Road trip, anyone? Belfast to Barcelona ? What a journey!
And at this time of the year, with record snowfall in France, things got interesting up in the highlands of Haute Roussillon. Luckily Mr B is a man who understands snow chains, so we were just fine, although our progress was s-l-o-w. We listened to back episodes of the Friday Night News Quiz from Radio 4, which kept us laughing for most of the way. Everyone else was looking glum with the weather, but we were chuckling away with Sandi Toksvig.
So we went from Aughnacloy (my village in lovely County Tyrone), which looked like this on Christmas Day when we had our usual family stroll before Christmas lunch:
... to finally arrive here last night:
At the risk of sounding like a misanthrope I love my village here on the Costa Brava when all the tourists go home. It's just us locals kicking our heels in the Ramblas and taking in the sea air, and that suits me just fine.
Maxi loves feeling the wind blow through his fur, and this beach ... well it's a dog's delight for digging in, and this hound likes nothing better than to dig himself a good big hole.
In an alcove in the front facade of our old monastery there's a life-size Belén, a manger scene. It's beautiful when they light it up at night. There's a rumour that this old place was founded by Charlemagne during his campaign against the Moors. Whatever the way of it, the building feels as old as time itself and I'd be hard pushed to think of a better place to act out the Nativity.
Christmas keeps on rocking here until the Feast of the Epiphany (6th January). On the eve of Epiphany (the night of 5th January) Spanish children believe that the Wise Kings travel through the land bearing gifts for each boy and girl who's been good during the past year, just like they did for the baby Jesus all those years' ago. The naughty niños only get a piece of coal. These days the confectioners have got in on the act and most children get some joke carbón candy that looks just like a piece of the black stuff.
On Sunday night we've got a special village parade when the Wise Kings show up to collect the children's letters, and then on Monday night there's another parade, the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos. Sadly we're not going to be able to stick around for this one. It's the main event. Gaspar, the King of Sheba, bearing Frankinscence and dressed in green, Melchior, the King of Arabia, bearing gold and dressed in white, and, finally, Balthazar, the King of Egypt, dressed in purple and bearing myrrh, will together lead the Epiphany parade.
In our village it's a really big deal. The whole community turns out, and the Wise Kings process through the village on horseback. Tractors pull floats of various others in Biblical scenes and everyone who is part of the parade has a HUGE stash of bonbons, which they throw to the crowds of children, who come clutching plastic shopping bags to hoover them all up and carry them home.
It's all a bit mad, but totally brilliant: an affirmation and a celebration of life, regardless of which, if any, faith you follow. I can't see any theological basis for chucking bucketfuls of candies at the kids, but it's great fun and enthusiastically followed by everyone, including the Muslim children of the village's immigrant community from North Africa, who are out there with their plastic bags hoovering up sweets with the best of them. Over here Christmas is for everybody, which is just as it should be.
The other thing that totally blows me away at this time of the year is the citrus harvest. I know I ought not to be surprised, I've been enjoying Christmas clementines since November, but it's such a strange thing to find trees that produce fruit in the middle of the winter cold. And they're all over the village: oranges trees and lemon trees bearing the most most wonderful orange and yellow fruit in quiet corners of town gardens.
And then, at the end of the day, as the darkness falls and the Tramuntana blows more fiercely the best thing to do is curl up in front of a roaring fire with a nice bottle or Rioja and a good movie. Tonight we're watching Dead Poets Society, which is one of our favourites.
All the best for now,