domingo, 15 de abril de 2007

A Trip to Montserrat

While Mom and Dad were here we headed up to Montserrat, a monastery about an hour north of Barcelona. We headed out early-ish, although I would probably have gone as early as possible next time. We got to the Plaza España metro, which is one of the main connector stations to regional trains. In the station we found the Montserrat ticket office. For 19,50€ (in Spain periods are commas and commas are periods!) we got a ticket which includes the metro ride, the train to Montserrat Aeri, the cremallera (or cog train) and the fee for 2 funiculars.

We got on the train at 9:30 and we were in Montserrat Aeri by about 10:30. We all got off the train and waited for the cremallera, which was a beautiful train ride, winding high up into the hills. The view was spectacular. The rick formations are really unique here, with wonderful spire-like rock 'towers' jutting up into the sky.
After about 15 minutes, we arrived at the monastery. The grounds were smaller than I thought, but hell, the fact that they built this place so far up is quite a wonder! After a snack we headed into the entrance to the main grounds. There is a large square, the museum (which we skipped) and the cathedral. After a few quick snaphots, we headed into the cathedral. The boys choir was singing at 1pm so we wanted to get a good seat. Throngs of people were lining up to see 'La Moreneta' or the Black Madonna, a small 12th Centuruy Romanesque sculpture of the Virgin Mary at the back of the church, which is the official patron of Catalonia. The boys choir sang beautifully and their voices echoed through the church...quite a moment.

After this, we headed to the funicular, which heads up the hill on (at least) a 45-degree angle all the way up! At the top, there are many trails you can take with various lengths. I think you can hike all the way up here from the villages below as well. We took a shorter route which takes you to this little chapel on a high ridge. Apparently on a clear day, you can see as far as Mallorca and the Pyrennes to the east. It was a bit hazy today, but still, the view was fantastic!

My parents took the funicular back down to the monastery after about 2 hours, but I decided to walk down the path. It was quite a site seeing the monastery grounds below as the path slowly turned and headed back. We didn't have time to take the funicular down to another spot where apparently the Vigin Mary made an appearance, but I'm sure I'll be back. For me, the hiking amongst the rocks and valleys below was more spiritual than any church could ever be.

For more pictures, please visit my Facebook album.

lunes, 9 de abril de 2007

Salvador Dali in Figueres

The next morning after my fantastic hike, I decided to get the first bus out of Cadaques headed for Figueres again in hopes of catching a more reasonable line up at the Dalí museum. The bus ride was equally amazing going out of Cadaqués. There were still clouds down in the valley below and as you can see in the first picture, it was totally amazing.

I reached Figueres and walked into town after stowing my bags and luckily there was no line up at all. The museum was like walking into a crazy dream. When you first walk in, you are met with a large courtyard in which was an old car being pulled by some sort of Hindu goddess. High above the car was a boat with static water drop dangling from the bottom like stalactites. At the extreme top was a small umbrella, which apparently opens when it's raining.

The inner hallways curved around the main courtyard, filled with many sketches, strange mannequins and objects. Behind the courtyard was a huge room covered by an amazing glass dome. Inside this grand hall were some huge tapestries of some of Dalí's most famous work.

Dalí seemed to be fascinated with optical illusion. A lot of his pictures were contained in glass boxes with a v-shaped piece of glass in the centre. If you stood directly in the centre, the paintings would become 3D. With the picture shown here of Dalí painting his wife Gala, her foot totally came out at you.

Other highlights included: a painting on hydraulics which would open up before you when you put in a coin; the Mae West room, which consisted of a sofa which looked like lips, a fireplace which looked like a nose and 2 pictures on the wall. When you went up a small staircase, the pictures turned into eyes and you realize that you are looking at a portrait of Mae West. Even her hair was made by the curtains that hung on the wall; a Sistine cahapel-like room depicting Gala and Salvador ascending to heaven; a metal coil which descended from the ceiling and on the end of it was a grimacing face.

It was a cool place all in all and a great way to end a fantastic long weekend.

domingo, 8 de abril de 2007

Easter in Cadaques - Part II

The next morning in Cadaques I got an early start. The sun was still shining brightly and the first thing I did was have a coffee and a bocadillo in the town square. I could have sat for hours watching the shimmering water in the morning light.

I walked out of town on the north end of the bay on the road. I soon found the trail which hugged the coast. Porous rock jutted out in all angles. The vegetation was quite dry and sparse. Along the way, I saw some kayakers coming into the bay. How great would that be? I also saw several groups of scuba divers along the coast. The Costa Brava is known for its amazing diving opportunities.

There were some amazing homes along the way...all made of shale and very square and modern. There was one particular house on its own little island. Very nice.

