Tuesday, July 6, 2010


The train to Collioure was mostly uneventful.  There was a very noisy thirty minutes (from close to Spanish-French border to closer to the Spanish-French border) when a bunch of punk kids, approximately high-school age, decided it was a good idea to play techno music on their phones and yell a lot.  One of them got in a fight with the ticket attendant.  I have no idea what it was about, but I have my suspicions.  Ticket attendants really seem to get upset about only one thing: people who don’t have tickets.  The only other exciting part was the scenery from Port Bou to Collioure.  The Pyrenees fall rather dramatically into the sea, and the train clings to the coast to avoid falling in as well.

Hotel options in the Collioure area were rather limited, so our hotel was about a half-hour walk outside the town.  We were promised a room with a sea view.  We were not promised a day with temperatures hovering, exhausted, around ninety, but somebody delivered.  I got a touch lost navigating us to the hotel (my Google Map had approximately two streets labeled, and I wasn’t even confident that it had the location of the hotel right) and Sophie was so miserable that I ended up carrying both of our backpacks the two and a half kilometer walk.  There were a lot of hills.  Sophie hates hills.  I am, however, my father’s son, and carrying giant backpacks up unnecessarily steep hills makes us both strangely happy.

This is actually a road for cars.  Not joking.

All the bushy plants are grapes.

Our hotel, technically in Argeles-sur-mer but actually closer to Collioure, was perfect.  We could see the ocean from our room, and there was air conditioning, and there was a charming little restaurant with a patio and equally charming, tiny French waitresses.  There was also a pool, which we didn’t end up using, and our shower room was actually a shower room, with tile everywhere and a drain in the floor.  The hotel book kindly requested that we not wash clothes in the room and hang them out our window.  Instead, they proposed to us a laundry service, which we also did not use.

The view from the entrance to the hotel.

Colloquialism is so lost in translation.  In the United States, we say, “We would like to offer you this something or other.”  In France, when they are trying to say the same thing, they say, “We propose to you etc.”  Now I know, it’s a subtle difference, but it’s a surprisingly hilarious subtle difference when a waitress says, out of the blue, “We propose to you a filet of fish with white wine butter sauce!”  I propose to you a new paragraph.

Collioure is known especially for its anchovies.  I made sure that I had some with my dinner.  They are all still hand-fileted by little old ladies.  They were real good.  You pay a lot of money for that kind of anchovy in the States.  I like anchovies.  So does Sophie.  More evidence of compatibility.  Huzzah!

For reasons that are entirely unclear to me, the French drink a massive amount of rose wine.

I just needed to say that, is all.

It is pretty, though.  Why doesn’t anyone else drink it?

Moving on.

The following morning, Sophie and I awoke in the same hotel that we went to bed in.  That is always a good start to a day.  Breakfast was buffet style in the room adjoining the patio.  The hotel put out an assortment of pastries, cured meats, breads, and soft cheeses, as well as fruit salad, cereal and a little machine that would boil an egg for you, if you so chose.  Sophie found out the hard way that the eggs were not pre-cooked.  I like European breakfasts a lot (certainly more than American breakfasts, which give me terrible heartburn and make me sleepy) but my favorite country for breakfast is still Israel.  Most places don’t even give you one salad for breakfast, let alone twenty-five.

We did some much deserved lazing before we walked to Collioure.

This is a fig tree that we found on a hill.

This person can pick fresh grapes from their balcony.

It’s hard to describe how absurdly charming the town is.  It just seems too pretty to be real, with the pebble beach and the church tower that sticks out into the Mediterranean.

There are lots of paintings of this.

There are not so many paintings of this, but it is also nice, don't you think?

You might be wondering how I heard about it, but I didn’t exactly hear about the place so much as walk into it cold.  The same trip in high school that took me to Barcelona made an hour stop in Collioure, and I was transfixed.  I sat on the beach and skipped rocks for an hour with my friend Roman and talked about who knows what and just knew that I wanted to go back some day.  I didn’t know at that point that Matisse had felt the same way about it as I did, but it certainly doesn’t surprise me.  The town is filled with artists and art galleries to this day.  The café where Matisse and Picasso used to hang out, Le Templiers, is still there.  Walking into Collioure is almost like walking into the Mediterannean equivalent of a snow globe.  I say almost because I’ve never walked into a snow globe myself, and above all things, I don’t want to be inaccurate.

Among the things we did in Collioure, the most important three were read, shop, and eat.  There are lots of nice places to sit and read in Collioure.  There are also lots of nice places to shop in Collioure.  Some of you will even be receiving gifts from Collioure.  We found several exciting pastry and chocolate shops as well.  I may or may not have had nougat for breakfast at one point.  Paris did something to me.

