Tag Archives: Campdevànol

Weekly Photo Challenge: Scale, Catalan National Costume

Catalan National Dress and Independence

I pose with two life size figures dressed in Catalan National Costume.

I was interested in the issue of Catalan independence and tried when I could to speak to people about where they stood on the issue because polls reveal that almost 60% of the population support independence.  Everywhere there are Catalan flags and symbols, Catalan always comes first in guide books and menus, shops don’t sell King Juan Carlos souvenirs, on official guides the flag of Spain is almost always defaced and the away team colours of FC Barcelona are the red and gold of Catalonia.

It is the sixth largest region in Spain, has the sixth largest coastline and is sixth largest by population density (second overall after Andalusia).  If it were to achieve independence it would be the twelfth smallest state in Europe just slightly larger than Belgium but a bit smaller than the Netherlands.

Read the full story…

Catalonia, An Aborted Drive to Andorra

Catalonia Spain

Breakfast at the Hotel Sèquia Molinar also turned out to be rather good although it was a boisterous and noisy affair because several families were using it as a Saturday morning rendezvous and competing chatter and conversation took the volume way above acceptable European Health and Safety levels.

It turned out that this was a Saturday morning gathering of family and friends who intended to go off hiking into the mountains because apparently Catalans like sociable company and communal picnics in high places and will walk all morning to get to a favourite secluded spot.  I began to worry that if they were meeting here to go off for a walk then our car would be blocked in and we would be stuck here for the day but the hotel staff assured me that this wasn’t the case and as soon as we were ready to go they would ask them to move their vehicles – and they did!

Together we have a plan to visit all of the countries of Europe and so far we have visited thirty out of fifty and today we thought that there may be an opportunity to add another because a look at the map seemed to suggest that Andorra was close enough for a day trip.  Actually this rather pointless objective seems to be getting tougher because every time I check there seems to be a couple of new countries that I have never heard of and to be honest there are two or three that we probably wouldn’t especially visit anyway.  At least if Catalonia or Scotland ever achieves their objective of independence then we can legitimately say that we have been to both of these.

And so we set off and once through the town of Ribes de Freser the problems started as the road crumpled like a piano accordion and soon we were swaying from side to side and climbing dramatically into the Pyrenees.  I rather enjoy this sort of motoring but there were several hazards to negotiate which turned this into a roller-coaster white knuckle ride which required one hundred percent total concentration and attention.

Natural hazards of course because I didn’t want to fall off the side of the mountain or get a falling rock through the windscreen because I was almost certain that sort of damage was excluded from the vehicle insurance, but also other road users, cyclists who insisted on riding two or three abreast, thrill seeking motor bikers who were driving at full throttle in the middle of the road, more crazy local drivers taking massive overtaking risks whenever there was fifty metres or so of straight road and then a herd of cows who were rather reluctant to give way as they made slow progress stopping frequently to graze at the verges.

The first thirty kilometres took almost an hour and a half and we were barely half way to Andorra when we pulled into a car park with a panoramic view of the mountains and the valleys that seemed to go on forever and we had short debate and agreed that this whole journey was just too ambitious and that we were looking at probably four or five hours of the same so we turned the car around and went back the way that we had come.  Andorra it seems will have to wait although a friend who visited at more or less the same time told me that in his opinion we hadn’t really missed very much so on that recommendation it might now have to wait a very long time before we cross it off the list.

It was rather tedious making the return journey through Ribes de Freser and then Campdevànol but it would have been a great deal worse if we had tried to carry on so we were both pleased with our decision as we drove through Ripoll without stopping and then picked up another mountain road through the Garrotxa Volacnic Zone and past the town of Olot.  This road was thankfully straight and undemanding and just after lunch time we arrived at our next stopping point, the town of Besalú which was lazily baking away in the wilting heat of the afternoon sun.

We found the Hotel Three Arcs and the receptionist told me that we could ignore the traffic restriction notices that seemed to suggest that the place was pedestrianised and bring the car into the main square but I was nervous about this because it involved driving over one of those solid steel retractable bollards that rise up from the centre of the road.

I was worried in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ or ‘America’s Funniest Videos’.  I could sense that a local driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could.  Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course and people sitting at a bar probably wondered why I had set off as though I was an Italian driver at a set of red traffic lights.

