Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Part1 // Elisenda Domènech Investigations by Chris Lloyd
In all seriousness an unprecendented event is occuring in todays post! Not only is it another bookish post(hitting those goals or what this year?!), I'm happy to say it;'s a lovely and substantial blog post that even includes a few words from author Chris Lloyd.
A brief little snippet about our esteemed guest:
Chris was born in an ambulance racing through a town he’s only returned to once and that’s probably what did it. Soon after that, when he was about two months old, he moved with his family to West Africa, which pretty much sealed his expectation that life was one big exotic setting. He later studied Spanish and French at university, and straight after graduating, he hopped on a bus from Cardiff to Catalonia where he stayed for the next twenty-four years, falling in love with the people, the country, the language and Barcelona Football Club, probably in that order. Besides Catalonia, he’s also lived in Grenoble, the Basque Country and Madrid, teaching English, travel writing for Rough Guides and translating. He now lives in South Wales, where he works as a writer and a Catalan and Spanish translator, returning to Catalonia as often as he can.
Sitting down to look at the top ten places that have meant the most to me has made me realise just how much I love European cities – there’s nothing better than losing myself in their streets and finding somewhere to drink a wine or a coffee and watch the world go by. I call it research. It is, honestly. There are also a lot of places in Spain on my list. I lived there for 24 years and loved every moment – it still plays an important part in my life, so you’ll have to forgive me for a Spanish bias in the places below.
1. Since I write stories set in the beautiful Catalan city of Girona, it really has to be the top of my list. I first went there when I was 20 to work as a language teaching assistant, and I fell in love with it from the very first moment. At that time, it was recovering its identity after forty years of Franco’s dictatorship and over the years it’s transformed itself into a pretty cool, laid-back place with lashings of arts festivals, wonderful traditional and adventurous cuisine, and a fantastic café culture. And when you add to that the beauty of the city itself – with medieval walls surrounding a labyrinthine old town, a hugely atmospheric Jewish Quarter, a café-lined Rambla that’s perfect for people-watching, a cathedral towering over the city atop the highest Rococo staircase in the world – you’ll see why I’m smitten.
2. Staying with Catalonia for the moment, I lived in Barcelona for 16 years and it’s everything great you’ve ever heard about it and more. From the captivating views over the whole city from the terrace bars halfway up Tibidabo mountain, down through the Modernist architecture of the Eixample’s gridiron streets to the bustle of the Gothic Quarter and the port, it oozes cool delight. My favourite parts of town have always been Gràcia and El Born. Originally a village that Barcelona engulfed as it grew, the narrow streets of Gràcia are joyously out of tune with the wide boulevards around it and home to great bars and restaurants. El Born is near the port, and in just a small area there are world-class museums, including the Picasso Museum, stunning Gothic architecture and more than a smattering of traditional and modern places to eat and drink.
3. I know it’s probably not the most surprising of choices, but Paris has to be one of my favourite cities. We went recently for my wife’s birthday, when we stayed in our favourite place on the Left Bank: a hotel on a lively square right in front of the Sorbonne. Like all great European cities, it has the perfect blend of huge brushstrokes and delicate and almost hidden nuances. There are few places I know with a more enchanting contrast between the grandeur of the great buildings and museums and the charm of the narrow alleys and neighbourhood shops and cafes. A city to love and be loved.
4. Some years ago, I drove along Route 1 from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and it felt exactly like being in my own road movie. It was winter and there were hardly any people in the various places I stopped, so it was like I had the coast to myself to make up any story I wanted. My favourite spots were the classical Spanish splendour of Santa Barbara, Morro Bay with its noisy seabirds, and super-chic Carmel and the stunning views of seal colonies from near the town. The trip ended in San Francisco, where I found the people incredibly welcoming and the choice of wonderful family restaurants in Little Italy too much to bear.
5. Sometimes it’s the small moments that leave a more lasting memory. I first visited Gernika in the 1980s, the town made infamous by the Fascist bombing in the Spanish Civil War – Hitler trying out his blitzkrieg tactics – and famous since for Picasso’s painting. In those days, not many people visited the town, and an elderly janitor at the Vizcayan Assembly showed me around the ancient building and the tree that had survived the bombing, a symbol of resistance. He then pointed to a road in the distance and told me that on the day of the bombing he and his mother had been bringing their cow to market when they saw the planes fly over. His mother had made him take shelter under the cow while they watched the destruction, his mother in tears. Now the building is open to the public and there are museums and shops selling images of Picasso’s painting on plates and tea-towels, but I still always recall the kindness of the old man to me and his story of hiding under the cow and his mother weeping.
6. Another of my passions is Roman history, so it’s no surprise that Rome has to make it into my top ten. It is just the most awe-inspiring city I’ve ever visited. The sight of cars and scooters racing blithely around buildings that have stood there for thousands of years and people of all ages drinking coffees and caught up in their own worlds on terraces opposite a jumble of Roman ruins and Renaissance architecture is completely surreal.
7. Linked to this is another place that has left me breathless. I’ve been to southern Italy a couple of times, both times fully intending to explore the area but both times spending the entire week wandering through the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The sheer extent of the excavations and the glimpse of everyday life of ordinary people two thousand years ago is just too exciting not to spend every minute possible there.
8. Until I was six years old, I lived in Sierra Leone, but my memories are the disjointed images of childhood: spiders bigger than my hand, driver ants cutting a swathe through the bush. My most vivid memory was my parents rescuing a baby pygmy hippo whose mother had been killed by poachers. He was tiny and they kept him in the bath until someone from a conservation sanctuary could fetch him. On the first evening, he cried like a human baby, a sound I’ve never forgotten, and my mum and dad took turns to comfort him through the night. I’d love to go back one day to put those random memories into some sort of context.
9. Somewhere I’ve never been but that I’d love to visit are the Nordic countries, and that’s thanks to a very great extent to the fabulous crime fiction that comes out of them. Landscape creates character and story, and they’re such a contrast to the Mediterranean area that I know that I can’t help feeling hugely intrigued by Scandinavia and Iceland. They’re very firmly on my to-do list.
10. To bring my list of places back full circle, I’m returning to Girona, but this time to its coastline, more specifically to the GR 92 coastal footpath. The Costa Brava used to labour under a fairly negative image, but in recent years, the local government has worked hard to undo a lot of the excesses of the tourist boom. A great symbol of this is the GR 92, restored drovers’ trails and coastguards’ paths, which swoops in and out of tiny coves and long beaches for 100 kilometres from tip to toe of the coast – a lovely contrast of tranquillity and vibrancy, where you can walk for hours by the sea without meeting a soul and then find yourself surrounded by a beach full of bathers. And, of course, where you can cool off in the Mediterranean anytime you choose.
That’s my top ten narrowed down as much as I can. I hope you like them and maybe agree with some of them. And maybe even want to visit the ones you don’t know. I know I’ve had great fun recalling them all.
If this post doesn't satisfy your wandering urge then do the next best thing. Dive into a new world from the medium of reading. In fact why not check out Chris's novels? Check out the second part of my entry to the blog tour.
What would make your top ten places?