The wonders of Montserrat

It took me three visits to Montserrat to finally be able to write a blog about it. This mountaintop is famous for the black Madonna and her arrival still remains a great mystery. Legends said that she was found on the mountain in the year 880 after flashes of light shone down from heaven. No one knew how she ended up there on that mountain and the inhabitants of the village decided to build a church around the place where the Madonna was found. From that time on Montserrat has been visited by many pilgrims from all around the world. Even though some critics say that the statue was brought there by the villagers as a ‘marketing stunt’ to draw many visitors and earn money, the magic hasn’t faded away and many people still visit this beautiful place.

View on Montserrat

The first two times I visited this special place, I did the full pilgrim tour. This 3-hour walk up via a steep pathway provides you with the most wonderful views you have ever seen. This tour is only for real adventurers and when you arrive at the monastery, you can see the difference between the lazy crowd and the hikers. There are plenty of women wearing high heels and uncomfortable dresses. You will also see the typical not so sporty tourists and, of course, the old pilgrims who just come to pray. When I arrived in my hiking boots and sweaty t-shirt, I felt a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, they didn’t know what they missed, because when I arrived at the top, I couldn’t but feel ecstatic and the Montserrat magic struck me like lightning; I was in awe of all I saw. 

Recently I visited Montserrat for the third time. Because it’s winter and no weather to go for a hike, we went up the mountain by train. However, when we arrived, the ambience felt less magical. Something was missing and I think that part of the Montserrat magic is the adrenaline kicking in after a long hike, resulting in a feeling of euphoria. I took my time to enjoy the views and because we didn’t ‘waste’ our time walking up the mountain, we actually had time to see the museum. I thought it wouldn’t be as magical as the first two times. Maybe I got bored of this place? But when most of the people were gone at the end of the day and the peace returned to Montserrat, I silently enjoyed the views and I felt it; the real Montserrat magic. For the third time, I saw why is was so amazed by this place.

Since Montserrat is not that far from Barcelona, many tourists stop by to see why this monastery is so special. Montserrat was so popular that it grew out to be quite big. On the mountain, you can find the church, the monastery, a museum, several restaurants, a shop, and even a hotel. The fun doesn’t stop there, because for the real adventurers there is yet more to explore. The area is quite big and different pathways lead even further uphill, to the higher mountaintops, where you can see the most amazing views and appreciate Montserrat’s nature. I never made it that far, but the next time, I might stay a little longer and sleep in the hotel to discover more of this interesting place.

The old year

For me travelling is an important part of my life. If I’m in the same place for too long, I get bored and I feel stuck. Seeing new places gives me energy and inspiration. A good journey doesn’t always have to involve going to another country. Just seeing another part of our city or a village close by can be enough to feel free and get in that holiday mood.

Last year I visited a lot of places in Catalonia. I can’t even remember all of them, but I’ve tried my best to map them out.

Because there are so many of them and I really love little lists, I decided to make a top 5:

  1. Montserrat
  2. La Mola (read about it in ‘Climbing mountains’)
  3. Tarragona (read about it in ‘When the Romans came to Spain’)
  4. Tossa de Mar (read about it in ‘Sand castles and other fairy tales’)
  5. Rupit

Last year I also went to many places in the Netherlands when I visited my family and in the summer I travelled to Prague, which is an amazing city! I don’t know why I’ve never written an article about that one. This will bring me to the things I will do differently next year.

Looking back on 2019, I realise that I want to travel to see more of Spain (because it’s a big country). Second of all, I want to write more about my discoveries and adventures.

The new year

On new year’s morning I woke up with a clear mind. Even though it was early, I decided to start my day. This was a new year after all and I really felt this energy of new year’s resolutions burning inside of me. When I made my morning tea, the quote on the teabag made me think.

“Experience will give you the power and confidence to be you.”

