Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Hiking in Catalonia

In October 2017 daughter Susan and I went on a self-guided walking tour in Catalonia in NE Spain.  The hotel bookings were arranged by Mac's Adventure, a company I have used for 4 other self-guided hiking trips, all in England.  The local arrangements, including route instructions and baggage transfers, were done by a local company Catalan Adventures.  Both companies did an excellent job, and everything went off without a hitch.  After leaving Madison, WI we flew to Charlotte, then to Madrid, and then on to Barcelona.  At the Barcelona airport we took the airport train to the main train station in Barcelona and from there took a train north to Figueres Vilafant, where we were met by the Catalan Adventures van.  We were then transferred to the village of Sant Pere de Pescador, the start point for our hike.  During our 9 day walking holiday we stayed in 5 lovely Catalan villages, each with its own distinctive character.  We hiked from L'Escala to Sant Pere de Pescador along the beautiful Bay of Roses, stopping for two hours on the way to explore the ruins of two ancient cities -- one Greek and one Roman -- at Empuries.  On the following day we hiked from Sant Pere de Pescador to Castillo d'Empuries, which took us through a nature reserve.  Then we hiked from Roses to the beautiful village of Cadaques; during this longest and most scenic of our hikes, over 13 miles, we were following the coastline along the Mediterranean, visiting one secluded cove after another.  Another day we hiked from the lighthouse at the Cap de Crues, the Western-most area in Spain where the Pyranees Mountains meet the Mediterranean, back to Cadaques, stopping to visit the studio/home of Salvadore Dali at Port Ligat.  Another day we hiked from Cadaque to El Port De La Selva, one of the most important fishing ports in Catalonia.  After a rest day there, we then hiked over the mountain to the village of Palau Saverdera, first climbing to the mountain ridge to see ruins of the Castle of Sant Salvador, then spending two hours exploring the impressive monastery of Sant Pere de Roses, before descending the mountain to Palau Saverdera.  On our last day we were transferred to the train station to get a train back to Barcelona where we spent several hours, and hiked 5 miles, exploring parts of the city, especially looking at three of the architectural wonders designed by the Catalonian architect, Antoni Gaudi: Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, and his unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, the most visited monument in all of Spain.  It was a wonderful trip.  Perfect weather (70's F everyday) and no rain.  Lovely Catalan villages, first-rate hotel accomodations, gorgeous coastal scenery, the turquoise blue of the Mediterranean Sea, nature reserves and natural areas.

Bay of Roses

Ruins of the Greek city at Empuries
Lovely mosaic tile floor that was in a room of the largest villa of the Roman city at Empuries

Land snail and golden lichen 

Coast Trail from Roses to Cadaques

Coast Trail

The beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean and secluded coves along the Coast Trail

Approaching Cadaques


Cadaques street scene

Cadaques, my favorite of the 5 villages we stayed in.

The egg in the garden at the home/studio of Salvadore Dali

Leaving Cadaques at dawn as we began our 11 mile hike to El Port De La Selva

El Port De La Selva

Atop the mountain at the ruins of Sant Salvadore Castle

Susan and I with the Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes in the background

Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes

Palau Saverdera street scent

Casa Mila in Barcelona, one of Gaudi's most famous creations

Sagrada Familia by Gaudi, his unfinished masterpiece in Barcelona

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A visit to New York City

  In March 2017 I visited New York City for a week.  I left Cedar Rapids on a Delta flight to Atlanta and then got a plane from Atlanta to JFK airport (I know, a ridiculous and circuitous routing, but that was a much cheaper fare than any of the more direct flights; air fares often make no sense!).  At JFK I took the Air Train to Jamaica Station ($5) where I purchased a Metro Card good for a week of travel on any of NYC's subways or buses ($31).  Then I got on the E subway into Manhattan.  The E train eventually heads South to the 9/11 Memorial, so at 7th Avenue I transferred to the D train which went to Columbus Circle.  I got off at Columbus Circle and then walked several blocks to the Watson Hotel on West 57th where I had booked a room with a king-sized bed for the week.
  I had a great time during my week in NYC, even though the weather was quite cold at times.  NYC is a vibrant and energizing place, full of interesting places to visit and exciting things to do.  I was only a short walk from Lincoln Center, and on four evenings I attended performances at the Metropolitan Opera (Dvorak's "Rusalka", Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet", Verdi's "La Traviata" and Mozart's "Idomeneo").  I was also able to hear two free concerts at two different churches, St. Paul's Chapel and St. Paul's Church, both of which sponsor free public concerts.  I became quite proficient negotiating the many different subways lines in the city and spent every daylight hour sightseeing, managing to see nearly every sight I hoped to see.  I went as far North as Uptown to Grant's Tomb, the largest mausoleum in the U.S., and to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, America's largest cathedral.  I spent much of a day exploring lovely Central Park.  I walked to Cleopatra's Needle, an obelisk gifted to NYC in 1881.  The obelisk was one of two that once stood in front of the Temple of the Sun in ancient Egypt, erected in 1425 by Pharaoh Thutmose III.  I walked around Washington Square and Greenwich Village in Midtown Manhattan.  I visited two old and historic churches, St. Paul's Chapel and Trinity Church, the burial place of Alexander Hamilton.  I spent a day in Battery Park in Downtown Manhattan, where I was able to see the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, and was able to visit a most interesting museum, the American Museum of Native Americans (one of the city's free attractions).  I explored, by subway, bus, and on foot, as much of NYC as I could, from Uptown to Downtown, from the East Side to the West Side.
  Especially moving was the 9/11 Memorial and the South Pool and the North Pool, where the South Tower and the North Tower of the World Trade Center once stood.
  I also took the opportunity one day to go to Pennsylvania Station and take a train on the Long Island RR out to Long Island where I was able to visit my brother Roger and his wife JoAnn, and to see my nephew Jeffrey, all of whom I hadn't seen for many years.
  Here are just a few of the many photo's which I took during my visit.

