A Magical and Mild Adventure in Valencia
An ancient city inside a new one beckons Jay Stone to the surprise-filled birthplace of paella
By Jay Stone
VALENCIA, Spain — We came here by chance, the way people used to travel when they were in their 20s and it was all about moving and a destination was just a name to drop, a place to rest on the road. We came in that spirit. We stayed for the paella. It was invented here, in this bustling city on the south coast of Spain (the Valencia orange was invented in California). It’s delicious too, although I’m not the one to ask. It was delicious everywhere. I like to think I have good taste in movies, but I don’t have any taste in taste. So, Valencia: magical, all the more so if you don’t expect anything except a place to stop 3½ hours from Barcelona because 3½ hours is about all you want to do. An old city surrounded by a new one: outside, there’s the famous City of Arts and Sciences — an IMAX theatre, an aquarium, a science museum, an arts complex all in ...
Dispatches from Abroad: The Gentle Yens of Girona
Jay Stone explores an ancient Spanish city to discover a slow parade of humanity on cobble stone streets and the prosthetic digits of Edward Scissorhands
By Jay Stone
GIRONA, Spain -- There's a great lassitude that settles over Spain on a Sunday -- or perhaps, that settles over the visitor to Spain on a Sunday -- that is somehow ideal if you wash up in Girona. It's a medieval city just east of Barcelona whose historic district, all cobbled streets and narrow alleys, were built circa 1000. Little wrought iron balconies are set in the stone walls, and I saw an older couple sitting at a bistro table, having lunch together and each looking at their own cell phone. The stores aren't open, but the museums are free -- a mixed blessing -- and so you climb the steep steps behind the cathedral to the famous Jewish quarter, or El Call, one of the oldest in Europe. Once again, Jewish people have their historic roots on a hill all the better -- at least in this telling -- to come down ...
Dispatches from Abroad: Dilly Dali-ing in Cadaques
Jay Stone ventures into the Spanish mountains to visit the very real birthplace of the seminal surrealist
By Jay Stone
CADAQUES, Spain -- This pretty-as-a-postcard town lies at the end of a long twisty road up and down a mountain a couple of hours southeast of Barcelona. You wouldn't get here by accident, but it's worth the drive: whitewashed buildings on gently rising hills, tucked around a small harbour with cafes and restaurants that crowd against tiny beaches. Everything is white and blue, cobbled and ancient. You could stay here forever. To get here, you pass through Figueres, where Salvador Dali was born and lived for a while, and home to a museum dedicated to his honour. Its thin curved corridors are lined with his bizarre constructions -- headless dolls, outlandish jewelry -- and even more bizarre tourists, who arrive in groups to press their noses against glass cases and to take photos of everything that doesn't move. Dali once said that the only difference between ...
Dispatches from Abroad: 4 Cats, one full stomach
Jay Stone fills up on Barcelona's rich culinary history, where 4 Cats on the menu isn't a PETA call to action, but the promise of tasty delights served on lampshades
By Jay Stone
BARCELONA, Spain -- The two big things to do here are to eat and to go to art galleries, and if you can eat where the painters used to hang out, it's a huge time-saver. This comes in very handy when siesta runs over its limit. And so we arrive at 4 Cats, a famous cafe on a little alley called Montsio, just off the big Portal de L'Angel, one of the city's main streets. 4 Cats is 118 years old, although it was closed now and then for civil wars, artistic revolutions and so on. Still, it's pretty legendary: a charming bistro with a coffee room in front, a tiled bar in the middle, and a big room in the back with apricot-coloured walls, rows of tables on the floor and a wooden mezzanine that fills up at every meal. It was opened in 1897 by four painters who were paying homage to Le Chat Noir cabaret in ...
Dispatches from Abroad: Miro Museum will be happy to see you
Jay Stone stops to smell the flowers, and use the washroom, en route to the Miro Museum, where he was greeted by the likeness of E.T. with an erection
By Jay Stone
Barcelona, Spain -- There's a mountain on the west side of Barcelona that would probably be the signature site in most cities, but is kind of afterthought in Barcelona. It's called Montjuic, and all it has is a castle, the Joan Miro museum, the stadium from the 1992 Olympics (the one where Ben Johnson almost won a medal), a terraced park filled with flowers and wild parrots, and the Catalan art museum, with its attendant waterfalls and dancing fountains. At the bottom is the old bull ring which has been converted to a shopping centre now that bullfighting has been banned in the city on the grounds of animal cruelty. We say "olé!" to the city fathers, and award them two ears and a tail. Oops. Wait a minute... Montjuic means "Mount of the Jews" for reasons I can't easily determine. However, it seems that Jewish ...
Dispatches from Abroad: The Picasso Museum
Jay Stone pays a visit to five stone mansions filled with sun-faced ceramics and sunburned tourists taking in once-outré art, now made safe by fame
By Jay Stone
Barcelona, Spain -- Among the many things the savvy traveller must do, once he has wiped the tapas crumbs out of his beard, is to tour the Picasso Museum, situated in the colourful El Born neighbourhood. El Born is reminiscent of Old Montreal: cobbled streets, ancient buildings, gentrified restaurants, the same duality of language. In Spain, Catalan is the language of the oppressed minority, and Spanish cereal boxes come with instructions in both Spanish and Catalan. My morning museli has "5 frutas" and "5 desecadas" and everyone's happy, especially me. But you were asking about Picasso. The artist (1881-1973) lived in Barcelona during his teenage formative years, and the museum, spread across five old stone mansions linked with cool courtyards, traces his early history. There's also a lot of stuff he did ...
Dispatches from Abroad: Jay Stone watches his wallet in Spain
When in Barcelona, be Barcelonan, or is that do as the Barcelonese? It can be hard for a foreigner to figure things out in the land of architecture that conjures thoughts of The Phantom of Opera's mask
Barcelona, Spain: Say you're going to Barcelona, and everyone has a story about how their pocket was picked or, in some cases, their passport stolen right out of their purse while they were buying something - a soccer T-shirt, perhaps, or one of the Dali ashtrays that made to look is as molten as one of his clocks - and not watching their wallet. Someone had their purse stolen right from under a restaurant table. Someone met a guy who had ketchup and mustard poured on him out of squeeze bottles and, while he was wiping it off, lost all his luggage. It's something of a relief, then, to report that I arrived from the airport with pocketbook intact, perhaps due to the fact that my passport and cash were tucked into a money belt that fit nicely just over my underwear. The only way to ...