This year I want to be more productive, more enthusiastic, more grateful and happier. Last year I felt that “the grass is always greener on the other side”. I imagined that I would feel happier if I worked more, travelled more, had a more interesting life, and so on. Besides of that, I never really put all my effort in my work, because I felt a lack of experience to do certain jobs. This is where the quote comes in. We all feel more powerful and confident when we have experience. But how do you get experience? By doing things instead of waiting to learn them automatically. This year I want to start doing instead of thinking.

The second thing I really want to do this year is to be happier and by doing that to make others happier. The art of being happy is defined by feeling grateful and seeing the wonders that are right in front of us. Sometimes we’re lucky and we call it serendipity, but if we appreciate these little winks of the universe, we can find more joy.

For me 2020 will be a year full of hard work, energy, patience and love. Do you want to join me? Let’s get into a positive cycle and create energy together. What will your 2020 be about?

When life gives you lemons…

Less than a year ago moving to Spain and following my dreams sounded like an illusion or at least a crazy idea that would not work out as planned. Even though I managed to overcome my fear and move away, I must say that things, in fact, didn’t work out as planned. There were some difficulties along the way. But was the struggle worth it? (Spoiler: yes, it was!)

My first struggle was that I didn’t find a full-time job because I wasn’t registered here, but when you don’t have a job you can’t register. Very logical, right? So, this vicious circle registration process got on my nerves. Eventually, with a little help from a lawyer, I finally got things done.

Before I left, I imagined finding a “real” job within a few weeks, what a deception! However, life turned out more rose coloured than I expected because my part-time teaching makes me happy. Seeing little kids interested in the beautiful language English is, is priceless. With extra time on my hands, I decided to study a master in Emotional Intelligence and NLP.  I didn’t plan to start studying again, but now I am kind of grateful that finding a full-time job didn’t work out. My master relates to sociology and comes in handy while teaching. I even do my master in Spanish to improve my language skills and in the hope to get rid of my silly accent.

The second struggle that came on my path was that I didn’t feel at home in Barcelona. I missed the flat green Dutch landscape, stamppot (a Dutch dish that many foreigners find terrible), and above all, my family. Before I left, I imagined I would feel at home immediately while eating paella and getting a nice tan. Unfortunately, this had been a lie. Even though Spain is beautiful and the weather is a gift from the gods, for me it turned out to be difficult to leave my homeland. I felt very “unrooted”, while I also loved being in Spain and wanted to stay here. After 7 months I finally feel that Barcelona is my home. My second home, because I will always be a Dutch girl.

Despite my fears, things turned out better than I ever imagined. I still can’t believe that I really moved to another country and I am curious what the future might bring. I bet it’s beyond what I can imagine.

Lastly, I will give you my recipe for good luck. When life gives you lemons, make ceviche. For those of you who don’t know yet, this is a raw fish dish with a lot of lemon juice, fresh onions, coriander and many other things. You will love it!

Are there any fellow wanderers who want to share their experiences about getting used to another country and learning a new language? I am curious about your stories, so leave a reaction below!

When the Romans came to Spain

A little bit south of Barcelona, on the beautiful east coast of Spain, there is a magical city called Tarragona. This city is special (and famous) because of its ancient Roman ruins and architecture. Tarragona didn’t only preserve many Roman monuments, but it’s also the oldest Roman city in Spain. Besides that, the city also has an amazing beach and from the higher parts of town a great sea view. From Barcelona, it’s just a one-hour train ride to this intriguing town.

The highlight of this city is “El Camino del Diablo”. We read about it online, but as it’s further away from the city centre, many people don’t go there. We, however, decided to walk in the footsteps of the Romans and take on this challenge. To go on this devil’s hike, we had to take a bus that brought us to a nature park outside of the city centre. We got out of the bus and continued our way through the beautiful forest.

The sun burned our skin and the pathway ascended. We patiently followed the signs that said “Pont del diable” (Catalan for “devil’s bridge”).   After walking uphill for quite a while, we finally saw the masterpiece of Tarragona, the Roman aqueduct. This construction of 27 metres high and 217 meters long is very impressive. It used to be 25 kilometres long, but unfortunately, the rest didn’t survive.

