikes either starting from or ending up at the Narbonne train station and once we just wanted to wander around.  The Archbishop’s Palace in Narbonne is the second most import archbishopric complex in France after Avignon.  Mike and I were looking forward to touring it.  We had just got back into town from our bike ride and went straight to the ticket office at 17:15 (5:15 PM).  The Palace closed in 45 minutes.  Mike and I figured that was plenty of time for us to walk around.  The ticket agent didn’t think so.  Even without English she made it quite clear that she thought we needed more time and should come back the next day.  Of course there never was a next day.  When we come back from Spain in a couple of weeks, I am hoping that we will be able to visit Narbonne again and tour the Archbishop’s Palace.

Archbishop’s Palace

An interesting piece of trivia.  Narbonne has 50% more hours of sunshine per year than Toronto does (3,000 vs 2,000 hours).

The Cathedral of Saint-Just and Saint-Pasteur is magnifique and dominates the Narbonne skyline!  It is a huge High Gothic style Cathedral built between 1272 and 1340.  It is incomplete and will never be finished.  It is only the fantastic choir section that can be visited.  Church pews have been installed in this section.  The vaulted ceiling here soars soared more than 40 metres (>130 ft).  In the 1300s the plan was to demolish the city ramparts to provide the stone to continue building the cathedral.  The town council refused because this era was full of unrest and therefore the cathedral was never completed. It is still the highest and largest cathedral in the South of France.

I thought I would finish with a little bit about labour laws in France that we have found quite interesting.  In 2000 France passed a law stating that the legally required work week should not exceed 35 hours.  Companies complained and a compromise was reached.  The extra hours over 35 are estimated with the industry unions and are added on to vacation time.  French law gives 5 weeks vacation per year.  With these extra hours people often end up with 8 – 10 weeks of vacation every year not counting the statutory holidays.  Of course this just shows that the 35 hour work-week is a myth in most cases.  In addition employees are not to eat lunch at their desks.  Lunch is an important part of the day and is intended to be much more than a quick sandwich.  Children go to school for 6 weeks and then they get 2 weeks off, before starting again. 

In 2017 France introduced the “right to disconnect” law.  Businesses with more than 50 employees have to let their employees disconnect from email/phone/text etc. outside of normal working hours or while on vacation.  There is absolutely no coming into work on Sundays in most industries and a company can be fined if their employees are in the office.  I wonder how they will handle the trend of employees working from home.

This is a flower that Mike saw when he was on his own while I was writing the previous article.  It fascinated him so much that he took me back to see it. Like normal, the flower grows on top of the stem only then the stem continues to grow through the middle of the flower coming out the top and another flower forms at the new top.  This process continues.  So a single stem might have 3 or even 4 clusters of blooms with a foot of stem separating each cluster.  As you can see from the photo, a single plant could have more than 100 stems which almost hid our Lincoln. It was so big.  This one street in France was just full of these flowers.  According to Google, Mike thinks that they are Jerusalem or Turkish sage.

As I write this, Mike and I are on our way to Barcelona.  When we got up this morning we didn’t know where we were heading.  We had found a camping place north of Barcelona much like the one we are in now and very inexpensive (10€ or $14 Cdn).  There was also a proper campground called Camping Barcelona to the northeast which was exactly the same drive time into the city and overlooked the Mediterranean.  We have an ACSI discount card that allows us to pay only 22€ or $30 Cdn per day for this campground.  We had decided that the campground with its facilities and location was well worth the difference in price.  We emailed the campground and received back a note that said, because of our size we had to take a premium spot for which the discount card could not be applied and the cost would be 43€ or $58 Cdn per night.  We thought this was a little expensive for low season given our requirements.  We hummed and hawed…..  and eventually decided “what the heck, let’s go for it this once” and decided on the campground by the Mediterranean.

We are heading to Barcelona for a couple of reasons.  One big one is that Mike badly wants a Spain sticker on our RV and the sticker doesn’t go on until the RV has camped in that country.  It has been almost 46 years since we were last in Barcelona and we have heard very good things about the city (and some not so good things about petty theft).  A more important reason than all this is that we will get to meet up again with a family that we spent the 2020/2021 winter with when Covid kept a group of us confined to Northern Croatia.  The two young girls certainly helped to keep Mike and I entertained over those winter months.  We are really looking forward to seeing all of them again in Barcelona.

Mike cycling around the Archbishop’s Palace

Editors Note:  We have just arrived at Camping Barcelona and the person who checked us in was obviously not the person who answered our email.  They have put us in a space designed for two campers and are charging us the standard discounted rate for one.  We are very pleased that we decided to give this a go. The campground overlooks the Mediterian and our site has a 16 amp 240 volt fuse, which means we can run the air conditioner and make coffee at the same time.  This is a first for us this year.