Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Europe (Monday February 23, 2009 at 9:12 am)

Upon our arrival in Barcelona, we walked from the Hostal Centric to the Sagrada Familia. We toured town, on foot, for 4 to 5 hours, in glorious bright sunshine, happy to finally arrive in Spain and to not be squished into a tiny airplane seat any more. We’d flown all night, so our marathon walk around town was in part to stave off falling asleep, and partly to counter the possibility of jet lag.

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Towers with construction cranes

Construction of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most famous building, started in 1882 and will continue at least until 2041.

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Looking up at the Towers

Gaudí devoted most of his life to its construction and changed the design often. Gaudí’s modernist style was based on curved forms found in nature, as opposed to straight lines used in conventional buildings. At his death in 1926 only the nativity facade, one tower, the apse and the crypt were complete.

The Sagrada Familia will have 18 towers, which reach a height of almost 400 feet. Four towers on each of three facades represent the 12 apostles; another four represent the 4 evangelists and surround the largest (558ft tall) tower, dedicated to Christ.

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Gaudi’s art and architecture
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Europe (Friday February 20, 2009 at 10:06 pm)

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Gaudí’s Casa Batlló


From our room in the Hostal Centric, we walked down  the Passeig de Gràcia, considered one of Barcelona’s most architecturally important streets.We first saw the magnificent Casa Batlló, a Gaudi house on the UNESCO World Heritage list.The expressive  Casa Batlló was originally built between 1875 and 1877. Its facade is made of sandstone covered with trencadis (a Catalan type of mosaic), similar to the mosaics he used in the Parc Guell.


Casa Milà, or as La Pedrera

We then walked on toward the Casa Milà, also called La Pedrera, resplendent with wavy walls and chimneys like mitered hats.

Barcelona- botanical gardens, art museums
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Europe (Thursday February 19, 2009 at 9:46 pm)

While in Barcelona we visited the Montjuic botanical gardens on Montjuïc hill near the center of Barcelona. From our Hostal, we took the subway to Montjuic and walked to the gardens and the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion. Unfortunately, this was closed the day we were there for filming (they didn’t tell us what - a commercial? A new movie? In any case, we didn’t get to see the inside.)

Botanical gradens 2.JPGBotanical gardens

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The Anella Olímpica (Olympic Ring) consists of sports facilities built for the 1992 Olympics, with the Olympic Stadium at the center.

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The Parc de Joan Miró was named after the local artist whose 22 m high sculpture is known as ‘Dona i Ocell’ or Woman and Bird. Below Tristan is leaning on another of Miro’s sculptures.

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A wire sculpture.

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Siurana - old town
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Siurana, Europe (Monday February 16, 2009 at 8:53 pm)

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Looking down onto Siurana

The old village of Siurana, in Catalunya, consisted mainly of old castle ruins, and old Refugio which formerly allowed climbers to stay; and a small central core of town. The campground was fairly self-sufficient, with laundry facilities and a restaurant on site.

Most climbers stayed at the campground and walked daily to their choice of cliff - abundant cliffs surround the town on almost all sides. We climbed here whenever we could, and drove toward Montsant to hike in the Natural Park on  rest days.
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Looking toward the old Refugio from near the campground

Sagrada Famila, Barcelona
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Europe (Saturday February 14, 2009 at 8:06 pm)


Sagrada Familia, by Gaudi

in Barcelona

Siurana - Catalunya, Spain
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Siurana, Europe (Thursday February 12, 2009 at 9:15 pm)


Our campsite in Siurana

We moved form the La Mussara campground to a new campsite at Siurana. Our views weren’t as spectacular as they had been, but we found a nice flat spot that could accommodate our rental car at one end, a small table and chairs, and our tent nestled among the trees at the other end. The campground had some of the best showers I saw in Spain; better than they had been in our hotel in Barcelona.

The woman running the campground also cooked meals, served at the restaurant on site. One night a week she made Paella for everyone. We tried this, but I wasn’t impressed – it was extremely greasy, clearly having been subjected to an overabundance of the local olive oil.

In addition to campsites, she also rented out several small cabins. We met a Finnish couple who drove to Spain, from Finland, and who were staying in the cabins. We also met a couple from New Zealand who were on an extended climbing trip, starting in Britain and now in Spain.

