Sunday, 20 September 2020

Christmas and Covid

It's Christmas!
Christmas decorations in the city.
I’m sitting at home writing this blog post about December, reflecting on all that has happened this year. I know, it’s now September, but as we all know it has been a crazy 2020. Way back in December 2019, this COVID virus was barely known, I can’t even remember if it was in the news at all. Everything was normal, people were going on their Christmas holidays, buying furniture, going on planes, taking everything for granted – and in a way we should be able to do these things. We should be able to depend on a job, a roof over our heads, be allowed to walk the streets and be able to live. I know many, many places are doing it harder than where I am in Spain, but it hasn’t been easy here. In Europe, if not the World, we had one of the toughest lockdowns – it was swift and brutal, but I still think, absolutely necessary for everyone’s sake. We were confined to our homes, masks on in the streets and trips were limited to the supermarket trips, taking the rubbish out and taking the dog for a walk (if you were lucky enough to have one). Fines for breaking the rules were meted out at €600 a pop. I managed to keep my job, we all moved to online teaching within a week and kept our students. I had some money saved and didn’t spend much at all during the quarantine, so came out of it better and also a little fitter as there wasn’t much else to do at home. With the second wave already here though, I fear what the rest of the year (or two) will bring. When will this horrible pandemic end?

Good wine and a little something from Catalonia.

The Christmas Nativity scene.

C'mon guys, it's Christmas!

Making Pierogi.
Little did we know way back in 2019, when everything was so normal. Myself included. So, we made our Christmas plans and flew to Poland for 3 weeks, blissfully unaware. Christmas time in Poland is great – it’s cold and really feels like a traditional Christmas that we all know and love. I also love being outdoors at Christmas, like a Sydney Christmas, having a BBQ and sitting around on the beach. In Poland, it’s all about the food though – a traditional Polish Christmas has 12 dishes – and many of them fishy. The main celebration is on Christmas Eve, or 'Wigilia,' and some of the dishes served are Pierniki (gingerbread), Barszcz Czerwone z Uszkami (Beetroot soup with dumplings) and Jarzynowa Sałatka (potato or vegetable salad). There is also lots of ham and good Polish pickles too, so I was in heaven. The day before, lots of the family got together to form a production line, pumping out the tiny little mushroom dumplings, like mini pierogi, called 'uszkami'. I got involved and within minutes was an absolute pro! I proclaimed this new status, I said it was easy, and so I was then stuck there for the rest of the night! It was fine, as the more you made the more you could eat the next day in the soup! Carp is also very traditional here – there was fried carp, carp jelly and also boiled carp heads. In fact, most of the kitchen was full of fish in various states most of the time. Luckily though, there was no live fish swimming in the bathtub – people my age remember this vividly, with fond memories while laughing at how silly it seems now. Luckily, I didn’t have to kill anything for our Christmas dinner.

Poznan in Winter - cold but still beautiful.

Winter sunsets

Walking in the park at sunset.

Cozy bars in Poznan.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Poznań is a lovely city, very beautiful and with plenty of things to see and do. Although it was Winter and was very cold and dark by 3pm, there were still things to see and do. One of the things was the Christmas nativity scene in a church in the centre. Although nothing to knock your socks off, it was a full-sized depicture of the birth of Christ – there were animals, shepherds, the manger - everything, even some angels. If that’s not your bag, what you can do is head to the old market square for the Christmas markets. As with all markets, there are local arts and crafts, as well as produce. There were hams and bread, pickles and jams, but I loved the cheese – Oscypek salted sheep cheese from the Tatra Mountains. It looked like a little loaf of cheese, the outside a dark yellow colour and patterned, but it’s completely edible too. When walking around the markets gets too cold, maybe it’s time to head into a comfy little bar or restaurant somewhere on the square. During the summer months, this typical, Central European square is filled with outdoor seating and dining areas, where people enjoy the view and the weather. During the colder months people head inside, where the Poles really know how to make something cool and cosy at the same time. There are loads of bars and restaurants – my amazement of the variety never ceases. Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, steak houses, pizza places and burger joints are everywhere, not to mention the bars and microbreweries! My favourite big brand beer in Poland is Lech, which is actually from Poznan, but if you’re into craft beer, then never fear – there is an absolute abundance of that too, as the craze has hit Poland as much as anywhere else in the world. Not only are these places great inside, their facades are also pretty cool and their names original. There is one bar called HashtagHashtag (or #Hashtag), Whisky in the Jar (an American whiskey and steakhouse that plays good rock music) and Jabberwocky Craft Beer. Even if you went to a different bar each day, you’d be here for some time and wouldn’t even get bored by repeating!

