Turn left for the actual track

Once upon a time, here lay the dam of Vallvidrera’s swamp that supplied drinking water to Sarrià. In the mid 1860’s it was a feat in engineering as it is a reservoir built with billets, 50 meters long, 3 meters wide and 15 meters high. Next to it, the Grott quarry was the one that took the water to its final destination. The quarry later became a 1.5km electric train track for passengers in an effort to create an amusement park called Lake Valley. The inside of the tunnel was lit up by different coloured lights.

The whole site is now a natural park protected to preserve some local fauna and provide hikers and walkers an opportunity to enjoy nature, stretch their legs and end up on the wrong path. Even if you do, there is still enough routes to enjoy in the area.

A side trip that (after being convinced) was worth doing

A perfect day trip to escape the busy city of Barcelona or to walk along ancient walls, to lose oneself in a maze of narrow alleyways, stairs, small corners and courtyards or just to see Braavos, from the famous Game of Thrones, is Girona. Or as it was originally known to the romans, “Gerunda”. Northeast Catalunya and only about 100km from Barcelona sits this ancient medieval city which was built during the Roman period in the 1st century BC. The city once served as a meeting point for trade during the height of Jewish rule in medieval times which explains its Jewish importance and abundance. All around Girona, the famous wall or “Passeig de la Muralla” offers a great walk and way to see the city and surroundings.

After the walls take time to find the quiet streets and sample some of the local snacks and delicacies.

A home, not really a palace

This is another of Gaudí’s buildings that incorporated many artisans of different and impressive crafts such as ironwork, woodwork, ceramics, stained glass and stonework; but one of his very first constructions and one he saw completed in his lifetime. Palau Güell’s construction began in October 1886 and it was also commissioned by Eusebi Güell. All the artisans, workers and people around the Güell family were excited for the new project except for the family’s accountant.

Palau Güell is constructed on 7 levels, which include stables, rooms, halls, prayer spaces; in essence, each level fulfilled a different function and they all seem to flow naturally from one to the other. In the centre of the Palau there is a ventilator shaft to keep the air fresh. And in the roof there are 20 adorned chimneys, which also serve to ventilate the house. Gaudi believed that if something was needed functionally for a building then it should be appropriately decorated.

A dragon on the roof

Part of the “discord bloc”, casa Batllo is one of a few houses that have made a patch of Passeig the Gracia famous. In spanish manzana means both “block” and “apple” making this a pun – the apple of Discord, referring to the very different styles of homes next to each other.

Casa Batllo is another Gaudi building. Once a boring flat complex, Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to demolish and rebuild, he convinced Josep Batllo i Casanovas, its owner, to refurbish it instead in 1902.

One of the distinctive features of the house is the roof terrace due to its famous dragon back design. The tiles on the roof make it look like scales of a dragon and the cross it is said to represent a sword insinuating when the knight saved the princess from the fearsome dragon.

This house also has a lift that was first installed by Gaudi and is now used only for less mobile visitors or in case of emergencies. I can say for certain that more than 100 years later, it still works.

30 minutes from the centre of Barça

The Sitges county has around 17 beaches. All small but with their own character and personality. Platja del Garraf is only 380 meters long and around 28 meters wide but it has 33 little green and white houses that were once built for the workers who built the train tracks and fishermen. Only 30 kms south of Barcelona, this beach is a perfect trip for a picnic and a swim.

A multi-faceted symbol of Catalonia

Tourists, pilgrims and believers visit this popular destination, The Monastery of Montserrat, to visit the Black Madonna, patron saint of Catalonia. Known to locals as “La Moreneta” due to its colour, she was attributed many miracles in the 12th Century.

The Monastery sits two thirds up Montserrat, the ‘serrated mountain’, called so due to its shape which can be viewed from afar. The peak of St Jerome stands tall at 1,236 meters above sea level and only 45 km northwest of Barcelona. A funicular goes almost all the way up to the top. The keyword being almost as from the funicular there is still a steep hiking trails which leads through the nature park to the top of the mountains and reward hikers with a magnificent view of Catalonia.

The Monastery faced difficult times during the Franco dictatorship but they put up resistance. Despite the ban in those days, Catalan was still spoken and fairs were held in that language, many persecutees of the Franco regime were also in hiding there. As a result, around 20 monks were executed.  This defiance makes the Montserrat Monastery an important symbol the fight against oppression.

Navajas con ajo y limon

Surrounded by sea, Spain offers an opportunity to taste a wide variety of creatures from the ocean. Sometimes even what was once used, and still is used, as bait years later becomes a delicacy.

These fish are long, thin molluscs with shells that look like the old cut-throat razors and are sometimes aso known as razor clams. They swim vertically, in sychronised groups, with their long snouts pointing down.

Sometimes they are harvested by hand or trailing an electric cable behind a boat to struck the fish.

Not your usual dining experience

Immersed inside and underneath Barcelona’s iconic Liceu opera house on the Ramblas, Opera Samfaina offers people a gastronomic adventure and a wildly visual theme park. The experience is a multi-sensorial and dinning extravaganza with Catalan food at its heart. A great activity for team bonding. Once seated at our round, themed table, we are entertained by overhead projections of the ingredients they could have had. But taking no notice of the organising of the event meant a vegetarian evening of what seemed like a psychedelic trip of Catalan cuisine laid ahead. Skipping the fish, meat and pork dishes and instead having lettuce, tomato and potato based dishes.

The project of this restaurant was led by the brothers Jordi, Joan and Josep Roca famous for El Celler de Can Roca which was voted Best Restaurant in the World in 2013 and 2017.

Though it is a wonder how long this place will stay open. It is said that the venue that opened in July 2016 is now on debt moratorium.

By letter only

Long summer evenings allow for time basking in the park and having a picnic. Enjoying a rare bottle of wine in which one must hand write a letter to the owner to get some of his produce. Local sausages and cured meats and cheese from around Europe. This is the reward and the celebration of the end from enduring months of bad management and borderline bullying behaviours.

Looking up at Gaudi’s creation

Gaudi’s most famous creation is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with around five million visitors every year.

When the Sagrada Familia is fully built, it will have 18 towers to represent the twelve apostles, the four books of Jesus, the master tower for Jesus and another one for Mary.

Today only 8 towers are completed, four are part of the Nativity facade and four are part of the Passion facade. The Nativity facade was completed under the supervision of Gaudi himself in 1935.

Those with fear of heights can be at peace as there are no sudden drops or open spaces. The climb up is normally in a lift; though once you have checked out the views from the top, everyone must walk down approximately 400 stairs along a spiral staircase. For those brave enough make sure you step out into the little balconies and look up as well as down