Loving the Mountain Town Charm of Ripoll, Catalonia, Spain
Part of why I do what I do (in the living sense, not the career sense) is that for whatever reason, I absolutely love traveling places on a whim. Just thinking about it gives me a physical feeling in my chest because it’s something so elemental to my being happy. No advance reservations, no activities planned, no checkboxes to check off my list. It’s simply the going that gets me.
This past week I was a bit stressed trying to find a place to live in Barcelona for May (I’ll admit that being “stressed” becomes a relative term at times). I’ll spare you apartment hunting stories, they’re all the same. But finally Thursday I had a place – May 1st I got my own 10×10’ room to call my own in a shared apartment with an Israeli couple, a Frenchman and managed by an Italian from Rome, in the neighborhood I wanted. Finally I could think of other things!
Ironically, by the time I got the keys I was over this city. The week had me feeling caged up by the race among concrete buildings to find a place to live. So I did what so often the past years I have just dreamed could be an option – I hopped onto Google Maps, zoomed into the Catalonia region of Spain and started randomly searching different mountain towns I saw. I needed to be somewhere green and hilly, that was all I knew. Marco, the Italian landlord, popped his head in to check in on me and in conversation told me I needed to head to Ripoll. It wasn’t a tough sell…
I was wanting a more local experience so I went on couchsurfing.com and sent a request to a fun-seeming, travel-happy couple for the weekend. What really got me though was their cute golden retriever in their main photo (I am missing my dog Griff in a big way!). That same day they accepted, so the next day I headed for the train station, bought my ticket and off I went – two hours into the Pyrenees mountains. Being able to just do this with no notice is an amazing feeling!
Ripoll ended up being like a Puerto Guadal, Chile, type of place for me – one of “those places” that are just what you need at just the right moment. Ripoll is a smallish mountain town surrounded by greeeeeeeeen mountains that you can ski in in winter time. The green was out of this world because apparently it had been raining for two straight weeks before I got there. When I arrived though, the sky was clear and stars had started to pop out of the darkness. I stood outside the terminal waiting for Eudald and Marta to pick me up per their couchsurfing message; right on time, there they were.
The weekend ended up being so amazing – Eudald and Marta were awesome, so laid-back and friendly, and had the cutest place that shared property with Eudald’s parents (no one even knows how old the houses are; his mother told me the original records were burned in a fire years ago, but seeing as how the monastery in the main square is from 880, the houses have to have some stories to tell).
We swapped travel stories over Patagonia Argentina (we had both been there in the past year) and other adventures. They spoke English really well and I was happy to give them a chance to practice! Catalan is the language there so I didn’t understand much when locals talked between locals, but it was still fun to try (Catalan is the main language in Barcelona and all Catalonia, although being so international in Barcelona you also find plenty of Castellano/Spanish) .
Saturday was spent wandering the farmers market (Marta thinks I should open an empanada stand – the only ready-to-eat food they offer are rotisserie chickens Mom what do you think, bring Pampeana to Spain??). From here we wandered to the main square where we ran into some of their friends for a beer in the sun at a local cafe. Apparently I was somewhat of a rare specimen… Eudald and Marta have only had three couchsurfers in the year they’ve been on the site, and their friends were very curious about how I’d ended up in Ripoll!
That afternoon I hiked alone up the hill behind their house to the small casita at the top. Got great views of town and a nice workout in the sun. Laid in the greenest field I’ve ever seen and listened to some William Fitzsimmons to whom I am currently addicted (listen here if you want a window into my lyrical addiction). What can I say, an idllic afternoon.
That evening Eudald had to work (he is a professional photographer and was shooting at a wedding all evening). Marta and I drove to Sant Joan, a nearby town, to check out a music festival that was going on. All of her friends had tickets, she didn’t but we were going to try and find a way to get in to the sold out show.
After some dinner and a beer with all her friends, she and I tried not once…. not twice…. but three times to get in at the front gate. The third time it was 11pm and I was sure that nothing would be different from the past two times. Thank God for Marta the optimist!! Somehow our (true) story of “Please, my friend is here from Seattle just for the weekend and she would love to see the show” worked — the security guard told us to wait until the main ticket checker took a break and then he snuck us through!
In a stroke of serendipity we immediately ran into her friends in the 4,000 mess of people and ended up dancing the next few hours to some local bands. The main band Txarango that opened the show at 11pm is made up of people from Ripoll and neighboring towns. Quite a few Catalan flags were flying:
This band has now become popular playing in NYC and other intnl spots, so people were excited having them in town! Take a listen here if you like energetic Spanish music. Super fun, my feet still hurt. Felt like I left the concert with a new group of friends. Such a fun experience that I definitely wouldn’t have known about or been able to go to if I hadn’t been staying with these guys!
Sunday we had a lazy morning and then bbq’ed on the grill. It reminded me so much of Argentina. Truth be told, the whole place was reminding me of San Martín de Los Andes, not so much the physical place but just when a place gives you that “at home” feeling that you don’t often get traveling? My first trip to South America that was the one town that gave me that feeling. Anyhow, I digress…
Back to la barbacoa – Eudald grilled up sheep from his friend Miguel’s farm, and Marta made a salad fresh from their big garden. Add plates of olives and Ruffles and seriously we are talking about an amazing Sunday lunch.
In the afternoon we rallied up to Ruta 7 Gorgs (or Los Siete Cascadas), a series of seven small waterfalls that spill into swimming pools below, just outside Campdevanol. It was too cold for swimming but so pretty to be there in the afternoon sun and listening to the running water. It was a nice ending to my “I need to be in the mountains” trip! I’m sure my hosts just wanted to chill on their Sunday so I really appreciated them entertaining me til the end!
The whole weekend energized me and made me recognize once again that feeling that comes from connecting with people you meet traveling. If I never traveled like this (heading to random towns, staying with locals, opening myself up to try and experience another world’s local scene) I just have to think of all the people I would never ever cross paths with! And what a sadness that would be really. I suppose I wouldn’t necessarily be aware of what I was missing, but I would still be missing out and would be less for it.
I now have two more people to add to the list of friends I owe hospitality to, and I can’t wait to repay it. Marta and Eudald, come visit in Seattle so I can treat you to the steak tartare at the Whale & Carpenter!