In search of Ucetia

At the end of last week I read that there was an interesting Roman site being uncovered in Uzès (pronounced "Oo-zez"), once called Ucetia, and that impressive mosaics would be shown to the public this weekend before they were dismantled and boxed up to be archived or displayed elsewhere. I left Montpellier this morning to see the ancient site of Ucetia. Uzès is 85 kilometers, or about 75 minutes, from Montpellier. I was alone on this trip, because Ruth and our kids are in Paris for the weekend.

Along the way I stopped at Ambrussum, a site I visited in 2009. There's a new museum at the Ambrussum site. It was closed for lunch when I arrived, which I expected because lunch, epecially on the weekend, is a big deal in France.

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Roman milestone. If it was from the Ambrussum site, I think there'd be a note about that.

According to signs at the site and Wikipedia the Romans standardized the construction of rest stops every 20-30 kilometers on roads such as the Via Domitia. The foundations of such a stop have been excavated at Ambrussum. It was halfway between Nemasus (now Nîmes) and Sextantio (now Castelnau-le-Lez, the village across the Lez from Montpellier).

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Remains of the ancient rest stop on the Via Domitia.

First century AD truckers bound for Narbonensis or Hispania who stayed at this station would have crossed the Vidourle on an impressive 9-arch bridge. In 1740, there were 3 arches. When Gustave Courbet painted it in 1857, there were 2. Only one arch remains today.

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I forgot to take pictures at the modern Ambrussum rest stop on the Via Domitia when I pulled off to fill up the tank of my car (€1.45 per liter). It's the first weekend of Spring Break for families with kids in Zone C (including Montpellier, Paris, and Toulouse) and the rest stop was very busy.

After leaving Ambrussum I kept going past the usual Nîmes exit and got off the A9 at Nîmes Est. I took the D127 to Poulx and then the D135 and D979 to the gorge of the Gardon and the Pont Saint-Nicolas, a 13th century bridge over the Gardon upstream from Pont-du-Gard. Beyond this bridge, it was a only a few kilometers through the vineyards to Uzès.

I found parking just outside the center of Uzès and hustled to the archaeological site to find a bunch of disappointed French folks and this sign. Mince!

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"Because of bad weather we are obliged to cancel the visits to the site Saturday and Sunday."

Happily, Uzès lives up to its reputation as a town with much to see and do. I tasted a couple white wines at Domaine Saint-Firmin, right around the corner from the site, and bought a carton of bottles. After this I found my way to the historical center.

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An entrance to the pedestrian center of Uzès.

The Duché was an interesting site and there are great views from the tower.

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Tour groups arriving at the Ducal Palace.

The stairway to the tower had 125 steps and I shared them with a gaggle of older French tourists. It was funny listening to them heckle each other on the climb.

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View to the North and the Cévennes from the Ducal Palace tower.

The town's market square, the Place aux Herbes, was quieter than usual on account of the rainy weather, but I still enjoyed exploring it.

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Market square in Uzès.

All around the edge of the square were arcades occupied by shops and cafes. I've seen these kinds of arcades in Torino, Italy. There's nothing quite like them in Montpellier.

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Cafe and shop in an arcade at Place aux Herbes.

There are definitely no public spaces like this in Fort Collins, Colorado.

I failed to find Ucetia on this trip but I did discover that I'm a fan of Uzès. I would love to bring my family here if there are other public tours of the archaeological site this spring.

Ravin des Arcs

Sunday, 26 February, we went hiking with friends at the Ravin des Arcs near Saint-Martin-de-Londres.

This narrow canyon has been carved in Jurassic limestone by the Lamalou, a short (16 kilometer) tributary of the Hérault River.

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Large pool of the Lamalou

The Lamalou has formed a short series of lovely falls, slides, and plunge pools. Like the nearby Hérault and Lez rivers, the Lamalou is greenish.

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Smaller pools and narrows downstream

This canyon is called the Ravin des Arcs because of this large natural arch spanning the channel and other smaller arches in the adjacent cliffs.

