The week of our first visitor

Last week we welcomed our first guest to Tortosa, a dear friend who had trekked all the way to Europe from Australia just to see us! And go snowboarding in Andorra.

It was strange to have a visitor in our town when it doesn’t feel like our town yet. Where to go? What to do? It was even stranger when our guest had a better grasp of the Spanish language than we do, meaning that he was our guide as much as we were his!

We had a great time. Despite Tortosa being much smaller than Barcelona, we filled his few days here with what I hope was delicious and fun adventures. If you have found this blog by Googling ‘things to do in Tortosa’, or ‘cheap stuff to do in Tortosa’ here is the first in what I hope will be many lists of activities. As we learn more, we’ll add more!

  • Visit the cathedral. I missed this excursion, but apparently it was big, old, echoey, and cheap at only 3. Other information I’ve learned about the massive building in the middle of town with a slightly spasmodic bell is that it has Baroque and Gothic components, is on the site of an old roman forum, and was built between 1347 and the 1700s.
Calçots. A plate of onions might not sound delicious, but they were sweet and excellent sauce vessels.
  • Eat some local food! For us that meant a delicious lunch at Paiolet, a restaurant near our flat. I tried calçots, a seasonal onion that is barbecued and served with the most delicious romesco sauce. Our friend tried the menjar blanc (white food), a local rice milk and cinnamon dessert that doesn’t photograph well. We ate three courses each, shared a bottle of wine and had coffee for under 40.
  • Hire a bike. As I have bragged previously, I now own my own wheels, but the boys had to hire theirs. And why have two bicycles when you can have one? For 25 from the nearest bike hire store, we secured an incredible TANDEM MOUNTAIN BIKE for the day, giving us the freedom to have Goodies-style montages all over town. We rode along part of the Via Verde, one of Spain’s many bike paths built on old train routes. We did not really get far enough to see much verde, but enjoyed the good path and rode through a couple of towns to the west of Tortosa.
Tandem bike
That look on my face is definitely joy. Not terror. Promise.
  • Explore the fortifications. The hills behind Tortosa are topped with (I think) medieval ruins, halting structures that remind you how young European settlement in Australia really is. One of the forts, behind the Parador, is signposted and maintained, while the others are more like secret garden ruins. You can meander for hours. All have great views. And all are gloriously free.


The week I bought a bike

On Thursday as I shut the bedroom balcony doors, I looked out along our street. It was around 7pm. Golden street lamps bathed the stones now that the Christmas lights are gone, and the town was full of noise. Children running ahead of their parents, people heading home with groceries, and old couples wandering up the street, only to turn around and amble back down.

Across the road I could see into the music school that is in the building opposite. In one room, a teenager was learning the trumpet. In the next, a young man practised on a giant xylophone. The sound of trumpets and violins drift into our apartment most evenings and I am yet to get sick of it.

Next to them, Mary and Jesus sat in their small shrine that looks up to our kitchen window. The inset shrine has a large bunch of plastic roses below it, presumably giving our Career De La Rosa its title. Mary and her boy look old and faded as they watched me close the doors.

Towards the cathedral, the local bar had just opened up. You can tell when it’s open because there are little glass bottles with thistles in them set up on the outdoor tables. The owner also brings out a table laden with jamon set up for slicing. He often opens big umbrellas as well, and wraps strings of fairy lights around the stands. Last week he had an outdoor heater fighting against the cold but on Thursday, I could see little blankets on the back of every chair, ready for customers.

It’s been a lonely week, with my man away exploring Andorran ski fields. It was going to be The Week I Was Alone. Plenty of time for working long Spanish hours, learning how to cook romanesco broccoli and appreciating our lovely street view.

But on Saturday, after a few failed attempts, I managed to buy a bicycle. A lovely second hand black Catalonian-made cruiser with six gears and much swagger.

Buying a second hand bike was harder than I expected, particularly in a smaller town like Tortosa. I scoured segundamano, Spain’s second hand website, and contacted several people before finding a bike that was available and affordable. There were many more options in Barcelona than in the country, so one train trip and 145 later, she was mine. As I was in Barça, a 30 lock was also needed, as well as another lock to secure the seat to the frame. Bike theft is an epidemic in the city apparently.

It was great to explore the city on pedal power! Barcelona is so bike-friendly, with glorious bike paths and wide flat streets. I sailed along Las Ramblas, cruised around Sagrada Familia and even up to Park Güell on my trust steed. Today I got her back safely on the train, as there is space on the train carriages especially for bicycles. There are bike paths and flat roads all around here, so look out for more flowery descriptions of local streets, experienced at a slightly faster speed.