Back in the days, the aqueduct was used to transport water from rivers and other sources to the cities and towns. The passage through which the water used to find its way, now functions a bridge. It’s possible to walk on top of the aqueduct. Even though it’s an amazing experience to be able to see the forest from up there, this walk is not recommended for people who are afraid of heights. This little devil’s hike made us suffer, but it was a great experience.

Except for the devil’s bridge, there are many other things to see in the beautiful city of Tarragona. Earlier that day, when we arrived at the station, we saw the beach on one side and on the other side ancient-looking staircases that brought us up to a wonderful park. We headed to the other side of the park where we could see the amphitheatre. We soon discovered that you can enter (the remains of) the theatre and walk around to see everything. The entry ticket only costs a few euros and includes three other roman constructions.

After fantasizing about the ancient times and taking pictures of the sea sight, we went to the archaeological museum that is located in the old Roman circus that was used to host horseraces. Here we saw many roman objects and statues and of course the remains of the circus. We continued our journey and head to the city walls that surround the old city centre. Walking along these walls provides a great view of the city. the walls are well preserved and with the wonderful gardens, it really is a magical stroll.

The city centre of Tarragona is also worth a visit. Here you can find cute streets with restaurants and shops, but the most outstanding piece of art is the old roman cathedral built in the 11th century.  We didn’t have time to go inside, because it was getting late and we wanted to do the devil’s hike. I didn’t regret my decision, because the hike was definitely worth it. However, if I were to visit Tarragona another time, I would stroll around the city centre to see more of the beautiful streets.

Our big adventure ended on the beach where we went for a well-deserved swim (it was very hot that day). We enjoyed the last rays of sunlight at the beautiful beach with nice clean water until it was time to catch our train back to Barcelona. 

Sandcastles and other fairy tales

The last few weeks I didn’t write a lot. I was busy with work, but I spent even more time thinking about work. I am the overthinking type of person and when my head gets too full, I like going to the beach to let the fresh breeze blow away all my thoughts. After my trips to the beach, I had the brilliant idea to write a text about all the beaches surrounding Barcelona. My aim was to visit all of them. As I’m also a perfectionist, I really wanted to do my research well. And guess what, I postponed writing this text because it’s impossible to visit all of them. However, when serendipity brought me to the most amazing beach in the world, I decided not to look any further and start writing.

First, I will tell you about the beaches that are nice but won’t sweep you off your feet. The famous beach of Barcelona is Barceloneta, located between the old city centre and the beautiful harbour. It’s a small beach and it’s great to lie in the sand or walk along the coast. However, when the temperatures are rising, it can get very crowded. That’s not the only disadvantage. The full beach is a magnet for street sellers – every few minutes someone is yelling or talking to you personally. The locals know about these discomforts and when the sun is coming out, they search their luck elsewhere.

Then there is Badalona. This is a small town north of Barcelona and you can get there easily by metro. The beach is big and there are some restaurants. There is a relaxed ambiance and it’s a good place to go for a swim. Another advantage is that there are not many people and only a few street sellers on weekdays.

The third beach I visited was Casteldefells, also not too far by metro. This village, south of Barcelona, has a big and beautiful beach. In contrary to Badalona, it’s not only good for sunbathing and swimming. Casteldefells also lends itself for long walks along the waterside. The beach is surrounded by beautiful green hills and a cute village. The first time I went there was on a Friday. There were only a few lost souls and it was very relaxing. The second time was on a Sunday. I didn’t expect it, but it was crowded. My conclusion is that it’s amazing and beautiful during the weekdays, but there are many people on the weekends.

