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.

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.

La Pedrera

May 28. Our first day of touring in Barcelona starts with a tour of La Pedrera, one of the architectural wonders created by Antoni Gaudi. Casa Mila, or La Pedrera as it is commonly known was built in the early 20th century. Construction began in 1906 and the building was finished in 1912. Well worth the tour if you are visiting Barcelona. Get your tickets ahead of time though. We arrived at 9:00 am, a little flustered since we started off on the wrong direction on our walk, and then discovered that we had left the tickets in the motel room. Internet connection was sparse so we had trouble pulling up the confirmation email on Joann’s iPhone. It seems that the clerk at the counter was gracious enough to believe our story and we were able to tour. The tour is self-guided with handsets to listen to narration about the features of the building. Gaudi in known for drawing inspiration from nature and his devotion to the Church.

The tour starts on the roof of the structure with the fanciful design of the roof vents. From there you go down the the attic where you can see the rib like structures that support the roof. The attic served as the work area for servants. The building itself was designed as an apartment building.

From the attic you go down to one of the apartments which is furnished as it might have been in the early 20th century.

Watch your Pockets

May 31, 2019. Waking up from a sound nights sleep. I’m wondering what time it is. I look at my phone and I’m flabbergasted. 10:40! I had no idea we had slept that late. For the previous two days we had tour tickets for 9:00 am both days, so we were up at 7 am to grab a bite to eat and then off on foot to find our destinations. On Tuesday it was La Pedrera at 9:00 am then on to the Picasso Museum at 12:30 and the Palau de la Musica Catalana at 3 pm. At 9 pm we went out in search of Tapas, having our first taste of acorn fed Iberian Ham. On Wednesday it was Sagrada Familia for our 9:00 am tour, followed by a spontaneous walking tour and then a bus up to Park Guell at 6:30 to see more of Gaudi’s work. We logged 10 miles on foot over the course of the day and decided we’d forego the alarm in the morning and get up when we felt like it.

We had numerous warning about pickpockets in Barcelona, both prior to the trip and and while touring. We did have an experience that bears sharing. While learning to navigate the Metro we got on the wrong train. After getting off and feeling a bit disoriented a young woman came up to us and told us we needed to take the elevator up a level to get to the right train. We were on the elevator with her and two of her friends when one of them attempted to access Joann’s purse. She thought they might have taken a notebook , but on later inspection nothing had been taken. Just a lesson to be careful. We’ve been traveling lightly. Leaving our backpacks in the room. I carry my small Sony RX100 camera in a Ripoffs brand holster on by belt with a strong Velcro flap. My pants have zippered pockets and I keep my iPhone in one of those pockets. Even so, I feel a bit bare without the camera support items like the tripod and such, and on both Tuesday and Wednesday I exhausted my camera batteries with the spares in the my backpack in the room. Passport, credit cards and such I keep in a pouch that hangs around my neck and kept inside my shirt. Probably not foolproof but so far so good.

La Pedrera, Palau de la Musica Catalana, Sagrada Familia and Park Guell will require separate blog posts so stay tuned. Pacing myself between touring, editing photos and writing is a challenge.

Gaudi’s Lizard at Park Guell

Shakedown for Spain

These boots are made for walking

In the weeks ahead we’ll be walking about 100 miles along the Costa Brava and in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. We’ll be following two self-guided tours offered through Macs Adevntures:  Foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees and Hidden Gems of the Catalan Coast. As a shakedown I decided to put a few miles on my new hiking boots so on May 12 we put the dog in the car and drove to Briones Regional Park. The goals were to give our Carson some off-leash time, log five miles and check out the wild flowers. Briones Regional Park is a 6,225-acre park in the hills of Contra Costa County. It’s about a 20 mile drive from our house. In spring it’s a stunning park with oak canyons, and green rolling hills. The ridges along the top of the hills afford wide sweeping panoramic views. Later in the year the green grass becomes a golden brown and the temperature can be quite warm.

At one point on our hike Carson decided to get a drink in one of the cattle watering troughs and ended up taking an unintentional swim. Along one of the ridges we passed a herd of cows, and Carson did his best to hike in Joann’s shadow acting a bit shy. There were a couple of steep sections of trail where I was glad I had my hiking poles, and even so, I took my time descending the steepest sections of trail.

Over the course of our walk we logged 4.9 miles. You can see a map or our course above or view more details about the track here.

On the Trail to Spain

We’ll be on the trail in Spain in June. It’s time to limber up the legs. We’ve had a very wet winter, which has kept us off the muddy trails, but with a few days of sun I decided to stretch my legs in Tilden Regional Park. It’s just three miles up the hill with 26 trails ranging from less than a mile to close to 14 miles, spread out over 2079 acres. Many of the trails are dog friendly with dogs off leash, so it’s a favorite for hiking with Carson. Tilden Park also boasts a steam train, a merry-go-round, a botanical garden and a lake to swim in. And one of the roads that transits the middle of the park closes each winter for the newt migration. The newts are not dog friendly though, they are poisonous to dogs.

In June we’ll be following two walking routes in Spain Foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees and Hidden Gems of the Catalan Coast, both walks are through Macs Adventures. In the fall of 2017 we did a walking tour of the Dordogne region of France care of Macs Adventures.

Organ Pipe

January 31. We arrived at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument just as the sun was setting. Just in time to find a campsite before dark and to grab a few quick photos with my point-n-shoot Sony RX100. The photo above was taken on our third night in camp, using a Nikon D800 on a tripod. I only had to walk to the perimeter trail just east of the camp to capture this image. The Sony photos are posted below.

Not knowing what the camping situation was we decided to reserve three nights at Twin Peaks campground. Twin Peaks Campground has 34 tent-only sites and 174 RV sites. There is also a primitive camp at Alamo Canyon with four sites. More on that in a later post. It seems this time of year there are plenty of open campsites, so perhaps reservations aren’t needed. I would expect later in the season the camp may fill up. There is also dispersed camping north of the park on BLM land. We appreciated the hot showers at the camp. We’re often in primitive camps without water.

As with most national parks, dogs are not permitted on the trails, although there is a perimeter trail that loops around the camp and dogs are permitted on that trail, on a leash, as well as the trail to the visitor center. There were plenty of dogs in camp. We managed to log close to four miles with Carson just walking to the visitor center and back and around camp.

In the morning we fired up the dutch oven, Joann prepared the fixings for Hash Brown Crusted Goat Cheese and Scallion Quiche. Another recipe out of Robin Donovan’s book The Camp Dutch Oven Cookbook. We put the oven in the coals and 45 minutes later we had breakfast.

After visiting Anza Borrego, Organ pipe is a whole different experience. This is the Sonoran Desert, with it’s iconic Saguaro cactus. The Sonoran Desert is relatively frost free and it get’s a bit more water than the other deserts of the southwest. Organ Pipe National Monument boasts the highest biodiversity of any north american desert. That means there’s plenty to see in terms of both plant and animals.