I have not blogged since Friday because my home in Porrera, the otherwise excellent La Icona del Pont Vell did not have wifi. An old friend and I (a German client from my lawyering days in Poland and Russia) shared a two bedroom town house on the village square, conveniently near where the group's bus picked us all up each day for the various activities.
The village is small and made up mostly of wineries. In the morning, the local wine makers towed trailers of grapes in from the surrounding vineyards with tiny tractors suited to the narrow streets. Many windows were decked both with Catalan flags and with "Si!" posters making their inhabitants' view clear on the forthcoming independence referendum which, despite the Spanish government's threat to arrest the Catalan mayors organising it, seems likely to go ahead on October 1. This led to interesting discussions with my fiercely pro-EU friends from Poland (you would be pro-EU if you were them as Poland is by far the greatest net recipient of EU funds. A man from Mars might logically infer that the whole organisation is designed to take money from Brits and Germans and give it to Poles).
As someone who believes in small government directly elected by people as close to it as possible, my sympathies are of course with the Catalans. For the record, I also think the unification of Germany was the greatest mistake in European history and that the world would be a better place if its various Länder were independent again. To those of a Napoleonic mindset, however, the Catalans like the Brits (especially the Scots) are a bunch of ignorant tribalists. I rather like them myself, but then I am fond of my Scottish friends too – even though none of them favour Scottish independence as much as I do.
The wedding anniversary celebrations for my Polish friends began over lunch on Friday at a winery. I arrived by car, as did a couple of others, but most had flown in to Barcelona where some had begun the party on Thursday night so were already a little hung over! They arrived on a bus which became our main transport for the weekend. Lunch was followed by a surprisingly interesting olive oil tasting. I am not a cook so don't really have any use for the stuff but I am now trained to distinguish the different types and indoctrinated about its anti-carcinogenic properties.
The main party then headed off by bus to our various accommodations in Porrera to prepare for the evening's dinner. This was held in a ruined Carthusian monastery which is at the heart of the Priorat wine region formerly controlled by the order. It was called the "Priorate" because it was effectively governed by their Prior. The order received the region in the 12th Century as an endowment for the monastery in whose grand Refectory we dined. The monks and their tenants cultivated the crop best suited to the area's rugged semi-arid state - grapes. Priorat and Rioja are (if you are a Spanish Unionist) the two greatest wine regions in Spain carrying the highest DOC appellation. If you are a Catalan nationalist then the Priorat is not Spanish but Catalonian and the appellation is DOQ.
The head winemaker from Perinet Winery, part-owned by one of our party, gave us a talk about the wine and – of course – some samples for tasting. This kicked off a weekend during which we seemed always to have a wine glass in our hands unless we were picking grapes or sleeping!
On Saturday we had a tour of the winery and some of us experimented with mixing the fermenting grapes. Then (while I rested) most picked grapes to use as a "starter" for the next batch from the harvest currently in progress. We had a picnic lunch under a canopy amidst the vines before adjourning to our temporary homes to prepare for the celebration dinner. This was held in the "Barrel Room", Perinet's incredibly grandiose wine cellar.
We enjoyed a great meal to the sound first of a violinist and then of toasts. I made a speech recalling that not only was I present at the wedding, but at the proposal! The still-happy groom and the yet-blushing bride both worked for me at the time they met. The groom was my assistant and went on to become my partner before leaving for a rival firm. He's now the leading man in our old field in Poland. After the dinner, the dancers danced until the early hours while the drinkers drank, the smokers smoked and I sipped wine, chatted, listened to the music and looked at the stars.
This morning, with a surprisingly clear head (my Russian friends tell me that it's my "large organism" that allows me to bear my alcohol lightly) I breakfasted and set out for what proved to be one of the best drives of my life. I decided I wanted to visit Burgos on the way to my ferry home but that I didn't want to head there along the same motorways I had used to head south. So at Zaragoza I branched off towards Soria to take N roads through a new part of Spain to me. The weather was sunny but not too hot. It was 9℃ in Porrera when I set off at 0930 but steadily rose during the morning. It had reached 16℃ by my first refuelling stop (near Zaragoza) and so I put the roof down. It was perfect weather for a drive in a convertible and I experienced even more intensely the sights, sounds and smells of rural Spain along the rest of the route. Speranza, recently fettled, was in her very finest form.
Traffic was light to non-existent though Speranza did find a playmate along the way. A Spanish gentleman in his new bright red F-Type Jaguar (a splendid machine) didn't like being overtaken and decided not to race (as that would be illegal and dangerous) but to show us what his bella macchina could do. With two such responsible chaps at the wheel the whole thing was nothing more than a pleasant diversion. On a motorway the speed limit would have made the exercise sterile but on a winding Spanish N road with trucks, Sunday drivers and the usual family sorts in their infernal mummy-wagons, our cars' acceleration and our own skill made for an interesting hundred and fifty kilometres of overtaking and re-overtaking each other. He had the advantage of sitting on the left so could go in some places I could not. The same advantage speeded him through a toll booth where I fell twelve cars behind him because I had to get out of the car to pay. I am pleased to report that in a happy hour of motoring I overtook those twelve and one more and was ahead when I waved goodbye to him as he turned off at his destination.
Apart from this amusement, I enjoyed the rugged Spanish countryside. It didn't look very fertile but farmers seemed to be doing their best with it. There's no livestock in the Priorat so it was good to see cattle in the non-too-green fields. The road also took us through wooded stretches and a village that was having a fiesta. I didn't stop to take part but saw part of the parade as I negotiated the traffic it caused. I arrived in Burgos early afternoon and negotiated a very tricky access to my hotel's tiny underground car park. I am trying not to think about how I turn her around down there to go back up the same narrow, twisted ramp tomorrow morning!
Having brought the blog up to date, I am now off to photograph the famous cathedral etc. and find somewhere for a solitary (and after the weekend's indulgences) frugal, dinner. Tomorrow it's on to Santander and the voyage home. The route of my tour can be found here.