I saved the best beach for last. My boyfriend accidentally stumbled upon this place when he was reading about towns in Catalonia. The name of the village with the winning beach is definitely Tossa de Mar. This is not just any beach. Tossa de Mar is a little village with its medieval buildings and atmosphere. The tiny romantic streets are beautiful and when you walk up the hill to see the castle and the breath-taking views, you will cry tears of happiness. Castle? Yes, from the beach you can see a castle and it’s amazing. It will only take a few minutes to walk up the hill. It was a great experience and I already know that I will go back there once I have a car. We took a rental car to go there and drove for one and a half hours. Actually, it took us longer, because the Spanish highways are nothing like the Dutch ones – they confuse the hell out of you.

Besides going to beaches in the last few weeks, I learned that I should not be such a perfectionist. When I drove to Tossa del Mar I was confused about how to interpret the signs along the road and how to find the way. This left me stressed, but when we eventually arrived it was worth it. Had I known that, I would have been more relaxed. Also, driving around and seeing great sceneries is not too bad when you have air-conditioning. What are we complaining about? So, my advice to myself and the stressed out readers is: keep in mind that life is not about the destination, but about the journey.

What I learned so far…

When I told my friends and family that I was planning on moving to Spain they were telling me that I would be so lucky with the climate and the amazing food. After spending four months here, I can tell you that the sunshine and the cuisine are not the only differences.

First, let’s talk about sunshine. We know it’s sunnier and warmer in Spain, but an even bigger difference is the way the weather is experienced. Here people consider it cold when it’s between 15 and 20ºC (between 59 and 68 ºF). This means that you will see the locals wearing winter coats and tourists or expats walking around in shorts. In the Netherlands, 20ºC means wearing skirts and going for a swim, but here the majority of the people I saw on the beach in the last few weeks were people from colder countries. When I came here in February, I only took two summer jackets with me and I don’t regret that, but since I got used to the weather here, I wouldn’t consider swimming in the Mediterranean Sea yet.

Another thing is: a Dutch person could easily assume that the world is flat. If you look out of your window, all you can see are our green meadows. We don’t ascend hills and we don’t climb mountains. To encounter something that’s not flat, you’d really have to go to another country. Barcelona, however, is surrounded by hills. They are horrible to climb, but the sceneries are breathtaking.

Besides geographical differences, there are also cultural differences between both countries, the biggest being the perception of time. In Spain time is a totally different concept. Where Dutch people would be exactly on time or 10 minutes early, the Spanish people are more relaxed and flexible. There are unwritten rules regarding what time you should show up and because everyone seems to know them, it’s not considered rude to arrive late (except for work). Spanish people seem to know instinctively whether 7 pm means a) 7 pm; b) 7.15 pm; or c) 8 o’clock. Do you know the right answer? For me it is still a secret and every time a blind guess. I did figure out, however, that being on time or a little early can turn out to be very awkward. The bright side of this all is that impunctuality and disorganisation promote spontaneity and fun. Dancing in the kitchen during cooking is not uncommon here and those creative expressions fit my personality. Also, lunch and dinner time change daily, so hangry people, be prepared!

Another important part of the culture in Spain is the food (as mentioned earlier). It simply is delicious and everyone eats a lot. When I first visited my boyfriend’s family (they are Peruvians and also eat a lot) I had to tell them that I was full. I simply couldn’t eat more and I was afraid that it looked like I didn’t like the food. One of the reasons for my inability to eat a lot was that in the Netherlands people just eat a sandwich for lunch. The thought of that would frighten the people who live in Spain. However, after spending some time here, I’ve got used to the customs and I eat just as much. I haven’t even gained weight, so I am starting to think it’s healthy to eat a lot for lunch. Maybe the Dutch are the crazy ones here. The food culture is so important in Spain that you can eat a 3-course lunch in a lot of restaurants for half the money (or even less) it would cost you in the Netherlands.

The last difference that I get confronted with every day is my height. Dutch people are among the tallest in the world. In Barcelona I am quite tall; though exceptional, there are Spanish people with my height. However, hanging out with a Peruvian family does make me feel very “different”. My boyfriend was very lucky being way taller than his parents and thus my height, but every time I meet a new family member or Latin friend, my height is frowned upon. Also, it’s not uncommon for them to discuss what our future children would look like.