Christmas tree in the Old Market Square.

Even Lenin is getting into the mood.

Poznan city.

The 1,000 year old oaks - Lech, Czech and Rus.
Before we left for Spain, we decided to take a short weekend drive and see some other things around the city. Within an hour’s drive from Poznań, winding your way along country roads, you’ll find Rogalin Palace, an 18th Century Baroque Palace. built between 1768 and 73 (which makes it older than British settlement in Australia), it is a rambling and very beautiful mansion, built for the Raczyński family. Unfortunately it was closed, but that was to be expected at this time of year and on a Sunday, we walked around the grounds and enjoyed the beauty of it and the peace and quiet of the gardens. The last owner of the estate was Count Edward Bernard Raczyński, who in 1979–1986 was President of the Polish Republic in exile. His sarcophagus is in the Raczyński Mausoleum, just across the road from the house. After his death the house came into the guardianship of the Raczyński Family Foundation, and its president is the Director of the National Museum in Poznań. It is famous for its art gallery in the main building, which houses painting by Monet along with famous Jan Matejko's large-size painting Joanna d'Arc. The garden is also impressive, as it has 3 huge oak trees that are more than 1,000 years old – each with their own names; Lech (like the beer), Czech and Rus. It is amazing that trees can live that long and that such huge organisms come from such a small seed. Not far away was another little piece of history, Kórnik Castle. Built in the 14th century, but remodelled in the 18th and had many features of Gothic Revival, including the red brick tower which stands out as very different to the rest of the building. It is a squat, four cornered castle, surrounded by a little moat with a draw bridge. Again, being a Sunday, it was closed, but we were able to appreciate this beautiful, National Heritage building of Poland. Something unique to this castle is the Kórnik Arboretum, founded by Count Tytus Działyński in the first half of the 19th century. It is the oldest and largest Arboretum in Poland, covering around 40 hectares and containing more than 3300 species of trees and shrubs. It was a little cold to go walking the grounds too far, as they are immense, so instead we grabbed a hot chocolate and then headed back to the car for the journey home – it was nearly 4pm and getting dark after all.

Kórnik Castle.

The beautiful Rogalin Palace.

Walking around Poznan at sunset time (4pm!).

Merry Christmas Poznan.
It was January and time to go home. Christmas and New Years in Poland had been fun and relaxing. We were heading back into the long stretch of teaching that is the 2nd term, but it would be a very long, difficult and different term. We’d planned a great trip for Easter; Lithuania and Latvia, 2 new countries for us both. Sadly, everything was cancelled and we got stuck at home. It took ages for the tickets to be refunded, but that wasn’t the most upsetting thing. Luckily we still have our jobs but there were vast changes in the world of teaching. It would change the profession in a way nobody had seen before and I think these changes will last. Everything has moved online, there are more and more courses being offered, people learning to programme on their phones in the hope of getting a better job. Times have never moved so fast and it will be hard keeping up with everything. It’s hard not to feel old when things are moving so fast – gone are the days when you can stay in the same job for the rest of your life. The Baby Boomer generation were lucky in that case, most of them have made it through to retirement (just), but my generation will have to re-train and re-educate themselves, change careers, more than once. For the kids that are leaving school and entering University, that is a whole unknown world. We have to keep moving and learning, never stopping, to survive this new world.