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Natural arch

These pools look like the ideal place to spend a hot summer afternoon, do they not? Sadly, because of its short course and the lack of rain in the summer months, the Lamalou dries up in May or June. You can see in the following photo that the water level has already been dropping quickly in February. We had no trouble crossing with bare feet.

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Fording the Lamalou

On the way back to our cars at the end of the afternoon, we had a very nice view of the Pic Saint-Loup, the 2000 foot promentory that overlooks Montpellier, from the northwest. The source of the Lamalou is at the base of the mountain.

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Pic Saint-Loup

I found the Ravin des Arcs to be one of the more interesting natural sights near Montpellier.

Pays de Sault

We spent the first week of winter break with friends in Bessède-de-Sault, a little village of 50 people on a small plateau in the foothills of the Pyrénées. There's not much going on in the village other than a couple dairy cow operations, sheep herding, and vacation homes. There's not even a tabac or boulangerie. The closest stores are in Axat, 15 km down the Aude River gorge, or Mijanès, 15 km up at the head of the valley. Our friends restored a old house 40 years ago and have been spending summers and winter vacations here ever since.

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Bessède-de-Sault

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Bessède-de-Sault from above

I went for several long runs in the snow. The forest here at 900-1500 meters elevation is a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees. Empty chestnut husks still cling to the trees, giving the mountainsides a distinct ruddy color.

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Road to Aunat and Rodome

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View toward Col de Pailhères and Col de Trabesses

Spring is yet a few months away in the Pays de Sault. The brightest colors I saw in the woods were these abundant yellow-green lichen.

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Xanthoria parietina

This was largely a ski trip and we skied 3 days at Mijanès-Donezan, a tiny ski station on the east side of the Col de Pailhères. It was like going back in time: Donezan has only surface lifts and a 3-day adult pass costs only €50. A glass of beer is only €2.50. The mountain and its trails is about the same size as the front of Eldora (Challenge Mountain). One short surface lift, what French skiers call a tire-fesse, and then a longer one take skiers from the base at 1500 meters to 2000 meters on a shoulder of Pic de Canrusc (2133 m). Our first attempt to ski was denied due to rain, not unusual in the Pyrénées. Conditions soon improved: 8" of fresh snow fell on Wednesday, followed by 3 straight days of sunny and mild weather.

On every trip to the station, we passed beneath the ruined Château d'Usson. The region is dotted with 11th and 12th century fortresses, remnants of the region's struggles against the Pope and France. This part of France might be Catalan or Spanish today if not for the defeat of the Count of Toulouse and the King of Aragon in 1213 during the Albigensian Crusade. The red and gold of the royal arms of Aragon can still be seen today in emblems of southwestern France.

The Albigensian Crusade was a five decade program of Catharist Christian extermination carried out by the Roman Catholic Church and its military allies, eventually including the King of France. Hundreds of thousands of people were condemned as heretics and murdered in this corner of France. 20,000 were massacred on 22 July 1209 during the Sack of Béziers.

Bessède-de-Sault is two hours south of Carcassone, two and a half hours southwest of Béziers. Both the D117 and D118 routes pass by and through spectactular limestone badlands. I took photos of the Gorges de St Georges, but its essence mostly evaded my G4's camera. The Gorges de Galamus is another that's popular with canyoneers and vacationers looking for a place to cool off in the summer. The Gorges de Joucou is the closest to Bessède-de-Sault and one I'm eager to see. That web page about it is a work of love.

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Gorges de St Georges

Many things about this part of France remind me of my favorite places in the Intermountain West of the United States: the wildness, the rock formations, the mixed grazing-forestry-tourism economy. Towns like Axat and Quillan have plenty in common with Salida, Colorado or Dubois, Wyoming.

I'm coming back to the region at the end of March to run in a race at Quillan. The course goes up and over and around bluffs like these ones outside Maury. I'm hoping to do a little bit of wine tasting and shopping at Mas Amiel and other Maury vineyards on the way.

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Dormant vineyards of Mas Amiel and the Château de Quéribus

Halfway

On August 8, 2016, I blogged about arriving in Montpellier with my family and the start of our 12 month séjour. Today we're a little more than halfway through.