I walked around the bay, but soon found that I could no longer walk along the cliff as it was cut off by homes etc. I doubled back and soon found the path to Lloret de Mar. This is just a tiny fishing village with nothing really there except for Salvador Dalí's house. I walked down the path to the village. I knew I was close when I saw to strange white heads jutting out from the trees, which are on top of Dalí's house.

For anyone wanting to come here, note that you have to book ahead to get into his house, or wait around for a cancellation. I knew this the night before, but since it was Easter it would have been impossible to get in I think. After a brief rest on the bay and some photos of the colourful fishing boats, I headed up into the hills again.

The nice thing about Cadaqués is that it's within a national park, so you can hike all the way to the French border if you want. Far away in the north I could see Cap de Creus, which is the easternmost point in Spain. It was about 8km away from Lloret de Mar, so I knew I would not make it that far. Apparently the sunsets there are breathtaking...well, I'm sure there will be a next time.

So I hiked and hiked, looking at the steep drop from the cliffs into the azure-blue water below. Absolutely stunning, especially once you get away from all of the houses. I had packed a lunch the night before, and soon I found the perfect spot. Just off the hiking trail was a small ledge on the cliff. I walked down to the ledge, opened my backpack and had my lunch, looking at this gorgeous view in front of me. It was so hot I took off my clothes and let the sun warm my back.

This was truly one of my favourite days in Spain so far.

sábado, 7 de abril de 2007

Easter in Cadaques - Part I

For Easter I decided to get out of town and head to the Costa Brava, which is the beautiful coast northeast of Barcelona all the way up to the French border. I left quite early in the morning on the RENFE train, which only goes to Figueres, about an hour inland from the coast. After about 2 weeks of rain, the sun came out and everything was bathed in sunlight again. On the train ride, I passed the gorgeous city of Girona, Catalunya's second largest city. I will have to make a trip there some day.

I finally arrived in Figueres, where I wanted to see the Salvador Dalí museum, but the line to get in was so long, I decided to scrap it. After a nice lunch in the main plaza, I headed to the bus station for the rest of the journey. The journey into Cadaqués was breathtaking. After about a half hour of flat marshy land, we suddenly ascended into the hills. The bus wound its way up to the top and then back down again and was just hugging the cliffside.

We soon descended to Cadaqués, which is a gorgeous little white-washed town. Apparently in the 60s, Salvador Dalí frequented here, as well as the likes of Mick Jagger and other famous people. The town's streets are paved in shale which was amazing. All the streets are windy and narrow and makes for a great day of exploration. After checking into the Hostal Ubaldo, I strolled down to the town square which is right on the harbour. The sun was glistening on the water and the main street was full of people. I stopped for a beer at one of the little cafés that overlook the harbour and watched the sun go down. The beach here is a little more rough, as is the vegetation. I think that is partially why Cadaqués has kept its old-world charm, unlike other nasty touristy spots.

After a short nap back at my room, I went out to explore again. The night sky was full of stars and the labyrinthine streets were truly magical. I stopped into Jazz Rock Bar or something like that. Really cool bar...the candles were perched on top of wax that must have dripped for decades. The walls were plaster, covered with movie posters and photographs autographed by famous people. There was a great band playing and people were dancing wherever they could. After I finished my beer and headed out into the fresh air, I thought how great this would be to share with someone special....Craig where are you?

domingo, 11 de marzo de 2007

A Walk to Parc Guell

Today, Ernesto and I decided to walk the 4km to Parc Guell, Gaudi's famed wonderland in the north part of the city. It was a beautiful day and we saw a lot more than the park on the way. Heading out from the house, we walked to Las Ramblas, then headed north. We cut across the huge Plaza Catalunya until we hit Passeig de Gracia.

This long boulevard is always bustling. When Barcelona's northern part (known as the Eixample) wasn't built yet, this street was the main thoroughfare for coach and horses to get to Gracia, once its own town but now part of Barcelona. Passeig de Gracia is quite a noisy and busy street and is where all of the main boutiques are. Some names you will see are Gucci, Prada, Adolfo Dominguez, Zara and much more. Anyone who likes to shop till they drop would love it here.

Along the way, you will also see more of Gaudi's work, like the Casa Batillo, which is a site to see with it's twisted iron work and shiny blue tiles. Apparently the interior is stunning, but I haven't made it there yet. Eventually we hit Avinguda Diagonal which is more of the financial area. You see buildings for companies like Deutschbank around here. This avenue also marks the beginning of the Gracia neighbourhood.

There is truly a different feel here. Lots of little cafés and more boutiques, but the streets are smaller and it feels more like a neighbourhood again. Lots of 'plazas' here to take in coffee or a gelato. Gracia is another spot which is coveted by many...close to the city, but far enough away.

After Gracia, we started going uphill a bit and about 10 minutes away, we stopped to get bocadillos and water. Bocadillos are everywhere her in Spain. Essentially it's a crispy baguette-like sandwich (although about half as long). It can be filled with ham and cheese, tomato and tuna, things like that. They are very good!

