Hiking in the Montseny Natural Reserve

After a long winter, the weather has finally started to get warm again. This weekend, it got DSC03233warm enough that we ventured out to resume our hiking activities. We found a great trail in the Montseny Natural Reserve, which in 1978 was declared a biosphere reserve for its wealth of flora and fauna.

After over an hour of driving we finally reached the park in the middle of the afternoon; a good time since the sun was close to its peak and the temperature was high enough to be able to enjoy the outdoors.

The park is also home to a natural spring and is one of Spain’s most important sources of mineral water. That explains why we saw a number of cars pulling into the parking lot with empty water barrels. People were actually lugging the barrels to the natural springs to fill them for their own use. We even saw one family carrying close to 25 empty plastic barrels.

DSC03248The hiking route took us all the way to the peak-El Turó de l’Home, which is approx. 1,700 meters (5,600 feet) above sea level. I accidentally misjudged the difficulty rating on the route. It turned out to be MUCH harder than we anticipated. Altogether we probably hiked close to 7 kilometers, which doesn’t seem like that much. Except for the fact that most of the route had a very steep gradient and the path was very uneven and covered in dry leaves. As a result, I painfully twisted my ankle multiple times during the ascent and descent. If you were within a couple of kilometers, I’m sure you would have heard my profanity laced howls of pain.

The final approach to the peak was very similar to the one we experienced while hiking La Mola last year. An interesting fact: I found while doing some online reading was that the peak was actually the site of the 1959 Transair Douglas Dakota accident. The flight, carrying 29 students and 3 crew members, was flying from Barcelona to Gatwick (London) and was climbing to its cruising altitude when it entered an area of dense fog/heavy clouds and struck the mountain.

Despite the difficulty, we found it to be a good place for a hike. We saw an abundance of oak trees and even some small animals. We were even fortunate enough to see (and have to DSC03240across) some small streams. Thanks to my pulled ankle, I also had the pleasure of having my shoes and socks completely soaked while trying to cross one of these streams.

In any case, suffice it to say this was probably not one of our best hikes, but it was fun nonetheless. For now, I am spending my Sunday comfortably settled on the couch, where I am relaxing my pulled ankles, sore knees and tired feet.

Happy weekend everybody!




Touristy Weekend in Paris

After a series of weekends lost due to the Honey Bee and me alternatively suffering from the flu and other commitments, we finally had an illness and commitment free weekend. As it turns out, this was also a 3 day weekend and to celebrate that fact, we flew to Paris. The last time I visited was almost 10 years ago, and the Honey Bee closer to 20.

As soon as we landed, we took a shuttle into the city and jumped right into it. It wasDSC03077 unseasonably cold and quite windy during most of the weekend. We walked along the Seine munching on some delicious and piping hot banana and caramel crepes. We reached the historical Notre-Dame Cathedral, where surprisingly, the admission was free. That also explained the long and winding queue that filled most of the square in front of it. From the inside, it’s a beautiful structure with grand high ceilings and exquisite stained glass windows.

We didn’t want to waste the precious little time we had over a sit down lunch, so we just grabbed some sandwiches and paninis which were pretty good. For dessert, we grabbed another crepe-this time chocolate and banana which we completely destroyed. Next we visited the iconic Eiffel Tower where we learned a lot of interesting things like:
-The design was changed significantly multiple times
-It sways up to 7 centimeters in the wind (which you can feel when you’re at the top)
DSC03123-It is repainted every 7 years to prevent it from rusting and requires close to 60 tons of paint
-Its color is darkest at the top, and gets progressively lighter towards the bottom.

We climbed the 670 stairs to reach the 115 meter high second floor. Apart from the feeling of accomplishment, it really is worth the effort for the views. On the first floor there is glass flooring that you can stand on and see the ground below from a dizzying height of 57 meters. It is fun to not only stand on it yourself, but also see everyone else try. Some people had no trouble and even lay down on it, while some hesitated (like the Honey Bee), and others outright refused to even approach the glass. Although stairs do exist all the way to the top floor, access is restricted. Visitors have to take the elevator. Unfortunately, at the time the top floor was saturated and access to new visitors was closed.

Also worth paying a visit to is the Flame of Liberty, which is a life-sized replica of the flame of the Statue of Liberty. It was gifted by the US to celebrate the centennial celebration of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. It has also become an unofficial memorial for Princess Diana, as it is located just above the Pont de l’Alma tunnel where she perished in a car accident.

Later, we took a short cruise along the Seine. Extremely touristy and way over rated, we probably could have skipped it. I would recommend it only as a nice photo opportunity and a chance to rest your tired legs after running around so much.

For dinner, we grabbed pizza at a very well-known hole in the wall type of restaurant: Pizza Julia. A must try for excellent pizza at a great price, and a warm and hospitable IMG-20160516-WA0019experience.

To top off the day, I surprised the Honey Bee with tickets to the Lido Show (Paris Merveilles). We got our own little booth in the balcony, with drinks. A stunning cabaret experience with an impressive performance accompanied by great toe tapping music, and mind-boggling visuals. The only annoyance was people who would not refrain from clicking pictures on their phones (with the flash activated) even though they were instructed not to. Overall, it was such a great experience that I would recommend it unconditionally to any adult who is visiting Paris.