Thursday I picked up my Titre de Séjour from the Prefecture. The Titre de Séjour (formerly Carte de Séjour, or just CD) is a residence permit required by French law for non-European Union citizens staying in France for a longer than three months. I can now travel around the EU like any other French citizen until August 1, 2017. This is good since I'm planning to visit a few places outside France this spring like Bologna and Berlin.

Our previous séjour in 2009 opened my eyes to what less-privileged, poorly-connected people are going through when they try to establish residence in France. We stood in the same lines and waited in the same waiting rooms as African families. In 2016, immigration is much more segregated. Visiting scientists and their families get to deposit their dossiers at a much more welcoming Office Français Immigration Intégration (OFFI) annex at the university. We're presumed healthy and there are no medical exams or scans. My only time spent with other immigrants was waiting to pick up my card at the Prefecture. Immigration to France (short term, at least) is easier today for well-connected white folks. I suspect it's more difficult for others.

And now our return to the US in August is beginning to rear its head. We're signing our oldest up for her new school. Discussions with our tax preparer are starting. We have a family reunion in California to arrange. Orthodontia appointments to schedule. House repairs.

12 months is too short for a trip like this; just when we're finally settled in it's time to start planning to leave.

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Chien de traineau, Mijanès-Donezan

GeoJSON-LD Context and Vocabulary Publication

The work of defining a JSON-LD context and RDF vocabulary for GeoJSON is done. Documentation on version 1.0 of the context and context, including links to the JSON-LD and RDF docs, is published at http://geojson.org/geojson-ld/.

This work has no impact on most GeoJSON applications. For JSON-LD applications it provides a default context, allowing ordinary GeoJSON to be parsed (for the most part; see the outstanding issues noted at the end of the documentation) as though it were JSON-LD in a standard way, and helps make GeoJSON elements useful in other JSON-LD contexts.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussions on GitHub: Chaz6, ManoMarks, Roselin, adoyle, ajturner, akuckartz, azaroth42, calvinmetcalf, cappelaere, danbri, dinizime, dlongley, dr-shorthair, dret, ekansa, elf-pavlik, emeeks, erictheise, fils, gkellogg, hobu, jasnell, jyutzler, kgeographer, kgjenkins, ktk, lanthaler, letmaik, mitar, mpdaly, msporny, p3dr0, peterisb, pietercolpaert, retog, rtroncy, rybesh, sdrees, sfsheath, sgillies, thijsbrentjens, tschaub, and tstone. Because I drastically reduced the scope of the work toward the end, some of these contributions aren't reflected in the final products.

A vocabulary for describing the temporal extent of event-like features is one of the things that I cut from GeoJSON-LD. It lives on as a proposed extension for RFC 7946 GeoJSON, with no JSON-LD requirements, at https://sgillies.github.io/geojson-events/.

Work on resolving the mismatch between GeoJSON's nested coordinates array and JSON-LD could be part of the JSON-LD 1.1 discussion. Make sure to subscribe to public-linked-json@w3.org and https://github.com/json-ld/json-ld.org if you're interested in this issue.

Port de Sète

Sète is southwest of Montpellier, at the foot of Mont St Clair, between the Étang de Thau (our largest coastal lagoon) and the Mediterranean Sea. It has an active fishing, recreation, and container port, France's second largest (after Marseille) on the Mediterranean. Montpellerians are very fond of Sète and laud its authentic character. It's a tourist destination that doesn't feel overrun by tourists. Certainly not on the day after Christmas, when we stopped in.

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On the Quai Général Durand

Construction of the Port of Sète began in 1666 with funding and an edict from Louis XIV. The port was to be the southern terminus of the Canal du Midi, which gave France river and canal transport route between the Atlantic and Mediterranean, an interior route that didn't have to pass Spain. In a way it was a massive pipeline project, but for wheat, not oil. I hope that the Canal du Midi will be one of our future day trips. One can bike it using tow paths converted to paved or upaved cycling and hiking trails or go by commercial or personal boat. We passed it on the outskirts of Béziers on our train trip to Barcelona and, I read, it crosses the Orb river on a viaduct. Seeing a boat cross a river via bridge will be worth the trip. Maybe we'll be in the boat.