From our campsite, we could walk to the climbs at various cliffs surrounding Siurana.
We felt that Siurana had the following advantages:
Walk to the cliff
Close to shops in Cornudella
Nice showers
Close to Montsant Park and great hikes

And the following disadvantages:
Noisier (more people, barking dogs)
Animals steal food (dogs), because we can’t leave it inside

La Mussara advantages:
Beautiful, clean tent site on pine needles
Picnic tables outside for cooking and eating
Keep food inside the Refugio – cool and safe
Quiet and private
Better shopping at Reus
Lots of easy and moderate climbs

Colder, especially at night
Drive to climbs
No toilet paper or soap provided
Showers not always open or with hot water

La Mussara has better camping and easier climbs
Siurana has easier access to (harder) climbs and better hiking opportunities.


Hiking near Montsant

Lo Soterrani, La Mussara, Spain
Posted by sibylle in Spain, La Mussara, Europe (Tuesday February 10, 2009 at 10:02 pm)


Tristan leading

When we climbed at Lo Soterrani, one of the cliffs at La Mussara, we met Jordy and Heidi climbing there. Both are surgeons; Heidi is American and Jordy grew up in nearby Tarragona with British parents. They were taking six months off between surgery positions. Their last one had been in Maine, which proved much colder than expected, and their next posting would be to Phoenix, In between, they were staying with Jordy’s parents in Tarragona (about an hour away) and climbing as much as possible.

Since in their six-month’s vacation, they could climb anywhere they wanted, and had still chosen to come to La Mussara, that reinforced my impression that we’d ended up in a pretty cool location.


At Lo Soterrani, Tristan led the climb shown, which I was able to follow until the roof, at which point I fell a few times and struggled to surmount the overhanging section. Luckily several the cliff sorted several easier routes within a few 100 feet, one called Diedre de Pi and another called Elegocentric. A diedre is a corner in French, so perhaps these terms are Catalan, not Spanish. We both wondered if by “pi” they meant the mathematical term.


Getting there: We flew to Barcelona, stayed at the Hostal Centric and rented a cheap car from Pepe car. We drove from Barcelona toward Reus (inland from Tarragona, in Catalonia) and then uphill to the Sierra des Prades.

Where to stay: Camp at the campground outside the Refugio, or stay in the Refugio in a shared room with bunk beds (a mountain or climber’s hostel)

Best time of year: We came here in April on our first trip and experienced lots of rain and cold weather. Our second trip, from May 25 to June 21 had perfect weather. The climbs are at about 1,000 meters in altitude, so definitely colder than coastal Spain.

Where to eat: The couple who were hut keepers also cook meals for both guests lodging there and for hikers passing through. One of the local specialties are called “tortillas”, but they resemble an omelet. They’re made with eggs, potatoes, cheese, onions, and vegetables. They’re round, plate- sized, and over a half inch thick. We loved these. They also serve various ham dishes that I didn’t try.

Guidebooks: We bought ours from RockFax.

Siurana - town and ruins
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Siurana, Europe (Monday February 9, 2009 at 10:37 am)


Ruins of an old castle above Lake Siurana

We hadn’t initially planned on climbing at Siurana, best known for its collection of the planet’s toughest routes. Alex Huber climbed the initial section of La Rambla in 1993 and in 2003, the Spaniard  Ramon Julian climbed a continuation, La Rambla Direct, rated 5.15a.

Recently, Chris Sharma climbed an even harder route in Siurana, ‘Golpe De Estado’ (5.15b?).


Old Refugio on cliff and terraced gardens

While it’s fun to look at the world’s hardest climbs, which only two or three people in the world have ever climbed (or  only one), most people want to climb on their vacations, not just look at a route that one person has done.

Siurana’s well-kept secret is several moderate cliffs, within easy walking distance of the campground, which are accessible to mere mortals. The trail to the Village Crags starts near the ruins of an old castle. You can park near the castle if driving to Siurana or walk to the crags from the nearby new campground. Climbers used to stay at the Refugio shown in the picture, but when we arrived it was closed and a large campground opened a short walk from the trail.


Town of Siurana

We walked to Sector Can Margues Lower, part of the “Village Crags”, where we climbed an assortment of easier routes on excellent less-than-vertical limestone with well-spaced newer bolts. From here, we walked to Sectors Can Gan Dionis and Can Facil where I found some very pleasant routes (in the 5.9 – 5.10 range) that I lead with no problems and Tristan lead some harder climbs.

