We decided not to go to Barcelona. We'd have only three hours to spend if we did a day trip, and we couldn't get hotel reservations for an overnighter. The city was booked up for something. Otra vez! A long stone pier juts out into the deep blue Mediterranean water; a few boats, including one Catalan fishing boat are tied up along the jetty. Collioure harbor

Also, we thought we'd allow a couple of months on our next trip to see Spain and Portugal by train. Partly because the trains are slow and infrequent, and partly because Iberia is huge, with a lot of wonderful sights.

We're reading Michelin Green Guides in French (couldn't find them in English); a new series has come out with a lot of changes from the old ones. The prose is lighter, they include a few hotel and restaurant recommendations, and excursions by car. We guess more European travelers are going by car than ever before.

Southern Europe has older Roman ruins, and, it seems, older mediaeval buildings as well. The area around Perpignan also boasts spectacular cliffs, caves, and chasms, but these must be visited by car. We elected a charming little seaport half an hour south by train -- Collioure. The sun cooperated, for the first day in weeks, by burning down brightly. The street is narrow, with carefully laid bricks and stores fronting both sides, two or three stories tall, but no people can be seen in the street. Collioure shopping street

The first class section had a couple of broken seats and grimy windows, so we sat in second. We had barely got settled when we arrived at the tiny (for Europe) station. Walking into town we passed mounds of cactus and agave plants along tree-lined streets.

Collioure is known for its anchovy fishing, but at this time of year the colorful boats have been drawn up on land. It's also known as a favourite place of Fauvist painters who enjoyed the brilliant colors of houses and landscapes and the ocean waves in the sun. The town has established a route of painters, where one can compare paintings by Henri Matisse and Andre Derain with the actual sites they painted.

We entered a sleepy little town where the tourist shops are closed until spring and the local people went about their errands or read the newspaper on a bench by the harbor. Laundry was hung from second-floor windows of pink, blue and sand-colored buildings. The bright sun cast shadows with distinctive patterns on building walls and we understood the fascination of this town for artists. A fountain is in the middle of a large square, with a pool around, an exuberant central spray of water and frothy white geysers of water all around. Perpignan fountain

The ocean was beautiful, with an old fortress overlooking the harbor, and beautiful glistening spray as the waves crashed into the rocky shore. There were a few tourists with cameras, like us. The two restaurants recommended by Michelin were closed, and the one that was open had a display of some shellfish which seemed rather elderly to us. So we decided to return to Perpignan for lunch.

We just made it. It was 1:45, and the kitchen lights went off at 2:00. Nevertheless, it was a good restaurant from the Michelin Guide, which has not disappointed us in the matter of food! Escalada is a roasted mixture of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and onions. We feasted on cold snails with garlic mayonnaise, a salad of escalada embellished with country ham and thin, crisp bacon, delicate fish with scalloped potatoes, sweet red grilled shrimp grilled with escalada, and fromage blanc with honey for dessert.

While donning our coats we sent a wine glass crashing to the floor, and the owner made us feel better by offering us a brochure describing the restaurant, which has been in business since 1846. This memorial to those who died in the great war is of an art deco style, with a frieze of grieving persons Perpignan war memorial

Sitting in our hotel room, typing up notes, reading, goofing off, we were interrupted by godawful loud noises: gunshots and raucous brack-brackety-kup screeches, over and over. After advancing various theories, none of which made any sense, we got an explanation from the hotel staff.

Do you remember those beautiful little birds that filled the evening sky in Toulouse? Well, they're migrating through this area. And when they sit by the thousands in the trees overnight, the ground is white in the morning.

So the idea, at least in Perpignan, is to scare the birds out of the city parks. The gunshots sounded like hunters, and the brack-brackety-kups sounded like the vicious call of an airborne predator that eats little birds right up. The Perpignan anti-little-bird patrol had been doing this every fall for ten years.

In the morning, up quite early, with no godawful loud noises, we watched as the tree right in front of our window filled up with so many little birds you couldn't see a leaf or branch. All the birds climbed into this one tree, and then they took off in a big black cloud of beating wings, to continue their migration. We're not sure where they were going -- perhaps Corsica or Tunisia, or some more exotic place -- but they didn't seem too worried about the risks of spending the night in Perpignan.