So far the differences. If you have experienced other differences that I haven’t mentioned, I would love it if you put a reaction below. Maybe in a few months, I will find many similarities and write a blog about that. I will keep you posted.

Greetings from Barcelona!                                               

Climbing mountains

We were sweating and suffering when we were walking up the mountain. Before starting our adventure, we quite randomly chose a route to walk so we didn’t know where we were going. We just wanted to walk in nature and chose a park that was reachable by public transport. At times the “path” only existed of earth covered by loose rocks which added an exciting element to the route.

The view

The name of this beautiful mountain is Sant Llorenç del Munt i l’Obac. While my boyfriend and I were following the path, the Spanish spring sun was hiding behind the trees and the temperature was comfortable. During our hike we saw several signs directing to “la mola”. We decided to follow them, not knowing where we were going. Fun fact: in Spain saying something is “mola” means it’s cool. We were walking for hours and in between we made a few stops to enjoy the stunning view. The further we came, the more we suspected that we were climbing the whole mountain, because the path was quite steep and the hike was challenging. As amateur hikers, climbing the whole thing had never been our ambition.

We were going further and further. At times we could hardly breathe and we had to stop. After sitting down and drinking some water we were able to continue our struggle. But then, all of a sudden, there were no more trees and we encountered a flat landscape with in the middle of it a building that resembled an old castle. It was quiet and peaceful. We couldn’t walk up anymore. There were no higher peaks and we had a full view all over the valley that was even more amazing than the views we had seen earlier.

The funny jacket

Because the trees didn’t offer any shelter anymore, we got blown away by a strong wind. It was also quite cold in these heights. I put on my funny jacket to keep myself warm. When we got to the building, we learned that it used to be a monastery. In this former monastery there was a restaurant and as we were tired we sat down to eat something. We were brainstorming about how the people who work here go to work every day. We couldn’t believe they would climb that mountain every single day. We decided to ask a waiter and we were wrong. They indeed would walk up to get to work. This discovery left us in awe.

After our contemplations on how people walk up that mountain every day, we went back to the valley. The way down was way easier and only took us an hour or so. Then our feet hit flat earth again. For me, as a Dutch person, this is very important because our country is flat and mountains make me homesick. From the ground we saw the mountain rising up. It seemed so high, and we had been there! We could see the little (from this distance very little) monastery on top of that big mountain and we almost couldn’t believe that we had climbed that whole thing!

This day got me inspired, because for me climbing a mountain was a big deal, it was difficult and it took me hours to do it. My muscles were aching for days after that walk. For people who do it every day, on the other hand, it’s normal. I always tend to think in metaphors and this is a great example for every obstacle in life. The first time you do something new and scary, it’s heavy and it might leave you exhausted for days or even weeks. But when you do it more often and you practice, it gets easier and easier. Then climbing a mountain becomes a piece of cake.

The highest place of Barcelona

Last week two of my best friends visited me in Barcelona. They came to Barcelona to celebrate their holidays and I saw the city through their eyes. As a result, I also felt like I was on a trip rather than doing things in the city where I live. It’s always nice to do touristy things and to see lots of things. Naturally I also took them to one of my favourite places in the city: Tibidabo.

The first time I visited Tibidabo was in the summer when I was only visiting Barcelona for a month. That time I didn’t expect that one day this city could become my home. It felt like it would be the first and last time that I would visit this interesting place. Nevertheless, I immediately loved it and I am still very fond of it. This special hill with a breath-taking view all over Barcelona is difficult to forget.

So, I decided to take my friends to this magical place. All the other days we had been discovering the city by foot, but going to Tibidabo felt like a mini holiday in a holiday. This is because in order to go to Tibidabo, you have to take a bus up the hill and it will take you 45 minutes. Unfortunately we had to wait a long time for the bus, because the Spanish bus drivers are not the most punctual. When the bus finally arrived, it was too full and we had to wait for the next bus. We were determined to get there, so we waited some more while drinking ice coffee. Compared to the adventure that awaited us, all this bus trouble was nothing. It would have taken us slightly longer to walk up there, which would be around 2 hours according to Google Maps. Even though I love hiking, I didn’t mind waiting and taking the bus.