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Plans des ports de France (1777)

Boat tours of the Port de Sète depart from the original central quai shown in the map from 1777 above, just to the lower left of the bridge. These run regularly in warmer weather and the crew and boat come out of hibernation for a few runs during the Christmas break. Ruth called and found out that whether the tours are on or off depends on weather and the number of passengers. As it turned out, the weather was fine, the boat sold out, and the tour was on. We scored good seats on the top deck of the Aquarius, a bright red and yellow catamaran with underwater windows in each of its hulls.

The 17th century civil engineers who built the port did not make allowances for automobile parking garages, but one has been installed under the canal north of the quai. It boggled my land-lubber brain a bit to be parking under the water, but of course the canal itself is a rather shallow channel dug in the solid ground between the sea and the lagoon to the north. The parking is operated by Indigo, of course, an enterprise intent on monopolizing parking stations in France and running them fairly well with decent lighting and fresh paint and seasonal music.

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On board the Aquarius

The Aquarius slipped past the fishing fleet on the quai and then down the coast to the southwest, past the maritime cemetary, the amphitheatre, and to a rocky bank in shallow water where we were all invited to go below deck to peer out the underwater ports. We saw fish, though Dorade (Sea Bream) is the only species I remember. When the water is warmer, tourists sometimes see octopus on these tours.

On the way back from the rocks, the crew gave all the kids on board a tour of the wheelhouse. Bea blew the ship's horn and Arabelle got to handle the wheel. Meanwhile, the first mate entertained the adults with a variety of off-color nautical jokes.

The cruise finished with a very detailed tour of the most empty (Boxing Day, remember) port. There was one livestock freighter recently arrived from North Africa, and a wine tanker from Tangiers. We saw where the tugs and pilot boats were parked and then headed back to the quai with some jaunty song about cigales (cicadas) on the loudspeakers. We went to the nearest place, Les 2 Ramiers, for cafés and crêpes so loaded with Nutella that even Bea and Arabelle cried for mercy.

Too full to get in the car, we wandered a couple blocks to Place Léon Blum to see the famous octopus fountain. It's big and sprawling and I failed to capture it well with my phone's camera.

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Octopus at the Fountain in Place Léon Blum

I'm looking forward to visiting Séte again before we leave France. Meanwhile, I've given myself a little homework: 1) figure out why Georges Brassens is such a big deal around here, and 2) watch Pépé le Moko, a prototypical film noir set in Sète.

Patterns

There will be no 2016 retrospective from me. Instead here are a few photos of shoppers at Montpellier's Arceaux Market managing to match the products or stalls they are standing at, their enthusiasm for the sea, fresh pasta, and penicillium literally worn on their sleeves, in perfect harmony with the objects of their gustatory desires.

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One of my resolutions for 2017 is to bring my better camera to the market and get over my inhibitions about taking photographs of people. Asking permission and making apologies will be good French practice.

Bon courage and good luck in the new year, everyone!

Palais des Papes

We had enough fun in Nîmes that we've dedicated ourselves to trying some kind of weekend day trip every two weeks or so. On December 10, we piled back into our trusty little wagon for Part III of our World Heritage Tour and headed to Avignon, in Provence, and its famous Palais des Papes.

Why not every weekend? It's not that anyone in my family is averse to sightseeing, it's that being étrangers (foreigners), even well-connected and privileged étrangers, in France is exhausting, especially for our kids, and some regularly scheduled downtime or unscheduled time turns out to be critical. The deal, more or less, is this: our kids get one weekend of laying around in their pyjamas reading books and playing Minecraft and Sims or local activities and, most of all, not sitting in a car, and the other weekend we drive to some World Heritage Site (for real!) while listening to a Hunger Games audiobook (in French) with a guarantee of a gôuter.

Avignon's Palais des Papes did not disappoint!

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Outside the Palais des Papes, Avignon

You can read all about the Palace elsewhere. Suffice it to say that 6 Roman Catholic popes held office here in the 14th century and poured a ton of gold into making it the largest Gothic palace of Europe. It's pretty awesome if you're into castles and fortresses. Extensive rennovation has made it easy to see much of the interior and there are quality exhibits throughout. You can even visit the room in which the popes hoarded their treasure, a windowless room with floorboards (stones, in fact) that were pulled up to add or remove sacks of gold and silver extracted from the faithful.

