Posts filed under ‘Churches’

Cantonigròs

This past weekend we went on a camino with Pau and Mireia. This hike had been in the works for quite a while. Sebastian and I had talked about organizing one way back in January. We wanted to hike up north, around Vic and Pau, who is a member of the hiking feferation in Vic, knows many of the trails there. We contacted him about a month ago to see if he was available to go for a hike with us. Sunday was the day we went. We let people know where we were going and when to meet but in the end only Alex, myself and Sebastian went from Barcelona. We left for Vic on the 9:20 train out of Placa Catalunya.

Pau i Mireia

An hour and a half later, we arrived in Vic. Pau and Mireia met us at the train station and off we went. They told us that they had made reservations for lunch and that we would be hiking to the restaurant, eating and hiking back. We were in for a huge, pleasant surprise. We headed off in the direction of Olot, which is north of Vic. The highway progressively climbed as we got further from Vic. The whole landscape changed from what we were used to in Barcelona. Most of the trees were bare of their leaves and the sky, wow, so dramatic. The sun and clouds were having this huge battle for dominance and the clouds were winning each skirmish, although at times it seemed the sun would win. It was like this for the entire day and made for some of the most dramatic skies I had ever seen.

So here’s a photo of what Barcelona was like on Thursday of last week, lush and green. Keep this in mind when you view the photos from our hike.

We pulled into a parking lot for a restaurant and our hike began. we were in an area called Cantonigròs. Pau pointed the way and off we went. The light was really flat so it was hard to get good photos since there was hardly any contrast.

We walked down the highway to a dirt road that went towards the mountain.

Actually, the road ran along a valley in between mountains, the scenery was amazing. We walked past working farms and the livestock was right there. Some of the biggest bulls I have ever seen were here too. These are cows by the way.

The path eventually started to wind it’s way upwards. It started off with a gentle climb and as we entered the forest we ran into some hunters with their dogs. We could hear dogs howling since we entered the valley. I’d never seen hunters with dogs before (except in the movies) so it was quite a treat.

Aparently there are a lot of wild boars here and signs were everywhere warning hikers of the possible danger. We kept on walking upwards and the path started to narrow at points as we made our way across the terrain.

That soon ended as we started some serious upward movements. The path varied from lots of vegetation to rock. The sky kept up the show and at this time, the clouds were really winning the battle. They were so thick it was getting dark.

You could see we’d climbed a fair bit up into the mountains

and of course we had to shoot some photos (just the excuse I needed for a rest)

After our rest, ooops, I mean photo session, we climbed at a much quicker rate. The slope of the path increased quite a bit. I was sweating like mad. I sweat easily, even just doing my weight workout. I keep meaning to ask a doctor if it’s good to sweat so easily or is it a sign that something is up. I’ll have to wait until I get back to Canada I guess. Here’s the view from a little higher up, note the sky again. The sun is starting to gain a little ground.

At this point we’re “almost” at the restaurant. It’s on top of that mountain in the back and if you look closely you can see the trail that leads up. This was going to be fun (tongue in cheek).

We started up the trail and Sebastian, the mountain goat, went bouncing up the trail. You can see where we had come from and now, where we are going.

I went up at a good rate and stopped about half way up. I could actually hear my heart pounding, it was amazing. On the way up there was a marker and it gives you an idea of just how high we’d climbed in 1 hour and 30 minutes.

On top of this mountian were more trails continuing on and walking the narrow trail gave you fantastic views on both sides of the range.

It was weird because the sun was winning the war on one side and it seemed like the clouds were gathering on the other side to attack.

This was an amzing place to be. So close to the edge and nothing to guide you. You really felt the three dimensional world when you looked at the edge of the cliff.

There was also a geological marker placed at the top and there were indicators to different areas on the horizon.

As high as we were, the trail climbed even higher. Since our table was ready we only went so far.

From here we turned around and went back to the restaurant.

The restaurant, Sanctuari de Cabrera, is in a building that heralds from medieval times. It was a church and a sanctuary and the church is still there beside the resaurant. A really amazing place and a fantastic treat.

We had salad, mountain paella, beef, wine, dessert,coffee and penty of great conversation. I might add that at the beginning of the day, we, or should I say they, decided to speak only spanish and catalan. I survived and even managed to get into the conversations.

Pau and Mireia even taught me how to drink wine from a porron, a catalan wine dispenser. It takes a bit of time to master and after pouring lots of wine on my face and shirt, I finally managed it.

Here’s some clearer photos of the porron.

The room was very humid with all the cooking going on and the outside looked so uninviting. Fog was just rolling across the ground and being inside was so comforting.

The cooking was done like it has been for centuries, by fire. The kitchen had few modern conveniences since the place was so isolated.

When we left, it seemed like the sun was finally going to win the war, at least in the valley we were heading down into. The dark clouds were still blowing across so it could go any way.

The return trip took far less time than it took to get up there and when we finally made it back to the car, the sun poked out and gave us a grand farewell.

Shortly after that photo, the clouds waged a massive assault and won the day. Less than 2 hours later, the rain started.