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MyUncleTravellingMatt. December 2019.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Weekend in Banyoles

Panta de Sau
Time for a break - blue skies in December!
Long way down... or up!
The Pantà de Sau.
Writing this blog, I can appreciate even more what it was like to just go out and do things. To get in your car, drive off somewhere, visit beautiful places and do things we used to see as 'normal.' It's been more than 2 months in strict quarantine lock-down here in Spain, and it hasn't been easy. Up until recently, the only outside time we had here was for vital trips to the supermarket, taking out the rubbish, or walking the dog. I don't have a dog, so I it was 2 out of 3. Spain has been one of the hardest hit countries, with 240,000 confirmed cases and 27,00 deaths. Italy, the US and the UK are also devastated by this latest pandemic. Slowly things have eased, by allowing children outside to walk between certain times. Writing this blog now in June, Spain has just opened up enough for bars and restaurants to open and for people to leave their houses normally. All with masks on and capacity limits for shops, but it is nearly back to normal. Work has continued for me - I'm one of the lucky ones being able to work online. For some it has been much worse. But it is good to reflect on past times, past trips and back to times when you were happy and free. Appreciate what you had and have now, always. Back in December, before I knew what was only months away, we had a long weekend and thought nothing about taking a trip up north. The plan was to visit and stay in Banyoles, a town on a lake in the province of Girona. I'd been here once, and never really saw much of the town itself. It's very close to many interesting and beautiful places, like Besalu, Castellfollit de la Roca and Olot. All of these places were on the list for this trip too. We got in the car and heading off to enjoy an autumn long weekend.
The Pantà de Sau - you can just see the church roof.

