Posts filed under ‘Parks’

Canada, The First Week

We’ve done a lot over the past week. Signed our lease, got our medicare cards updated and I joined Hart House so I can get back to the gym.

Our apartment is right down town and actually 3 floors directly above our old one. Talk about luck. We move into the place in June. This is our little oasis in the middle of downtown Toronto.

Yesterday, Pearl took us to a park right near her place. Consider this, the park is in an urban area, cycling distance (long maybe) from downtown Toronto. When we went I felt that the ambience and feelings were Canada. This park represented how I felt about Canada. It was great. I had never felt that way before but as Alex explained, sometimes you have to leave and come back before you notice these things. It was so true. There were loons diving for fish, geese flying low over the water and lines of other water fowl flying in formation past the point. The mist was light and the air cool. It really struck me that I was back in Canada.

Not many people around either. After the crowds in Barcelona, this was nice.

The trees had not yet grown their new leaves and most of them held only the hint of green. Some were further along than others but the mixture was lovely. Subtle coloring in the background and calm waters made for a sensuous ambiance.

The boats were ready for another season and people were out cleaning and socializing. For boaters, it was more socializing than cleaning……

Alex exploring the photo ops of bleached driftwood. She bought herself a new digital camera and was testing it out.

We had a great time thanks to Pearl. We will be doing this once a week like we did in Barcelona. We hope to pick a neighborhood in Toronto every week and go exploring with our cameras. I’ll post something about where we went and some photos and if I can, I’ll give a little history. Our friends in Barcelona will be able to know more about Canada. I hope it makes them interested enough to come visit.

May 10, 2007 at 3:32 pm 1 comment

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

Thursday’s Walk Feb 15,2007

I post all my photos in a place called Flickr. It’s more than just a storage place for photographs, it’s also a virtual community of photographers, artists and all types of creative individuals. One of the things I enjoy about Flickr is the ability to join a group. These are special interest communities. One may be only for critiquing, one for Black and White photography, etc.

There is one that stands a little above the others with the addition of it’s own web site that interacts with Flickr. It’s called UTATA. The admins are great for getting projects going and a regular project is the Thursday Walk. This week was Utata Thursday Walk 44. All you have to do is get out there on Thursday and take some pictures. This Thursday I did and this is what I saw and where I went. Those who visited will remember these places.

When I stepped out of our apartment I was met with clear blue skies, a great day.

I started my walk towards the Med and on the way I saw two police on horseback. We don’t see too much of that here in Barcelona so I was pretty cool.

At the next corner there were a bunch of police directing traffic. Four officers were on the sidewalk watching three others in the street. I suspect they were from the police academy and were training. I tried to get their photo but one waved me off so I figured I shouldn’t push it.

I kept walking towards the Arc de Triomf at the end of Psg Sant Joan with the sun in my eyes, it was really bright.

Once on the other side of the arc I noticed the bicycle path, this city has a very large network of cycle paths all over the city and on weekends the people are out in force on their bikes.

Looking to the right I noticed I could see the spire of Santa Maria del Mar with the sun shining between the buildings, gorgeous light.

I walked down the centre of this massive walkway and noticed a large group of elderly men playing a game of ……… Don’t know what it’s called but they were into a serious discussion (maybe cursing the dam paparazzi which was me)

I walked all the way down to the entrance of Parc Ciutadella and ventured in towards the mechanical sculpture. I turned and saw the Musee de Zoologia.

That big gear to the right is part of a massive sculpture. There were ducks in the water and they weren’t afraid of people because I got really close to one.

From there I walked throught some groves of palms and other trees. They were watering the sun shinning through the branches made for a very dramatic scene.

I stayed until they turned off the water, the air was cool and you could feel the oxygen that was in the dense brush, really fresh. I went over to the big fountain and just sat on a bench observing people with their dogs or kids or just reading books.

The sound of the water, the sunlight shining throught the trees and the cool air in the shade made this place a very peaceful and relaxing place.

I was supposed to meet Alex at 1:30 and go for lunch. It was around 12:30 and she called to see where I was. I told her and 10 minutes later she joined me. We went to lunch at a place on the corner of Psg Pujades and Lluis Companys, of course we ate out on the terrace and it was Paella day.
It was a wonderful day, it was a Thursday Walk

February 16, 2007 at 4:20 pm 3 comments

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

Sunday, November 19

Well, this is the last Sunday of Christine’s visit. It’s weird but after a visit by friends, we’re always at a loss of what to do. This feeling only lasts for a few for a few days until we can re-adjust. Today, we decided to head over to Montjuic and show Christine around. It was a beautiful day on the mountain. When we arrived up at the fort, a cruise ship was just arriving in the port.

You can see all the sailors out enjoying the beautiful November weather. Wow, what a statement, beautiful November weather. Feels weird saying that. Anyhow, we walked over to the other side of the fort to see the sun over the Mediteranean, simply gorgeous.