Pau and Mireia had given memories that we will treasure for the rest of our lives. A fantastic day with fantastic friends.

February 19, 2007 at 8:11 pm 5 comments

Valls, Jan 28, 2007

In the province of Taragona in Catalonia is the small pueblo (village) of Valls which dates from before the 13th century. Alex had heard that they were having a big fiesta this weekend and it involved food. Calcots to be exact. These are calcots…..A sort of onion.

 

The calcots are roasted on an open fire.

While the visit was interesting it wasn’t the highlight of the day. Before I get into that I have to tell you how the day began. We had been planning for a few weeks and invited our friends to come along if they wanted to. Alex looked at transportation and we found out that the only train up to Valls left Barcelona at 7:00 AM with the return leaving Valls at 6:00 PM. I was not too sure about this as it meant that we’d be stuck there whether we liked it or not, but I was commited. We went to bed around 10:30 Saturday night to get up at 5:00 the next morning. At 1:30 I heard my phone. It was a message from Sebastian. He wanted to go to Valls but didn’t want to get up so early so he was offering to drive. We agreed and he came to pick us up in the morning. Alex sent text messages to people she thought might show up at the train station in the morning explaining the change of plans. By chance, Joy caught us before we left the city and we picked her up too.

Off we go. We pull off the highway and head towards MontBlanc on a secondary road. This is wine country and there were vineyards on both sides of the road. Beautiful scenery. On the way, we happen to see a sign for a monestary in Poblet. Alex had come across frequent documents from 1354 that came from there so we decided to go there. It was fate taking care of us again. Here’s some history on the monestary

The Cistercian order, initiated in 1098, founded Poblet in 1151, less than a hundred years later. Most of the rooms and buildings were completed in the 12th and 13th centuries. These facilities are virtually intact. They are today as they were back then. Other than normal upkeep and repair, no restoration has ever been done.

The history of the monks who, day after day, made the growth and continuity of the monastery possible has never been written and probably never will. The monks still live here and have not deviated from the original ideals of the founders of the Cistercians and, likewise, the founders of Poblet, who originated from Fontfroide.

Entering the monastery through the front gates gave us a small glimpse of what was to come.

This beautiful iron gate was made by blacksmiths. You could see the workings in the iron. Just gorgeous.

The dining room. We were there around lunch time and ours was the last tour through. You could see the tables set for the monks who would arrive soon.

From there we were taken to the place where the monks worship. To the side of the alter were the tombs of kings and queens. The tombs of Pere III (1319–1387) & his successor Joan I, both were rulers of the Crown of Aragon (Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia & Balearics) were here. Alex was so happy to find this out. She calls them “her kings”.

 

Out in the cloisters, the light was amazing. Even shadows on the walls hinted of the past with an air of mystery. You could almost feel the presence of those who passed before.

This area was so peaceful, I guess it was a place for contemplation.

The sound of trickling water made it even more tranquil. I was really in awe of this place.

The architecture and detail out here was gorgeous and it was all original. The craftmanship was awesome.

We left the cloisters to enter another part of the monastery. This was the dining area of the lay people who worked for the monks. As the population of the order diminished, the dining room was no longer needed and was converted to a wine cellar.

From there we climbed some steps to another part of the facility. Notice the hand rail, stunning work.

They were all waiting for me around the corner. Notice how cold they look, it was pretty chilly that day.

I didn’t think the day could get any better and from here we headed over to Valls. We were too late to get the calcots. They had run out of tickets. Apparently, you buy tickets and get a complete package of wine, bread, some sauce and roasted calcots, plus an apron. There were people standing at long tables with their aprons on and eating their calcots. We tried to find a restaurant to eat but they were way too expensive. We decided to drive a bit to see if it would get less expensive and it did. We stopped in one small place that had a castle on the hill. What a day.

This one will be hard to top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 29, 2007 at 3:06 pm 3 comments

Flickr

After having a great day with Francesca and Keiko, I had to get down to work and write about it. Most of the day was spent processing the photos, sending copies to Francesca and writing the previous post. After that I spent some time going over old pictures to see if I could come up with more additions to Flickr.

Flickr is an online community of photographers, writers, artists and the like. I initially joined Flickr to have a means of posting my photos on this blog. I soon discovered that there is far more to Flickr than just storing and saving photos. There are different groups you can join and discuss your photos, get critiques and even enter contests. It actually influenced me to return to a hobby I hadn’t done for longer than I can remember. It motivates me to do more photography. There are amazing photographers in Flickr and their work is truly inspirational. Almost everyone I have had contact with is very encouraging. To be honest, I’m very intimdated by a lot of their work and creative endevours. Now it’s become a challenge to produce more interesting snapshots and get feedback from other people in the Flickr community. If you look to the right of this post you’ll see a box labelled Flickr Photos. Click on the picture under it and you’ll be able to see other pictures I put there.

Anyhow, here’s some photos I posted yesterday. All of these photos were taken with my Canon G6, a point and shoot camera.

From Paris

From Barcelona

another from Paris

and one from Girona

Have a great day.