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Porte of the Palais des Papes

The rooftop café was closed, but that wasn't a big deal because there were several in the square below and we got our gôuter: crêpes nutella, citron, and caramel made fresh in front of our eyes just as they should be.

The Pont Saint-Bénézet, the "pont" in the song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon," was close and we walked there next. It's not a huge bridge and doesn't even completely span this branch of the Rhône, but it has character and affords nice views of the river and palace.

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Literally sur le pont d'Avignon

Avignon had a nice feel about it. There's a sizeable pedestrian center that was packed with Christmas shoppers. We did some shopping ourselves and I saw some attractive restaurants. We'll be returning to next summer to check out Avignon's renowned performing arts festival.

Day Trip to Nîmes

The Saturday day before my 20 km race, the four of us (I, Ruth, our two daughters) drove north and east "up" the A9 to Nîmes to do a bit of sight-seeing. Nîmes is less than an hour from Montpellier and has several well-preserved monuments from its Gallo-Roman past. I visited in 2012 and have been pitching the idea of another visit to my family for months. Part of my pitch was this episode of "C'est pas sorcier": Pont du Gard et Arènes de Nîmes : L'architecture gallo-romaine. I wish we'd known about "C'est pas sorcier" before we arrived. France 3 has uploaded all of its 550+ episodes to Youtube and they'll be a great resource for us when we get back to Colorado. English Wikipedia translates the title as "It's not rocket science," but "It's not magic" is better in the context of the show, which features technical models and scientific explanations.

There are 42 kilometers on the A9 autoroute between Montpellier Est and Nîmes Ouest. It's 3 lanes in either direction with one toll plaza on the A9 east of Montpellier and one at the Nîmes exit. We picked up a ticket leaving Montpellier and paid €7 (if I recall) when entering Nîmes. Freeway driving in the South of France is pretty much like driving in the US. The maximum posted speed limit is a bit higher than in Colorado, but we don't see many drivers exceeding it like they do on the Front Range. I've read that photo radar and steep fines have been implemented to curtail speeding on the autoroute. French drivers are less erratic than Colorado drivers and I feel like we're somewhat safer on the A9 than we are on I-25.

On this trip, as on the others during our séjour, we're driving a 2005 Opel Meriva. It's turning out to be an adequate car. It seats 5, handles fairly well, and gets great mileage. When it was new, its engine generated 85 hp, about a third of our Honda Odyssey's output. We're one of the slower cars on the autoroute, holding down the right lane with the Citroën C3s and the Renault Clios.

Nimes is the capital of the Gard (number 30, alphabetically, of France's 96 départements) department, as Montpellier is for the Hérault (34). The Nîmes metro is 250,000 people, about the size of Fort Collins, Loveland, and satellite towns. Nîmes is further from the shore, more in the hills, than Montpellier. Outside the historic center of Nîmes are orchards, suburban sprawl, and struggling zones à urbaniser en priorité (ZUP). On Avenue Kennedy we passed between Valdegour and Pissevin, largely immigrant neighborhoods where unemployment approaches 45% and services and shops have withdrawn. It's a bad situation poised to become worse; a rightward-moving France doesn't seem likely to undo the racial and ethnic segregation in smaller cities like Nîmes and Montpellier.

We parked our car in a large pay lot (seasonal music included) near the Jardins de la Fontaine and walked to the center from there. Our first stop was for fast food, pasta in cartons for the kids, on one of the pedestrian shopping streets, fully decorated for Christmas, and then we went directly to the Arènes de Nîmes, the Roman amphitheatre. At lunchtime on the last Saturday in November there is no waiting in line to get in like there is in summer.

On my one previous visit to Nimes, I lost my wallet in Montpellier's train station (whether by pickpocket or absent mindedness, I'll never know) and had only my return ticket and the change in my pocket, nowhere near the price of admission to the amphitheatre. This then was my first time inside and I was very impressed. Constructed around AD 70, it seats almost 17,000 and is still used today for corrida (bullfighting) and music festivals.

