Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fine Points of History; Some Tid Bits from the Trip:

       During our trip throughout Catalonia we learned more about both the history and culture of the area from our tour guide and the people we stayed with, as well as through our visits to museums and old villages. On our second night in Catalonia our guide talked about both the culture of the area and about Franco’s regime, which started in December 1938 and lasted forty years. It had huge deleterious effects on the area’s culture through outlawing Catalan as an official language and in the bloody and tyrannical way in which Franco ruled. The republic of Spain, which had previously ruled in Catalonia, was destroyed as Franco slowly gained a foothold, taking city after city, until he had control of the whole area. Franco ruled with extreme psychological repression of the people, killing anyone who spoke out against his rule and discrediting the defeated republic. The goal of the regime was to outlaw and destroy anything related to Catalonia, in this vein his first action was to repeal the Statue of Autonomy of Catalonia which legally separated it, though somewhat limitedly, from Spain. 
            During our trip we also visited the museum dedicated to Mateo Miguel who I mentioned in an earlier blog entry. We saw the castle and church which he owned and in which he housed his extensive collections of books, glassware and wine. As I mentioned before the church and connected castle used to be a convent before the Counts of Perelada created a school for the village children in the castle portion. Then Miguel who was a businessman from Barcelona bought it to house his collections. The library houses some 80,000 books in 33 different languages some of which date back as far as the fourteenth century. The large cathedral is also known for some of its important pieces including the wood ceiling that is painted to look like stone and the Spanish silver altarpieces. The tapestries that hang above the altar today are originals acquired by Miguel. Interestingly, the floor tiles, which are a pattern of black and white in the form of what looks like the rook piece on a chess board, depict the crest of the city and the Counts of Perelada. The glass and ceramic museum houses one of the most impressive collections done by one single person. The pieces in the collection date back as far as the second and third century BC, though there are some ceramic pots found beneath the castle garden dating back to the sixth century BC. The collection includes pieces that were found all over the world, both glass, ceramic and coins- over 2,000 in total. The wine cellar dates back to the days of the convent when the friars stored wine that was made locally there. Today it houses many ancient casks and tools for making wine as well as the original room built to look like a cask that Miguel requisitioned for the World Exhibition in Barcelona. Here he held his famous wine tastings that were attended by many important people at the time. 

The library

The many attractions of the museum

The floor tiles in the cathedral

The altar and tapestries in the cathedral

The cask room created by Mateo Miguel

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 8: Sunday, November 27: Barcelona, London and Washington DC:

          Our last day in Spain started with a quick breakfast at Mas Alba, before we packed our last things and brought our suitcases outside to meet our driver at ten. Once he had arrived we loaded our things into the bus and headed out for the hour and a half drive to the Barcelona airport. The drive gave us a last chance to see the beautiful countryside before we arrived at the airport around eleven thirty. Bri and mine's flight didn't leave until 6:30 so we decided to check our bags and then see if there was an easy way to get into Barcelona for a few hours. We talked to a woman at the tourist office who informed us about a bus line that runs from the airport to the center of town very frequently, which we could catch every five minutes and that only costs 9 euros. We headed downstairs to where the buses come, and after purchasing tickets boarded the bus and headed into the city. It took us to a really nice part of town, allowing us to get a feel for Barcelona and do a little shopping at the street vendors, as well as lunch before we headed back to the airport. We caught a bus at about 2:15, and once we got back to the airport we headed through security and found our gate. We were still very early for our flight so we got out our homework and got a little work done before we caught our flight to London. Once we arrived in London we headed through border control and then tried to find someone who could tell us how we could get into the city for a couple hours. We were told that the best thing for us to do would be to catch the 'tube' (what the British call the subway) and take it to Piccadilly Circus where there would still be lots of things happening even at this hour, for by now it was about 9:00. We bought tickets and headed into town, the trip took us about half an hour so by the time we arrived we didn't have tons of time before we had to head back, as the last train runs at midnight. We came up out of the underground to brightly lit streets and colorful lights decorating buildings and tons of people. We decided to head down a street that looked promising, with lots of open shops. We stopped at a store that seemed to hold all things Britain, very touristy but we were able to get gifts for every one at home! We wandered around for a little while longer, got some very late dinner, and then headed back to the tube station to catch the train back to the airport. We boarded the train only to find that the train we were on didn't even go all the way to Heathrow airport which is the last stop. We went up and asked the people at the station what we should do, and they told us to simply wait, that another train would be along to take us to heathrow soon. When the train arrived we hoped on and rode back almost to the airport, however we needed to be at terminal 4 and the way the trains work, only some go to terminal four. Once we asked we found out that we had somehow missed the last train to terminal four, so we would have to come up and catch the bus. After spending some time figuring out which bus would deliver us at our destination, with the help of two guys who were also trying to get to terminal four, we got on the right bus and headed back to the airport. Bri and I had booked a hotel that is actually in the airport, they're called capsule hotels because you rent a room, but they are tiny and very compact rooms like a cabin on a ship. I've included some pictures of the room so you can see how tiny it is, however it was very cheap and convenient as it's located right at the airport. The hotel let us get a little sleep before getting up at seven on Monday morning to catch our flight home. We had to take yet another bus to get to terminal five where the international flights leave from after which we went through security and got some breakfast before heading to our gate. Our flight left at 11:35 and then arrived in Washington at 2:30 U.S. time. Once we got back in the states we had to go through border controls here and then gather our checked baggage before heading through customs. However luckily it all didn't take us to long and we were able to catch the 3:15 shuttle that would take us back to the Holiday Inn where we parked my car. Once there we commenced our long drive home, arriving back at Sweet Briar around 6:30 for dinner and then to fall into bed exhausted. All in all it was a great trip with many adventures, successful navigations of the tube, riding in the beautiful sun and the pouring rain, and delicious food! We learned a lot more about both the culture and the history of the region and were able to apply what we learned before we left once we got there, keep your eyes out for some upcoming blogs about all the things that we learned while we were gone and more information on the region as a whole!

Downtown Barclona.

Barcelona from the bus.

Required photos of us by British phone booths!

... And Bri

Some of the bright lights in Piccadilly.

A photo of our hotel room when standing at the door.

Bed time at last!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Day 7: Saturday, November 26: Mas Alba

            We woke up to our last day of riding to bright sun and warm weather again! Had a delicious meal made by our cook of the night before, David, toast, almond cake, cereal, OJ and coffee. Headed out to see the horses and give them their breakfast at ten, after we went and visited the three miniature ponies who live here. We then brushed, tacked up and mounted after the horses were done eating, for our long morning ride of two and half hours or so. We took first more flat roads through an old town of just a couple houses, but then we started to head back up more into the mountains and hills as we got farther from the planes near the sea. We had beautiful views of big open fields and bright sun as we went in and out of forests until we had to stop as one of the horses had lost a shoe. Despite the fact that the guide and Tom, whose horse had lost the shoe, went back a ways to see if they could find it on it they ended up having to get one of the spares out of his saddle bags and put it on instead. We arrived at our picnic spot around noon, located next to an old church it provided lots of sun and a great place to take a siesta before riding on. For lunch we had salad, as well as a very interesting cold melon soup, I thought it was good though definitely very strange! We also had traditional Catalan flatbread pizza with spinach and goat and brie cheeses on one, and tomatoes, onions and brie cheese on the other. Dessert we got to sample another Catalan delicacy, a type of fresh cheese that is almost like cottage cheese or Greek yogurt that you then drizzle honey all over the top of, creating yummy sweet and tart flavor. After our long siesta in the sun we mounted back up for the rest of our journey at around 3:30. Where we are staying for the night is actually the horses permanent home, and you could tell they knew we were going home as they were all walking a little faster then normal and ready to gallop when we let them. We continued along mountain roads, up and down hills, and through smaller trails towards the end of our journey. When we had almost arrived at our destination, we had to trot along the road again, one even bigger than before, and even around a rotary, before reconnecting with a small road. The road headed up a hill past the huge field where the horses stay when they aren’t out doing trail rides, there were roughly fifty or so horses out there already, all just milling around together. We continued riding up to the top of the hill to the barn and the house we are staying in for the night. After un-tacking the horses and giving them their dinner, we put all their tack and saddlebags back where they go in the tack room. There were tons of saddles and brides, one for every horse they have. There were also individual little shelves where each horses packet of extra shoes are kept, so each of us had to take them out of the saddlebags and put them back in the right cubby so that they’ll be ready for the next ride. Once everything was put away properly we walked the horses back down the road to their pasture, turning them out one by one, some meandered off immediately but most of them rolled the second we let them go! We all then hiked back up the hill and went inside the house so we could find our rooms for the night. The house is clearly pretty old, and stone so it was a little chilly for dinner, however we had very cozy and comfy beds in which to sleep after our long day. However, before we went to bed we had a dinner of salad and goat cheese that the women who owned the house had made herself. I liked most of it though some was very strong, not like goat cheese in the US. We had a soup dish for the main course, spinach and chickpeas in a broth with hardboiled eggs, good and warming since we all were a little cold. Lastly, there was dessert of a dense chocolate cake and homemade ice cream, then coffee and bed after a long day. Tomorrow we are leaving for the airport at ten, as it is an hour and a half to two hour drive to the Barcelona airport from where we are on the other side of Catalonia from where we started. We are hopping to have enough time to get in to the city of Barcelona to look around before our flight to London at 6:30, we’ll have to see if there is easy transport into a good part of town from the airport. 