January 18, 2007 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

Portugal

On Friday, December 8, Alex and I boarded a ClickAir flight to Lisbon. We had been planning a trip to Lisbon and Alex managed to buy 2 return tickets for 120 euros. It was my first experience on a low cost carrier and we were travelling with just carry on luggage. The flight was not full so there were no problems but I don’t think I’ll travel low cost again because of one thing, the open seating. If that flight were full, it would have stressed me out totally. I know, it shouldn’t but ……….. Besides, if you book further out, the prices are not that high on regular carriers. We’ll have to see.

Alex was planning our Lisbon activities even before we left Barcelona. What restaurants we’ll eat in, what sights we’ll see, if there’s anything extra special to visit, etc. She loves doing that when we go on a trip somewhere and really knows her way around once we get there.

After a 2 hour flight, we landed at Lisbon airport. It’s not far from downtown and we had no problems finding the aerobus to take us there. It cost 3 euros but that included all day access to trams and buses (not metros). We got off at Praca dos Restauradores, walked across the square and found our hotel without any trouble at all.

After dumping our bags, we headed out the door to do some exploring. We walked up to Bairro Alto and Chiado because Alex had found a restaurant she wanted to have lunch at. When we got there we found it closed so we did a random thing and found another one. After eating we walked over to the 1920’s café, Brasileira, in Chiado. Once the haunt of writers and intellectuals, it has maintained it’s look and feel from that era.

After a fine café, we jumped on the 28 tram and took it to the end of the line. This route is a must because it takes you from the crest of one hill, around the castle on the other hill and back down to the square.

The driver was very friendly and actually picked us up between stops. These trams are beautiful cars from an era where craftmanship dominated. The inside was beautiful wood and brass.

Lisbon is a city built on 7 hills and the streets in some areas are very narrow. The trams are perfect, small and powerful, they can get up the steepest streets and around the tightest corners. The regular trams and buses would not be able to go into the older parts of the city.

After wandering around all day, we went back for a siesta before heading to Walter’s and Detlef’s restaurant, Pano de Boca. Before that, though, we had to have a ginjinha. GinJinha has to be the most localised drink in the world. It is only found in certain neighbourhoods in Lisbon.

Ginjinha is a cherry liquer and it is the only thing sold in this bar.

This place had crowds outside, sipping their ginjinha. It was a great way to finish up the day.

After resting a bit we headed out for supper to Detlef’s restaurant.

He managed to talk me in to having a beer, a dark beer on top of that and I really enjoyed it. We finally met Walter, Sebastian has many tales about experiences working with Walter, and I was really glad to meet him at last.

We sat down to an amazing meal. I had wild boar that was excellent, VERY good. Detlef picked the wine and it went very well with my meal. Detlef, if you read this, send me the name of the wine in a comment. Alex and I want to thank you and Walter for an excellent evening, it was great.

The next morning we were out of the hotel by 8:30. We were going up to Castelo de Sao Jorge in Alfama. The oldest remains found here date back to the 6th century BC.

The castle itself has parts that date from the 10th – 11th centuries. It was here that Vasco da Gama was welcomed by King Manuel I after returning from India. It was declared a national monument in 1910 and sits up on the top of the highest hill in Lisbon. To get there we took the 28 tram and walked through the back streets at the top.

After wandering around medieval streets we finally came across the castle.

Walking in the castle grounds was very peaceful. It was hard to imagine that this was a building designed for war and I’m sure that many unpleasant things happened to people here.

The slope was very evident here, it would have been a difficult place to storm.

We walked all around the castle, up steps along the ramparts, lot’s of places to explore.

We left the castle and started walking in the general direction of our hotel. On the way dwon, Alex went into an artisan’s shop. She called me in and I was astonished. It had been a stable for horses and each display was in a stone water trough for the horses. This building predated the earthquake of 1756. They didn’t really know it’s age but the coat of arms over the door was dated around the 15th century. They were pretty sure that the coat of arms had been added to the building and was not part of the original building. Across the street was the cathedral Sé. It was started around 1150 but earthquakes and fires have taken it’s toll.

The cloisters was being excavated by archeologists. There were roman and moorish artifacts being found here. Even the outline of roman streets were here. The building is in rough shape but that just adds to it’s beauty.

We walked back to Bairro Alto and Chiado and went for lunch. You’ll have to read Alex’s blog about our meals, she’s the food expert and lover. After lunch we went to the ruins of Igreja do Carmo.

Founded in the late 14th century by Nuno Alvares, the church was at one time, the biggest in Lisbon. It was destryed in the earthquake of 1756 killing many as the roof and walls collapsed on those inside.

The chancellory survived the earthquake and now houses an archaeological museum. It’s very interesting. We walked around some more and found dedicated trams for the steep streets.

I must confess that my knee was killing me walking around. When we went back to the hotel I soaked it in hot water to ease the pain. It had swelled up a lot too. This is the first time ever that I noticed swelling in my knee.

The next day we were on the streets by 9:00. We were going to Belem to see a few things that Alex had noticed. We hopped on the bus that took us along the river and got off at the Torre de Belem. It seems that Sunday is the day that all museums are free so we went to both the Torre and Mosteir.

