It’s good fun, checking into a small hotel in a new town and then going out to explore. There are patterns to this trip, and that’s one of them.
It didn’t take me too long to find, any hotel with ‘Gare TGV’ in its name wasn’t going to be too far from the station, though I did go out the wrong side of the station first and have to go back in and double check the map. I blame the fact that I didn’t fancy going down the ‘Passage de Salvador Dali’, I mean, that name doesn’t instil confidence does it? I had the feeling it might lead literally into the bowels of the earth, and I could find myself winding perpetually round some labyrinthine intestinal pipes. But no, it was just a tunnel under the tracks that came out in the middle of some construction work at the end of the Rue de General Gaulle.
Of course, the railway station is never in the best part of town.
Looking out of the window and seeing the ‘Hotel Paris-Barcelone’ opposite – quel romance! I should be staying there! – is one thing, but then you start off down the road and the next shop is a tattoo parlour: ‘armes de defence’ in the window, took me through a few interpretations before (I think) I got that one sorted out in my head – and your nostrils pick up that sweet smoky smell… well, at least I’m only here for one night.
In fact, I’m lucky to even have an afternoon here, it’s only because of the man at the station in Barcelona giving me an earlier ticket. By rights I should still be in Barcelona now. And does it sound perverse of me to say I’d rather be here in Perpignan, sitting in the sun with a coffee on the Place D’Arago?
I’d guess not many people come to this town for its own sake, but hey, a deep sense of well being comes over me.
I really need to get some sunglasses. I think the magnetic clip-ons for my reading glasses got dumped in the bag I left at my sister’s when I sorted out the Wardrobe, and that’s annoying. Why did I do that? Even in misty Brittany, I should have realised it was a stupid thing to do. I said in a blog post before I left home that I would be heading south and meeting the spring coming towards me, and that’s just what’s happened, at least since I passed through Angouleme.
After my coffee, I set off trying to find the interesting bits of Perpignan, in my usual vague way, with a map I picked up from the Tourist Information Office. I thought I’d head either for the river or the Palace of the Kings of Mallorca, but somehow I got distracted in the maze of little streets and doubled back on myself. I did find a lovely park, but why did it have so many statues of naked girls? I know some would say ‘why not’, but when I did find an inscription on one, it was apparently the town’s tribute to Pablo Cassals, and I have to say I thought it was just a bit gratuitous.
The fountain was lovely though, and the giant inverted red funnel was intriguing. Having read the description with it, my understanding is that it represents issues of sexuality and gender, synmbolising androgeny and hermaphroditic tendencies as it combines convexity and concavity in its shape, which makes a kind of sense, I suppose.
I didn’t want to spend too long wandering about because I wanted to get something to eat and I didn’t fancy walking back up the Rue de General de Gaulle too late in the evening. I was thinking of the pizzeria La Roma, which advertised an English menu (I was feeling rather feeble), near where I’d had coffee on the Place D’Arago, but when I got there, although it wasn’t exactly closed, I couldn’t see anyone sitting either outside or in, which put me off.
I went to one of the other cafes on the square and sat down outside. The waitress (blonde, middle aged) was very friendly, but when I asked for the menu seemed as shocked as if I’d asked her to sacrifice her first-born grandchild, and kept pointing to her mouth and asking ‘Manger? Manger?’ in horrified tones.
‘C’est OK?’ I asked nervously.
‘English? Pizza?’ she said. She took my hand and patted it reassuringly. ‘Pizza, oui? It’s OK, it’s OK!’
She bustled inside and came back with the menu.
‘Pizza dix minutes’ she said, holding up both hands with splayed digits. ‘OK?’
‘OK!’ I agreed.
‘Tres bon! Very good!’ she nodded.
The pizza was indeed very good. I ate it in the growing chill of the approaching evening. When I turned and looked over my shoulder through the window behind me, I noticed that the tables inside were being set for dinner. Maybe it was just the fact that I wanted to eat outside that she had a problem with.
I do seem to want to eat at the wrong times, always too late for lunch and early for dinner. I’ll adapt.
I thought briefly about walking along the canal to have a look at the river, but decided I should get back to the hotel by the route I knew would take me there. It didn’t take as long as I thought, and the place wasn’t as intimidating as my first impressions had made it.
That’s first impressions for you.