The miniature ponies.

A beautiful old house we passed.

A rode that we had to ride along in order to cross over a large highway.

Our lunch.

Siesta time!

The barn where we put the horse tack, and in front an adorable fjord.

Our room for the night.

Day 6: Friday, November 25: Outside of L'Armentera

Today we rode out toward the beach! When we arrived at the ocean there was no one

around as it was off season. We rode right were the waves were breaking because the

thats where the ground was firmer so that the horses didn’t pull any muscles as we

galloped through the sand. Once all the horses were used to being in the water we

trotted and galloped for miles and miles. We would take little breaks to let the horses

catch their breath then surge forward again. There was such an amazing feeling of

exhilaration as the horses flew through the waves. As we came to the end of the beach

there were a few more people around who watched curiously as we walked by. From

the beach we went into a little town on the beach called San Martí. We tied the horses

up in some woods outside the town and walked in to have lunch at a little restaurant.

After lunch it was just a short ride to our next stop. We stayed in an old mill outside of

town. The house was vacant unlike the other places we had been staying, and were

were told that were were going to have a special cook for dinner. At 8:00 we cam out to

a kitchen filled with delicious smells and our superb chef David. David owns and cooks

for a local restaurant that was about 30 mins away. He made us all sorts of traditional

catalan food. Our first course was pumpkin cream soup with 5 local types of

mushrooms. Then we had a plate of asparagus with a delicious dried tomato sauce.

They man course was chicken with curry seasoning and a mix of cooked local

vegetables. For desert he brought almond cake w/toffee sauce and whipped cream.

This was by far the most delicious meal of the trip. After dinner we all hung out and

chatted for a while before heading off to bed.

Our home for the night

Our Chef David

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day 5: Thursday, November 24, 2011: Outside of St. Pere Pescador:

          We got up to breakfast of croissants with chocolate inside- pain au chocolat in French though I don’t know what the Spanish call them, either way though they were delicious! There was also orange juice, coffee, and toast. We gathered our luggage and bags together and left it in the front room for “Buffalo,” the trip assistant and also the person who moves our stuff from place to place for us. We then walked down to meet the horses, brushed them off, tacked up, and rode off. We took more dirt roads today past corn and sunflower fields, as well as crossing two rivers. One of the rivers was very wide and we had to cross it to get to the road on the other side, and while we were in the middle one of the German’s on our trip, Tom, strayed too far to one side of the line of horses and hit a muddy soft spot away from the concrete that we were walking along. He and the horse sunk down and had to leap up and swim a little way to get back onto the harder surface, however, he and the horse were fine- just a little wet! After this excitement, we rode a little farther before reaching Castello d’Empurias around 11:30, we then rode through the town and to the other side where we met up with Buffalo for our days picnic. It was really nice, including a picnic table that he had set up, and real dishes. The food was delicious: salad again, along with noodles with pesto and sun dried tomatoes and cookies of course. We had a miniature siesta before leaving at about two o’clock, walking first back through the town, past a beautiful church and over a brick bridge dating back to the 1930s. We took more dirt roads past hay fields, allowing for lots of trotting and cantering before we reached another two lane road which we had to trot along for about ten minutes. Buffalo met us where the road we had been taking intersected with the highway, so that he could drive along behind us in an effort to keep the cars from passing us which can be very dangerous. After we trotted for ten minutes, we came to another dirt road that we turned onto. We passed lots of apple trees making the air smell like apples, until we reached our home for the night. It’s the horse’s home as well: they are staying just down the drive way from the house. After we got them settled in and gave them more grain, we packed away the tack in the red horse trailer that comes with us everywhere and walked up to the house. Bri and I are staying upstairs with a room that has a beautiful view of the drive and the ponies at the end. Dinner was tasty, vegetable soup, puff pastries filled with veggies and topped with goat cheese or a chicken puff for the meat eaters, and for dessert, a delicious birthday cake for me as it was my 20 birthday! By the end of dinner we were all tired as dinner lasts so long here, so we headed to bed to be well rested for our trip to the beach tomorrow. 

Heading out in the morning.

Crossing the old bridge into town.

The town of Castello d'Empurias from our lunch spot.

The horses tied to trees to snack while we had lunch as well.

Our beautiful picnic table.

The church in the town.

The horses all settled in for the night.

My birthday cake!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day 4: Wednesday, November 23: Perelada:

Riding down the highway

frolicking with the local sheep

Lunch! Tapas! Yum!

Our view

The group

Library at Castle Perelada

Glass Museum

Wine Mueseum

We got up early and had breakfast then packed our stuff and walked to where the horses were being kept. The sun was finally out today and it was warm and breezy. We headed out for our ride and rode through many vineyards. The ground was still pretty wet from the rain. At one point we crossed a patch where the horses sunk to their elbows in mud. We crossed a river that was supposed to be a street but was blocked off because cars could not pass. We could hear lots of gun shots from the near by military base. After walking through the town we went up a hill where we had a beautiful view of the ocean through the mountain tops. After going over the hill the landscape began to vary and get more flat.  We had to ride along the highway for about 1 km which was kind of fun but kind of scary. When there wasn’t room for us on the side of the road we would stop traffic and ride in the middle of the road. We turned into a more agricultural area with corn fields and farm land. At one point we passed a woman walking her sheep, they ran along with us for a little ways until the sheep dog  herded them back. We did lots of cantering today because the ground was very hard and flat. The river where we were supposed to cross was too deep so we had to go around. As we were going around one of the fields we were supposed to cross through was under water so we had to scramble up a steep hill and the horses slid down the other side. After a few more gallops we finally reached Perelada, put the horses away and had some lunch of salad and tapas. One of the plates was this delicious toasted bread with brie cheese, pears, almonds and and olive oil sauce. Ali, Frankie and I wend wandering around the town and took some pictures. We got lost for about a half hour but eventually found our way back. Then the group got together to go get a tour of the Castle Perelada. A woman there toured us through the castle library which had over 80,000 books, glass museum  with over 150,000 pieces of glass dating back to 200 BC.  We also went through the church and wine museum and got to taste the cava that was made in the museum at the local wine shop. We then went back to the house and had dinner around 8:30. Over dinner we talked about different laws and customs in the US, Germany, Switzerland and Spain. After dinner we were all tired from the long day and headed to bed.