Sunday, 22 September 2013

Turo de l'home

The Turo de l'home.
What better to do on a sunny Sunday morning in Autumn than go for a nice hike in the mountains? Well, I couldn't think of one, so that's just what I did! Sure, it was a little difficult getting out of a nice warm bed at 8am to climb a 1700m mountain, but once I was up and the coffee and scrambled eggs were down me, I didn't think about bed again.

The top of the Turo de l'home and the highest point of Montseny.
It was worth it, I can tell you that much. We can sleep in a little late more often than we can hike a mountain. I know what you're thinking - "But I can do either of those things!" Well, then you are living the wrong life! Not to say having a good job (I am currently unemployed, much to my delight!), kids (being an uncle is far more fun), and a mortgage (I will be homeless in a week...) aren't good things, but if you can't hike a mountain every now and then, you are seriously missing out!!

Let's get this straight though - I'm not a mountain "junkie" who feels the need to clamber up every bit of rock sticking out of the ground. Nor am I a "pishapin" who gets in my BMW, grabs the dog(s), puts on my brand new, overly expensive hiking boots (which never seems to get dirty...) and matching hi-tech walking poles, and heads out for a Sunday stroll in the mountains just to say "que macu! (how nice!)" and take a picture with your iPhone (or iPad...yes, truely...). Ok, so you understand "junkie" but the other word, "pishapin," is a Catalan/Spanish word which means a weekend walker, but with derogatory connotations (as many slang words here, such as "giri" which means [f-ing] tourist...). I love being outdoors, breathing fresh air, taking photos, and hearing nothing but silence... unfortunately today I didn't get the silence part, as Sunday in the Montseny National Park here in Catalonia is like a Friday afternoon in a betting shop - noisy and no escape! 

Having a breather.

Lunch time!

The walk was a pleasant one, not exactly a 'hike' but still a walk in the mountains on Catalonia. To get to the starting point, I drove for only 20kms out of the village into the very small village of Santa Fe. There wasn't much parking (refer back to "Pishapins"), but I managed to get one fairly close to the start of the walk. Walking to the top was the easy part - finding a quiet spot to enjoy the sun, a bit of water and a sarnie was slightly more difficult. Unfortunately on Sundays, all of Montseny is invaded by screaming kids, dogs shitting everywhere, and parents talking far louder than is absolutely necessary - you can hear them 'chatting' in the carkpark from a good couple of kilometres away.

I wouldn't eat this mushroom...
The views of course were beautiful, with only a little haze. I enjoyed the walk, and the company - this time I went with Philippa, who also lives in Cardedeu. On a side note, if you want to have a look at Philippa´s Blip Portfolio, its Blip is a website with a huge amount of subscribers, all posting and commenting on photos. A great little community that I have yet to get into myself.

Thank you Catalunya for your mountains, the weather for being warm and sunny and making it such a lovely Sunday morning, and Philippa again for the company - I will miss our photo hikes!
looking towards the Pyrenees - but hidden by the haze.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

La Diada Nacional de Catalunya

Yesterday was a very important and special day. I know that to most people, the 11th of September means the Twin Towers and the terrorist attack in New York back in 2001. This was a very tragic day, as nearly 4,000 people died in the attack, and it changed many other lives. We can all remember where we were and what we were doing at the time. It will be very hard to forget.

A young Catlan.
But for 6 million people in Europe, it means something completely different. Sepmtember 11 is the National Day of Catalonia (La Diada Nacional de Catalunya), and the past few years have been more important that ever before. On this day in 1714, the Spanish forces, along with French troops, besieged Barcelona and eventually captured it. From this day onwards, Catalonia was considered part of Spain, even though the Catalan culture, history and language goes back to the 10th century.

A boy and his flag.
Even dogs got into the spirit!

 Last year, and the year before, there were mass demonstrations in Barcelona on this day. The Catalans have been vying for independence for some time now, but with La Crisi (The Economic Crisis) it is even more important. I won't go into it all, but basically the Spanish are trying to stop the Catalans from speaking AND learning Catalan in their own schools, as well as syphoning loads of cash from the country, via taxes and road tolls, to pay for the rest of Spain. Now Catalonia is a small country of 6 million people, but it is a prosperous one - I do believe State Governments should help Federal Governments, but it has to be done fairly.

The face of Independence!
Lets not get all political now, as we know that is one topic that will cause arguments. The real reason I am writing this is describe the feelings and emotions that were flying around the country yesterday. It was huge - roughly 1.6 million people were involved, and the main event was the 'Cadena Humana,' or Human Chain. From top to bottom, all along the coast, 400kms long, people were holding hands and singing their National Anthem. The spirit shown was incredible. There was no aggression, no anger, fights, riot police - it was completely peaceful, and incredibly well organised!

So many young people were involved, which is great to see.
Barcelona was the centre of the Human Chain, and everyone congregated in the streets to see it. So many people had their faces painted, flags were absolutely everywhere - tied on as capes, on poles for waving, on children's prams, and hanging off balconies too. Even dogs were dressed up for the day.

Older people also came out in force - people old enough to remember Franco and the oppressive years.
The feeling and atmosphere was great. Friendly and peaceful. What the Catalans want is to be able to speak their own language, put money back into the local infrastructure, and to be an independent country in Europe and the EU. I must give it to them - they have not been violent in any way, and have waiting many, many years for this. They will continue to wait patiently, always showing their 'colours,' and speaking up about their issues without violence. Some other countries around the world could learn a thing or two there - this is the way to get independence, not from the barrel of a gun.

