Montserrat (the hard way)

As part of our ongoing hiking around Catalunya, we went to Montserrat last weekend, but this time we went the hard way.  It wasn’t our intended hike of the day but we are somehow destined to never hike from Olesa de Montserrat to Montserrat proper. Twice we have taken the train there only to be met with unforeseen circumstances that prevented us from hiking.  As an aside, it’s a lovely town with a decent cafe that is open Sunday mornings. The 2nd time we were more determined and simply hopped back on the train going one more stop to Aeri de Montserrat and went in search of a trail head I had briefly read about. Should you ever want to find it, cross the bridge from the train station to the highway, turn right and carry on until you see buildings on the left side. Carefully dart across the autopista and a nicely marked trail awaits you.

The trail in question is the Cami de les aigües which roughly follows the water run off for the mountain. It climbs the same distance as the Aeri de Montserrat in about 2.5kms and offers even better views.There’s a map at the level of the monastery listing showing destinations that can be reached from here, all on well marked trails.  We opted for easy and climbed the last few hundred meters along a (mostly) paved trail to the lookout at the top of the Funicular de Sant Joan. The beauty of hiking in Montserrat is that if you choose to hike up, you have the fantastically lazy option of not hiking down.  We descended by way of the funicular and cremallara which was a fine treat indeed.  A few more photos here.

The summer storms

This summer has been weird.  Instead of constant 30+ temperatures and insane humidity like last year, the last few weeks of July were moderately warm (between 22-26) and often cloudy.  In truth it’s much more comfortable but part of me really wants the relentless heat that justifies endless beach days with a Damm Lemon in hand.  On top of the clouds, it’s been raining, generally not much, but on and off.  And then this happened Saturday (thanks to Homage to BCN for the video link).

While this was going down we were hanging out poolside, drinking margaritas, right about here in the south of France.

We came home Monday to some downed trees, stains from water pooling under the windows and good summer sun.  Hopefully is stays around since we’re staying put for August.

PS: We went to Florence

The days and weeks are sliding by and somehow it is already the 22nd of July, almost a month since I met Jamu in Florence for the weekend following the conference he was there for. I wasn’t sure how it would feel coming from a city as beautiful as Barcelona, but it was striking in so many ways.  It’s so amazingly full of artistic brilliance that some visitors are overwhelmed by it and subsequently suffer from Florence Syndrome. Thankfully we escaped without falling victims to nervous heart palpitations but I did enjoy it immensely.

Since I had been before and I am usually the driving force behind touristic outings, we did very little other than walk about and tour the occasional church while always thinking about the next cup of coffee or plate of food.  Florence is a good place for both.  We skipped most of the museums except for the Galileo museum.  A must see for anyone with even a slight interest in the history of science.

As usual, there are more photos here.

Hiking in Catalunya

We took the plunge and recently booked a trek up Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. We’ll be covering 100kms of distance and close to 4000m of elevation gain in 8 days, so we figured it was high time to start getting out in the hills around Barcelona to train.

We started slowly by first exploring the nearby Parc de Collserola (photos here), an oasis of green space on the western edge of the city.  It takes a mere 30 minutes to arrive on public transport (FGC) and you immediately feel that you’ve left the city behind. We have only discovered a very small portion of it close to the visitor center as we don’t have a full map of the park but the trail system seems to be quite expansive.  If you ever make it to Barcelona and want a day away from the slow-moving, map-holding, hordes of tourists, it’s worth a visit. There are some nice views of the city (and Sant Cugat from the back) and small sections of ruins scattered throughout.

In the past month we’ve started moving further afield but still close to the city.  Not  having a car has definitely influenced the routes we choose to hike but has surprisingly not been a big deterrent to getting out.  The coastal region in Catalunya is well accessed by Renfe and is paralleled by hills. This allows us to take shortish train trips and start hiking form the station.  We hiked from Garraf to Sitges (photos here) along the GR92,  tried to hike from Olesa de Montserrat to Montserrat proper (had to abandon that plan in order to keep my newly purchased ill-fitting boots in new condition to return them) and did a loop last week from Castelldefels that brought us 20km through the Parc Natural de Garraff.  This coming weekend we plan to return to the Garraf Park to see its highest point, and then continue on to Begues.

The experiences so far have been quite different than my pacific west coast experiences in that here you don’t just hike straight into the forest and leave all traces of city behind.  Instead the trail often widens into a road and you find yourself meandering through a small village or farming fields.  Quite often we come upon ruins that date back farther than I can identify. With well marked trails the routes are easily accessible to anyone with a bit of Google-fu who can find the trail heads.

Armed with a new GPS-app on my iPhone we hope to start wandering a little further out, likely a trip to the Pyrenees will be in order.

El Camp Nou

The best thing to break up routine is having visitors in town, people who are seeing the city for the 1st time bring out my interest in home town tourism.  This is what finally got me up to Camp Nou last week, the home base of FCBarcelona, arguably the best football club playing.  OK, OK, maybe living here has skewed my perception bit, but it’s hard not to pick up the fever in a town with this much passion for the sport.

Camp Nou is the biggest football stadium in Europe and, wow, it feels massive inside.  Possibly owing to the fact that the club is so well recognised globally (its slogan is: “more than a club”), there is a museum attached to it that fans can pay a hefty price to enter and check out the history of the team.  Besides being well renowned internationally, to the people of Catalunya, the team is a symbol of all things Catalan and not surprisingly, gains huge hometown support.  There were easily 100s of people sitting in the accessible parts of the stands excitedly staring at the empty pitch.

While expensive at 22€, the “Camp Nou Experience” was worth the money.  On top of a visit to the museum which showcased the club’s birth, growth, trials and successes, we got to enter the stadium at multiple levels (including the pitch) walk down the tunnel the players use to access the field and check out the press boxes.  For any true fans of the club it shouldn’t be missed.  It definitely inspired me to look up the dates for the coming season so I can experience the game first hand with all 99,354 fans that it holds.

There’s a few more photos here, including a couple from the roof of Arenas, the once bull fighting arena converted into a shopping mall.

Barcelona at night

I did a second photo tour/course with Barcelona Photographer.  We spent a bit too long reviewing the basics (that thanks to Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure are finally clear to me) so it felt like a lot of review.  That said,  it was a great excuse to finally take the tripod out and to play with long exposures, the rest of which are here.   It was interesting looking for illuminated night scenes, as  it seems many sites which used to be lit at night were dark.  Maybe they’ve decided to save money where they can during the crisis?

Babies

Four weeks ago today, little Josie entered the world and it seems high time to pay some respect to our surrogate “niece” on this side of the ocean.  Born to our good friends Derek and Arlene, coincidentally also from Vancouver, she is an absolute beauty.  At a time when (almost) all my  friends are having children back in Vancouver, it’s lovely to enjoy the presence of a little one closer to home. She came in at a whopping 4.2kg, even more amazing when taking Arlene’s petite stature into account.

We somehow managed not to take a single photo in the hospital with Arlene, Derek and Josie together, but did mange to get one of us holding her like she’s our own, which I find quite comical.