We headed uphill even more and we soon got to the entrance. The place was full of tourists, shutterbugs and people just wanting to chill out in this fantastic place. How can I describe this park? It's set into a hill and the entrance has this wonderful, almost enchanted looking cottage with beautiful tile and organic lines to it.

The main staircase leads up to a platform with hundreds of pillars which support the platform above. That platform above was full of people feeling the warm March breeze, looking out on the stunning view of the city or sitting in the little tiles alcoves that act as the platform's railing.

Gaudi made these fantastic rock walkways that spiral up into the hillside. The vegetation is dry but with tonnes of pine trees (or at least pine-like). We stopped on one of the rock precipices that jutted over the public space below and had our picnic in the sun.

After we ate, we walked along the walkways through the woods, feeling the warm sun glinting through the trees. On one path we soon heard a guitar playing and a weird bam! bam! bam! We soon discovered that it was a wonderful flamenco dancer, dancing to the rythym of her fellow guitarist. It was truly a great moment as people gathered around and watched this woman do this amazing dance.

One truly has to experience this park for themselves, for there are just too many views and intricate passageways to describe in pictures. Another jewel in the crown of Barcelona.

sábado, 10 de marzo de 2007

Barceloneta -- Viva la Playa!

Today I went for a walk and headed for the boardwalk and the beach. The neighbourhood is known as Barceloneta which iterally means 'little Barcelona'. The area used to be the main fisherman's quarter back in the mid-1800s and is characterized by tiny, dead-straight streets, all running toward the Mediterranean.

On the main boulevard, Passieg de Joan de Borbó, you can find tonnes of amazing seafood restaurants and outdoor cafés. There's tonnes of greenspace, as you can see by the first and second picture. A long tree-lined walkway is filled with cyclists, runners and those who choose to just calmly walk the boulevard and take in the sun.

To the west of Barceloneta is the main marina and the Museu Maritim. I think I heard once that the Museu Maritim used to be a factory, and this whole area in general used to be quite a slum. Not anymore...prices have skyrocketed ever since the city began to clean up the beach during the early 1990s. My roommate Joe told me that Barcelona used to have its 'back to the sea', but more and more this area is being transformed into paradise.

The houses here are a style all of its own. Typically they are not bigger than 500 square metres and each level is one whole apartment. The apartments are typically long and narrow with exposed wood beams. I actually stayed in a place here while I was looking for a place to live and a lot of them have been done up in quite a modern way with exposed brick and modern kitchens.

The main boulevard leads to the sea and right at the end is this great little place to have a 'copa' or a nice strong cup of coffee. The boulevard ends and the place opens up to a huge area with palm trees and lots of space. To the west and east stretches the beach, but the boardwalk begins here and goes east for miles!

If you take the boardwalk, you will pass Frank Gehry's huge gold fish sitting on top of a building plus lots of other modern structures, which I will have to take pictures of another day. Who would have known that March could look like this! I have already headed to the beach, taken off my shoes and my shirt and have sunbathed here....truly heaven!

Just wait until the summer when they put up the little covered places where you can have lunch or have a cold beer and listen to hot Euro beats. This place is going to be wild as the months roll on. Just look at those waves!

domingo, 4 de marzo de 2007

My Birthday

Well, this entry is really behind schedule, so I'm publishing this as the date on when I would have normally posted it! Anyway on March 3rd, Ernesto said that all of a sudden we were going to have a housewarming party, since now we finally have a dining room table in the tiny spot by the door. It actually looks quite good with the cranberry red chairs and stools and Ernesto scored from Lacoste, where he works.

Well, it turned out that it was sort of a surprise party for me, which was really sweet. It wasn't a typical surprise party where people were jumping out from behind furniture (not that we have any furniture to jump out from!). We just all sat around chatting, drinking wine, smoking too much.

The second picture is Ernesto (I though I would take some black and whites for this round), the third picture is Piotr and Paolo, and the last picture is Joe, my other roommate from Germany. Piotr is a jewelry designer and is originally from Poland. Paolo is originally from Brazil and is starting an events company.

Other people that were there were Pedro, Otto (you might remember them from Carnaval) and Joe's friend Ingo, visiting from Germany. It's quite amazing how Barcelona is full of people that have come here from all over the world to make a go of it. There is something really special about this city that really attracts people and keeps people here, I think.

Anyway, after a few hours of wine and conversation, we all headed to Salvation, a huge gay club about 15 minutes walk from here. It really doesn't get going until 2am, which is the usual for this city and Spain in general. I think the Lonely Planet was right when they said that Spain leaves most other countries in the dust when it comes to nightlife.

So we all danced the night away and it was great. I especially missed everyone back home around my birthday, but luckily I had some good friends and some good company around me to celebrate.