So I’m driving home on 280 (it was Friday and 101 is especially migraine-inducing on Fridays) and all of a sudden, there’s Nicholas Cage in the Toyota to my left. So I get real excited and start waving and honking to get his attention. When he finally acknowledges me (it took a while, I’ll tell you), he smiles and then floors it, expecting to leave me in his Corolla Dust. I’m sure!
Norm, my ‘85 Olds Cutlass Cruiser, is up for the challenge. I jam on the gas and soon Cage’s crappy little Asian job is sputtering up one of 280’s rolling hills. Norm is cruising at 75 without even a hiccup thanks to the high octane I had recently humored him with. So as I approach, I notice Cage has a bumper sticker on his car which says, “Serramonte Bowling League - It’s Fantastic,” and I’m thinking to myself, maybe this really isn’t Nicholas Cage — after all would some big movie star be bowling at the Serramonte Mall on a regular basis? - but when I finally pulled even with him I knew it was him.
Now Cage is kind of worried, because I have a face that looks a little bit psycho sometimes,and all the while I’m still honking and yelling, ‘cause it’s Nicholas Cage in the Toyota to my left. Once I catch him, I slow to his pace (Though Norm balks at the idea and I almost lose him, getting a second chance to check out Cage’s bowling sticker) and I start gesturing that I want his autograph. He thinks I’m nuts and starts gesturing to indicate this. I already know I’m nuts, so I gesture to him by swerving my car in and out
of his lane, just nicking his car and sending him into the shoulder on the far left. Now he KNOWS I’m nuts and tries to floor it as we crest the hill.
Norm is a big boy as cars go and going really fast downhill comes easy for him. Cage is clearly upset, and I see that he’s reaching for a cellular phone or something. Like, why is this big star with a car phone driving a Corolla? But no time for speculation because within a couple of minutes there’s a cop and I slow down because I’m driving uninsured, and Cage hits the gas. I saw his stupid bowling sticker for another thirty seconds and then he was gone.
Up early and off to La Sagrada Familia for our 9-10am slot (with a quick stop in the hotel for a great breakfast buffet including Jamon Iberico y Queso de Manchego).
Then we wandered back to our hotel, passing by a pretty lane.
Lunch was a delicious in-room do-it-yourself of Jamon y Queso from the trip to the Boqueria the day before, plus bread Andy acquired from a nearby bakery.
We said our goodbyes to the MSC Splendida and got into a taxi at the port of Barcelona. By 10am, we were at our hotel, bags dropped off, and ready to explore the city before things closed for New Year’s. Fortunately, the day turned out to be a normal business day and everything stayed open to the usual late closing hours — 8pm for shops, past midnight for restaurants.
We spent a good chunk of the middle of the day at the Mercat de Boqueria, a huge market filled with fresh food of all kinds.
After a quick stop for 6 pieces of meat on a stick,
and then coffee at a sidewalk cafe with a Modernist facade,
we took in the outside of the Barcelona Cathedral (the original Gothic one, not Gaudí’s neo-Gothic la Sagrada Familia)
and then made our way to see Gaudí’s version. When we got there, we discovered that walk-in tourist slots had been taken for the day and the only way to visit was to book online for tomorrow. So we headed back to the hotel, stopping only for an enormous lunch of a mixed plate of tapas (for Andy)
and Calamari rings (for Melodi). (we got a reservation for tomorrow, Jan 1, b/w 9am and 10am — with an interesting system that let us print the tickets at a nearby ATM).
In the afternoon, we emulated the locals by taking a long siesta, in hopes of Andy’s being able to reach midnight for the first time since he was about 30. (He did make it, but just barely).
Around 8, we started getting ready for dinner, and we rushed off to our 9pm reservation at Roig Robí, thinking we might be late. As it was, we arrived right on time and we were the very first people there. Andy joked with the waiter (in Spanish, no less!) that we were Americans so we were bound to want dinner earlier than Spaniards. Soon, however, the place began to fill up — mostly with English speakers oddly enough, even though there was no way you would stumble upon this restaurant without some research, as it was tucked away in an alley off of another alley in the Gracia district.
We had the fixed Menu — first a tasting plate of scrambled eggs with truffles, a little shrimp croquette, and a consommé in a little cup with local sausage slices on a stick dipped in the soup. After that, we received 4 courses: a tartare of shrimp and sea bass eggs,
foie gras on porcini mushrooms, a mousse made of scallops and lobster, and then pork confit with baked apples. Dessert was a modification on the Sacher torte (which amused Andy to have it pronounced Spanish style, Sah-chair, rather than German, Zachhr) with a crème fraîche sauce. The highlight was a Priorat wine called Gotes, which confirmed to Andy that he had never had as good a wine as Priorat (having now had it all of 2 times).
Sadly, we (cough-Andy-cough) could not make it until midnight at the restaurant (we dragged ourselves out around 11:40) for the serving of the traditional Lucky Grapes (12 grapes eaten at midnight) but the walk home woke up up long enough that we kissed right at midnight for good luck and then called it a (long) day.
We were up and out the door early for today’s tour to see Marseilles and Avignon, our one and only stop in France (though we had a taste of French in Tunisia as well). Our tour drove us around Marseilles with a quick picture stop to see the island featured at the start of the Count of Monte Cristo.
Then we made our way to the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica, high atop a hill outside the main part of town. It is built in a neo-Byzantine style, so it was vaguely reminiscent of some of what we’d seen in Palermo, but because it was a 19th-century building, the art was stunningly fresh and bright.
We then headed out to Avignon, but drove through Marseilles (and saw Napoleon’s southern Arc du Triumphe before we got on the highway.
When we got to Avignon, we were impressed by the outside of the Palais des Papes, which is reportedly the best-preserved Gothic fortress in Europe.
But inside, with the exception of the Popes’ bedroom, the place has been used and re-used so many time since the Popes abandoned Avignon (never the set foot there again) in the 15th century, that it did not feel very special.
What was special, though, was our modern Provençal lunch we had afterwards at Le 26. While the other tourists on our bus were making do with sandwich-a-emporter (to go) near the Palace, we followed a tip we got from the New York Times (and Michelin guide) to a restaurant where we had delicious mâché salad (Melodi) scallops with a white chocolate sauce — on the side (Andy), Roasted Chicken with a mini-vegetable souffle (Melodi) and a very rare Venison cooked in a berry and wine sauce (Andy), plus wine (Chateuneuf du Pape, mais oui!). The meal took us an hour and a half, but was really time well spent and after a quick stop at Avignon’s half-surviving medieval bridge across the Rhone
we took advantage of the bus ride back to sleep off our lunch. We kept on sleeping after we got back on board, and stumbled into dinner a bit late but well-rested and ready for more food.
Sadly, after dinner we had to pack our bags and get ready to leave, but still it was a nice day together in the brisk weather of Provence in winter.