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Arènes de Nîmes

The sandy piste of the arena, was as they say in France, exceptionally open on the day of our visit.

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Combat on the sand of the arena

The Maison Carrée was once a temple on the forum of Gallo-Roman Nemausus (as Nîmes was called). It still stands 2014 years later and has been recently restored. There's a small movie theater inside that shows a short historical drama set in the century before the completion of the amphitheatre. It was a little hokey, but our kids enjoyed it and got a sense of what joining the Roman Empire meant for the tribe of Gauls settled around Nemausus: security, international trade, and measurable prosperity.

Our final, and favorite, stop was at the Jardins de la Fontaine, a spacious park established at a spring and Roman nymphaeum. Almost 4.5 kilometers of passages and galleries have been found in the karstic network upstream of the spring by spéléologues (spelunkers) since the 1950s.

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Fountains of the Jardin de la Fontaine, Nîmes

From the terraces and fountains, footpaths and stairs zig and zag up the hill to the Tour Magne on top. It was too late to get into the tour, but we had a great view of the sunset from its base.

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Tour Magne

We all agreed that the park alone was worth the drive. There's a lot to see and do there, including terrains de pétanque (boules), a manège (carrousel), and pony rides.

In Barcelona

At the end of October my family, plus Ruth's Mom and sister, spent a long weekend in Barcelona. We went by train. The French and Spanish national railways, SNCF and Renfe, jointly run a line between Paris and Barcelona. 4 to 7 (in summer) round trips are made between these major cities every day. Over 2 million passengers made the journey in 2015.

Montpellier is midway between Paris and Barcelona and there is a long stretch of old track before and beyond Montpellier. 155 kilometers of new faster track between Montpellier and Perpignan following the route of the A9 motorway has been proposed to be built before 2025. The existing route is much closer to the Mediterranean, and traverses the many coastal lagoons. It's every bit as scenic and wonderful as it is slow: chugging along narrow causeways between blue water and sky, surrounded by oyster beds and flamingos and windsurfers.

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Étang de Campignol

I'm not the only one who finds this region so picturesque: there's a train photography site with many shots taken around Port-la-Nouvelle.

Between Perpignan and Barcelona is new, high speed track and the 8 kilometer Perthus tunnel through the Pyrenées. At 280 kph it's only 15 mins to Figueres, another 15 to Girona, then 30 to Barcelona. The train ducks into a tunnel in the suburbs and parks underground at the Barcelona Sants station. There are no tracks above ground at the station and you can walk away from it in any direction. After checking out the huge metal dragon and slide at the Parc de l'Espanya Industrial, we walked toward Avinguda del Paral·lel.

Barcelona is a big city. My kids were taken aback at first. They'd been to Los Angeles in the spring, which is bigger, but not so urbanized. The solid blocks of 7-8 floor buildings took a little getting used to.

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Avinguda del Paral·lel

I was immediately impressed by Barcelona's generous sidewalks and crosswalks. It felt safe to walk in central Barcelona. More than safe, even, it felt right to walk. Walking is a first-class activity. I can't think of another city where I've had quite the same feeling.

After unpacking we wandered past all the pintxos bars on Calle Blai to Bar Seco, on a more peaceful corner at the foot of Montjuïc. Ruth's sister has been working and traveling in Latin America all her adult life and speaks Spanish very well, so we had no obstacles to getting properly fed in Barcelona. My kids are deeply skeptical about European food at the moment and ate almost nothing on this trip other than papas bravas and green salads. Happily, Bar Seco did both of these very well. It also had a good selection of local craft beers, including a hoppy one, La Pirata Viakrucis.

The following day was a busy one. We walked from our apartment up to Avinguada Miramar and rode the telefèric to Castell de Montjuïc, the infamous citadel on the hill overlooking the port and city. Many communists and Catalan activists suffered and died within its walls. On October 15, 1940, the President of Catalunya, Lluís Companys, was shot dead by the Franco regime in the moat of the castle. From Wikipedia: "Companys is the only incumbent democratically elected president in European history to have been executed." It was sobering to consider the Spanish Civil War and the Franco's dictatorship at the end of October and even more so today.

