One of the great things about Bank Holidays is being able to hacer puente, or bridge the gap between the holidays and the weekend. The 1st of November, All Saints Day, fell on Thursday and I bridged the gap to the weekend, giving me a nice 4 day weekend and the opportunity to get on the road.
Destination: Alcañiz, in the Province of Teruel, Aragón.
With 260km to travel, an early start was an unfortunate inevitability. Nevertheless, it provided a good excuse to make a first stop at the town of Miravet to have a coffee and breakfast. Miravet sits on the river Ebro and enjoys lush views of the water, but has also suffered dramatically with flooding. Looking at the plaques on the wall, I don’t think I had ever seen such high flood levels in town. Amazing, the old buildings on the river seem to be in pretty good condition.
Breakfast eaten, coffee drunk, legs stretched.
Just a few minutes down the road to the next stop, El Pinell de Brai, where I found a wonderful surprise in the form of a modernist wine cellar. Inside, you can find wine, olive oil and vinegar tasting (don’t mind if I do!), and of course buy your favourite bottle (or two). There are also guided tours of the building, allowing you to see more of the architecture and design.
Back on the road. Leaving Catalonia and entering Teruel Province of Aragón, you begin to notice how barren the landscape is. Teruel has suffered great population decline since the late 50s, due to a number of factors, from mine closures, agricultural changes and mass migration to industrial cities, such as Barcelona. As a result, you occasionally drive past the ruins of a church, farm or even small village.
The first point upon arrival in Alcañiz was the cemetery. Well, it was All Saints Day after all and I’d passed some ghost towns so it seemed appropriate atmospherically. About 50 different families were in the cemetery to clean the graves of loved ones, leave fresh flowers and pay their respects. One of the odd things about the cemetery is that every tombstone has a photo of the deceased. I wonder how that works… Do you have a professional photo taken knowing that it will be on a polished chunk of granite for godknowshowmanyyears? In any case, it was interesting to see walk back in time and see different fashions captured in each photo.
Alcañiz is small and hilly, so you can walk from one side to the other in absolutely no time at all, passing only a handful of people on the way. I made my way up to the main point of the town, the castle, which is now a Parador and home to some awesome views of the landscape. At the highest point of the town, looking over the rooftops and taking in some deep breaths I noticed just how different the air is compared to Barcelona. Barcelona has many virtues but it’s air isn’t one of them. Quite frankly, it stinks. It stinks in Winter, it stinks in Summer. It stinks of dog shit, sweat, cigarettes, exhaust fumes. If you go to the beach you get some relief from the sea breeze, or up to Pedrables with the smell of jasmine. Alcañiz, though, smells like a holiday chalet with a softly glowing log fire.
Lunch break: Appetizer of red pepper pastry tart, vichyssoise, duck, gypsy’s arm. Wine and sparkling water. 15€ in total.
Walking off lunch I noticed that many buildings had been built with the ground floor smaller than higher levels, giving the buildings a bulging, leaning, not-so-safe quality. Gazing at the buildings whilst walking down narrow streets gave the impression that the buildings were falling over. Actually, quite a lot had. As a city dweller I was also shocked to see the top floor of buildings without windows, but with chicken wire for keeping the animals in!
My lasting impression from Alcañiz was mostly one of sadness, as the town had clearly enjoyed better times.