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.

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.