The 'Cadena' running its 400kms all down the coast.
I might just add that not only were the Catalans out for this day - I saw Scottish flags, also the flag of Corsica and Sardinia and some others that I didn't recognise. I think the Catalan movement has become a real movement worldwide - especially here in Europe - for peaceful independence. Although I am for Catalan independence - I also believe in a more unified state where people have their culture and language, but work for something bigger than Nationalism. The European Union, for all its faults, should be something like what we should aim for, and to be honest, I think that's what the Catalans do want - freedom from Spain, and freedom to work with everyone.

Keep The Dream alive!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Go a Segway-ing

After working double shifts in July for 5 weeks, and then doing a 1 month intensive training course in Barcelona, a weekend away was much deserved! Continuing on the theme of 'seeing as much of Catalonia while I'm here,' we took a trip up the coast to Empordá.

Overlooking Montgrí on the Costa Brava.
This part of the coast, between Palamós and L'Escala, has many stories. Pirates used to frequently attack this wealthy area, anchoring their ships in the Bay of Pals (near the beautiful town of Pals), and coming ashore to do their stuff. A famous pirate that used to 'ply his trade' around here was Redbeard (also known as 'Barbarossa'). This is why many coastal towns (like Torroella de Montgrí, Palafrugell and Pals) are inland a few kilometres - to allow time to defend themselves from these pirates. You can also see quite a few 17th century stone watchtowers, els Torres de Morro (Moorish Towers), which were built to spot pirates in advance.
Montgrí Castle.
On top the hill just near the town of Torella de Montgrí, is Montgí Castle. This 13th century castle is impressive, but unfinished. It was started by the Count of Barcelona as he was fighting with the Count of Empuriés at the time. After 7 years of construction, the conflict ended - on the account of the Count of Barcelona accusing his rival of being gay. Let's just say the Church took care of that little detail, and the head honcho in Barcelona won. 

Columbus is also talked about around these parts. It is said that he sailed from the Bay of Pals and the big red cross on the sails of the Santa Maria is actually the flag from the town of La Bisbal d'Empordà here in Empordà. Some people even say that Columbus was actually Catalan, and not Italian...

On the Segway trail, with Montgrí Castle visible on the hill.
If you have never done a 'Segway' tour before, I highly recommend it! If you don't know what a Segway is, they are the silly looking (I used to think!), futuristic, 2-wheeled standing bikes that you see tourists getting around on in cities. They are big in Europe, and I first saw them in Madrid back in 2007. They are electric, and you move them by leaning forward or backwards, and you turn using the handle bars. Sounds simple, but its takes a bit of getting used to. Well, it was great, a little unbalancing at first - I rocked back and forth like a flat bottomed dingy - but it was easy after 5 minutes. A great way to get around, and the ones we had were like 4x4s with big fat wheels - surely Segways are the Future of Transport! I want one!

The sunrise from the campsite beach at Mas Pinell.
We went through the small town of Gualta (which has a population of only 350 people...), and up a hill to take in the beautiful bay. The weather was warm, even though it was the fist day of Autumn - summer is fading here, but the Costa Brava turned it on for us that day! The view from the hills was amazing - you could take in the whole area, and imagine that what is was like when pirates were here. I always wanted to be a pirate...

Next Marta and I stopped in at a nearby camp-site to visit family. The initial plan was for lunch together, then head back home, but we ended up staying till lunchtime the next day. It was fun! If you've never been to a big camp-site here in Spain, I have to say you are missing out a little. Cheap and cheerful would be a label you could give them - but if you don't like crowds, then avoid them. There are people from all over Europe here to get some sand and sun that they don't get in their own country - so we're talking hoards of Germans and Dutch people in their big Audis and luxurious caravans (with satellite TV and more appliances that I have in my house!), and now more and more Russians are coming to get sunburnt in Spain too.
Mother and daughter watching the waves.
Have you ever been asked "mountains or beach?" Well, I normally say mountains straight off the bat, but I do like the beach sometimes. Now when I say beach, I'm talking clean sand and waves - not something you always get over there. The beaches in Barcelona are quite dirty, the sand a bit brown and dusty, or even quite rough, and there are basically no waves - I feel like I'm standing in a salty bath, and when I get out my feet will get dirty. The beach here is different though - there was a bit of a swell, and sand was quite clean and pleasant. I went in, chasing after my 3 and 6 year old nieces, and had a ball. The 6 year old, Alba, is a quite a strong swimmer and was fine on her own with a little supervision, and the 3 year old, Jana, was absolutely fearless with her 'floaties' strapped to her arms. I was tired and wanted to get out before the girls. In the end, after they had drunk much sea water, I carried them in, fighting waves and mouthfuls of seawater myself, and relaxed on the sand.

For some reason, I woke up at 6:30am the next morning. Well, the reason was that I needed the loo, but was desperately trying to hang onto to it till a reasonable hour, so that I didn't have to get up and walk outside to the facilities (small caravan = no toilet). This in fact did me in - the sun was starting to come up, and it was too light when I went back to bed to sleep again... What to do now? Well, there beach was a 2 minute walk away, the sun was just coming up, so sunset watching it was! Rarely done, I soaked it all up, sitting on the beach with my camera, watching the sun come up over the sea. The moment was shared, but not spoilt, with a few people who possibly had the same issue as I did with the outside toilet. A family of 4 sat and watched the sun come up, then afterwards, walked along the beach together and just had a great time - no screens in sight either, just a family doing things together outside! Wunderbar!

It was a very relaxing 2 days, great to get outside and do a few things. Now I feel relaxed and more fit and healthy. I have finally got over my 'jet lag' from the intensive courses, and I'm ready to be more active. I have to build a little bit of fitness it I want to tackle Nepal in October!

Birthday Weekend

The always impressive Pedraforca. Just beautiful! Hiking with a touch of snow. Winter was setting in by November, and although ...