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Barcelona, Fustanya, Queralbs, Nuria, La Seu d'Urgell

World Trip Two

Monday, June 15 2009: Barcelona, Spain

I do not find Gaudi gaudy in the least.

A short two hour flight had us in Barcelona. We have only two flights left before this world trip is over; we"ve made ten flights so far and there's only two remaining. This brings home how much we have done and how little there is to go. But we have saved the best for last.

The charming old streets of Ciutat Vella.

The sun was out and the air warm when we left our hotel to walk to the tourist information center. We were staying in the Ciutat Vella quarter which is the oldest part of town with a history that goes back some 2,000 years! The Romans established the town of Barcino here, which was the seed for modern Barcelona. We located the first information office at the Plaza Catalunya. But they did not have the particular map we were seeking. They recommended we go to the central tourist information office at Plaza Rei Joan Carlos I. We did this stopping only for afternoon tea and to take a few photos of Gaudi's buildings along the way. The next office did not have the hiking maps of the Pyrenees either, but they suggested a little shop. This shop turned out to be very close to our hotel. So we walked back to where we had started.

The streets in the Ciutat Vella are small, quaint, cute, crooked, and ancient. The stone buildings with their verandas and shutters lean precariously into the streets below them adding to the charm of the place. It was down one of these windy streets that we found our shop. It was something straight out of a Dickens novel, old, small, and hidden away. It was full of every kind of map including the map we were after. Map in hand we returned to our hotel.

Tuesday, June 16 2009: Barcelona, Spain

Gaudi's Temple.

We headed first to Gaudi's Temple De La Sagrada Familia. This is the most amazing structure, building, art work I have ever seen. They started building it in 1882 and it is scheduled for completion in 2025. But there is a lot there now and it is astounding. Gaudi used his mastery of organic looking structures to create a space that projects enormous ceilings, stupendous arches, and positive proof that architecture does not have to be boring.

Poor Gaudi died in a street car accident in 1926. By this time he had become obsessed with the Temple De La Sagrada Familia to the point that he lived in one of the workshops on site and his clothes were threadbare; I suppose he had gone mad, a tragic end to the life of a true genius.

He was a genius.

We did not get enough of Gaudi at his temple so we went next to his garden work, Park Guell. Once we left the metro we made our own route to the park. This had us walking slowly up hilly back streets until we came to the park's entrance.

Relaxing with a Sangria by the Barcelona beach.

It was hot and humid so we were a bit drained after this walk and Julia had lost all faith in my navigational abilities. But we had just enough strength left to keep on through the park. This paid off as it was not long before we came across one of Gaudi's finest works: the Park Guell. It is an open air terrace surrounded by gardens and wonderful views of the city below. True to his style there is not a straight line to be seen in his creation. What an astonishing structure and how lucky Barcelona is to have it.

The evenings are long and leisurely in Barcelona. One of the reasons for this is that it does not get dark, this time of year, until 10:00 pm. We took advantage of the extended daylight and walked to the city beach. And what should we find there, a Dubai look-a-like building; this one was a W hotel. But we also discovered a completely new dimension of Barcelona, its beach culture. This seems to consist of people of every age, surfing, sunbathing, swimming, rollerblading, and generally enjoying the cool Mediterranean breeze; a cool end to our visit to this brilliant city.

Barcelona Video

Wednesday, June 17 2009: Barcalona - Fustanya, Spain

The view from our hamlet.

Three hours drive this morning and we were in the Pyrenees. Besides from some drama while trying to navigate the maze like streets and highways of Barcelona it was an easy drive, all back on the right hand side; which was rather soothing.

Julia loves old stone streets.

Before arriving at Fustanya, our final destination, we stopped in at Ripoll for lunch. Ripoll marked the end of big towns and the beginning of mountain villages. To say Ripoll was a big town would be stretching the truth; but what it lacked in size it exceeded with in cuteness. Stone buildings and small streets, which opened into squares, where one could sit under an umbrella while eating bocadillos and drinking café con leches. Its only other claim to fame was Wilfred the Hairy (I kid you not), Ripoll being his ninth century home. Don Hairy went on to be the first count of Barcelona and founded Cataluna! He was known as Wilfred the Hairy as he was hairy in places where others were not.

Eventually, once our hunger was satisfied, we left Ripoll and drove the windy roads to Queralbs. This is the last town on most maps and the end of the road; after Queralbs you can continue only on foot or by funicular train to Nuria. At Queralbs the road turns into a goat track which winds up into the mountains to various hamlets. Our track got us to Mas La Casanova, our farmhouse accommodation, in the hamlet of Fustanya. Mas La Casanova is nestled in a green and lush valley that offers splendid views of Queralbs. We could not resist taking a walk from our hamlet to the small town. If Ripoll is 8 on the universal scale of cuteness Queralbs is 10. Its medieval stone buildings merge seamlessly into the stone streets and walls. The only breaks in this symmetry are window boxes full of colorful roses and other beautiful flowers or giant wooden doors that seem perfect for keeping out marauding intruders.

Thursday, June 18 2009: Queralbs - Nuria, Spain

It was an orgy of bees, butterflies, and flowers.

We plodded along slowly for four hours climbing gradually from 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) to 2,000 meters (6,000 feet) on our hike from Queralbs to Nuria. The hike followed a valley and river most of the way.

