L’antic teatre

You know those places that you misjudge at first glance and then kick yourself after for having been so wrong?  Antic Teatre is one of those places for me.  It’s about 5 minutes from home and I must have walked past about 50 times before ever wandering in.  You can maybe see why in the photo below, the sign says it’s a theatre and all you can see from the street is a set of stairs. The soft roar of conversation and laughter that float down to street level had piqued my interest, but I never ventured in.

That was until spring of this year when a recommendation from someone sent us up those stairs. All I can say is I’m sad I missed an entire summer on what is one of the best terraces in all of Barcelona.  It’s nestled between four buildings and manages to stay relatively cool on even the hottest of days thanks to the tree it has been built around. I’ve not been in the morning but I imagine it’s a great place to start with a coffee.  The late afternoon and evening is when it really starts to fill up, especially on weekends.  I love that every available perch will be taken up, even the stairs, and no one really cares.  The staff are chill but still efficient (a slight rarity around here) and seem unflappable even when the queue for a beer is 10-15 people deep.

As this chapter of our time in Barcelona winds down (5 weeks left!) this is the kind of place I want to make the most of. It’s sort of emblematic about what I love about Barcelona: a relaxed way of life in a climate that allows you to enjoy a terrace for more than half the year.  I could imagine living here forever.

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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.

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.

A belated trip report: Leana and San Sebastian

In contrast to the busyness of August and September I am finding myself with much time on my hands these days.  I submitted my final paper for the last required course for my bachelor degree and then promptly packed my bags and headed off to Greece to climb for two weeks.  I’m home now in Barcelona and finally have some time to write about my good friend Leana’s visit way back in late August early September.

I know tons of people who are fiends with people they grew up with, kids that they went to preschool with and or family friends that they have known since birth.  I am not one of these people.  I’m not the best at keeping in touch with people, especially when interests grow apart or physical distances crop up.  Despite that, Leana and I met when I was 12 and have been friends since the 8th grade.  Aside from Jamu she is the only other person from high school with whom I’m in regular contact.  So needless to say I was super excited when she bought a ticket to come and visit before we had even left.

Seeing as I was fairly busy with school she got up to a fair bit on her own, much of which was taking the time to discover all the best shops in Barcelona which she gladly informed of 🙂  We wandered around and saw most of the city, we had a crazy night out with a Catalan friend and a necessary “recovery brunch” at our favourite breakfast spot the following day.

We spent some time on the beaches in both Sitges and Castedefells.  We took the cable car from Barceloneta across to Montjuic and spent some time enjoying some respite in the shaded gardens there.

 

The highlight of her visit was probably our trip to San Sebastian (Donostia) in the Basque country.  As true Canadians we didn’t hesitate to take a 5.5 hour train ride to spend three nights in this fantastic coastal city.   Despite a bad first impression brought on by arriving during regatta celebrations (and general displays of drunken messiness) the city won us both over.  The pintxos were fantastic, the architecture was beautiful and the shopping cinched the deal for Leana.  Despite a minor case of food poisoning on my part the trip was made complete with a bus ride to Bilbao to take in the famed Guggenheim.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only is the building all it’s cracked up to be but it’s sufficiently small to see it all in one day.

Located on the northern Atlantic coast of the country leaves means that the ocean brings in strong weather systems.  We lounged a little too long watching this system approach from the north and had to make a quick escape from the beach to avoid the mini sand tornadoes it created.  We had a good laugh at ourselves as we ran back to our pension in the pouring rain.

Leana was the last of our summer guests and we’re not expecting anyone else now until my dad comes for Christmas.  I’m already starting to see displays of extra sweets in the supermarket, it’ll be interesting to see how much of a big deal the holidays are here.

The rest of the photos from San Sebastian can be found here and the rest of Leana’s visit are here.

Bicing!

I finally got my bicing card last week.  I’ve been meaning to write about it but wanted to wait until I had some pictures to accompany the post.  What is bicing?   It’s part of the public transit system in Barcelona.  €30 per year gains you access to a network of bikes located around the city, the idea is that you use the bike solely to get from A to B.  A system of incentives and fees are used to make it work.  Rides under 30 minutes are free, rides from 31 minutes to 2 hours are charged at €0.50 per 30 minutes and after that you get fined.  Two or three trips over 2 hours and you are automatically kicked out,  so no taking the bike out for a leisurely ride along the seawall. There are similar systems in both Montreal and Paris.

It’s been great to have a bike to ride but also slightly freaky.  The bikes are in notoriously rough shape.  I’ve used two that had essentially no front or back brakes, one that constantly slipped out of gear (they have 3 gears) and another that had an interesting steering problem, very slow response time to turning the handle bars.   I now understand why it seems as though people on bicing are intentionally aiming for me on thee sidewalk. Add to this the fact that I don’t have a helmet and it’s been rather interesting.  If I stay in the old part of town I can ride on mostly pedestrian streets and there is also a fairly well developed bike lane network, but some of these still share the road with traffic.   The Vancouverite in me hates to admit that sometimes I even ride on the sidewalk.

PS:  The prolific postings this weekend are the result of having a paper due on Monday.

Sant Jordi : El dia del Libro

Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalonia, the Spanish province in which Barcelona is situated and of which Barcelona is the capital.    Unlike the other 150 saints’ days (only a slight exageration), today is not an actual holiday.  Instead, it is a day when the people of Catalonia flock to the streets to buy roses and books, a strange combination.  The modern custom is for men to buy roses for the women in their life, not just romantic partners, and for the women to buy books for the men in their life.

The main streets are literally filled with book and rose vendors.  Women of all ages walk around carrying roses and hoards of people stop to browse, read and purchase books.  The short version of the rose tradition is that Sant Jordi saved a Catalonian queen’s daughter from a dragon.  When he slay the dragon, instead of blood, the dragon’s wound sprouted red roses.  The book tradition likely stemmed from a smart book seller wanting to make some extra cash.  April 23 (1616) is the day that both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died, the 23rd of April has officially been named the Day of the Book.  The festival took root in Catalonia as it became confused with the saints day.  A more complete history of the tradition is here.

The people of Catalonia don’t celebrate Valentine’s day and also don’t veer from the traditions, there were no heart shaped boxes of chocolates to be seen.  Although we’re far from being Catalonians, we decided to follow suit.  I have a lovely red rose chilling out in a Sigg bottle on the counter and Jamu has a riveting Ian Rankin novel awaiting him.  What can I say, the English language book selection was less than fanastic.

As a result the streets were even more colourful and filled with people.  It was literally shoulder to shoulder down Las Ramblas for most of the afternoon.  Today I pulled out the better camera.  I’m becoming much more interested in figuring out how the camera works.  I have ideas of how I want photos to look, now I need to learn how to execute them.  There is a full set of photos here.