That’s the side opposite the city and there is a lot of industry, including the airport on that side. We walked around inside the fort and the flowers are all in bloom. One bed of flowers was unkown to us and quite strange looking. They looked like the back of a long necked birds.

Down in the moat is a special area for archery. The targets are about 250 metres from the archers and they use scopes to see where the arrows hit. There were quite a few archers, most of them beginners, but one fellow was really quite accomplished. He had a beautiful compound bow and when he let the arrow loose, you couldn’t follow it. They are really fast. He was consitently hitting within the yellow ring and had two or three arrows in the centre. Quite the shot.

We rounded the fort and I had to take this picture of the rampart with guns pointed out over the sea.

They had quite the commanding view of anything coming near Barcelona. After leaving the castle we walked back down the way we came. It was much easier going down than heading up to the castle. Once we reached the old olympic diving pool we took the funicular all the way down to Poblenou. We went to a restaurant in Poblenou for lunch and after went over to Jackie and Sebastian’s so they could say goodbye to Christine. It was a great day like all the others with Christine. As I said, it will take a few days to readjust when Christine returns to Montreal on Tuesday.

November 24, 2006 at 9:02 pm Leave a comment

A Park and an Airshow

I cannot believe that September is over. The time seems to be flying past as quickly as some of the aircraft we saw this weekend. It seems like yesterday when Norbert and Carole arrived and they left over a week ago. Once again I had trouble adjusting to the quiet after being busy. It always takes a day or two to readjust.

This Saturday, Alex and I took the metro up to Parc del Laberint. It’s way up in the mountain, just beyond the range of the city maps. Needless to say, it is off the tourist path. We took the metro L3 up to Mundet and walked up from there. It’s quite different from the Barcelona we know in Eixample, much more modern. By the way, we didn’t realize that it cost us 2 Euros each to get in (it’s free on Sundays) but we didn’t mind since the fee is used to help maintain the park.

The theme of the park is that of the neoclassical garden of the XVIII century. Very romantic with lots of statues and fountains and most importantly, secluded benches. There is a house which belonged to the Marqués de Llupià y de Alfarràs but it is in great need of repair and is closed off to the public. In a garden house nearby, there is a defence tower, known as the Torre Subirana, which dates back to mediaeval times.

There were very gnarled, twisty trees lined along one of the pathways. Quite interesting shapes but I didn’t capture the feeling in the photo.

We hurried thought the park because we arrived there later than we had planned and Alex had things to do at home. To be honest, it was not an inspiring day but you can’t expect every day to be.

On Sunday, we headed down towards Forum. We caught the number 6 bus and took it to the end of the line. It’s another area of the city that we had never been to and the area used to be industrial. It’s in the process of change and a very interesting place to be with a camera. We couldn’t explore because we were going to see an air show. It started at 9:00 and we got off the bus at around 9:20. I could here jets, not the muffled jets that propel commercial aircraft but the growl of high performance fighter aircraft. I can usually recognize a Harley Davidson by it’s sound and jet engines are the same. We hurried to the beach and when we got to the boardwalk an F16 was streaking by the beach with full afterburner. OK, I got goosebumps and Alex laughed at me.

The beach was actually empty because we were so early. It was a gorgeous day too and people were in the water.

I was soooooo sorry I didn’t have a longer lens because I just couldn’t capture the majesty of these aircraft. A french Mirage shot by as we walked towards Mar Bella.

They weren’t flying high but were out over the water where a large naval rescue boat was cruising in case it was needed. The ship was fairly far out making the Mediteranean look so inviting.

When we got to Mar Bella, two Harrier’s flew by, boy are they ever loud in flight mode ……

It was a slow fly by so maybe they needed power to stay in the air. One hovered in front of the Forum and scanned the horizon like a hunter seeking prey. It actually looked ominous as it hovered there………

The beach was starting to fill up as more people arrived to take in the show so we went down to the water’s edge to watch from there.

The aricraft stopped for a while and some parachutists put on a display. One carried a huge catalin flag on his way down, truly impressive and the control these people have is amazing.

They all landed in a little marked off area of the beach. Some seemed to hover way up while waiting for the others to land. While he was coming down he freaked out the crowd by diving towards the beach. We thought hi chute had failed but it was a controlled, RAPID descent.

A group of prop aerobatic aircraft did some loops and stuff ………

For piston engined aircraft, they were pretty impressive. Those engines must be pretty powerful to pull the aircaft straight up like that.

We were waiting for the grand finale. Vueling was supposed to do a fly by with an Airbus 320. They were going to fly past the beach at 200 metres and I really wanted to get some photos. They never showed so I guess they needed the aircraft for something else. Oh well, I probably would have been disappointed with the pictures because I didn’t have the proper lens for the show. We left there at around 12:30 and started walking towards the city.