Commisioned by Manuel I in 1515 as a fortress in Tagus river. It’s in amazing condition and the stonework is amazing. It once stood in the middle of the river but now lies just offshore. Leaving the Torre we went across to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.

The entrance to the monastery is full of intricate detail, all carved in stone.

Building started in 1501 and was cared for by the Order of St Jerome until 1834 when all religious orders were disbanded. The cloisters in this monastery are stunning.

These are the halls around the central courtyard.

Time for coffee and an extra specila treat. Just around the corner from the monastery is Pasteis de Belem. This cafe has been here since 1837 and is world famous for its little pasteis.

We had a little lunch and then ordered the pasteis. Wow, we were not disappointed at all. We ordered 2 more becaue we noticed that everyone ordered 2 each and not wanting to be too different, we adapted. We actually went back the next day.

The rest of our visit was wandering in no particular fashion with no particular destination, just to take some photos like these……….

an HDR shot of a street showing how steep they can be

A water fountain at the end of tram # 28 route

Alex has a lot more to say about our food experiences and especially, thanks to Detlef’s tip, the surprise we had on our last evening in Lisbon. Go find out about it in her blog.

For more photos of Portugal, go here…….. or, for a slide show go here.

December 13, 2006 at 1:07 pm 4 comments

A Saturday in Montserrat

What a day. We just now returned from a hike up in Montserrat. It was a great hike, but right now I am really tired. I love the going up but coming down really plays havoc with my knee and right now, my knee is swollen. I’ll have to figure out an exercise to try and strengthen it for downhill treks. OK, I’m too tired to write anymore so I’ll go and work on the photos for this blog.

We were out the door at 7:15 to meet whoever was coming on this hike. We were meeting at Placa Espana near the tower at 8:00. Sebastian, Alex, myself and Zephyr, Naomi’s nephew were the hiking crew. We caught the 8:36 train and arrived in Monistrol de Montserrat an hour later. Last time we were there we took the funicular to the monastery and we missed the beautiful old streets ofMonistrol de Montserrat.

I wonder about the traffic through these streets 500 years ago.

As soon as we got off the train, the trails were marked. You had to keep your eyes open to catch the markings but they were there. We followed them trhought the town and ended up at the trails GR5 and GR96. The GR (Gran Recorrido (Spanish) or Gran Recorregut (Catalan)) is a network of long-distance footpaths in Europe, mostly in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. Many GR routes make up part of the longer European walking routes which cross several countries so we are only connecting to a small portion of the trail. GR5 and GR96 are a single trail at this point. We passed an old orchard, and I mean OLD, and the remaining trees assumed some really amazing shapes. This was one of the most gnarled. The reason, it was made up of two trees that had wound around each other.

This old path had two sentries guarding the way. It looked like the entrance to another world and the area had a very mysterious feeling to it.

At the beginning I couldn’t shake the feeling of all the souls that had passed this way before. This trail was also part of the pilgrimage route to the old monastery. It was almost 1000 years old and had seen many pilrims pass this way.

We had passed the place where GR5 and GR96 separate. We took GR96 upwards and as we climbed higher, we could see GR5 far below us winding its way along. The two trails meet at the monastery but from here, looking down on GR5, you wouldn’t know it.

After a while, we stopped for some food and to take in the area. Of course, Sebastion saw the old frame on the post and suggested a photo in it. So here we have Alex, Sebastian, Zeph and myself.

We still had to walk well past thatdistant bluff with the boulder at it’s bottom and we noticed that the clouds were getting lower. It looked like it might get foggy again.

We’re getting closer to our destination and the sun is trying to break through the low clouds.

The rock cliffs are made up of smaller stones held by some sort of hardened clay or other cement like material. It’s really hard and the embedded stones are quartzes, flint like rocks, marble. Much of them seem to be rounded by water like in stream beds. I’m just guessing on this so it might be interesting to read up on the geology of this area, how it happened to come into existence.

We were quite high up when the fog began to beat out the sun for dominance. The vegetation at this location was quite dense with fair sized trees.

Well, a few more metres onwards and the fog came in. It was really beautiful but I’m glad it came late. If it hadn’t we wouldn’t have been able to see the wonerful views on our way up.

There were some really interesting berries on the way up. Here is a photo of one of them. Zeph was also commenting on all the wild spices he found growing alongside the trail.

We finally made it to the monastery. The fog made it absolutely stunning. I wish I could have had the expertise to take some more photos of the area but this is all I can offer.

Alex wanted to go into the cathedral because she heard that the choir was going to sing at 1:00. The children’s choir at Montserrat is world famous for it’s music and school of music. Here’s a detail of inside the cathedral. There was a choir singing but not the one Alex wanted to hear.

From the cathedral we made our way to the cafeteria to eat something and chat for a bit before heading back. On our way back to the trail we passed this modern version of a knight in a medieval alcove. The artist also had a work in the Generalitat in Barcelona. It’s the inverted maiden that I have photos of in flickr. The Knight is also inverted in the stone.