When we arrived there, we immediately fell in love with the view. My friends for the first time and I for the third time. Tibidabo has an amusement park on the hill and even higher there are two churches. The amusement park is fun, however, as I am a culture enthusiast, beautiful churches make my heart beat faster. They are not normal churches; they are two churches on top of each other, as you can see on the photo. While the first church has a simpler outer appearance and a very detailed interior, the second one is higher and more fancy from the outside with a plainer, but beautiful interior. The whole construction is quite big for something on top of a hill and the beauty of it all was very inspiring. Inside the church we had our occasional “Do you think there is more to life?” discussion which led to fruitful insights.

From the square in front of the upper church we were able to see almost all of Barcelona. We could only see half of the view, because it’s not possible to enter the area behind the church. However, the view over the city and the sea was definitely amazing and mesmerizing. This day we didn’t ascend the towers of the church by elevator (for 3 euro’s), that will reveal a 360-degree view over the city and the sea on one side and the nature parks surrounding Barcelona on the other side. I had done that before and that view was astonishing, in spite of the cold and strong wind that blew me off my feet. It was an amazing experience to go up there and see all. Because we didn’t feel like getting blown away by a strong wind, we didn’t go up the tower that day.

We also didn’t visit the amusement park, because we felt too old for it. However, I didn’t tell my friends that the previous time I was there I had actually ended up going for a round in the carousel. It’s possible to buy separate tickets for one ride instead of buying tickets for the whole park. So even though this time we decided to keep our feet on the ground, next time I want to try the Ferris wheel to enjoy this view of Barcelona from the air.

When I moved to Spain

Do you remember that day I decided to move to Spain? Well, I do. That is because I was terrified. I was full of doubts and insecurities. Spain was not new for me – I had been there many times. What was new for me was that this time I finished university. I was not going to Spain as a tourist who happened to be interested in learning Spanish. No, this time I was a sociologist and an English teacher who was planning to stay there forever and who had that “I can do whatever I want” type of energy. Moving to Spain had been my dream for many years, but actually doing it made my hands shake and my knees weak.

I started dreaming a few years ago. My dream about leaving my cold country found its roots in a singing class. Yes, this sounds weird. I took part in a class in which we were singing Spanish songs and I just fell in love with the language (I must say “thank you” to the singing teacher Lisbeth, if she ever reads this, because she was very inspiring). I must tell you, before that class I literally didn’t know any word in Spanish.

That time I didn’t think much about it, but after that class I started to take Spanish classes and I went on holidays to Spain all alone to learn the language and get to know the culture. I grew up in a small village and going somewhere all alone was something new for me. So, leaving my country for the first time was a big step. My country, the Netherlands, is situated in Europe and to the east its neighbouring country is Germany. Parts of this county are to be found beneath sea level. Which is not a problem at all, because for generations the Dutch have been great at building dykes. I used to feel connected with the Netherlands and its people, but my time there had come to an end. I liked to see myself as a dove spreading its wings and going there where the wind might take her. Yes, I like romanticising everything.

Gosh, what am I doing? Leaving my safe environment. This could turn out to be a plain disaster. Will I find a nice place to live? Will I make any friends or will I just die alone?

These kinds of thoughts occasionally crossed my mind. I think any person doing something new might have them. And then the angel on my shoulder came in:

Did you know that Madonna only had 10 dollars in her pocket and she didn’t have a place to live before she became one of the most famous people in this world?! Compared to that, my plan doesn’t sound scary at all.

Okay I felt like a lunatic and I decided to book a one-way ticket to Spain! And it’s unbelievable that I have already been living here for three months; I have a nice house to live in; I have found work; and I don’t think I will be dying alone after all.