Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Barcelona and Montserrat **updated photos**

Last weekend Djanira and I returned to Barcelona (rapidly becoming our favourite place to be) for a quick holiday, and to catch up with a few friends. Dan (as in, Dan-I-used-to-live-with-in-Chalk-Farm-Dan) is still living in the city and appears as settled as ever. It was really good to catch up with him; we had some tapas for dinner before going out to meet a few mates for drinks. I still can't believe how cheap Barcelona is compared to London. Everybody out there thinks it's an expensive place, but when three of you can eat as much yummy tapas as you like and drink several glasses of beer/cava in a fantastic small place which has a great vibe, for €50 total, you know you're in the right place. Better still, when we left we got a free shot of any liquor we could see behind the bar - when I saw they had some decent 12y.o. Islay single malt, I very nearly fell off my chair. Awesome.

So we ended up in a bar down in El Raval, which is reknowned somewhat as one of the dodgier areas of the city, but one which is now 'up-and-coming'. In terms of character, it reminded me a little bit of somewhere like Hackney - still dodgy, but with enough cheap cool places opening up to attract a less-rough crowd. Incidentally, you can imagine my shock and disgust at having to pay less than 9 euros for a round of four bottles of beer. That's about £1.50 a bottle, exchange-rate fans. Sigh. Anyway we stayed there til about 1am (just as it was warming up), but felt that we had to leave because we had an earlyish start later in the morning.

So after not-enough-sleep and quick breakfast, we caught a cab to the north-east of the city to meet my friends Raquel and Ferran. I met them both in North Wales last spring, at the BMC international climbing meet, and they were kind enough to invite me and DJ over and be our guides for Montserrat. They are both so, so sweet; really friendly and outgoing, and they were fantastic hosts. Unfortunately my injured shoulder (and lack of fitness) precluded us doing any hard climbing, so we just did some walking, and one easy route.

Montserrat is an awesome place. It's basically one big mountain, 45 minutes drive from Barca; it's about the size of the Snowdon massif, but littered with enormous rock faces and (literally) hundreds of 'needles' - rock pillars anywhere from 20 to 200m high. It is a rock climbing mecca and, quite frankly, it puts all of the fuss we in Britain give to our small crags to shame. On saturday we took a 'grand-tour', walking along the whole of the north face, which is Ferran's home-from-home - he even runs a website dedicated to it, which has gradually extended to encompass ther whole of Catalan climbing - check it out at, though both your Catalan and Spanish will need to be up to scratch. Saturday night we walked up (in the dark) to some hermit's cave in the middle of the mountain - just big enough to sleep four people and with a breathtaking view out over Barca and the med beyond. Sunday we climbed an easy route but to my shame I backed off the lead on my pitch. The climbing was barely harder than VS but 'protection', such as it was, consisted of rusty old bolt heads that needed to be threaded with a nut. Needless to say, I couldn't spot any small, grey/brown dots hidden among the (grey/brown) pebbly rock and, between you and me, I don't like running out 30m without knowing where the next belay is, especially on unfamiliar rock and with a bad shoulder. So I let Ferran take the lead, which he of course made short work of, and we arrived at the top of needle, with brilliant 360 degree views. Amazing.

The only problem with the whole weekend was the fact that our return flight on Monday was cancelled - that's the third time in a row that this has happened to me! I couldn't believe it! Anyway, we still had a brilliant time, and I shan't imagine that'll be took long until we're back!

DJ's and my photos are now on the web too, here:

Raquel's pics:
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