The dam at Sau.
Don't get too close!
The Sallent waterfall.
Although I didn't have a strict, day by day plan, I did have places that I wanted to visit while up here. Although not that far from Sabadell (nothing is that far by Australian standards!), Banyoles is different as there are lots of small mountains and hills in the area, and it is generally just less populated and more rural. I drove up the C-17 towards Vic, and instead of continuing up directly to Olot, I decided to take a diversion. Exiting the highway, we got onto a small national road that took us into the national park. Winding our way through the forest, the treeline broke and we saw what I was looking for - the Sau reservoir. I say 'looking for,' though it wasn't lost - what I was looking for though was the church that is sometimes lost under the water. Back in 1962, when the dam was built, the village of Sant Romà de Sau was evacuated and flooded. When the water level is low enough you can see the tower sticking out - and today I was lucky! I have meant to visit this place for so long and it felt good coming here at last - it's very beautiful and I'd love to come back here and walk around the area more, maybe even do some water sports on the reservoir. The detour wasn't over though - while we were here on this small, windy road, there were 2 other places I put on the list to visit, before getting back to the big, boring highway. The Salt de Sallent waterfall was a short drive up the road, so we got back on the road for a few minutes then parked the car and walked the rest of the way. A very easy walk, but it came with spectacular views as the path was right on the edge of a high cliff. The view, flat mountains with rocky faces and trees as far as you can see, reminded me of the Blue Mountains just outside of Sydney. Within minutes we had reached the waterfall which spectacularly spilled out over the edge and dropped 328 feet (100m) onto the rocks below. There was a fair bit of walking to be done around here, but it was nearly lunchtime already and I was getting hungry. Back to the car and onto the next stop - Rupit.
Beautiful contryside.
The stone houses of Rupit.
Rupit during the Golden Hour.
Straight to Instsgram.
It was getting a little late for lunch to be honest. I knew this by the rumble in my belly and by how few parking spaces there were anywhere close to Rupit. The locals like to eat at 2pm - start eating that is, as this process can and usually does take some time (especially for family lunches). We managed to find a parking spot (paid however - there was no escaping it) and wander into the village and grab a space at the bar. After a lovely little sandwich and a beer, I needed a walk and to take some photos before the sun set. Being Winter, the sun was already dipping low by 4pm, but the light was perfect for photos. Rupit is a medieval village and nearly all of the houses and streets are stone - but to get to the old part of the village you have to cross a swaying suspension bridge built to connect this part with the new part of town and the main road. There was a queue of people to cross, but then I read that there was a limit of 10 people at a time. I figured that was the reason for the hold up and was ok with waiting. Something I quickly learned here was that 1. People can't count to 10, and 2. People don't seem to care about anyone else but themselves! Ok, so I knew the second one already, and to be honest I think number 1 is more influenced by number 2 rather than counting ability. People strolled over the bridge in large groups, some for group photos, others, it seemed, were just completely ignorant. Then there were the Instagram girls and their boyfriends. Sadly the bridge didn't fall this day, it held far more than it should have and for far longer too. I crossed, snapped a quick picture in the middle and then hurried over to the other side, trying not to make the structure bounce and move too much (just enough to blur those Instagram shots maybe). I know I sound angry, but I'm not really - I just don't have much patience for absolute tourists. The village itself was gorgeous though and you can see why it attracts so many people. Most of the charming stone houses are from the 16th and 17th century, and seem to hang over the rocky outcropping in places. Although quite small, I felt that I could wander around for hours - but we didn't have hours, but we did the walk to the 'ermita Santa Magdalena,' took some more photos and then went back to the car.
Rupit through the trees.
Medieval Rupit.
The caga tio Christmas log and his cat.
A beautiful December sunset.
We drove towards Banyoles and our resting place for the night, but on the way had to stop and appreciate the view. The sun was just about below the horizon and this gave the surrounding countryside the most beautiful orange and purple glow. It was worth stopping, even if it was on a small country road with nowhere really to park. I was careful as I pulled over, put the hazards on and then snapped a couple of pics. Totally worth it. The drive to Banyoles was uneventful in the dark - we found some parking, the hostel, checked in and had a lovely dinner out. The next morning we headed out for breakfast before making our way to Olot, the city of volcanoes. Although there isn't that much to see and do in this city, it's no Barcelona or even Girona, the area is littered with extinct volcanoes - this is its draw point. The area is called the Parque Natural de la Zona Volcánica de la Garrotxa (The