Grant's Tomb

Westside Market

Cathedral of St. John the Divine

Central Park

Central Park

Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park

Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park

Belvedere Castle in Central Park

9/11 Memorial -- Museum and surrounding buildings

South Pool at the 9/11 Memorial

Trinity Church

Bryant Park

Times Square

Battery Park

Rockerfeller Plaza

Monday, October 31, 2016

Return to England in October 2016 for more hiking and exploring

  In October 2016 I traveled to England for 17 days.  My main goal was to solo hike an 80-mile section of the Southwest Coast Path (SWCP) which follows the coastline of Somerset and Devon, crossing through Exmoor.  Following the hike I visited several different cities and villages throughout England, some of which I wanted to return to and others which were new to me.  As usual, whenever I visit the UK, I traveled by train, using a Britrail Flexipass.  Along the way I met some old friends.  When I arrived at Heathrow airport I traveled to Redhill and checked into a B & B for 2 nights.  The next day I traveled South to Brighton, one of England's premier seaside resorts, and spent the day exploring.
Brighton Pier
Royal Pavilion in Brighton
  Returning to Redhill, I joined English friends Annie, Andy, Toni, and Dee at the Plough Pub for Quiz Night.  A good time was had by all.  The following day I boarded the train and traveled to Minehead, where my hike was set to begin.   The SWCP is 630 miles long and is Britain's longest national trail.  In the past I have hiked sections of the path in Devon, Cornwall and elsewhere, but I had never hiked the very beginning of the trail, which begins at Minehead and then goes South following the North Devon coastline.  My seven day solo hike was exhilarating but quite challenging and strenous at times.  Here are some photo's of what I saw and experienced during my hike on the SWCP from Minehead to Instow.
SWCP, looking north from Hurlstone Point
SWCP leading to the village of Bossington

Hurlstone Point
Tea shop in Bossington

Cream Tea

After my first day of hiking, an easy 9 miles, I spent the night in the attractive village of Porlock.
Main Street in Porlock

  Leaving Porlock the next day, I hiked to Porlock Weir and then entered Culbone Woods.  Leaving the woods I followed the coast path signs and the landmark wild boar gatepost, and headed towards the village of Lynton.

Approaching Porlock Weir

Wild boar gate post on the path
Coast Path sign

Day 3 proved to be the most scenically dramatic and physically challenging, a 14 mile test of endurance that first went through the mysterious landscape of the Valley of Rocks, followed by a stretch of beautiful coastline, then a descent into Heddon, one of the steepest valleys in England, then the ascent back out of the valley and up to the coastal cliffs, and then finally an ascent up to the top of Great Hangman the highest point on the SWCP and located on Britain's highest sea cliff. The weather cooperated on my hike, with only a few brief showers and frequent sunny spells.  This made for enjoyable hiking and allowed me to better enjoy some of Southwest England's most dramatic and beautiful coastal landscapes.  When I finally arrived at my B & B in Combe Martin my feet were protesting and my thighs were burning.

Castle Rock, in the Valley of Rocks

Woody Bay

Climbing out of the deep Heddon Valley

Approaching Great Hangman

By the cairn at the top of Great Hangman

The descent down to the village of Combe Martin

Watermouth Bay

Approaching Ilfracombe on Day 4
On Day 5, hiking from Infracombe to Woolacombe, I encountered gorgeous coastal scenery.

Croyde Beach, on Day 6 of the hike
Heading to the village of Braunton, Day 6

Taw Estuary on Day 7, the last day of the hike
Harbor at Instow, looking towards the village of Appledore

When my hike was over, I joined my friend Clive and his sister Lindy and husband Richard for an evening meal at a pub called the Beaver Inn in Appledore.  The following day, using my railpass, I set out to explore other places in England.
York Minster in York

Queen Street in Biddeford
Ruins of St Mary's Abbey, York
Kings Manor in York

One of the best half-timbered buildings in York, 1480

Durham Cathedral, one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in all of England

The home of the Bronte's in the village of Haworth

Statue of the 3 gifted Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Ann, in the garden of the Bronte house

Haworth Church graveyard.  Most of the Bronte's are buried in a vault beneath the church


Bridge of Sighs in Oxford

On my last day in Oxford, I spent several hours at the Natural History Museum (which is free, unlike most other Oxford attractions), where I saw a very impressive collection of dinosaur skeletons, a block of orbicular granite 2.7 billion years old, and the room where the historic debate occurred between Thomas Huxley, Darwin's "bulldog" and staunch friend and defender, and the Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.  The debate happened one year after the publication of Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, one of the most significant books ever written.

Granite block in the Museum
Stele outside Natl. History Museum, Oxford

Natural History Museum, Oxford

Plaque outside door to the room where the famous Huxley-Wilberforce debated occurred in 1860