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.

Costa Brava and the Walking is Easy

June 12 our day starts with a ride from Girona to Begur where we begin our next adventure, a walking tour titled Hidden Gems of the Costa Brava. While we booked this tour through Macs Adventures, Macs contracts with a local tour operator Catalan Adventures. Our driver for the trip to Begur is Steve, the owner of the tour business. It’s about an hours drive.

Once we arrive at Hotel Rosa Steve spends half an hour with us going over the tour details including reviewing the maps, walking routes, suggestions for places to eat and such. Breakfast and lodgings are included in our tour package but for lunch and dinner we’re on our own. We have two nights in Begur. It’s market day and the main square is full of vendors selling shoes, cheese, clothes, beach towels. We buy cheese since we’ll have a picnic lunch on our first day of walking. I also buy a pair of sunglasses, since that’s one thing that didn’t get packed.

We spend the afternoon walking around town exploring the history and architectural details. The Hotel Rosa is in the older part of town. Just across the street are two restaurants, Plattios and Fonda. With two nights in town we try them both. Plattios was highly recommended. The advise was to make reservations as soon as we checked in to the hotel, so shortly after arrival I called, but got no answer. This went on for several attempts and finally I went down to consult with the hotel manager who informed me that they don’t answer the phone before 6:30 pm. Most restaurants don’t open before 8 pm. The manger was happy to make reservations for us. A small place, I counted 16 seats. The food was exquisite. One of our best meals on our trip. While we didn’t come to Catalonia for the food, the food and wine experience has been one of the highlights of our trip.

By the way. After several days in Costa Brava I have to say the walking is easy compared to the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Rocky Paths

On June 9 our walk takes us to the top of a mountain, Mare de Deu del Mont where we spend the night in simple hotel that had been a monastery. The next day we hike down the other side of the mountain to Besalu.

A word about rocky paths is in order. After several days of hiking mountain trails Joann said she didn’t realize how rocky the Pyrenees are. I replied that if the Intuits have 200 words for snow, then the Catalonians must have 200 words for rocky paths. Here are some of my favorites.

Steep trail with loose rocks, ploughed by wild boars. This looks like a tilling machine had gone down the trail and turned over the dirt and rocks, making everything in the trail loose dirt and rocks.

Then there are the rocks that roll around under your feet, the steep, slick limestone slabs with a sprinkling of oak leaves and pine needles to challenge your confidence in secure footing. Fist size rocks, ankle high rocks, rock falls with knee high boulders. The list could go on.

Many of the trails we walked are little used, little maintained and  sometimes subject to erosion.

At several places on our walks we saw branches that had been cut, presumably to clear the trail for walkers, but the cut branches are usually left in the middle of the trail. Initially I would pick these up and cast them aside, and then I had the revelation that perhaps erosion control is more important than personal convenience. Perhaps the branches are left to help control erosion.

 The walk up the mountain was easier than we had expected. Even so we logged 11.2 miles  (17.5km) with close to 3000 feet of elevation gain. It was 6:30 pm when we reached to hotel, overcast and starting to rain lightly.

June 10 we start down the mountain to Besalu. Another long day, neither of us are very fast going down hill with aching knees. Joann had thoughts of taking the taxi down with our baggage, but we persevered and took our time. Near the top of the mountain we were hiking through lovely pine forests with lush grass and wildflowers. By mid-day the pine forest had given way to the oaks of the lower elevations.

At 4 pm we reached the little town of Beuda. We were hoping to buy a snack here. In this part of the world business close after the lunch hour and remain closed to 6 pm or so. Nothing is open, and there isn’t much here to begin with. We see a couple of people leaving a restaurant, so we step inside, The manager takes pitty on us, and we have coke and fruit salad.  There is also an ancient church here, Church Sant Feliu de Beuda first documented in 1004.

It’s 7:35 pm when we reach Casa Marsial, our accommodations for the night. We logged 12.7 miles (19.2 km). Even so, after dinner, I have to explore the bridge which was well lit and looked like an invitation for some nighttime photography.

Oix to Sales de Llerca

On June 8 our hike takes us from Oix to Sales de Llierca. Our accommodations in Oix is a 16th century farm house that has been converted to a small hotel. Nothing fancy in the way of accommodations but comfortable. Likewise the food is good, but nothing fancy. The view from our balcony looks out over tile roofs to the green hills beyond.

Oix is a tiny hamlet with no stores so we ask the manager to make us lunches. We’re on the trail at 9:50 am. Hiking through oak woodlands and grassy meadows, past white, blue and yellow wildflowers. We also see yellow Scotch Broom and I wonder if it’s an invasive here like it is in California.

I’m dragging a bit, perhaps too much wine with dinner. It takes me awhile to get my hiking stride. Mid-morning we stop for a snack in the shade of some small oak trees that look much like the live oaks of California, except much smaller in stature. At 12 pm we stop near an abandoned farm house and we each eat half a sandwich saving the second half for a later snack, since we’re anticipating a long day.

Later in the afternoon we cross a ridge and the town of Sales de Llerca comes into view. We’ve seen nobody on the trail since leaving Oix. As we approach the medieval bridge over the river Llierca we see a few hikers and a few people swimming in the river.

We reach our accommodations at Can Serola at 6:35 in the evening having logged 12.8 miles (20.3 km). Can Serola is on a hill about 2 miles above Sales Sales de Llierca. A beautiful old house in a beautiful setting. Here we’re served an exquisite five course dinner with olive paste on toast, creme of broccoli, green salad with goat cheese pastries (simply out of this world, like little philo dough pastries stuffed with cheese and fried), a beet dish with julienne beets, walnuts and goat cheese, and the main course of roast duck with fruit, and wine. My mundane English descriptions hardly do the meal justice. Our Macs Adventure itinerary may include meals with some locations and other locations we may be free to eat in local restaurants, depending on what facilities are near our lodgings.

Santa Pau and a Loop Hike

On June 3 we made our way from Girona to Santa Pau by bus, finding the local bus stop near our apartment in Girona. For this leg of our trip we’re carrying all our luggage. I carry a day pack and a travel pack. Once we start our walking tour our luggage will go by taxi and we’ll go on foot with just our day packs.

We transferred buses in Olot where we had few minutes for a snack; coffee, apples and coke. Once in Santa Pau we found our lodging at Hotel Sal Sastre right across the street from the castle. We spent some time walking around the medieval town.

On June 4 we began our Macs Adventures walking tour with a loop hike from town up to a high point at Santa Maria Finistres. Here there is a hermitage which has some historical significance. We had a very quite picnic lunch here. This is truly a place of solitude. From the time we left town at 10 am and when we returned at 3:45 pm we had the entire trail to ourselves. The trail was a moderately steep track up the mountainside passing through beechwood and oak forests. Our feet crunched through the leaves on the trail and there was no sign of anybody else having used the trail recently. We clambered over a couple of fallen trees and passed a number of sections in the trail that had been rooted up by wild pigs, as if a roto-tiller had gone through. I would imagine that some sections of the trail could be slippery following a rain, with slippery leaves and mud but with dry conditions we had good footing. It’s a very pretty hike through the cool shade of the forest, passing by farms and pastures closer to town. When we came out of the forest we could see our town on the hill in the distance.

Having returned to town, we had logged 10 miles. The Macs Adventure hike is a nine mile loop. We manged to add a mile with a trip to town in the morning to buy bread, cheese and salami for our picnic lunch. After 10 miles it was time for a cold beer.