La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone National Park), and area of green hills and small mountains that were once active lava spewers. I parked the car and we started the short walk up to one such volcano, the Volcà del Montsacopa, which has a 17th century church in its crater. It was an easy walk, there was an easy path to the top, and before you know it you can see everything. The ground is covered in little volcanic stone, from the size of golf balls to tiny little pebbles, and in various colours too, from deep red to grey and even black. A quick circuit of the rim gives you a lovely view of the countryside. You can get an even better view from the stone towers built right on the edge, and also grab a beer at the cute little church cafe. I was already getting hungry and we decided to get some tapas in the centre. The town centre was nice and very busy - it was beer o'clock and nobody had even heard of Covid yet. Those were the days!
The Ermita Santa Magdalena
What a perfect way to end the day.
A stone tower on the edge of the volcano.
Beer o'clock in Olot.
We got back in the afternoon, parked the car and decided to head out for a walk around the Banyoles lake. Still and mirror-like, the deep blue colour of the lake was stunning. It was the perfect time to come here to be honest - the colours were just right. White capped mountains in the distance, golden leaves clinging to the trees and red ones already falling, and the blue of the sky and water. It was so perfect that I started wondering where else you could enjoy such weather in Winter? Not many places, that's for sure. The lake is natural too, formed by moving tectonic plates, and is the largest in Catalonia. It was also the venue for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics rowing events - and today there were some rowers skimming their way over the calm waters. Apart from the lovely views of trees, mountains and water, there are also the little houses that sit on the shore. Although I'm not entirely sure what purpose they serve, whether they are small boat houses or summer vacation huts, they are great for photos. I love this lake - it's so peaceful, yet full of life and activity, human and animal. Banyoles only has a population of 17,000 people and I'm sure that most of them were down here this day, enjoying what makes their town special. It'd been a busy day and so it was time for a relaxing dinner in the centre and then to bed - tomorrow was the last day of this great weekend break and there was still a little to do. 
Banyoles at sunset.
Banyoles lake.
Some buildings in Olot.
Olot's church.
On the list was Besalú and Castellfollit de la Roca, both just a short drive from here and on the way home too. Besalú is one of my favourite places in this country and I would never grow tired of coming back and taking even more photos. If you come here, you will know why. The town was very important during the Middles Ages; it was the capital of the area (called Besalú county), and thankfully most of the buildings from this time still exist. Designated as a historical national property in 1966, the town retains its 12th Century Romanesque bridge and the church of Sant Pere, which dates back to 1003. The bridge is the main focus point of the town - its the first and last thing you see when you come here and it always makes you take one more photo. Although the town is full of souvenir shops, a lot of the things you can buy aren't just tack, there is plenty of lovely artwork and handcrafts too. There are a few nice squares in town, as is the Spanish way, all with numerous bars full of people enjoying life (as is the Spanish way). Always a lovely place to come and see.
The 12th century bridge.
Besalu's 11th century church.
Just us and the cats.
The view from the church.
The last place that we stopped at was Castellfollit de la Roca. Another town shaped by the volcanoes in the area, this gorgeous little town sits on a finger of rock 1km long and 50m high at its end. The stone houses hang over the smooth, black volcanic rock that was formed by two overlapping lava flows I don't know how many millions of years ago. On the streets there isn't much room for anything - barely enough room to walk next to someone in parts. This town never seems busy, but then again I don't think too many people live here and most tourists tend to go to the more well known Besalú. It was basically just us and a few cats on the street as we wandered down to the edge of town, to the church and lookout point. You get a stunning view from here, looking out over the valley and the river. If you want a better view, talk to the friendly guy in the church who will give you a quick tour and then let you climb the bell tower. Looking back over the village, it is basically one street with houses on either side, all trying to hang on and not fall off the edge. It had been a great weekend, a much needed break in December. The weather had been kind, the food good and the road a pleasure to drive on. With restrictions being lifted slowly but surely here in Spain, it will soon be time for little trips like this. And more. Until then!
Castellfollit de la Roca on its basalt peninsula.
Castellfollit de la Roca.
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MyUncleTravellingMatt. December 2019.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca.
Just beautiful!
Hiking with a touch of snow.