While Siurana’s reputation may scare off less experienced climbers, I hope that in this blog I can put those doubts to rest. Europeans have learned that Spain provides a great vacation destination, with its dry sunny climate, charming villages, and extensive natural park systems, but many Americans don’t look past the reports of the latest 5.15 put up by the current world’s hot climber.

Montsant and Cadolles Fondes, Spain
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Europe (Sunday February 8, 2009 at 11:23 am)

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Ermita de Santa Magdalena

Before our next hike, we asked at the Cornudella tourism Office where to go. This office merits a visit, since they have the nicest toilets I saw in Spain – clean, with toilet paper (rare) and soap . At their suggestion, we drove toward Ulldemolins, passing a sign advertising the first “full-service campground” we’d seen.

From the  village of Ulldemolins, we drove towards the “ermitas” (hermitage) of Santa Magdalena and Sant Antoni, two of nine local hermitages. Ulldemolins is home to a 16th century Renaissance church, but I don’t know when the hermitages were built.


Cadolles Fondes

We parked  past Sant Antoni in a large  gravel parking lot where we were the only car. We passed a beautiful, clean, and totally empty campground near Santa Magdalena where several fountains provided abundant water. Perhaps it wasn’t tourist season?

We began hiking up a steep, rutted dirt road on trail # GR 65-5 toward Cadolles Fondes (natural wells or springs) on the Montsant River. After about 35 minutes, we looked down at the Cadolles Fondes below us.

After scrambling down towards the river, we ate our picnic lunch on an empty, sandy beach beside the Cadolles. Amazingly, we saw no other people  in this beautiful spot.

Spain - Montsant
Posted by sibylle in Spain, Europe (Friday February 6, 2009 at 9:34 pm)


Montsant cliffs from Morera de Montsant

Before we went to Spain, I invited Lynn Hill over for dinner and asked her for suggestions about where in Spain we should climb.
“Montsant, my favorite place,” she suggested. “And I brought you a bottle of wine from Montsant.”

What a combination – fantastic climbing and great wines! What Lynn didn’t tell us, is that Montsant also bordered on the Parque Natural de La Serra del Montsant (Montsant Natural Park), where we enjoyed the best hiking we found in Catalonia.

We drove through the village of Cornudella de Montsant to Morera de Montsant, where we parked our car in a lot outside of town and began hiking up the Carrascets “trail”. Though I speak Spanish,  in Catalonia  all street signs and trail signs were printed in Catalan, which I don’t speak. We guessed that the signs, that looked like regular trail signs, with arrows, pointed to a trail and that the numbers referred to kilometers.

Since there weren’t many kilometers, it seemed like we should enjoy a pleasant hike and see a bit of town and the scenery. The trail started well, with lots of signposts, and a good, gravelly surface.


The trail gets steeper

Suddenly the trail headed straight up a gully between two rock buttresses and ended at a set of iron rungs pounded into the rock. I’d heard of the Italian “via Ferratas”, but had not heard that similar routes existed in Spain. The rungs were large, and the cliff not too high, so we headed up the ladder to where a relatively normal trail continued up.


We followed sign posts to the right

At the top of the cliffs, signposts indicated a trail to the right, which we followed. The trail, initially fairly wide, narrowed to followed a ledge at the cliff’s edge. Here’s cables were provided for self-belay (Climbers usually wear a special self-belay on a via Ferrata, consisting of a harness, slings, and carabiners to hook into the cables.) If we’d worn a harness, or brought slings, these would have been very nice. However, I was in shorts and shirt and Tristan brought our camelback. At least we had water.

We gingerly edged along the one-foot wide ledge at the edge of a several hundred-foot drop, where slipping on gravel would have meant a fatal fall. I grabbed the cable as I walked across, thinking that this hike seemed a lot scarier than rock climbing with a rope and belay.

Looking down at Montsant

Eventually, after a short bit where we crawled on our hands and knees under an overhanging section of rock, our trail started heading back down toward town. After one more section on rungs, we joined a more normal trail. With a sigh of relief, we returned to our car shortly before dark.

I decided next time to ask about trails at the tourist office.

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