Tuesday, January 31, 2012


This weekend I took a trip out of town to visit a beautiful scenic spot known as Montserrat. The location is a small mountain, adorned by tall, gray, rocks. We arrived in the morning, while a set of low clouds were still present, creating a mystical illusion. 

 The river that runs below the mountain seemed peaceful from so far up. As can be seen by reference of the trees and road, Spanish rivers tend to be on a smaller side than those in the states. Still, the snaking body of water was a lovely contrast against the foliage of the countryside.
 Midway up the mountain is a small, touristy town. It was so filled with fog, we could not see up a flight of stairs!

 Inside of the town is a small cathedral. The courtyard was elegant and full of shivering tourists waiting to go into the building.
 This mural was on a wall in the courtyard. It was very eye-catchingly dark compared to the other imagery in this particular place of worship.

 Gothic-style mantles like this were placed in several ante-chambers and chapels to the side of the main room of the cathedral. This is normal in cathedrals, and each mantle is often dedicated to a particular saint or important priest of the past.
 Stained-glass windows are an absolute given in older churches. And are always appreciable to onlookers. They are most appreciated when the sunlight shines through and creates a glorious spectrum of light.
 Above doorways there are often these delicate sculptures of flowers. The masons must have worked so long and hard to make each one identical to the next.
 These gorgeous stone mosaics lined a flight of stairs that lead from the chapels to the back of the cathedral. Every single person depicted in these intricate designs was a woman of biblical importance. Never have I seen so many female depictions in a church without men among them. 

 I must say that I have taken a liking to the art form of mosaics. When I return to the states, I hope to take it up and create some pieces of my own.

 This is a view of the cathedral from the back, in a small chamber above the preacher's podium. They are vast places, cathedrals. The acoustics within them are astounding and resounding. It marvels me when I look at the amazing things that are accomplished when a group of people set out to do something with a common belief. Great things are formed with unity.
 A mosaic of angels was inlaid on the ceiling of the spot where we looked out at the vastness of the cathedral.
 In the alcove where we stood was this statue. This is the symbol of this particular cathedral, and is its most important piece of art. She is La Maroneta. (The Black Virgin). A version of the Virgin Mary with a young Jesus in her lap.

 On the way out of the cathedral, there were rows of candles placed in silent shimmering prayer of visitors who made small donations in exchange for lighting one. This is quite common among cathedrals. Most will have candles and lighters available for the faithful who wish to leave something in the name of the Holy Spirit. In more commercialized cathedrals, I have even seen battery operated lamps that looked like candles being sold for the same purpose. But, just the same, it is an illuminating and lovely effect.
 As I mentioned before, the fog was incredibly thick during the hours of the morning.
 The journey up the mountain was expectedly long, and unexpectedly steep!
 Deep crevices, like wrinkles of a elderly man, brought severity and the feeling of spiritual power to the mountain hike.
 The mountain itself was topped with these odd formations of rock. I imagine that were there a wise man of the mountain, he would be found among these.

 The mystic feeling that fog brings to a natural setting is wondrous. I spent the majority of the hike expecting a small fairy-creature to pop out from behind a rock, or to smell smoke and stumble upon a dragon's cave. A walk through nature does wonders for the imagination, not to mention the body.

 As the day wore on, and we made our way back down the mountain side, the fog lifted and cleared. We were able to see some of the most spectacular sites of my life. I must say that back home our mountains are quite different. Covered from bottom to top with evergreens, they are hardly gray at all. But Montserrat is sprinkled delicately with sprigs of deciduous trees that stand below gorgeous gray stone.
 On our way down, we were astounded to finally be able to see the whole of the mountain town. The bright tiled roofs showed their cheery orange and the sky competed with a warm blue, while the mountain itself burst to life in vibrant shades of green and gray.

 Riding the fenicular down from the halfway point, we had quite a view. The distant hills reminded me of long car rides to my grandfather's house. Simple curvy shapes that pass in the background.

 While we awaited the train to take us back to Barcelona, we spotted signs that lead to a bar. Feeling the chill of winter, we decided to check it out and have something warm to drink.
The staff, family members from a local farm, were friendly and worked quickly to serve the strangers passing through. Having a small establishment next to a train station, for whom the passengers' only destination is a mountain for hiking, seems a good little niche for a family to fill.

The trip was overall a positive one, despite the cold and the fog. We have decided to go back near the end of our trip to try and finish the hike, which could have lasted another three hours one way, were our legs strong enough.

Until next time, dear readers.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Dancing is an art form, a way to meet new people, and one of the most enjoyable ways to exercise. It is a spectacular rhythm of movement set to music and the expression of every dancer's soul.

During my first week here in Barcelona, Rana and O took me to a Flamenco show. The flurry of skirts, stamping of feet, and fluid music were incredible to behold. It was a mix of the senses. As the dancers swirled across the stage, dramatic music seeming to illustrate the importance of every step, it was as if sorcery was taking over the theatre. One dancer had a dress train that was as long as she was tall, but it seldom touched the floor as she twisted and pulled it like an elegant whip. The dancers went on for what seemed like an eternity, and yet no time at all, of beautiful movements. Along with the music came a most terrifying song from the voices of the performers. They sang like sirens. A disturbing scream with such beauty you cannot help but hang on every note. I did not understand a word of their songs, but the emotion in the singers' voices explained all that I did not understand. It was a night to remember.