Winter was setting in by November, and although we were still getting sunny days, there was a fair bit of rain around. There was also snow in the mountains already and I was excited! I always love a bit of snow, such a rare thing when I lived in Australia, and not that common here either really. I live in a city of around 200,000 people just outside of Barcelona, so when it does snow, it usually doesn't come near me. It did a few years ago, even if it was only for about 2 hours and the snow was light and quite slushy. I love going hiking in the snow, hearing and feeling the crunch of the white powder under your boots. When I get a chance to do it, I take it, and actively look for it. There is a problem though - I don't have a car, and all the good places that I want to go need a car. As my birthday was coming up, I started looking for car rental deals and was lucky enough to find one. I booked it and then started thinking about where to go. Although the weather was a bit cold, I wanted to go to the mountains - this is where I feel that happiest. There is nothing like being outdoors, going from the bottom of a mountain to the top, all under your own steam. I love the views at the top, but this isn't the same if you drive there or get a chairlift. Although there are plenty of mountains to hike around here, I love Pedraforca. There is something magical about this big forked rock that I just can't describe. I made a phone call and organised with a friend to rent out his small holiday flat for the weekend, in a village called Bagà. When he found out it was for my birthday, he offered it as a birthday present which I could hardly refuse (thanks Bernat and Maite - love you both!). So it was set - transport, accommodation and somewhere to hike! Let's do it!
Montserrat - visible from Sabadell.
Montserrat sunset from Sabadell.
Sant Esteve de Bagà.
Bagà's main square.
The drive is up the C-16 towards Manresa, with Montserrat in view most of the way. Every time I see this mountain, I am impressed by its sheer size and weird shape. I've hiked it, climbed it and also caught the cable car and also by funicular. Designated a National Park in 1987, the name Montserrat means "Saw Mountain," and looking at those serrated, teeth-like peaks you can see why. Each 'peak' has a name, the main peaks are Sant Jeroni, Montgrós and Miranda de les Agulles. Montserrat is famous as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary. At any time of year, there are plenty of people here for sightseeing, religious reasons, hiking and maybe even a little bit of the local delicacy, 'Mel i Mato,' or honey and goat's cheese cream. But our destination wasn't this mountain today, so we continued up past Manresa and Berga, the home of the 'patum.' Duing the festival of Corpus Christi, which is held in June every year, the townspeople dress up and dance, playing music and have lots of fire displays and fireworks. I've never been to this event, but it is on the list. Maybe next year. Still going, we drove past Cercs and the Panta de la Baells (Baells Reservoir). The town is not worth mentioning really (sorry, I've never been there but probably never will either), but what you see is the huge power station sitting just off the road and looking out over the water. This power station always reminds me of The Simpsons and Springfield's famous 3-eyed fish, but this isn't a nuclear power station, instead burning lignite (poor quality coal) which is mined locally. There are water sports that you can do on this reservoir and well as a mine tour nearby. But, we were so close to our destination that nothing would stop us - on to Bagà!
Bagà apartments.
Nice views from these balconies.
The narrow stone streets of Bagà.
A real mountain town.
We arrived in town around 4pm and the sun was already starting to set. Managing to park the car right outside the apartment was lucky - the old part of town has very small, narrow streets, most of which can barely fit a normal sized car. Then there are the corners which can take off your wing mirror without a second thought. As this was a rental car, extra car was paid and I parked it safely, with only a little bit of wiggling back and forth. I'd worry about reversing out later - can't have all the fun at once. We dumped our stuff and headed out for a walk around before it got too cold and dark. Without going too far away, it was just a walk near the river and around the outskirts of town. If we'd had more time, we could have walked to the Bagà lookout, a short walk from the centre but offering a great view of the area. From the town you can see mountains already - you're right in the pre-Pyrenees here, in the Cadí-Moixeró National Park. It's a beautiful place - not exciting, but it has a few nice little bars, a great bakery a small supermarket and plenty of hiking stores. What makes it special is its location - you're so close to the mountains you can nearly touch them! This is the gateway for a lot of hiking in the area. We headed back to the house, put some logs on the fire and relaxed with some wine and homemade tapas, watching a bit of tv before going to bed. Tomorrow was hiking day!
The view from Gósol.
The Rock... and a little too much snow to be hiking to the top.
Saldes - the start and finish of our hike.
Spring is here!
