Monday, January 20, 2014

19 January 2014 – Exploring Romanesque Tarragona

Despite being tired I had trouble sleeping. It was the ‘Fish Effect’ – frankly, the sight of all the different varieties on the plate did unsettle me a bit. I thought I had the stomach for anything non-vegetarian. I was not right, not for the first time, though! In bed I felt as if each of them was trying to make their way out of my stomach, one by one. I particularly felt the baby octopus! I tossed and turned to think the meal had been a bad dream. But it would not go away. I was forced to give up my struggle pretending I was asleep somewhere around 3 am. I sat up and completed the blog. The hotel did not even provide for a coffee maker despite the pricey charge. Therefore, the blog had to be written up with tap water for support.

Last night when we said our byes Antonio was told that Vinod and I would be ready to leave for the ship inspection by 9 am. Ideally we would have liked to start earlier, but the fact that it was a Sunday meant that breakfast would be served in the hotel only after 8 am. Antonio had told us that he would be heading for the Port as he had work till late into the night. Therefore, when he walked into the dining area bang on time I was surprised. He showed no sign of fatigue or the late night blues. I had, by then, tucked into a huge breakfast of cereal, toast ham, cheese, sweet croissant, fruits and coffee. The idea was to tank up so that we could work unhindered till we finished inspection of the ship. We checked out of the hotel, but kept the bags there till further plans were decided on. The roads were empty even at 9.30 am; it was as if the city was still asleep. However, certain sections of the road was closed due to a marathon, Antonio said. Shops and establishments, including supermarkets and malls, remain closed on Sundays.

The entry into Tarragona port was another hassle free affair. Antonio had to deliver a few packages to a vessel he was attending to as its agent. That gave us an opportunity to drive around the port; it seemed to be big on coal, chemicals and grain. While chemicals and grain were stored in tank farms and silos coal was stored in the open. But, this did not create any pollution of the nature we have come to expect in India. The roads were clean and so were the yards where poclain excavators, reclaimers, hoppers and conveyors worked in tandem. Another remarkable feature was the absence of people; there was plenty of cargo, but no people. In India the reverse is often the case! As we neared the berth where MV RED SPIRIT was under repair – Ah! The beautiful Mediterranean Sea – I noticed a container terminal operated by DP World. No ships were under discharge. However, many were in outer anchorage – perhaps, the prohibitive port charges make berthing on holidays, except in times of emergency, an avoidable waste.

The Captain and the crew were ready when we reached the ship for inspection. Her engine had been disabled about 200 nautical miles off Tarragona and was towed there for inspection and repair on 27th December 2013. The engine had been totally done up in November during dry dock and hence, the engine manufacturer, MAN, insisted on site inspection. Holidays delayed that and the vessel remained incapacitated at port. The frustration of the crew was palpable. However, action had been initiated by MAN to replace the engine. During the course of the inspection I sensed, even in the Captain, the concern of being out of jobs if the ship was sold to an Indian buyer. The Captain said that it was difficult to find jobs these days! The Chief Mate, Vasily, a rotund and jovial Ukranian, (the crew consisted of 5 Russians and 9 Ukrainians) was clear that Euro would spell crisis for most in his country – cost of living would go up without a commensurate increase in wages. When asked about the impact of Islamic insurgents he firmly dismissed it saying that it was not about religion; it was about good people and bad – I was humbled by his sensible world view.

While winding up inspection of the ship Vinod got information that another one could be offered at the Italian port of Gaeta, instead of Barcelona. We researched and decided to await further information in Barcelona. The stay in Tarragona was extended by a day to facilitate that. In the meanwhile, the remaining itinerary was decided as Tarragona–Barcelona-Rome-Gaeta-Madrid. Flight and train options were decided on too. Only the dates had to be finalized based on information from the broker. Since we had an evening in Tarragona we decided to explore the city on foot. The instructions from the hotel reception were more than useful and so were the suggestions from Antonio, who had dropped us back at the hotel.

The SB Hotel is ideal to begin the walking tour. It is at the Plaza Corts Catalanes, the beginning of the nearly 5 kilometers long promenade to the Balco del Mediterrani, the balcony of the Mediterranean. Every half kilometer or less there is a traffic round about which has either a fountain or a monument. Some of them, like the Monument Als Castells, the life-sized human tower, are historic. The wide promenade is immaculately paved with benches to rest the weary legs or to soak in the pure air, water fountains to drink from and restaurants on either side of them.  Along the way I took diversions to see the old central market which is under renovation, an erstwhile bullring converted to modern office space and Roman ruins aplenty. One street even had orange trees in bloom! I fell in love with the Balco – the spectacular view of the Mediterranean Sea with its beaches, coves, port, railway station and the marina was awesome. The setting sun and the fading light unleashed a magic that the mind refused to tear away from. In close proximity to the Balco are the Roman amphitheatre (excavated as recently as 1952), which had a seating capacity of 12,000 and was used for shows such as gladiator fights, and the Circa Roma which was used for horse and chariot races. From there on, the walk meandered through the Maqueta de Tarraco, the model of the Roman settlement at its peak in the 2nd century, and the Passeig Arqueologic, which still retain the Roman city walls of the 3rd and 2nd century but were also medieval fortifications between the 14th and 18th centuries. Adjoining the modern Archeology Museum building is the massive Roman Praetorium, also known as the Torreón de Pilatos because Pontius Pilate is supposed to have been born in it. It is said that Tarragona has the largest and best preserved Roman artifacts and settlements in the whole of Spain.

A while after we had started the walk in the afternoon we decided on a Pizza at the Dominos near the Rambla Nova. The small outlet seemed to be in demand on the Sunday afternoon. We were given an English version of the menu. I sighted what looked like a promotional deal and settled for it with a plate of wings and potato wedges. They arrived in quick time – large helpings; side dishes were served with mayonnaise and barbeque sauces. The bill showed us why it was a promotion – the Euro 28 bill was reduced by half! After concluding the walk we decided on a short snack before returning to the hotel. So cheese cake and coffee it was at a small eatery near the Balca. It had become dark by the time. The promenades, monuments and the fountains looked even more beautiful with lights on and there were a lot of people on the promenades, locals and visitors. By the time we got back to the hotel Vinod estimated that we had walked more than 15 kilometers that evening. Whatever, I will walk double that distance to experience the Balca; it was an unforgettable experience.

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