The grandeur of the Preynees.

Wildflowers were in bloom and we saw several stunning waterfalls. We were constantly surrounded by the rugged vertical cliffs of the mountains around us. On the lower section of the walk the temperature was very warm 30c (86f). Because of this and the heat generated from the constant climbing I began to over heat. This happened to me once before on the Appalachia Trail in Tennessee so I knew the symptoms. Fortunately we came across several cool mountain streams and I made sure to wet my hat and shirt in them which really help reduce my temperature. It was a real shock to put the icy cold shirt on.

We eventually made it to Nuria which is a little village almost completely encircled by tall peaks. The funicular train ends there, there is a nice hotel, and there are a few ski lifts to support skiing in winter. Oh yes, some silly person named James reckoned he had a supernatural experience with a sky god, or one of the many other imaginary entities, so there is a church there too. Wilfred the Hairy may have visited also.

Nuria Hike Video

Friday, June 19 2009: Fustanya - La Seu d"Urgell, Spain

The most stunning Pyrenees.

We left Queralbs for the border town of La Seu d'Urgell. It took three hours to drive through the astounding Pyrenees Mountains to get there.

Are only stop was in the other small border town of Puigcerda. The road through the Pyrenees rose up to 2,000 meters (6,000) and took us through one of the most beautiful mountain passes I have even driven through. Heavily forested valleys, grass covered slops, topped by rocky peaks. High country weather can change quickly and on our drive the temperature dropped to 16c (61f) and it rained on and off.

The remains of a very old church in Puigcerda.

In the little Spanish/French border town of Puigcerda we bought fresh fruit for lunch, used an ATM to increase our ever depleting supply of Euros, and found a Vodaphone shop to top up our mobile phone. Unlike Barcelona this place was not touristy at all but rather a real example of local living.

Whitewater practice in La Seu d"Urgell.

And like so many towns in Spain at its center lay the old section which was full of labyrinth like streets and the remains of a very old church. In this part of Spain the language is a mish mash of French and Spanish, and no one speaks English. So it took all of my meager language skills, and the patience of the locals, for me to locate the phone shop. I diligently used my translator to write out the complex question. I articulated it to a local, who looked on in horror as I destroyed the pronunciation. The look went from horror to a smile as they tried to fathom my destruction of their grammar. Then I stood stunned at the fast flowing flood of their reply overwhelmed me. From here we both resorted to gesticulations and drawing maps; which worked better for everyone.

We were soon at our final destination for the day, the other small border town of La Seu d"Urgell. Once checked into our rather nice hotel we took a walk around the warren of old streets at the heart of the town. Our destination was a park on the other side. To our complete surprise we came across an Olympic whitewater training facility. This consisted of a nice park, a small lake, and a man made river. The river had many sections of differing classes of rapids in it and hanging over these spots were gates. We watched with fascination as the young men practiced their aquatic skills in a dance with the fast flowing waters.

Saturday, June 20 2009: La Seu d"Urgell - La Massana, Andorra

Everything seems new in Andorra.

It did not take long to drive from Spain to Andorra, just and hour or so. The scenery really changes as you leave Spain.

The views are worth the climbing.

The Pyrenees Mountains seem distant but as you drive on into Andorra the mountains get up close and personal. Andorra is basically a country that sits in a valley of the tallest peaks of the Pyrenees. You have two steep cliffs on either side of you no matter where you go. Because everything is in or on the cliffs there is really only one road. But everything seems new and shiny in Andorra. All the buildings and roads look new. Andorra has two main incomes from tourism and banking. The best skiing in the Pyrenees is in Andorra and I guess the best banking in Europe; nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more. Andorra is a parliamentary co-principality with the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell (Catalonia), Spain, as co-princes, in a duumvirate.

But regardless of its politics it sure is a beautiful place and in summer the hiking is spectacular. Julia and I went out for our first walk as soon as we had checked into the hotel. What a pleasure the views and air were. Of course hiking in Andorra means climbing up and coming down, there is very little level ground. Still the exertion on our part was well worth the result.

Andorra Hike Video

Sunday, June 21 2009: La Massana, Andorra

Julia climbing Las Rock De La Coma.

I really will need a new pair of knees after hiking in the Pyrenees. While I am punning, I really adore Andorra. Okay, enough of that. We sorted out another hike on the famous GR-11 trail today. This is the trail that starts at the Bay of Biscay (Hondarribia near Irún) and finishes at Cap de Creus (near Cadaqués) crossing the Pyrenees all the way. On yesterday's hike we walked on it and we wanted to continue today but we just could not find the trail head. The biggest problem with hiking in the Pyrenees and particularly Andorra is that there is very little to no trail information.

And once on the trails they are very poorly marked. But we did find another hike which turned out to be totally amazing: Las Rock De La Coma. This hike was part walk and part rock climb; but we knew nothing of the rocking part until we were right on top of it. We climbed straight up the trail for an hour or so and then climbed out onto the climb for a bit. As we did not have the right equipment to complete the climb we turned around and headed back down the way we came. The walk was very invigorating and gave us spectacular views of the skiing areas in Andorra. Julia and I will definitely be back here one day to ski.

Trip stats

Miles Flown: 22,236

Miles Hiked: 232

Miles Skied: 2

Miles Driven: 4,366

Miles Sailed: 110


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