Last week I took the chance at attending a dance club. The particular one I went to was a Salsa club. Last year, I took a Salsa dance class, just for fun and exercise. Being able to dance in a room full of strangers is a great deal of fun. Most dance clubs with a specific dance style begin the evening with lessons for different levels of dancers. Then, around midnight, the real dancing begins. The greatest thing about Salsa is that anyone with two feet can do it. It is incredibly simple, has many forms, and with a partner who knows what he is doing, it is like soaring over clouds. I danced, sometimes with one of the girls I went with and sometimes with a gentleman who asked me, and felt my energy come alive. I always wear high heeled shoes when dancing. The amazing thing is, my feet only hurt if I am standing still. I believe there is a fairytale about a girl who could not stop dancing because of her shoes... But I digress.
After an hour or so, the random couples dappled across the dance floor turned into circles of dancers as a mic weilding DJ announced steps and partner changes to do. This went on for several songs and many brilliant line dance moves. Then the crowd dispersed back into chaos as dancers went their own ways once more.

Dancing is not something that requires complete passion, but is well worth a few hours a week. My Salsa instructor would say "It is good for the spirit and body." And it is true. There is nothing more incredible than the feeling of dancing for hours upon hours, not a care in the world but who your next partner will be.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


As you may know, the Romans conquered and ruled much of Europe. One of the first places they did this at in Spain was the city they called Tarraco. Now known as Tarragona, it is a major sight of Roman ruins. Still remaining are a theatre where the Romans would have small gladiator fights, as well as man versus lion fights. (Something I am becoming all too familiar with at this moment as I battle a feline for the use of my laptop.) There are some remains of a Circo (mostly turned into the walls of more modern housing now), where the chariots would have been raced.

 Inside of one of the ancient walls, where they are still in the process of excavating and preserving the Roman structures, this well and other antiquated structures stood. Inside the same structure, there was a miniaturized version of what the city might have looked like at the peak of the Roman empire.

A miniaturized version of the theatre

 We walked past some of the old walls, of which few are still freestanding.

 There were many preserved and restored statues along the path. Roman art was among the first to depict complex motion and depth. I have always loved the realism in the posture of statues like this.
 Also among the ruins were some cannons and battle stations. As this part of the city was at the top of a hill, it would be the ideal place from which to defend the city.
A Roman fountain

 The view from atop the hill was impressive. Spanish landscapes are so beautiful. I absolutely adore the color of earth here. At home, our soil is a dingy red-brown. Here is is a lively array of golden-brown.

 Statues of this kind are very common among Roman ruins. The story is from Roman mythology, but is similar to what we know as "The Jungle Book" in the States.
 The Romans were in part so successful because of their ability to transport water anywhere they needed it. Aqueducts outside of the city to bring water from long distances, and these small canals inside the city.

It is amazing to me that so much of these buildings still remains after so long of a time. The durability of these natural materials is incredible, and yet they were so easily manipulated and moved in order to construct the ancient buildings.

This is one end of the Circo. From this angle, the remaining bleachers are visible. Now houses and apartments stand where horses once pulled Romans in carts around the great, long, chariot race course.

Underneath the race track were these vast tunnels. Rather than have exterior entrances, it was easier to curb traffic to have these access tunnels directly beteath the Circo. Now crumbling with age, these tunnels were once the way for fans to get to their seats at the chariot race!

Here we see what remain of the stairs that lead down from the street into the access tunnels.
The ruins of the Circo are quite minute, but incredible to view in person.
The Theatre was so well preserved, I just could not believe it! The audience once perfectly incircled this monumental stadium to observe as man fought man or fought beast.

The structure at the far end was a church built in the Gothic era, when Christians were replacing Roman ruins with Catholic places of worship. The church was built in the shape of a cross, which is easy to make out in the rubble. However, in some conflict along the way, the church too became just a ruin among the Roman structures.

The Cathedral in Tarragona is most beautiful on the outside. Unfortunately, we were not there during its visiting hours.
This fountain out front of the Cathedral caught my eye. It too seems to eek an ancient aura, but I could not find a sign about it.
My adoration of European streets and city scapes is surely aparent in these posts, but my camera cannot do justice to the pure beauty of narrow cobblestone lanes. The most touristy areas are always where the big streets are because all of the big shops fit there, but it is so worth it to wander off of the beaten path and find these precious sights.

I adore fountains, I suppose for the decorations and the flowing water. This one was near where our bus was to pick us up from. It is more modern, for certain, but there is a simple kind of beauty in modern structures.

Tarragona is worth a day-trip. Perhaps more, if you enjoy simply wandering through windy streets and trying delightfully flavored Chocolate caliente at the local cafetería. Of course, there are sights that are much richer in Roman and other ancient ruins, but not many so close to Barcelona. On the way out of town, I spotted the remains of the aqueducts. My eye is quicker than my camera, though. They are immense and terrifying structures. How amazing is it that so much water could be moved along the tops of stone structures?

This weekend I am going to a Salsa club with mis amigas. There may not be photos, but I will tell you all of the delights of dancing in this mediterranian city.