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 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.

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.