The next day, we skipped the hotel breakfast for some much-needed shut-eye and instead grabbed a delicious IMG-20160516-WA0021brunch at a fancy but overpriced Bistro on the Champs-Élysées. This was followed by a quick visit to the Arc de Triomphe, and a follow-up visit to the Trocadero Gardens and the Champ de Mars; beautiful gardens near the Eiffel Tower with stunning views that made for some great pictures in a picnicy ambiance.

We wrapped up the trip with the traditional purchase of souvenirs for our collection at home. A few hours later we were back home, our minds chock full of great new Parisian memories. Although we had hoped to relax a little on this trip and not turn it into a high pressure sight-seeing spree, that is exactly what happened. But, we still had a great time.

And now that most of the main sight-seeing is out-of-the-way, the next time we visit Paris we can spend the weekend there relaxing, enjoying good weather while sipping on some wine on Paris’ wide boulevards enjoying grand views of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

Vive Paris!

The Garden Incident

Today I’d like to share a small incident that occurred yesterday. I didn’t really know what to make out of it, maybe it was sad, maybe it was funny, or maybe it was something else. I’ll leave it to you (the reader) to decide.

As the Honey Bee and I were leaving for a dinner outside yesterday evening, we saw an unknown lady picking something in the community garden. A couple of things to point out here:

-The garden is just a large space with overgrown plants, bushes and shrubbery. No one really uses it except the pet dogs that live in the community.

-The primary door to enter our community has started to stick recently, probably due to the change in weather, and unless an effort is made to physically pull or push the door shut, it remains ever so slightly open.

In any case although it was strange to see an actual person, even more so an outsider, in the garden I figured she was just picking flowers or leaves and didn’t really pay much attention. My first thought was the American TV show Extreme Cheapskates which is about people who live on a tremendously tight budget by doing what most people would consider extreme. It brought to mind an episode about a mother who takes her children to a public garden to pick certain types of grass, leaves, etc. to make a salad for dinner.

As we walked past her, the Honey Bee looked closer and gasped! As it Snlturns out, she wasn’t picking flowers, but snails! After recovering from the shock, we tried to be polite and not stare. We didn’t know how to feel.

On the one hand, she was probably living on a tight budget, so good for her if she figured out how to get a free dinner.  In fact, snails are apparently good for you and are even considered a delicacy in France and Spain. On the other hand I felt bad for the snails. The poor fellows were just chilling in the garden on a sunny day and the next thing they know they are being stuffed into a plastic bag, ready to be boiled and eaten.

By the time we got back after dinner, the strange lady was gone and with her most of the garden’s larger inhabitants (the snails). She did leave behind some of the smaller ones though.


PS: For those of you considering trying snail, let me share my experience. I tried it at a restaurant in a small sea-side town in France a couple of years ago. It’s not half bad, but not particularly great either. I don’t think I’d ever try it again, unless it was for a bet, or to prove a point. They are simply boiled and presented to you, with shell and all. You pry them out of their shell using a thin, long fork like utensil, dip them in a special sauce, and eat them. Buen provecho! (Bon Appétit in Spanish)

A weekend afternoon in Barcelona

So, this weekend the Honey Bee and I visited Barcelona’s famous and authentic N.A.P. Italian restaurant for lunch. As always, the place was packed. Knowing how grrrreat the food is, we decided to skip the first course and get straight down to business.

Yes, that's right! I love pizza!
Yes, that’s right! I love pizza!

We munched down on a mouth-watering ricotta cheese and mushroom calzone and a scrumptious Margarita pizza. To be honest, I’ve never really been a fan of calzones but NAP’s calzone has changed that forever. All this accompanied, by some great wine really made it a good afternoon. The grand finale was the dessert- delicious panna cotta topped with a delicious forest fruits sauce. As we ordered the check, something on the deserts menu caught my eye and I had to have it. It took a lot of will power and determination to fit anything more into my already full stomach, but I did it. A tall and heavily chilled shot glass of limoncello. What an afternoon! As the Italians would say “Meraviglioso!”

A short walk (on the beach side promenade) later, we decided to catch a movie. Thanks to some good timing and quick thinking, we were able to save € 9 on the cost of the tickets, by investing € 1 in membership at the theater. Nothing better than the feeling of bagging a great deal!

Tickets in one hand, snacks in the other and stomachs & souls content with delicious food, we caught the late afternoon showing of The Jungle Book. Growing up, my brother and I used to look forward to catching the animated cartoon version in Hindi on national television every Sunday. Most people may not know this, but the movie is set in India. And it’s no surprise given that the British author Rudyard Kipling was born and spent quite a few years in the country.

In fact, it may surprise you to know that almost all the names used in the movie (and the book) originate from the Hindi language. For example, the name of the mother wolf, Rakhsa, actually means protector, as she was the protector of her cubs (and Mowgli). Similarly Baloo, the name of the bear, actually comes from the Hindi word bhalu, meaning bear. Also, Bagheera from bagh meaning tiger and bandar-log, the name used to refer to the monkeys, literally means monkey people. I could go on and on.

As for the movie itself, I found it a little slow at the offset, but it picked up its pace about 30 minutes in. The esoteric assortment of voices also made the movie a fun experience for adults. Who could have ever imagined Bill Murray (of Ghost Busters fame), Ben Kingsley (of Gandhi fame), Idris Elba (of Pacific Rim fame) and Christopher Walken (does he really need any introductions?) in the same movie together?

Overall a great movie especially, for kids. For adults a good movie worth watching once, regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with the series.

 Another afternoon well spent!