Afterwards, we rode the funicular and metro to the Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí's extraordinary basilica. My brief experience with the Barcelona metro was a positive one. It's clean and runs properly and is easy to navigate. There's a stop right at the church.

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View from the metro exit

The Sagrada Família has an enormous amount of stained glass and the light inside is over the top. The colors of the rainbow are everywhere.

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Organ pipes in the Sagrada Familia

We went up the towers and got some great views from above. I've read that the 45 degree building cuts at block corners, which turn intersections into large diamond shaped plazas, are required urban design elements in Barcelona.

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One of the illes that characterizes the Eixample district

That evening, we ate at Taps Bar, a cozy place decorated with mid-century antiques. I had sardines, which I ordered at every opportunity, and snails (caragol in Catalan) for the first time, in a delicious sauce of ham, chorizo, tomato, garlic, paprika, thyme, and black pepper. People eat a few different species of snails here in southwest Europe, the shells of the ones I ate suggest that they were Cornu aspersum.

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Caragol in spicy Catalan sauce

Saturday morning we took a bus to Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and the Picasso Museum. The Barri Gotic has a medieval character not unlike Montpellier's centre ville, its tiny cobbled squares connected by narrow alleys.

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On Twitter I made the mistake of calling Sobrasada "spreadable chorizo"

Afterwards we wandered around the Parc de la Ciutadella for a while and rented a little barque to paddle around a pond. Multiple late nights caught up with us a bit at this point. While, Ruth and her Mom took the kids back to the apartment for naps, Ruth's sister and I did a quick tour of other sites like the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, la Rambla, and the Casa Batlló.

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Casa Batlló has one Barcelona's most photographed fireplaces

We all met up for dinner in the Eixample district at a restaurant named Vinitus. My favorite tapa dish here was baked salt cod with a sauce of tomatoes and honey. By the time we left, people were lining up halfway down the block to get in. Fortunately, they were getting cocktail service in line.

The almost uniform excellence of food and service in Barcelona is uncanny. It's also uncanny how a restaurant like Vinitus can be simultaneously chic, affordable, and family friendly. In France or the United States, you generally have to pick two of these three qualities. A bonus: wines in a Catalan restaurant, especially local wines, cost not much more than the price of a dish. I'm still not over this!

Sunday I went on a long training run along the boardwalk next to the Mediterranean, through the renovated port (which reminded me very much of San Francisco's Embarcadero), and back up and over Montjuïc. If I'd done more homework before the trip, I would have known that there was a huge 10k race in El Raval that morning. I saw runners gathering near the port as I passed.

At noon we walked uphill to the Fundació Joan Miró and toured the museum. I found myself thinking a lot about how Miró remained motivated and able to do creative work through such troubled times in Spain and Catalunya. Recommendations, if you have any, for biographies of mid-20th century Catalan artists, writers, and designers are very welcome. As impressive as the museum, in my opinion, are the botanical gardens around around them.

For our last night out in Barcelona, we went back to Calle Blai for pintxos and drinks before La Fíbula, an Arabic restaurant, opened. Pintxo is Basque for "thorn" and refers to the pointy wooden stick used to pin some savory ingredient – sausage, fish, roasted vegetables, etc. – to a slice of baguette. My kids picked out pintxos of chips and guacamole (no, really!). If I recall, the reason why I don't have a picture is that my phone was dying. Sadly for them, it turned out to be the infamous green pea guacamole. I was too hungry to be picky, and gobbled them along with a pair of spicy sausage pintxos and a large Estrella Damm. La Fíbula was good, of course, my only regret being that I ate way too many honey and rose water-drenched deserts.

Ruth's Mom and sister headed back to Seattle on Monday and the rest of us went back to Montpellier on a train full of French families.

Before this trip, my experience in Spain was one afternoon at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres and another at State of the Map in Girona. I'm so glad we made the time to visit Barcelona. Clearly, there's so much more to this city than we could see in 4 days. I'd love to go back.

Apologies if I've mixed up Spanish and Catalan street and place names here. I'm new to these languages and am not always sure which is which.