Children's play area at a wine store.

Local wine for two euros per gallon.

A hot babe I found sitting on a wall.

We had to get back to the hotel fairly early because Sophie had a phone interview scheduled for a job that she really wants.  I hope they realize that not everybody would do that.  Sophie is dedicated.  Dinner was at the wee restaurant again.  Did we take pictures?  No, we kept forgetting to take pictures.  Suffice it to say that nearly everything contained seafood and everything was very good.

The walk back to the hotel.

Our final day in Collioure contained a lot of blogging and even more reading.  I had been reading the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, which is funny and silly, but serious thoughts about the future took over my mind that day and I ordered a book called “Med School Confidential.”  Just finished it, as a matter of fact.  No, it hasn’t helped me figure anything out.  Thanks for asking.

I am the platonic ideal of the fried potato.

Don't these look good?  They were good.  Really good.  Like, the best pommes frites I'd ever had.  The French really, really know how to fry a potato.  Perfectly crisp outside, steaming hot center, loads of salt but somehow not greasy at all.  And they came from our hotel restaurant, which was staffed by the receptionist.  Not what one would expect from a dining room that, the staff suggested to us, we should have avoided.  "We only have a small menu," they said to us, "and the food is not so grand."  Clearly they have never been to Fargo.

We sat on several different benches in Collioure throughout the course of the day, and while we were sitting on one an old local man sat down next to us.  After a minute of pleasant silence, he asked me, “Vous etes en vacance?”

I made the terrible mistake of responding in French.  “Oui, en vacance.”

After that he asked me a couple of other very simple questions, which I answered improperly but apparently with a passable French accent, because after that he launched into what I think was a complete history of the area.  The only two things that I picked up in about five minutes were that people had been living in the area of Collioure for something like two-thousand years, and that the church was very old.  He could have said something else entirely.  I really, really don’t know.  I was rescued from the horribly nice man by Sophie, who wanted to go get some ice cream from the chocolate store we had popped in the day before.

I believe that she may have already mentioned it.

Another of the highlights of our time in Collioure was a green apple granita that was sold by an ice cream stand right near the water.  I actually moaned with pleasure the first time I sipped it.  It tasted exactly like liquid Jolly Rancher.  Exactly.  You see it pictured here.


It lasted about another five seconds after that.  Don’t worry -- I bought another.

Around five o’clock a band that sounded like, for lack of a better description, a Monty Python parody of a wind ensemble started playing in the town square.  The thing was made almost completely out of treble instruments.  And the locals started dancing.  But it was not a joyous dance, no.  There must have been an accident at the Botox factory. Their arms were high and their toes were pointed but their faces could have shattered rainbows.  And they did it for hours.

The dancers' faces have been obscured for safety reasons.

We ate dinner on the patio of a little restaurant the had a Michelin sticker in the window (who knows where they got it) and reasonable prices.  The meal was very good except for a miscommunication with the waiter.  It went something like this.

“And how would you like your duck cooked?”

“Medium, please.”

“Ah!  Then I will have it overcooked for you.”

Duck.  The sauce is made of a sweet local red wine, Banyuls.  It is so good.
The potato thing has bechamel.  You want to eat it.

Shrimp.  In case you couldn't tell.

The one snafu of our trip to Collioure came when I realized that I didn’t have enough money to pay for the meal.  Our hotel room had a safe where I had been keeping my money belt.  Too much wear in hot weather and they start to chafe. I had, however, forgotten to budget based on the number of euros actually left in my pocket.  The French are used to slow eaters, though, and they didn’t even notice that I was gone for forty-five minutes to go get my wallet.  No one even asked Sophie if she wanted an espresso or anything.

We walked home while the sun was setting low over Argeles-sur-Mer, and that night we slept the sleep of people who are we and had just done the things that we did.


  1. And mes amis, I am typing this in my little hovel in La Vallee du Nunaka while the sun is not setting low over Anchorage-sur-le-Mudflats, sincerely wishing that I was the people who you are and had just done the things that you did, and especially eaten the things that you ate (but not the anchovies)and drank the things that you drank (even the rose)...

  2. This is my favorite entry so far!

    I am wary of ordering anything past medium. I tend to go with medium-rare, just to avoid overcooked meat. I read in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential that in posh little restaurants in NY they will save the worst cuts of steak for those who order them well done, since they figure the steak will be burned to a crisp anyway. I don't blame them, nor am I surprised.

    The two-euro wine made me think of the Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joe's. I sat here for a few minutes before commenting, hoping to come up with a witty French version of the rhyme.