Besalu Catalonia spain

Catalonia, The Pyrenees and Vall de Nuria

Vall de Nuria Rack Railway

Ribes de Freser is a pretty little town which is famous for spa water and paper manufacture and a number of redundant stone mills are squeezed into the valley of the river Freser where even in July the melt waters from the Pyrenees made it fresh and lively as the agitated water danced over rocks and surged across gravel beds as it swept the surplus water away.

We walked along the river and came across a young couple who had obviously made the same timetable mistake as me and were now engaged in a blame share conversation that was becoming quite heated and increasingly blue!

And so we dawdled through the streets, Kim wasted some time in a shop while a spotted a poster for a dancing festival that would start tomorrow – the day after we had gone and then we found a table in the sun and ordered some beer.  Nearby was a group of young people with a massive dog and I took no particular notice because it was lying peacefully in the sun and not annoying anyone. Not that is until it sniffed my pheromones and sensing my acute cynophobia stood up, arched its back, bristled its hairs and started to bark madly in my direction.  I really hate dogs and they clearly hate me, I had done nothing to provoke this act of aggression and the owners had to apply a muzzle, try to calm it down and failing completely, pay up and leave. Oh boy, I really hate dogs and they really hate me!

The two hours passed surprisingly quickly and we made our way back to the train station, purchased our tickets and waited for it to arrive and leave.

The Vall de Núria Rack Railway is a mountain railway line that connects Ribes de Freser with the mountain town of Queralbs and then finally Vall de Núria. As Queralbs is the highest point in the valley that can be reached by road, the rack railway is, except for the old footpath, the only way to reach the shrine and ski resort at Núria.

The line is twelve and a half kilometres long and the first half of the line is operated by conventional rail adhesion but then it becomes so steep as it rises through one thousand kilometres that the remainder of the line is operated as a rack railway using a system of cogs that interlock with the track to ensure necessary traction to negotiate the gradient.

The journey took forty-five minutes as the electric engine purred its way along the river valley with wonderful views of forests, rocky cliffs, bubbling waterfalls, river beds strewn with sharp boulders and fallen trees and narrow mountain passes which was once the only way that pilgrims made their way into the valley and to the chapel and sanctuary at the top.  Eventually the track levelled out and the train passed through a long dark tunnel before emerging into the sunshine once more and into the sanctuary of the Vall de Nuria.

This place was apparently once a favourite of General Franco and his pals and it is not difficult to understand why.  Beneath the craggy peaks where black walls of bare rock were separated by gullies still streaked with winter snow are lush alpine meadows where fat dairy cows gorge themselves on emerald green grass, where bubbling streams tumble down the mountain side through rocky gorges and under stone bridges and in the centre of the valley is a blue lake where fish swim and leap out of the water and it all reminded me of that American folk song ‘the Big Rock Candy Mountain’.  I liked it here, it was peaceful, it was gentle, it was tranquil and it was out of the way and off the beaten track.

There was a cable car ride to the very top where at two thousand three hundred metres the views in all directions were quite stunning, too stunning as it happens for me to be able to describe and then, as it was cooler at this elevation, we choose to walk back down and make several detours to enjoy the countryside, the waterfalls and the crisp mountain air.

Actually, the only thing that spoilt it was the hotel complex building which reminded me of Battersea Power Station on the River Thames and whose design didn’t seem to especially complement the natural surroundings but there were a couple of good displays inside about the history and the technology and we visited the sanctuary chapel and suddenly after a couple of hours it was time to go back down.

On the drive back to Campdevànol we stopped and purchased some wine and then there was a decision to be made about evening meal.  The hotel restaurant had a café feel about it but Kim was confident that it would be fine so we reserved a table and after a rest and a couple of beers we returned down stairs to a restaurant that was overflowing, that was bulging, that was struggling to cope with the number of diners and we interpreted this as a very good sign.  And Kim was right because the meal was exceptional and the staff, unaccustomed to English guests had gone to a lot of trouble to make us feel welcome even to the extent of translating the menu into an amusing English version just for us, which I thought was a very nice touch!


