NOTE: All of the pics here are from the internet… we are not doing good at taking our own pictures in Barcelona! Partially because we don’t want to risk our cameras getting stolen, or ruined at the beach.
Today (Wednesday) we did the crazy: we rented a car in a foreign country!
I read a lot of stuff online about car rentals in Spain, and driving here, and the two takeaways were:
1. Driving in Spain is very similar to driving in the U.S… traffic isn’t crazy nuts (like Paris), and the street signs are pretty easy to figure out, and
2. If you find a rental deal (like $4/day, or $6/day) that sounds too good to be true, it is. They’ll nickel and dime you on everything.
From Google… too good to be true?
I asked the hotel if they recommended any rental places and it turns out in our little sleepy bedroom community, there is a place two blocks down the road! It couldn’t be more convenient than that! So I went over while the Trio was still snoozing and asked around… an hour later I am the proud renter of a five passenger stick shift with only 147 kilometers on it… ! Everything was great, except the two air freshners. At least two of us are very sensitive to perfumy smells, and since we couldn’t figure out how to open the trunk (we finally did, but not this morning) I stuck them both under my floor mat.
I asked the guy at the front desk, who’s about twenty, what beaches he recommended… he said “give me ten minutes so I can call me dad. He knows all the beaches up there.” Up there means “costa brava,” which means “rough coast.” That is because around Barcelona (and south) there are lots of long beaches with just sand, but about an hour north you start the picturesque beaches that are very small and broken up with rocks and cliffs. It’s really quite beautiful… and more of interest to me, the rocks mean coral, fish, shrimp, and all the fun beach stuff 🙂
Some background… when I was eleven we moved to Puerto Rico and started to go to the Caribbean beaches. I am definitely a beach snob because of those experiences… my idea of fun at the beach is either (a) animal stuff, whether it is snorkeling or walking around tidal pools… looking for the octopus or starfish or anything cool, and (b) body boarding, which means you need decent waves. So, the idea of going to a place that had rocks and more potential for animals was more interesting than going to a long beach with lots of people just laying there like lizards, working on their tans.
After about an hour of rental car paper signing (by the way, we are paying $47/day, plus $17 in FULL insurance, and I filled the tank up for $45, which will cover 3 days… this is less than public transportation would have cost), I met the Trio by the hotel. This car comes with a GPS and a built in phone. “Call us for ANYTHING.” “If I get a flat, do I change it, or call you?” “Definitely call us. We’ll be there right away.” It’s nice to have the built-in GPS, and it’s weird to be driving!
The front desk guy’s dad said to go to a super cool beach called Cala Sant Fransesc. Cala is the word they use here for “small beach.” In Puerto Rico or Mexico we would say “playita.” Also, since everyone here speaks Catalan (which is NOT Castellano, or what we know as Spanish), the words are easily mixed up and spelled differently by different people. Anyway, we type in some version of Cala Sant Fransesc, by Blanes, find the right one on the GPS, and then head out.
The car had hardly any gas so about six kilometers up the highway, after four hundred roundabouts, we gas up. “Can I have some water?” “Oh, sorry, we forgot to get water.” Go inside, get water… “Um… did anyone get the towels?” “Not me, not me, not me… ” Ugh! Now we have to go back… the distance wasn’t a big deal but the navigation was. The car is a stick, which I haven’t driven for a long time, and I’m definitely going to need some time to get acclimated to the road system, street signs, and a GPS that sounds like it has a lisp (and uses words for “turn” and “after” and other common GPS words different than I would).
So we go back to get towels… and then finally are on our way. The good news is there is no traffic because (a) we are too far west of Barcelona to get into traffic, and (b) it’s like 2pm by now. It takes time to do all the stuff above!
We start driving and within ten or fifteen minutes the ocean is on our right… the Barcelona area is very hilly (some would say mountains, but not like back home), and the beauty is hard to describe… it is stunning. We are on a hill and can overlook the ocean on the right, with mountains and hills in front, behind, and on the left… and Spain’s unique architecture… it is just a beautiful sight.
About fifteen minutes later I notice Ellie has found a plastic bag and doesn’t look good at all. Finally, Sam says “Dad, we need to pull over.” “I just need to get in the front seat,” Ellie says. You see, with all this beautiful view, the roads are very, very windy. Look at the map above…. see all those tiny subtle turns? They are not tiny or subtle when you are driving them…
We are going up and down and left and right a lot, and poor Ellie is not feeling well. About ten minutes later Sam is showing signs because of the drive plus the lingering smell of those air fresheners… I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it!
I pull over but the shoulders are so narrow that William and Ellie couldn’t open their doors. Ellie climbs out the window (LOL) and William climbs through to the back… and Ellie is now with me in the front, looking like she’s been on the choppy seas for hours… I really hope we keep our rental car puke free.
The drive was about an hour, and the funny part is that for the last twenty minutes the roads were REALLY curvy! Like, drive 20 miles and hour curvy, with hills and dips and lots of switchbacks! Still, not puking.