Wow, the fog really picked up on our way down. It was really beautiful the way the wind would blow it by. We were going to return by way of GR5 so we would have a different trail to return on.

And on the way down, more interesting berries. Sebastian saw the colour of these and I had to get a picture.

As we descend the fog begins to lift. It wasn’t coming and going as we thought (or as I thought) but it was us who were going into it and coming out of it. It was the cloud ceiling itself and we were climbing into it on our way up and descending out of it on our way down. I should have realized it when we saw the peaks from Monistrol. They were in the clouds.

The GR5 was a wide path with a gentle slope downwards. Most of the climb down was immediately after leaving the monastery. There were stone steps, hundreds of stone steps, leading down to the wide path. It be a big surprise to those who take GR5 upwards. A nice leisurely walk until you hit the steps. It must be a 400 metre climb up those ill spaced steps.

The sun trying to get out again.

And we finally make it back to Monistrol de Montserrat. It was a great day.

By the way, upwards is fine, downwards is hell. My knee has a great deal of trouble going down. If anyone has any suggestions to get it into shape, please, let me know.

Have a great week.

November 26, 2006 at 5:20 pm 3 comments

Girona

Today we got out of bed at 6:00 to catch the train to Girona. Alex and I have wanted to go there since the summer and since Christine was here we decided to take her there. Girona is a very old city with a well preserved medieval section.

It has been established that a settlement has been on the site of Girona since 500 BC. The Romans built a fort there, which was given the name Gerunda. The city was held Visigoths , Moors and finally, Charlemagne, who in 785 made it one of the fourteen original countships of Catalonia. The 12th century saw a flourishing of the Jewish community of Girona, with one of the most important Kabbalistic schools in Europe. The Rabbi of Girona, Moshe ben Nahman Gerondi was appointed Great Rabbi of Catalonia. Girona had a strong Arab presence for several hundred years following the Moorish conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711. The first reference to Jews in Girona dates from 898, and they stayed until they were expelled with Muslims — or forced to convert — under the 1492 edict of expulsion. Today, the Jewish ghetto or Call is one of the best preserved in Europe and is a major tourist attraction.

On the north side of the old city is the Montjuïc (or hill of the Jews in medieval Catalan), where an important religious cemetery was located. Girona has undergone twenty-five sieges and been captured seven times. It was besieged by the French royal armies under Marshal Hocquisicourt in 1653, under Marshal Bellefonds in 1684, and twice in 1694 under de Noailles. In May, 1809, it was besieged by 35,000 French Napoleonic troops under Vergier, Augereau and St. Cyr, and held out obstinately under the leadership of Alvarez until disease and famine compelled it to capitulate, 12 December. Finally, the French conquered the city in 1809, after 7 months of siege.

Girona was left in a bad way after the Spanish Civil War with buildings destroyed by the Franco forces air attacks. Churches were looted by anti-clerics and priceless antiquities lost forever. The cruellest suffering was reserved for the people: deaths, executions by firing squads, families dispersed, accusations between neighbours …… it was obligatory to pass through Girona on the way to exile and the city’s inhabitants watched the painful march towards the French border. It was a period of brutal repression. In recent years, the remaining parts of the eastern city walls were reconstructed and now the Passeig de la Muralla forms a tourist’s walking route around the old city.
We caught the train at 7:50 and arrived in Girona at around 9:00. From the train station we walked to the tourist information kiosk on the other side of the river. Of course we stopped on the bridge to take in some sights.

After getting our maps we started out to the archives building. Alex was going to do some research there until 1:00 in the afternoon. Christine and I left her to her work and meandered throught the narrow streets towards the cathedral. At every turn was a photograph just waiting for us.

Christine and I just wandered aimlessly through the narrow streets taking photos.

Actually, we were making our way up towards the cathedral.

Just behind this intersection is a restaurant, La Bistro, where we stopped for lunch. Great food.

Still heading up along the narrow alleys…….

Looking into some of the alcoves along the way revealed another world. You could look behind and see the narrow alleys that are roads and in front, peaceful alcoves leading to interior living quarters.

We finaly arrived at the Cathedral. Going upo the last set of steps to the cathedral gave us this view.

The centerpiece of Girona is the vast Gothic cathedral with its Baroque facade poised above an imposing staircase. The site has long been an area of worship with a mosque and synagogue once occupying nearby ground.
Building was begun in 1292 and much of the structure dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The belltower is Romanesque and the aisleless Gothic nave is one of the world’s widest at 75 feet.

But the cathedral is only one of the ancient churches. Sant Feliu is another and is close to the cathedral. Here is a view of it’s spire.

Looking at some of the homes in this area revealed just how old they were. This doorway was constructed in 1712. I wonder how many people have entered here.

This India curio store had a great window display………..

We had walked a fair amount and felt like stopping for a cortado. We found this little hideaway on C. del la Forca and it was a true mind massage, very, very peaceful.

It was a great day but I have to go back. I am not pleased with the photos I took given the opportunities and the potential that Girona has to offer.

