Tarragona : a Roman centre
I have to admit that when I stepped off the train in Tarragona I wondered if I had made a mistake. The buildings seemed so drab and the town seemed underpopulated in comparison to bustling Barcelona. “Where the people at?” was my first thought.
The Hotel Pigal was wonderfully located with a convivial kitchen/dining room at the center.
After an encouragingly warm welcome, I headed to the nearby covered market to nibble on some tapas and pick up breakfast for tomorrow. The people (now that I found them) were noticeably friendlier than in Barcelona where too much tourism had rubbed the shine off their personalities.
Nothing makes me happier than filling up my day pack and setting out to explore a new city. It’s exhilarating. Of course I headed first to the Roman amphitheatre and was lucky enough to stumble on a public training session and show by the local Gladiator School. Yes, gladiator training is a thing and what a great workout! Did you know that there were women gladiators? I did not know that. The gladiator teacher gave a detailed rundown of gladiator work and it’s place in Roman society. What a hoot. I could hardly tear myself away.
But I did. Next stop was the Roman Circus because I’m a sucker for Roman ruins. What I love about the Romans is that as soon as they conquered a place they set up an amphitheatre big enough to hold thousands of spectators for the gladiator contests. Tarragona was an important center so they also built a Circus for exciting chariot races.
All of this entertainment was free. Everyone went from commoners to patricians. Free entertainment. What a concept. Aside from parades and fireworks a few times a year, what do we get for free? Football games? Stadium concerts? Blockbuster art exhibitions? Movies? Shows? Pay, pay, pay.
Anyway, the Circus made for an excellent visit. I would recommend starting at the rooftop which gives an overview of the Circus, vaults and ancillary structures. Starting at ground level makes it tough to appreciate the layout of these extensive ruins.
After that, I visited the immense Cathedral, a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Clearly medieval Tarragona was a prosperous place. I later found out why.
Meanwhile the cathedral cloister honored one of the Great Moments in Cat History.
It seems that a rich nobleman was plagued by rats who grew so bold they even swarmed over the table when the King was invited to dinner. The poor guy scoured his territory to find an effective mouser. But all the cats failed to catch the rats who burrowed into their rathole. Finally one clever feline went up to the rathole and played dead, paws in the air.
The rats carried the cat out for a funeral which you can see in the upper left side of the carving that adorns the cloister capital. Surprise surprise! The cat “rose from the dead” and killed all the rats which you can see on the right. The nobleman was so grateful he vowed to honor the brave cat in the cathedral. And so it was done.
Saturday night in Tarragona was a blast. Everybody was strolling La Rambla or crowding the bars and cafes. Great energy.
Decided to head to the port area where the temporary archaeology museum was housed. Alas there was only an exhibit about the archaeology exhibits. The Port Museum was great though — modern and we’ll laid out. Of course the Port is the secret behind Tarragona’s prosperity then and now. Once they exported agricultural produce, now it’s fish and a lot of petroleum products. Best of all was a simulated game where you tried to steer a ship to one of Tarragona’s trading partners, Naples or Tunis or Ostia. It was hard! A series or people tried to do it and failed.
I wasn’t too impressed with the Port neighborhood. Clearly all the old fisherman houses had been torn down and replaced with modern buildings. There was a stretch of pricey fish restaurants and not enough trees to make strolling comfortable.
Before lunch I took a quick look at the Roman forum which was right up the street from my pension. It was Ok. I realized that I was probably staying on the old Roman Cardo which was cool.
I had lunch in the main square. It’s hard to get a bad meal in Tarragona. The cimarronnes were tender and fried to perfection. I found a place, Cafe del Centro that served a delicious paella marisco for only one person and an incredible Japanese ramen place, Shifu Ramen. The price of a meal seems to hover around €12.50.
I took a rest after lunch as I’m finding it too tiring to climb around all Tarragona’s hilly streets in the heat. At around 25° it’s hotter than I expected.
My pension has a large common room with a table, free tea, cutlery and a fridge. It’s very convivial. I fell into “conversation” with an Irish couple. Because of their heavy brogue I had no idea what they were saying. Something about sheep and wool and stealing. I nodded and smiled and left as soon as possible.
As night fell I headed uphill to the Roman and medieval walls bordered by a lovely park. It was of course closed but beautifully illuminated.
The quiet medieval streets of the Upper Town between the Cathedral and the walls were well maintained and evocative of Tarragona’s illustrious past.
As it’s Monday and all museums and monuments are closed I planned a day at the beach. Alas, the weather was cloudy with rain in the forecast. I headed to the shopping center to pick up a gift, had paella for lunch and rested in the afternoon.
I gave another look at the medieval streets of the upper town, had a dinner of ramen and checked my travel plans for the following day.
Uh oh. My train to Girona did not leave from the train station down the street as I thought but from the Camp station 12km out of town. Rather than splurge on a taxi I figured there must be a bus but which one and when? And where was the bus station? Unraveling all of this chewed up my evening but I got it done.
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