Heading out of Bagà and going a little more north, we took the turn off for Pedraforca. I love this road in the morning - the sun coming up and shining its pink light on the rock. It is always beautiful and today was no exception. What worried me a little was the snow - there was a decent amount of dusting on the mountain. I kept driving, following the road past Saldes and onto Gósol, where we'd have a coffee and breakfast before starting our walk. From here with Pedraforca much closer, the snow looked thicker. Although it was a sunny day, and I was sure that it wouldn't snow anymore and that what was there already would probably melt somewhat, I felt there was still too much to risk hiking up to the top. This was disappointing. Although I'd been to the top a few times, nobody wants to be told no, especially on their birthday. I checked with a friend who knows the area well and is an experienced hiker. No was the answer, too much snow, don't do it. So, we got back in the car while I thought about an alternate route. Although not hiking right to the top, another path was to start from Saldes, walk up and past the Castell de Saldes, to the Mirador Gresolet and then finally up to the Refugi Lluís Estasen. I parked the car, grabbed the gear and started - I wasn't sure how long it would take, but I wasn't in a hurry either. I remember the first time I did this hike, was back in 2007 or 2008, my first year in Catalonia, and the first time I saw Pedraforca. There is something special about this place that will always be in my heart. I enjoyed this walk immensely. We stopped at the castle ruins for a quick snack and drink, enjoying the view. It wasn't quite silent though, there were a few big groups of people up here for selfies and photos, but you get that everywhere. I knew that as soon as we got back on the trail and headed up that we'd leave them behind - most people don't hike to the top, preferring to drive as much as they can, then get out at the top and take a few pics for Facebook.
Santa Maria del Castell - a popular spot for photos on the trail.
It looks like a smoking volcano.
Easy path to follow and not too difficult.
A little bit of snow.
There is a special word for those people in Catalan, people that have brand new shoes and professional hiking gear, just to drive to the top for a photo: "pixapins." Basically these people are weekend excursionistas, weekend warriors, who live in the city but on the weekends drive to the mountains in their sparkling clean SUV, get some photos of the 'countryside,' and as the name suggests, pee on a pine tree, and say they hiked a mountain. It is a little nasty I admit, but sometimes I can't help but look at these people and get annoyed - they are noisy and many. But, live and let live, so as long as they don't litter, start fires or do anything too stupid, let them have their fun, their time in the 'great outdoors' with selfies sticks. Just as I predicted, as soon as we got back on the train and starting skirting the big mountain, there was nobody to be seen. It was just us and the birds. Perfect. It was warm and sunny, and without too much effort we reached the lookout. There were plenty of people here - we heard them well before we saw them. I took some lovely photos from the viewing platform, which juts out from the rocky cliff. After the photos and a bit of time to enjoy the wonderful panoramic view, we got back on the trail and walked the short distance to the refuge. At this height, there was a bit of snow on the ground and when the peak came into view, there was still a fair bit there too. It was a good idea not going to the top today. I was hoping for a sit down on a bench in the sun, sip a beer or cold drink from the bar, but sadly the refuge was closed for fumigation (of all things). We stopped for a bit, munched quickly on chocolate and nuts, had a sip of water, then headed back down.
Hidden cottages.
The Mirador.
The refuge was closed, but the view wasn't.
A great hike up.
The hike down is never as exciting as the way up, but more often than not, more dangerous. The time went by quickly and we made it back to Saldes to catch a little bit of sun and have a beer on the terrace of the one bar in town. I remember this bar and enjoying a beer here back in 2017 when I hiked/climbed the Pollegó Inferior (the smaller peak), which was a tough 11 hour day. I felt my knees were broken and if I sat down that I wouldn't get back up. One way down Pedraforca is directly down the front, with loads of scree, big and small loose rocks, for 2.5 hours. This time was much easier, but the beers (plus olives and chips!) were just as welcoming. It had been a good birthday weekend. If only there could be more weekends like this - get away from it all, put your legs to good use and feel happy and healthy. If I can do something every month, even a short hike, I feel much better and more myself, more level. These last 2 1/2 months of confinement have been extremely hard. Physically I am still well, and although I haven't been able to even walk much, daily exercise has kept me reasonably fit and ready for the real thing when the time comes. Mentally however, has been tougher. The feeling that you're trapped between your 4 walls, only going outside to the supermarket or dump rubbish, all the while wearing a mask and gloves and being worried about the virus. I know that it is nearly over and life is slowly getting back to normal, but it hasn't been easy. I've missed the outdoors as well as my friends. Soon I will be able to see both again!
Always amazing, always want to go back.
Panorama of Pedraforca in the morning.

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MyUncleTravellingMatt. November 2019.

Christmas and Covid

It's Christmas! Christmas decorations in the city. I’m sitting at home writing this blog post about December, reflecting on all that has...