November 16, 2006 at 6:13 pm 1 comment

Alex’s Family Visit

Last Saturday, Alex’s mother and father, brother, sister-in-law and Matheus came to visit us in Barcelona. They spent a few days in Paris and another few days in Rome before ending up here. This past week was spent rediscovering the city through their eyes and interests.

I don’t remember the day of week that we discovered what was going on about town only where we had wandered. That’s probably because of the photos. We had decided to wander down to Maremagnum, a mall down by the port. On our way we stumbled across an information pavillion on the 32nd running of the America’s Cup. They had a boat on display and let me tell you, it carried the latest in sailboat racing technology. It is an F1 of sailing. They had a pool with radio controlled replicas of the racing boats. To make sure they had enough wind, they surrounded the pool with these huge fans. I found the information on these boats both surprising and very interesting.

One place we had to take them was for a walk down Las Ramblas. This is where ALL tourists go. It’s quite the show walking down this tree lined boulevard towards the sea. On our way down we went to a Harley Davidson motorcycle show. Lot’s of bikes in all shapes and form. There were some really nice bikes there.

Sometime during the week we went up to Tibidabo. It was raining and the clouds were very low. We took the bus on Psg de Gracia up to the tram. While waiting in line we ran into Matt and his wife. They were taking his mom and aunt on the same tourist route as us. It was too funny. Anyhow, we get up to the top only to find that the rides were all closed because of the weather. I thought it was great being up there in the rain. I thought it was great with the clouds being so low and the fine rain. I should have taken some photos but I guess I was too lazy. It was the perfect black and white day. Alex and I went into the lodge for coffee with Matt and company while the others went to see the church. When we finished I went out to watch the rain. I’m standing there in my own little world when someone comes up from behind and gives me a huge hug. Caught me completely off guard. There was Sebastien, all smiles that someone else had to come up here on such a day. He had taken Jackie’s grandmother and mother up to see the church. He lost them while he went to park the car and found us while looking for them. We chatted a bit then went off to catch the bus home. The others wanted to go to Glories, which is another mall but I had had enough of malls and decided to go home. For some reason, they absolutely love malls.

Alex’s dad wanted to go to Tarragona so we caught the train on Friday morning and went to Tarragona. The sun was out and the day was perfect for walking around. We let them lead and off they went to the cathedral. On the way, we came across a medieval market. There were some falconers there and they were launching these gorgeous animals from the middle of the crowds. The birds would leave the trainer and fly to a perch above the square. The trainer would call the bird to return and it would fly back to the gloved hand of the trainer. Beautiful to watch.

They had a pavillion of about 15 birds. There were all kinds of hunting birds, including falcons, owls and at least one eagle. One common characteristic was size, they were all huge.

We headed off for a tour of the cathedral. I am always in awe of the sense of antiquity when I go into these buildings. I try to sense the passage of individuals over the centuries. I wish I could touch the stone and see what had passed.

Beside the cathedral was a monastary. The cloister was a place for reflection and no matter where they are, they always project a sense of tranquility and peace.

We left the cathedral and went to the roman circus. There was a seafood restaurant in the square that Alex had read about so we went there to eat.  After eating we headed back to the train station and our way home.

October 14, 2006 at 7:25 am Leave a comment

Sant Cugat del Valles

Barcelona is one truly amazing city. The more we discover its secrets the more impressive it gets. This morning, Alex and I took the metro from Provenca station to Vallvidrera. It’s only 2 or 3 stops but the metro station is in a park , Serra de Collserola. Our objective was to hike from Barcelona to Sant Cugat. It’s about a 15 to 20 km hike with an altitude difference of 200 metres. I really didn’t feel like going but I knew that because I felt this way it was probably going to be a good day. It was.
We left home at 7:15 and walked over to the Provenca station. Getting out at Vallvidrera was a real surprise because it was a LOT cooler there than home. Exiting the station, we were given a hardcover book of Catalan poetry. Why? it was a holday to celebrate being Catalan so all kinds of cultural events were happening around Catalunya.

We were right at the entrance to the park and ready to start our trek. The trail began at the information centre which was a little uphill. Once we reached the start, Alex synchronized our position on the map so we could follow the trail a little easier. A good thing too because many of the directional signs had been removed by vandals and there are many trails in the park. The beginning of the trail was more or less a dirt road. It was an easy path but climbed steadily. This was our view about 45 minutes into the walk, behind Tibidabo and up quite high.

A little further along and the trail split a few ways. It was a good thing we had the map. We had to walk along a road for a few hundred metres and at this point we took a paved trail that veered down off the road. We followed it for about a kilometre and then came to some switchback. We checked the map and saw that we were on the wrong trail. There were two trails that were very close at the road and we took the first one we saw. Climbing back to the road we saw the other trail about 5 metres further. Proceeding along the correct trail we crossed a viaduct and stopped to admire the view. It was still morning and the haze was quite heavy. Far off, you could just see Montserrat and even from that distance it was still impressive. I tried taking a photo but it didn’t come out. Could have used a polarizing filter. Just after the viaduct there were some ruins and three trails leading off in different directions. After consulting the map and the guide book we found the right one.

