Lock Lomond to McNears

After traveling in Spain for a month, and then jumping back into work projects, I managed to get back on the water last week, July 11, to join some of my kayaking buddies for the Thursday Lunch Paddle.

Approaching one of the Marin Islands

We launched from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor in San Rafael and paddled out around the Marin Islands before heading toward China Camp. The weather prediction was for afternoon winds with gusts to 25 knots in the afternoon. When the prevailing wind is up, paddling along the Marin coast can provide some protection with Mt Tamalpais and the Tamalpais ridge blocking the wind when it’s from the west. There were six of us on the water: Bill, Susan, Danny, Alan, Joann and myself.

Contrary to the prediction though, when we launched we found ourselves paddling into a SE wind, but once rounding the Marin Islands and heading North the wind gave us a bit of a boost. The Marin Islands are part of the National Wildlife Refuge and they are closed to the public, but still interesting to paddle around.

We rounded Point San Pablo, and paddled past the quarry towards China Camp, but upon reaching McNears Beach we decided it was lunch time and we landed there and found a picnic table for lunch. When it was time to get back on the water we had a group of kids from an outdoor education program that were curious about our boats and our gear, and they were eager to help us get our boats back on the water. You can see a couple of kids helping Joann with her boat in one of the photos above. The predicted wind never materialized so we had an easy paddle back to our launch site with a bit of an assist from the ebb current. Our track out and back covered seven miles. You can see the track of our paddle here.

Olot: Gateway to the Volcanoes

Olot is a bustling town of 34,000 located in the foothills of the Pyrenees about 70 miles north of Barcelona. It is surrounded by the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa. There are over 40 ancient volcanoes and lava flows in the region which are now cloaked in thick woodland. We were in Olot as part of our Macs Adventure walking tour, arriving by foot on June 5. The town provides an excellent base for hiking and exploring the Zona Volcànica.

We spent two nights at Hotel Can Blanc, pictured above, a lovely converted Catalan farmhouse that now serves as a hotel. It’s located right next to the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica so it provides easy access to excellent hiking.

For dinner we walked the short distance to La Due Restaurant. Here we discovered Patatas de la Deu, which has to be the most amazing potato dish I’ve ever tasted, and unique to the volcanic cuisine of this region of Catalonia. We didn’t expect the food to be such a highlight of our trip, but such as it is, we gained a real appreciation for Catalan food. The website for Cuina Volcanica says “a regional cuisine based on a traditional, creative and daring recipes, which increases the restlessness and culinary curiosities of the area. ” If you’re visiting Olot, the La Due Restaurant is worth a visit for dinner.

And of course the architecture is always interesting. The architecture of Olot runs the gamut from traditional Catalan farmhouses to Modernista architecture such as Casa Gaieta (the pink house below) to modern.

And on the subject of architecture, the market, Mercat D’Olot, is worth noting. A glass jewel box full of glamorous displays of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and everything else you’d expect to find in a local market. The South side of the market has a green wall covered with lush vegetation.

We bought fruit and snacks and had coffee on the outdoor plaza. You can see more photos of Olot here.

Mercado de la Boqueria

The Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona is a fascinating place. The intro on the website says “Welcome to the best market in the world.” I’m not going to argue. With over 200 vendors selling everything from Iberian ham, to chocolate covered strawberries, to exotic spices the Boqueria is a feast for the eyes and ears and likely to pique your appetite as well. And as a photographer, there’s no shortage of photo opportunities. Well worth a visit if you are in Barcelona, and it’s something you can do on a moments notice, unlike many venues that require buying tickets in advance. The market does close for a number of holidays, so check the schedule before you visit.

The market is open from 8 am until 8:30 pm and easy to get to on foot or the metro. We visited the market on two occasions and made it our lunch stop. We noticed that many of the stalls, particularly the fish vendors start to close up shop in later in the afternoon. We feasted on Iberian ham, bread sticks, fruit salad, empenadas, oysters on the half-shell, chocolate dipped frozen fruit bars and a variety of other foods. The fish market offers every kind of sea food you can imagine; fish, sea urchin, clams, shrimp, octopus, squid, mussels and more.

It’s a busy place with both the locals buying food and tourists taking in the visual feast. I went crazy with my camera capturing the vendors, the stands and people shopping. You can see more photos here.

Palau de la Música Catalana

While Barcelona is not without it’s share of architectural wonders, one that is worth a visit is the Palau de la Música Catalana, the Palace of Catalan Music. We visited the Palau on May 29, our first day in Barcelona.

Concert Hall of the Palau de la Música Catalana

We bought our tickets online well before arriving in Barcelona. Best to buy tickets ahead of time since this is a poplular tour.

This structure is basically a jewel box for musical performances. The main concert hall is surrounded by stained glass windows with a spectacular stained glass ceiling over the middle of the hall. The hall was intended to be a garden for musical performances.

Built between 1905 and 1908 by the architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner, the Palau de la Música Catalana is an example of Catalona modernist architecture.