Catalonia, A Referendum, Independence and Language

Caldes de Malavella Catalonia Spain

“… Spain, so long obsessed with the unity of authority, will loosen itself one day into a federal state… this redistribution of its powers will prove to be the most distinctly Spanish contribution to the progress of the nation states.” –  Jan Morris – ‘Spain

If the evening meal at the Masalbereda hotel had been good then breakfast was even better.  It was served in the smart restaurant on a balcony overlooking the gardens and consisted of local cheese and sausages.  Sausages are a speciailty of Vic on account of the fact that the mountain valley is well known for its pig farming.  There were at least eight varieties to select and sample and although I am sometimes wary about sausage there wasn’t one here that wasn’t delicious – even the vegetarian one made from potato!

Today we were moving on from Vic to the nearby town of Ripoll and soon after breakfast we took the short thirty minute drive to the neighbouring town back in the Province of Girona and arrived at our next stop in the village of Campdevànol at eleven o’clock where we simply wanted to leave our luggage but luckily our room was prepared and ready so we were able to check in to the Hotel Sèquia Molinar.

Our plan today was to take a railway journey into the Pyrenees and the timetable showed a convenient train at half past one so that gave us an hour or so to walk into the village to take a look around.

It was an unremarkable little place but just as everywhere else a lot of the buildings were draped with the red and gold flag of Catalonia, some already anticipating a successful transition to independence and rather prematurely announcing themselves as ‘A New State for Europe’. To achieve this they are planning a referendum in 2014 and are in a race with Scotland to get there first.  The two parallel campaigns have been described as similar but Catalans reject this comparison and point out that Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom by contract in the Acts of Union of 1707 (someone should tell Alex Salmond) whereas they are more like Wales and consider their inclusion in the Kingdom of Spain to be as a result of conquest and subjugation.

I have to conclude that Catalonia certainly doesn’t feel like the classic Spain of Castile but then again Andalusia doesn’t actually feel like the classic Spain of Castile either. I have now visited fourteen of the seventeen Autonomous Communities and I would find it very difficult to choose one that I might then suggest is most representative of the usual English vision and expectation of Spain.  Castile must come close, or perhaps Valencia or even Extremadura, certainly not Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria or the Basque Country and I am yet to travel to Aragon or Navarre so cannot offer an opinion on these.

Catalonia Steeple of People

I was interested in the issue of Catalan independence and tried when I could to speak to people about where they stood on the issue because polls reveal that almost 60% of the population support independence which, if you believe polls, is much greater support for independence than in Scotland.  Everywhere there are Catalan flags and symbols, Catalan always comes first in guide books and menus, shops don’t sell King Juan Carlos souvenirs, on official guides the flag of Spain is almost always defaced and the away team colours of FC Barcelona are the red and gold of Catalonia. Here in Campdevànol the hotel staff told me that they considered themselves to be Catalan first and Spanish second although they feared that the referendum for independence would ultimately fail because of the inherent conservatism of the older generation and because, whatever the outcome of a referendum, Madrid would simply never allow it.

As well as history, economics is a major driving force behind the movement because Catalonia is one of the most prosperous of the Spanish Communities and although it enjoys considerable autonomy it resents contributing almost 20% of revenues paid to Madrid and feels hard done by in terms of inward investment in their region in return.

It is the sixth largest region, has the sixth largest coastline and is sixth largest by population density (second overall after Andalusia).  If it were to achieve independence it would be the twelfth smallest state in Europe just slightly larger than Belgium but a bit smaller than the Netherlands, it would have ninety of Spain’s five hundred and fifty blue flag beaches (16%) and six of its forty-four World Heritage sites (14%).

It didn’t take long to see everything that there was to see in Campdevànol so we returned to the hotel and then drove the short distance to Ribes de Freser and the train station where I was surprised to see the mountain railway just leaving the station at one o’clock.  Beyond buying beer or ordering a meal I don’t understand a lot of Spanish and I certainly don’t speak Catalan and I offer this as the reason why I had misread the train timetable and was working on the weekend schedule when this was only Friday.

The next train now wasn’t for a couple of hours so accepting the consequences of our unfortunate timing we now had time to spend some time in the little town.

Catalan National Dress and Independence

This is me with two life size figures dressed in Catalan National Costume.