The trail varied significantly in quality, going from paved path to rock strewn, narrow gorges. It was at this point that we had the roughest and narrowest part of the hike. The trail was quite steep, both up and down sections, and rocky but if you took your time and carefully picked your way it was ok.

So, here we are picking our way carefully through the rough spots when I hear this pounding behind me. We move out of the way and this jogger comes running by. He was like a gazelle, bouncing from rock to rock. I was impressed with his sure footedness (is that a word). By the way, he wasn’t the only jogger to go by.

There were lot’s of mountain bikers up there too and at one point there was quite an interesting bit of trail. We could hear the cyclists coming so we stood to one side of the trail. It was hilarious because the first rider stood up and braked for all he was worth. He ended up at the side of the trail and about three riders behind him all drove into each other. The other three manged to stop in time and they all proceeded cautiously down this piece of trail. They were questioning the guide as to the mountain bike classification of Media because of the traildifficulty and the steep, narrow inclines. Anyhow, we met up with them at the bottom as they were changing someone’s back tire.

We continued along this trail until a point where five trails intersected. Some of the trails are classed as GR or Gran Recorregu and PR or Petit Recorregu. These are long distance and short distance trails that make up a nation wide network of trekking trails. At this point we required serious map consultation. Imagine taking a GR trail and ending up in Madrid ????

Once again we headed off on the right path and exited the difficult phase at a restaurant, Masia can Borrell. It was a farm at some time and very rustic. The food was very Catalan and fit the mood we were in. We ordered pan amb tomaquet and Jamon con melon. the pan was served as separate items. We had to rub the garlic and tomato onto the bread. the food was DELICIOUS, just enough to keep us going.

We studied the map and headed back out to the trail. At this point the trail passed through open meadows. It was nice to have such large variations in trail quality and surroundings.

As soon as we walked through the fields and back into the woods, we entered the final three kms before reaching Sant Cugat. The trail here was very easy and peaceful.

It was around here that we saw this weird tree, all by itself, in the middle of a field.

This tree is known as Pi d’en Xandri. It is over 200 years old and I guess at that age, needs help in standing. Actually, it’s quite an impressive and healthy tree for 200 years old.

Well, we finally arived in Sant Cugat, three and a half hours after leaving Barcelona. We headed up to the monastery that is in the old part of the city.

This place was OLD. You could feel the age as you walked around the buildings. I beleive it was founded around 900 AD and has quite the history. It’s a Benedictine monastery so has ties with Montserrat.

Alex was looking at some copies of manuscript and mentioned the century it was from. A little later on we saw copies of the same manuscript in the museum with some background info on it and she was dead on. She always amazes me with how much she knows.

After we left the abbey, Alex wanted to visit the church. It was a part of the monastery and was built in the 12th or 13th century. We got there to find the big doors closed and locked.

Alex went back to the monastery to ask when the church would be open and I waited outside. In a few minutes, a man came running over and unlocked the doors. I couldn’t beleive it. Alex came around the corner and I asked her how she managed to have so much pull. She laughed and told me that they said the church doesn’t open until 6:00 PM so we were very fortunate.

We toured the church and I found graves from the 1400’s . I always look on the floor because they buried influential people in the church floors. Some graves were too old to read, their markings all worn off.

Ok, it was time to go so we headed out to the square, had a clara and some aceitunas and then trekked over to the train station. We arrived home around 3:00 after a truly great day.

September 12, 2006 at 7:14 pm 3 comments

Montserrat, Some Background

Just a note before you read this post. Much of the material was copied from many different sites and slightly modified to flow. I do not claim authorship to any of it. The Benedictines have a very informative website here. Enjoy………..

Montserrat has an interesting beginning that reaches back to Paleolithic times. The most important prehistory vestiges in Montserrat have been found in the “Cova Gran” and the “Cova Freda.” Pottery dating back to early Neolithic times was found for the first time in Catalonia in these caves. This pottery was often decorated with patterns made with shells. This Montserrat pottery is known as “Cardial” Pottery.

Somewhere around 880 AD, some shepherd children had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The visions occurred over the next few weeks in the same location, near a cave on Montserrat Mountain. The village priest and others witnessed them. When the religious elders of the community explored this cave they found an image of the Virgin Mary.

According to legend, the image was carved by St. Luke and brought to Spain by St. Peter. During the Moorish occupation, the image was hidden in a cave near Montserrat and was rediscovered by the elders. From that moment on the cave became a holy sanctuary for the Virgin of Montserrat and one of the most popular religious sites in Spain.

Religious activity increased significantly and by the end of the 9th century, four chapels had been built in the mountain: St. Mary’s, St. Acisclo’s, St. Peter’s and St. Martin’s. Nowadays, only St. Acisclo’s remains and it is situated in the garden of the Monastery. Legend has it that the mountain, also called Monsalvat, was also thought to have been the site of the castle of the Holy Grail.