We finally get there… I drop the Trio off at the walkway to get down to the beach and then I go find a place to park. I read that parking costs… and was prepared to pay, but the payment system was super weird… turns out it was locked and closed… today is free parking 🙂 I walk down a steep hill for about a quarter mile and then get to the walkway and go to find the Trio. Not my picture, but this is the cala:
The great thing about the Cala is that is small, so finding them is easy. This is where we wish he had snorkeling gear… there are lots of underwater rocks to explore, and surely there are fish and other things here! William got some goggles for $10 but they leak water… so not fun 🙁
We spent hours at this beach… exploring, walking over the rocks, looking at and for stuff, napping, tanning, swimming… the beauty was really amazing. This is THE beach that the locals said to go to, and it was clear why. It was also not as crowded as Barceloneta, which has a metro stop by it and hoards of people (which is fine, just a different beach experience).
This was on one end of the Cala… but the it was gated off at the top. Apparently it’s part of an eight-day hiking trail… we would have been able to easily walk to another beach. Again, not my picture:
William and I went to one end of the small beach, then we walked over to the other end and up some stairs… there were some people jumping about twenty feet off of a cliff into clear area… no rocks, and probably a good fifteen+ feet down. It looked super fun, and no one seemed to mind the “NO JUMPING” sign! this is not us, but it’s the same place:
William was going to do it but he wanted to walk up to the top of the stairs first (it was gorgeous, of course), and then he wanted to go get the girls, his camera, and some water…
By the time he got back (sans girls) I was chatting with the lifeguard and the police… not in trouble, just chatting. They were very, very nice, and seemed happy to chat in the shade, overlooking the cala, by the NO JUMPING sign 🙂 I said to William (who probably didn’t know about the sign “Go up and JUST take picture :)”
After a while, he left, and I continued talking to the two guys… they suggested a place to buy snorkel gear, and we talked about the region, the food, the languages, the police guy’s trip to the U.S. (Fort Lauderdale), etc. It was fun to chew the fat with these two guys.
“What kind of sea life is in the water here?” “Look up Mediterranean sea life… whatever you find, we have it here!” That sounds very exciting to me 🙂
By the time I got back it was time to head out. The magic words the Trio uses to leave were “we’re hungry.” At this Cala there is a restaurant, but they don’t serve meals after 4pm. “The kitchen is closed,” which means we’ll give you appetizers but we don’t have full meals. Unfortunately, that is the way it is all around here… if you don’t eat a proper meal by 4pm, you are out of luck and stuck with appetizers. There are also no shops here… this is a vey secluded beach with just beach houses around it (these are all on the mountain), so we go a few miles down the road to Blanes, the big city around here.
The lifeguard said to find “the big rock,” and by the big rock there was a dive store named something like Pesquria or something like that. Hard to remember because they primarily use Catalan, which is too foreign to my ear. We couldn’t find anything that resembled that on the GPS so we just went into town and worked our way towards the water. We found $3 parking (because it was after 5), went to the restaurant on the beach and ordered Tapas (appetizers, really). Two of the four things we ordered were out of stock… man, we are not having great foodie experiences here!
I asked the waiter if there was a place to buy snorkeling gear and the Trio pointed to the store right in front of me… a dive shop :p I then put two and two together and noticed that… hey, there’s a huge landmark rock right off the beach… and there’s the dive shop named peluqa-whateve… this is exactly what the lifeguard was talking about! I thought he was talking about a big rock on land, not in the water. I’m pretty sure this was it (thanks Internet, for the image!):
I knew the food would take a while so I walked over, found what we wanted, chatted with the owners, and then went back. No food still, so me and William went over and we got him outfitted… tried on the fins, tried on the mask… and $45 later William became the proud owner of his own snorkeling gear!
When we went back and the girls learned it was only $45 for the whole set they both decided they wanted in. They thought it was $45 for the mask only… but this seemed like a good deal. After our good enough tapas they went and got outfitted and then we walked across the street, by the big rock, and got ready.
You might think “got ready” is a fast thing… not really. It took a long time… and the water was cold, and then it turned out that Sam had somehow gotten sand in her snorkel (in the outlet valve) so she was sucking in water (which she made me try, just so I could know that it was really not working right), AND her flippers were falling off… so we leave William and Ellie and me and Sam go to the shop where they guy find the sand, takes off a decorative piece and says “blow really hard in your snorkel.” Sam blew “hard-not-hard” (she has a cough so she can’t really blow hard on demand :p) and they guy was like “um, fire up the air compressor.” He blew it out and it worked… and Sam got some booties so the fins wouldn’t slip off, and we were back to the beach.
This was Ellie’s first snorkeling experience in her life… she liked to stay about five feet from the beach, and not go near the rocks (where all of the awesome is), but she still had a great time.
By now it was getting cooler, the water was colder, and most people were leaving the beach. We decided to pack it up and head back to the hotel… it was a long day of getting the car, shopping, not throwing up on the way to the cala, sunning and swimming, and then starting our snorkeling experience.
We decided to extend our car rental and come back up this way… the dive shop guy gave us the name of another beach, which had the best snorkeling (a fish paradise), and we were anxious to come back tomorrow.
No one was sick on the way home… it was a beautiful drive with the ocean on our left and the sun setting… William and I went to the only restaurant around (Burger King… seriously, everything else was closed or serving tapas only), got a chicken sandwich and some oreo shakes (including one for the girls), and I got some screentime with my family back home… and that was it! Go to bed early because we want to get out early tomorrow!