Adjacent to the concert hall is the Lluís Millet Hall with a large balcony with columns symbolizing flowers of every kind, in a tribute to nature. I only wish that we had had time to hear a concert here.

Barcelona at Night

Av. de Gaudí and Sagrada Familia

Towards the end of our Catalonia trip we decided to return to Barcelona. I had been intrigued with the idea of photographing the Sagrada Familia at night and our previous visit did not present the opportunity. We had one discretionary night open so we booked a room at Hostemplo which was a 10 minute walk away. Before our trip I had studied the map to see if there were some obvious locations to capture a view of the whole facade. There is a park facing the Nativity Facade, Placa de Gaudi. There is another park facing the Passion Facade the Placa de la Sagrada Familia. The Nativity Facade captures the morning sun and the Passion Facade the evening sun. Both of these locations offer good views, although not entirely unobstructed. You’d need to get in the air above the trees in the park, or on top of one of the apartment buildings opposite the park for an unobstructed view. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to look for a new angle and a new perspective. I found a location on Av. de Gaudi that I thought captured the feeling of Barcelona at night.

On our previous stay in Barcelona I had the opportunity to explore La Rambla and some of the area around the Cathedral.

For night photography I put the camera on a tripod and I typically capture multiple exposure to process using an HDR program on my laptop. Blending multiple exposures gives a bit more control over the extreme contrast range you can have at night with streetlight or spotlights and dark shadows. Blending images where people are moving can be a challenge, but one of the programs I use, Photomatix, has some powerful tools for dealing this ghosting.

Calella to S’Argo

Continuing our walking tour of the Costa Brava, this post covers our walk from Calella de Palafrugell where we spent two nights at the Hotel Sant Roc, the nights of June 16 and 17 and on to S’Argo where our tour ends.

At Hotel Sant Roc we had a lovely dinner on the terrace with a view of the town below with some color in the sky as the sun set. With a day off from walking we spent some time exploring the local environs including the the beautiful botanical gardens at Jardins de Cap Roig; also the home of a renown music festival. A trip to the beach was in order also where I rented mask, fins and snorkel from a local dive shop to explore some of the underwater life around the rocks just off the beach. We could easily have spent a few more days here, or a few weeks. A beautiful spot overlooking a picture postcard city. And even though we weren’t on the walking route we logged 9 km just touring the gardens and the town.

Alas, on June 19 we put our hiking boots on and continued our walking tour, hiking over rocky headlands, and along the clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, past quaint fishing hamlets and beautiful beaches. It seems that swimsuits are optional on many of the beaches along this stretch. We observed that nude sunbathing seemed to be more popular with middle age men.

The evening of June 18 found us at Hotel Ancora in La Fosca. Having logged 10 km. With some of the day left we walked to the waterfront in Palamos where we were hoping to watch the fishermen unload the day’s catch. We arrived well after the last boat had unloaded, so we toured the Museu de la Pesca, which turned out to be quite an exhibit and well worth the time and the cost.

June 20 we were once again on the trail, walking from La Fosca to Hotel San Pol in S’Argo. This stretch of the tour took us along miles and miles of white sand beaches, walking along the promenades adjacent to the beach. Many apartment buildings and hotels that line the beaches have their windows shuttered with the tourist season yet to come. Many carnival rides and vendors were setting up on the beach, and it looks like this is going to be a busy place soon.

Between the long stretches of white sand we climbed up steps, over trails, across rocky headlands down steps to tiny sandy beaches, up more steps, around more rocky headlands. Up and down, up and down. Each headlands giving a postcard view of the beaches below and the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.

Along the promenade in Palamos we ran into several other people that were on the same walking tour as us. They recognized us by the “Macs Adventure” luggage tags we had on our day packs. We walked with them for several miles for the last stretch of our walk to S’Argo. They were staying in a different hotel, the S’Argo Hotel, having booked a “deluxe” package through Macs Adventures, we went on to Hotel Sant Pol which while not “deluxe,” certainly met our needs. We had walked 20 km (12.4 miles). In the evening we raised a glass of wine to toast completing our “Hidden Gems of the Costa Brava” walking tour having logged 77.4 km (48 miles).

Llafranc and Kayaking

On Friday, June 15 our walk took us from Begur to Llafranc, hiking along rugged cliffs and past small fishing hamlets. There were white caps on the Mediterranean with a strong wind blowing out of the north east and waves crashing on the rocks and beaches. We had hoped to rent kayaks and paddle out of Llafranc the next day, Saturday.

As it turned out the wind let on Saturday and the sea was calmer. We rented kayaks and paddled out of Llafranc, past the town of Calella de Palafrugell and on the Cap Roig. There we turned around and headed back. We had a very pleasant paddle, even with a five foot swell running and sending waves crashing on rocks and beaches. The lumpy water had us feeling like we were on a coastal paddle along the California coast. The outfitter commented that it was extremely rare to have such rough water.

By evening when we dined along the waterfront the the water on the harbor in Llafranc was looking flat calm.