Southern France and Spain

Trip Start Dec 22, 2011
Trip End Jul 04, 2012

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Flag of Spain  , Andalusia,
Thursday, April 5, 2012

Leaving Italy, we had to decide where along the south coast of France to stop. While a prestigious film festival almost had me won, it was the Man in the Iron Mask that secured the win for Cannes (I'm sure they were ecstatic).

St Marguerite Island is a short distance off the Coast, and was the location for the mysterious prisoner for 11 years. Contrary to literary and film versions, the identity of this prisoner under Louis XIV remains unknown. We went for a nice 10k walk around the island and failed to uncover any further clues.

Next stop was Avignon, the location of the papacy for much of the 14th century as a result of political instability in Italy. We spent a day exploring the old city, including the huge papal
palace, Pont d'Avignon and Rocher Doms, a public garden atop the bluff overlooking the town.

I was a little disappointed that we did not encounter much of the French haughtiness that was expected. People were generally pretty friendly but my light-hearted bigotry has time to redeem itself when we return to France later in the trip.

The first stop in Spain, very close to the French border, was Figueres, the birthplace of Salvador Dali. It seemed a shame to pass through here without going to the Dali museum. It was a bit of a disappointment however, displaying very few of his famous works (most are scattered elsewhere throughout the world, including many in Florida). In fact, the Dali exhibition in Melbourne from a few years ago had a much better selection of his works.

Dali was not well-liked by his fellow Surrealists who believed his sympathies lay with Franco and the Fascists. My favourite author, George Orwell, despised my favourite artist, and criticised him for cowardly running away from Spain at the first sight of trouble. As someone who fought in the Spanish Civil War purely out of conviction, I guess George was entitled to throw such barbs.

Our next stop was Barcelona, a great city in which Orwell spent time fighting the Nationalists as well as the Soviet "allies". Barcelona has plenty of little lane--way bars and restaurants and had a great vibe, despite the persistent economic woes (unemployment around 20%). Staying in the Gothic area of the city allowed lots of exploring. We spent Jo's birthday checking out Gaudi's impact on the city, including Sagrada Familia, and we stretched our legs with a long walk along the beaches of Barceloneta.

The next bit of the trip, to see the Alhambra in Granada, was complicated by it coinciding with the Easter holidays which meant that apparently everyone in Spain also wanted to go. It was a mild shock to see men, women and children dressed up in varying colours of outfits we would associate with the KKK. All part of the religious festivities we were assured although I was half-expecting to see a burning cross around the corner!

The Alhambra is a grand complex of Moorish (or Moopish) buildings built prior to their expulsion in 1492. The Moorish period seemed quite prosperous and tolerant - a nice illustration that there are (and were) alternatives to the ideologies of hate that have given Islam a bad name for the last few decades. It is an extraordinary place, especially the gardens and the Nasrid palace.

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