Dali museum & afternoon in Girona

Given the great weather in Barcelona throughout my two weeks stay, I visited museums a lot less than I did in Holland. However, a chance to visit Salvador Dali’s hometown Figueres and a stroll around nearby Girona were tempting enough.

Figueres & Dali museum: Slightly disappointing

It took about 1,5h to Figueres where Dali was born 1904 and died 1989. His crypt is part of the museum actually. I booked tickets a few days before. You purchase specific entry time slots – already an indication that it is quite a well frequented place. And so it was… literally filled up with busloads of tourists.

At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.

– Salvador Dali

Inside, you have some 3-4 floors with mostly Dali art, but also other artists Dali worked with. On display are drawings, wall paintings, sculptures etc reflecting Dali’s manifold interests and skills. However, I felt some of the more well-known works were not on display there and are probably on display in some of the larger galleries in the world.

Overall a little disappointing after the great visit to the van Gogh museum (Vincent van Gogh: A fascinating story) where the curators managed to combine van Gogh’s life story and his art so incredibly well. In Figueres it felt quite crowded in the way the art was on display and I found it hard to link it to Dali’s personal background and life story.

Back in Girona: This time at day time…

Last time i was in Girona almost exactly one year ago. I was start and finish of a circular hike i did around the wedding of Marta & Tom in S’Agaro (Hiking the Circular Ronda (Girona/Costa Brava) & a wonderful wedding).

This time I could explore the city a little more though also not in huge amount of detail. The one sight that jumps straight into your eye is the Cathedral, a magnificent building overarching the city and offering fantastic views. There is also a white basilica nearby.

Otherwise Girona is a cosy little town with decent food options. Signs of the ongoing independence movement are as present here as elsewhere across Catalunya. Worth a visit anytime.

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Exploring the Pyrenees around Queralbs

The first time I encountered Pyrenees mountains was in 2015. The first stage of my camino de Santiago took me right over them (see here). This time was a little more relaxed and just a day trip to Queralbs and a 800m hike up to Nuria. Views were stunning and fresh air & exercise made for a really nice day out. On the way home also a quick stop in the town of Vic.

The journey to Queralbs, close to the french border, took about 2h including a mandatory breakfast break. The village is the last place you can reach by car in that parts of the Pyrenees at some 1200m altitude. From here you either hike up to c2000m altitude to reach the village Nuria or you hop on the train like many tourists do (what a waste that would be in my eyes).

The hike is some 8km in distance and about 800m climb. A real pleasure and even at a relaxed pace doable in 2,5h. Once you get to the top there are further hiking options to the surrounding peaks, boat trips on the reservoir, pony riding for kids or a visit to the sanctuary of the virgin of Nuria. More here.

After a good break with bread, cheese and jamon iberico and a little rest in the sunshine we made our way back down and drove an hour to the town of Vic for a bit more food. Seems like nice town with a large square in the historic center, but nothing to spend more than a few hours.

An afternoon in Monserrat

The Montserrat mountain range and its Abbey are a popular destination and home of legends. It’s about an hour outside of Barcelona. There are plenty of organised trips and even a direct train connection from BCN. I preferred renting a car to get there. Views on the way are stunning and driving through the countryside is a welcome change from the bustling city life in Barcelona.

There is plenty of history about this place. The Benedict Abbey of Santa Maria hosts the virgin of Montserrat Sanctuary and has even been considered a holy grail location in German legends and the nazi’s even looked for it under Himmler in 1940.

Montserrat literally means ‘saw mountain’, which pretty much matches the shape of the mountain range.

The mountains itself are an interesting piece of geology and look a little pink-ish. The sedimentary layering is clearly visible. It’s a popular spot for rock climbers offering altitudes of up to 1,200m. I kept it to a bit of hiking this time (and that only after taking the funicular) just to get to the spots that offer great panorama’s of the surrounding countryside. There are several hiking options at the top ranging from 45min to 2h taking you along former eremit housing and to the best viewpoints. Take a jacket – can get windy!

First (busy) week in Barcelona & an unexpected Nepal reunion

What a busy week in Barcelona! First week at school done (now on B1/intermediary level), an (unexpected) great night out with fellow mountaineers Blake & Rory, settling into the bustling Born neighbourhood around Arc de Triomf, a tour of Barrio Gotico, a visit to La Sagrada Familia & Park Guell as well as Montserrat, the Pyrenees & Girona/Figures (Salvador Dali). The latter three I will delve into separately. Let’s see what next week has on offer – still so much to see here.

First week at school – Camino Barcelona

I arrived more than tired in Barcelona on Monday morning owing to a late night in Berlin and a 6.20am flight. Anyway, straight from the airport to my oral language test. Turns out that despite the short night I managed to slip into the B1 / intermediary level. Usually this takes 8-10 weeks of full-time study vs. my 3w in Medellin, but I guess travel in Colombia and weekly Skype classes helped a lot.

The school, Camino Barcelona, is fun though my schedule is packed with 4h grammar focused classes in the morning and 2h of conversational class after lunch. Additionally, the Castellano Spanish spoken in most parts of Spain differs slightly in grammar (Latinos don’t use the 2nd person plural vosotros), pronunciation and several words itself. Homework is manageable and not as time intensive as was the case in Medellin, St. Petersburg or Amsterdam. It’s good fun and last week has been a real step forward, leaving me in much better shape to speak and comprehend the language. In particular the tenses have improved as well as my depth of vocab. The school also offers daily extracurricular activities though I have hitherto undertaken my own so far.

