Friends, Romans, Countrymen

I’m back from Spain after a 10 hour drive yesterday in the middle of that heatwave everyone’s talking about. Fortunately my car has air conditioning.

Tarragona was nice, although strictly speaking I was in a small town called Altafulla a little down the coast towards Barcelona. I spent two days on the beach and two nights drinking until 4am so it wasn’t the most productive of holidays, but I did get to hang out with my friend, his family, and a whole load of his friends who all live in Altafulla and have known each other since they were kids. From what I could tell, Altafulla is a place where Spanish families live or go on holiday: I didn’t see any foreigners or even hear English spoken the whole weekend I was there. Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish, but that didn’t seem to matter very much. And I was reliably told the conversations would routinely switch to Catalan in any case. The food I ate alternated between Spanish, Venezuelan, and Catalan so I got the full culinary experience. I drank whatever was close to hand, which was often rum. I’d never spent much time in the company of Spaniards before, and I have to say they were very friendly and welcoming, and they like to have fun. The place is also extraordinarily cheap when compared to France. Perhaps I should go back.

As planned, I stopped at the Pont du Gard on the drive down. It’s worth seeing.

I made the mistake of thinking the bridge is all that’s there, so thought I’d just visit for an hour then leave. It turns out there’s a sort of beach there where you can swim, go kayaking, etc. as well as an excellent museum meaning you could easily spend a whole day at the place. I had a good look at the aqueduct from both sides but couldn’t devote more than half an hour to the museum which explained how it was built and why. It’s a shame because I’d like to have spent more time there, but was enough to get an idea of the incredible vision, ambition, and skill of the Romans. It left me wondering if a municipal government could execute a comparable project today, two thousand years later. I bet the Romans didn’t worry about how diverse the engineering team was, at any rate. As I was reading about its construction I learned there was another Roman aqueduct in, funnily enough, Tarragona. If I’d spent less time drinking I might have turned the trip into a Roman aqueduct tour. As it was, I only glimpsed it from the motorway. The Pont du Gard is well worth a visit though, and I can recommend it. While I was there I did see a few British tourists; I mention them just so I could get the post title working.

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9 thoughts on “Friends, Romans, Countrymen

  1. I visited the Pont du Gard in the 1990s. Fairly scary crossing it, as I’m not too good at heights and although the top is wide enough it’s rough and only partially covered with slabs. Worst bit was meeting a French family coming the other way. They had a little toddler who was having a full-on flailing temper tantrum.

  2. I’ve never seen the Pont du Gard but your report moved me to some wikipedia-ing, turning up this rather wonderful quote from Henry James:

    The hugeness, the solidity, the unexpectedness, the monumental rectitude of the whole thing leave you nothing to say – at the time – and make you stand gazing. You simply feel that it is noble and perfect, that it has the quality of greatness … When the vague twilight began to gather, the lonely valley seemed to fill itself with the shadow of the Roman name, as if the mighty empire were still as erect as the supports of the aqueduct; and it was open to a solitary tourist, sitting there sentimental, to believe that no people has ever been, or will ever be, as great as that, measured, as we measure the greatness of an individual, by the push they gave to what they undertook. The Pont du Gard is one of the three or four deepest impressions they have left; it speaks of them in a manner with which they might have been satisfied.

  3. Fairly scary crossing it, as I’m not too good at heights and although the top is wide enough it’s rough and only partially covered with slabs.

    They appear to have stopped that now.

  4. “… it wasn’t the most productive of holidays”. You go on holiday to be productive, Tim? Surely, you are not as other men!

  5. Now you are beginning to understand why I live in Spain!

    Incidentally, it has everything including enormously varied geography from desert to Cornish coves, rolling hills, thousand year old oak forests, mountains and good skiing…..etc, etc

    Food is wonderful, mainly non-franchise (although in any city you have them all if that’s what floats your boat) and varies by region.

    Street life is real and ubiquitous. The cuadrilla is the group of life friends that you meet up with regular and have fun. I have just come back from a weekend in Sepúlveda with our cuadrilla (which I slept and then married my way into 🙂 ). Whole roast suckling pig, whole roast milk lamb (definitely not vegetarian), a beautiful town (we stayed in a 12th century hostal with a ‘patio de comedias’ and the hoces del Duratón for hiking and truly spectacular views and canoeing).

    My daughter who works in London, flies to Madrid/Lisbon/Asturias/Paris for a birthday and 18 to 25 get together.

    I can’t take the 4.00am finishes (normally) but they are quite normal.

    The weather is great, the atmosphere generally more relaxed, but here in the Basque Country stuff works and the Health Service is comparitively good.

    All the regions have something to offer and are different so from here to retirement you can do one a year and not run out of places!

  6. Are you not allowed to walk across it now?

    Special bookings only, I think. You cross it via the more modern bridge that’s attached to it.

  7. You go on holiday to be productive, Tim?

    Well, I normally try to do something other than drink and sleep. Although I confess I often fail.

  8. “Now you are beginning to understand why I live in Spain!”

    Well done mate, enjoy.

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