In 1125, Oliba, Abbot of Ripoll and Bishop of Vic, founded the Montserrat Monastery next to St. Mary’s chapel, which was to soon become a Romanic style sanctuary. The Benedictine monastery has become one of the greatest religious shrines of Spain. Through songs, Alfonso X, popularized the appearances of the Virgin and numerous pilgrims begin to arrive. The followers of the Virgin of Montserrat, popularly known as “La Moreneta” because of the dark material of which she is sculpted, is the most popular following in Catalunya. Towards the end of the century a new image of the Holy Mother of God was sculpted: it is one of the jewels of Catalan Romanic and is visited by thousands. In addition, Bernat Boïl, a former Montserrat hermit, went with Christopher Columbus to America marking the start of the cult of the Virgin of Montserrat in America.

The abbey has also become world famous for its boy’s choir and school of music and hails back to 1223 making the school the oldest in Europe.

In 1522, Saint Ignatius of Loyola offered his knight’s sword to the image of the Virgin of Montserrat, gave up his militaristic life and dressed in sackcloth like any other pilgrim.

The present church of Montserrat was consecrated in 1592 by the Bishop of Vic, Pedro Jaime, on the 2nd of February, in the presence of the Bishops of Urgell, Girona and Elna.

Napoleon’s army destroyed Montserrat in 1811. The monks hid the image of the Virgin, saving it from being destroyed.

Montserrat is also a very powerful symbol for the Catalan people and was notorious during the Franco regime for being a stronghold of Catalan culture and language. In direct defiance of Franco’s anti-Catalan laws, the monks of Montserrat continued celebrating marriages and baptisms in Catalan after the Civil War. The monastery became a refuge for the many Catalan nationalists that remained underground until Franco’s death in 1975.

The abbey can be reached by road, by cable car, or by the Montserrat Rack Railway from Monistrol in the valley below, which in turn can be reached by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya train from Barcelona’s Plaça d’Espanya station. From the abbey a funicular railway goes up to the top of the mountain, where there are various abandoned hovels in the cliff faces that were previously the abodes of reclusive monks.

September 10, 2006 at 3:17 pm Leave a comment

Montserrat at Last

I think Alex and I deserve a pat on the back. We have been planning to visit Montserrat since the beginning of the summer and we finally made it. It’s only a 1 hour train ride from Barcelona so there is no problem getting there we just got sidetracked every time we’d plan the trip. We caught the train at the station in Placa Espanya and got off at Monistrol. In the station at Placa Espanya, you can buy all types of tickets to Montserrat. Various options include access to museums, the funiculars, and the train from Monistrol, even the metro in Barcelona. We purchased the 18 Euro one but prices are a low as 6 or 7 Euros. When we arrived at Monistrol, the train to take us up the mountain was waiting for us. It appears that the two trains are synchronized for minimum connection times. Even the return journey was synchronized.

Montserrat is very impressive as you approach Monistrol. The peaks and rock formations are very unique and can be seen from a fair distance away. The main attraction of Montserrat however, is not the mountain itself but the Benedictine abbey that is built there. The original abbey and surrounding buildings were mostly destroyed by Napoleon in 1811. It was restored in the 19th and 20th century but I’ll use another post to elaborate the interesting history of Montserrat.

The ride up the mountain is quite something. The train itself uses a special geared rail in the centre of the tracks because of the steep angles it climbs. I would guess that this train is climbing near 30 degrees (it’s a guess) at some points. We arrived at the monastery and Alex headed off to the info booth to get some maps and then we headed to the cafeteria to eat. I was quite surprised at the prices. Lunch was not that expensive considering the amount of tourists that come to this site.

After lunch we took the funicular de Sant Joan to the top of the mountain. It’s an impressive view from there and it seemed to be the starting point for a lot of hiking trails. There are hundreds of hiking trails up here, all connecting and crossing and go for hundreds of kilometers. We had come to Montserrat on a discovery mission. We wanted to check it out so we could pick a nice trail in the future and spend a day walking in the mountains but we HAD to try at least one trail. We had a choice, one trail led up to the Sant Joan retreat and the other led back to the abbey. This is the trail that leads to Sant Joan.

We chose the one that led back to the abbey. It’s timed at 55 minutes and we stopped so often to check things out that I think the 55-minute time is VERY conservative. The trail is almost all downhill so not much effort is required.

We saw some interesting shapes in the deadwood along the trail.

When we arrived back at the abbey, Alex wanted to visit the basilica.

We actually went into the sanctuary where the Virgin of Montserrat is hosted. It’s an eerie feeling being there. There was a lineup but I don’t think it was even close to the normal line of pilgrims who visit this site.

Afterwards we walked around the abbey, went into the stores to see the tourists shop and went through an audio-visual display about the site. My camera battery died and that was it for photos (did I hear a big sigh of relief). This last photo was a corner of the original Cloisters. The only part that was left after Napoleon.

The trip home was as easy as going and on the train we met a really nice couple from Toronto. They were on a tour and had come on their own to see Montserrat for themselves. We had an interesting conversation with them and it seemed the trip home took far less time than going.

All in all a great day and I look foreword to going back and doing some trekking.

September 10, 2006 at 11:12 am 2 comments

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