Settling into El Born barrio

I like the neighborhood in my temporary home. It’s called Born and is pretty central, close to the Arc de Triomf, the seaside in walking distance and with many bars and restaurants. School is only a few metro stops away in the barrio Eixample. I also visited Gracia, a seemingly student dominated area with way less tourists than beachside, as well as Sagrada Familia and barrio Gotico for sightseeing.

Image result for map of barrios in barcelona

Nepal reunion – Rory & Blake in town

It was always my plan to use my time here to catch up with Blake – the Australian Everest climber in my summit team who lives here with his wife & daughter. Just as I was messaging him that i had arrived on monday night, he returned a selfie of him & Rory. Turns out that Rory was here for a conference. Turning down an offer to go out was clearly not an option for the last time we met was when i came down from Lhotse while they headed up for their successful Everest mission. We hit the Born area (my neighborhood) for a drinks & chat before ultimately ending up in one of the beachfront clubs (well, Rory retired since he had to speak next day). great time altogether and Rory wasn’t shy to use it fully to promote his Everest book (Everest Diaries) featuring our efforts & loads of great pics. All profits go to child rescue Nepal and directly funds the construction of four schools for kids rescued out of harsh conditions.

Barrio Gotico – great to see, harder to understand (in Spanish)

The gothic quarter is the historical center of the city with the imposing Barcelona cathedral in the center (Sagrada familia is just a Basilica since its not the seat of a Bishop). Here you can see the leftovers of the Roman times (city wall etc) and many medieval buildings. A lot of what you can see today is not originally medieval though, but has been restored in time for the 1929 international exhibition held in Barcelona. See here for all details. I joined a free tour of the area – in Spanish! That turned out to be a little a too much for my level, but was generally well organised.

Image result for barcelona historic map vs today

La Sagrada familia – a church I am happy to pay entry for …

The church is inextricably linked to Barcelona with its unusual style designed by one of Catalonia’s greatest – the modernist Antoni Gaudi (though he wasn’t the original creator of the idea, which was bookseller Josep Maria Bocabell after a Vatican visit in 1872). I usually refuse to pay entrance for any church, but here I make a distinction for the whole project is completely privately funded. By now some 70% have been completed and the aim is to have the external structures fully in place for the centenary of Gaudi in 2026. Mark it in your diaries – it will be beautiful. I will leave the details to wikipedia, but recommend a visit highly due to the unusual design and to lend support to the effort.

There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.

– Antoni Gaudi

Park Guell – great park, but (payable) core section not worthwhile

The park is one of the other big sights in Barcelona and also Gaudi designed under the instruction of Eusebi Guell. The park itself offers great views of the city and is very relaxing to take a stroll. What was disappointing though was the core section including essentially two ‘Brother Grimm’ like houses and seemingly thousands of tourists. Safe yourself the EUR7,50 entry fee and just take a walk.

Extremadura road trip: Alange, Trujillo & Toledo

We finished off our 1,300km roundtrip in style before saying goodbye to Spain. Roman bath in Alange, game of thrones castle in Trujillo and amazing Toledo didn’t make it easier to climb into our Ryanair seats bound for London.

Alange – do it like the Roman’s: the village is only a 15km drive from merida and located on the hills and shores of a large reservoir. We skipped the town though and headed straight for the roman thermal bath (balneario de alange). The complex is much larger than the one we visited in Banos de Montemayor, also part of a hotel (open to external guests) and mostly used by older generations. We booked the roman circuit (eur25/head) though not quite sure what we signed up for given language barrier. The circuit includes 15min in an inhalation room (air & moisture), 30min thermal bath and 20min hot mud pack. Very relaxing! Before heading towards Toledo, we stopped at the reservoir to take in some beautiful views.

Trujillo – winter is coming! Couldn’t resist to stop here after i found out that the castle towering over the city was used as backdrop for game of thrones as it served as template for casterly rock in season 7. Indeed one could think to be right in alleys of kings landing when trying to find where the car was parked exactly ;o) beautiful. You can actually drive all the way up to the castle through the old town. Just com with a small car rather than a SUV – it is tight for these roads were made for people & horses only.

Toledo – the imperial city: By now we had already left Extremadura and were in the autonomous region of castile-la mancha. We didn’t have / pllan much time to see the city and rather added it to the itinerary to be close to the airport for our journey home. Still, we both were stunned at how Toledo welcomed us on this fine evening.

Toledo, which has been declared world heritage, is essentially built on a hill (or several?) and thus stands out already. Add a few landmark buildings like a cathedral, a huge convent and loads of stone walls and it stands out even more. Also the inner fabrics of Toledo are intriguing with strong influences of christian, jewish and muslim history and a long tradition for bladed weapon production. There is a lot more, but i leave that to wikipledia.

Our hotel was located on a hill opposite with beautiful panoramic views over Toledo. Hard to imagine a better place to take this all in.

Adios España! It was wonderful.