We wanted to go to Barceloneta and meet up with Patxi. It was the last day of a week long fiesta and we were going to have lunch there. It didn’t happen and we ended up at Wushu’s for lunch. It was packed, we were tired and hot and the cava tasted GREAT. While waiting for a table, Jackie and her family showed up. We met her parents and her aunt and chatted with them for a bit. Wushu was too busy so they went on to Cardemons. We had a great lunch (as usual) and chatted with the owners Bradley and Paula for a bit before going home. It was quite a full day.

October 3, 2006 at 12:48 pm 5 comments

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

Delta del Ebro(Delta de l’Ebre)

This past week was really something else. The football game on Tuesday, an amazing dinner at Cardamon (C/ Carders, 31) on Thursday night and a great weekend with friends at the delta. The restaurant is in the old part of Barcelona and is in a building built in 1734. That’s older than I am, wow. The food there is great and it’s not too expensive. Naomi introduced us to this place a few weekes ago.

Then on Friday, Francisca, Jackie, Sebastian, Naomi, Alex and I took the train from Barcelona to Delta del Ebro. The following description is an excerpt from the Barcelona city guide.
The Ebro Delta covers 320 square kilometres and is the second largest wetland area in the western Mediterranean, after the French Camargue.
It has many natural habitats not common to the rest of Catalonia: large lakes of salt water (such as La Tancada) or fresh water (such as L’Encanyissada), kilometres of beaches with sand dunes (El Fangar) and salt wastelands (Erms de la Tancada, Punta de la Banya), places where underground fresh water comes to the surface (Els Ullals), shallow bays (El Fangar or Els Alfacs), riverbank woods and fluvial islands that, together with the ecosystems created by man – rice fields and salt pans – constitute a unique landscape of great natural wealth.

This diversity of ecosystems and flora and fauna has led to the protection of a large part of the Delta and in 1983 it was declared a “natural park”. It is in fact an ornithological paradise where you can see more than 300 species of birds.

We rented a nice little house in Sant Carles de la Rapita and arrived Friday evening around 7:30.

Off we go to explore and walk by the sea towards Sant Carles. On the way we passed by the fishing port. Lot’s of activity there.

We found a place where we rented bicycles to go cycling the next day. Sebastian is quite the cyclist and has cycled all over the place. Places like New Zealand and in the Himalayas (almost as far up as base camp for Everest climbers). You can tell he is comfortable on the bike just by looking at his form……….but that’s a whole other story.

Sant Carles is a tourist town and very popular.The mountains on one side,

the sea on the opposite side and the delta to one end. The delta itself is very flat and a large part of it is used by farmers to grow rice. Because rice grows in water, there are many irrigation canals flow control gates in the fields.

We cycled along the dirt roads that run all over the area and went down any road that headed in the general direction we wanted to go. It was quite windy so the heat wasn’t much of a problem.

We eventually ended up in a conservation area and nature park. This was the wetlands of the area.

Lot’s of birds. As a matter of fact, the park is a very popular bird watching area so there are lots of blinds for observing the wildlife as Francisca is.

We ended up in a pueblo (small village) called Poble Nou where we stopped for lunch. The menu consisted of 6 plates. The food was amazing (as usual) but we only ordered the menu for three because we would not have been able to eat all the food that was on the menu for one. There were six of us and we still walked away stuffed.

We cycled from there to the beach at platja dels Eucaliptus which was about a 30 minute cycle from the resaurant. I must confess that my butt was becoming slightly tender. Once we got to the beach I was in the water in minutes. Floating in the salt water was soooooo relaxing. Soon, we had to start back. We had no idea how far we’d gone or how long it would take us to get back to Sant Carles. We had to have the bikes back by 8:00 or risk paying extra but you know, we were on a holiday so if we got back later, so what. We weren’t going to race back to get there on time. Ok, a confession, even if we wanted to we couldn’t race back to get there on time. All we could do was hope to get back period. The following photos were taken in the middle of the ride, please note the expressions on the faces of the cyclists, Jackie and Alex. Let me just say that we all didn’t look that fresh at this point.

We finally made it back to the shop and we were still in good spirits, tired but very happy to be back and we were on time. We calculated that we had cycled at least 50 kms that day. I know it doesn’t sound like much but it was a full day.

We started walking back towards our casa and picked up food from different shops along the way. Francisca and Sebastian were playing catch with a half full water bottle which brought looks of concern on some passers by. About a kilometre from our casa I decided it would be far easier to run than continue walking so I finished up with a short run.

That night Sebsation cooked on the barbeque and we sat, drank wine and chatted the evening away.

Sunday was a quiet day for me, too much sun the previous day. The chicas went to the beach and Sebastian and I stayed at the casa playing chess. Actually, he was playing chess, I was playing Rambo. We left for the train station at 4:30 and that was the weekend.

Alex and I had a great time.

August 28, 2006 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

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