Archive for the 'travel' Category


A sampler of Spanish coast and mountains from this fall’s trips:

couldn't get enough of that with the mar de nubes behind it

September in the Picos de Europa, with a stunning view of el Naranjo de Bulnes.


October on the Asturian coast after another good hike in Picos


and a week later further east to Cantabria, also gorgeous.

doble salto

November brought an autumnal hike in the Sierra de la Demanda, with a stop at the cascadas de Altuzarra.

Winter shots

Lest you think I’ve abandoned ship, I’m coming back to you with a photographic representation of 2013 so far on the Iberian peninsula. The crisis is deepening, but life goes on.

Winter holidays were in Portugal. We ate incredibly well, thanks in no small part to places like Cervejaria Ramiro and the generally amazing seafood and sweets the country has to offer.

cervejaria ramiro

Lisboa continues to enchant me.


And there are so many other parts of the country to explore. We spent time in the hills and villages of the Serra da Estrela before heading back to España.

serra da estrela

This winter was cold and snowy, to my complete delight. There’s nothing like being in the Parador de Gredos during a good snowfall

parador de gredos

and exploring the surrounding area without even getting in the car.

gredos snow

Hiking trips in Madrid were frequently foiled by bad weather (not for lack of snow!), but trips elsewhere proved successful. The Sierra de Aralar was in full splendor before the rains of March set in (and we escaped the continent!).


A nearby Navarran village provided an unexpected lesson in cheese-making at the hands of an artisan.

cheese-making in navarra

We were also rewarded with a spectacular weekend in the Montaña Palentina, where we could see over the whole expanse of the Picos de Europa from the top of Peña Prieta

desde la cima de peña prieta

and even got a bit of culture with an excellent guided tour at the ruins of a Roman villa in Saldaña.

villa romana la olmeda

Here’s to spring.

Why I don’t tire of Asturias

Mountains: The central massif and the Naranjo de Bulnes from the Puerto de Pandébano in Picos de Europa.

Food: Fabada asturiana. And that’s not to fill this post with pictures of everything we ate.

Coast: Playa de Torimbia, west of Llanes.

These photos are from a four-day trip we took to Asturias at the beginning of the month.

The last of the beach days

This is Bolonia, a small town with a stunning beach and a fantastic view of Morocco on the Costa de la Luz. It was formerly a Roman settlement called Baelo Claudia, and has the ruins to prove it. We swam, explored the dunes, and ate fish there this month during a long weekend in Cádiz. We spent the rest of the time in Cádiz capital, where we were happy sleeping at Pensión España, breakfasting with churros and the locals at La Marina, and tapeando in the Barrio de la Viña, especially at El Faro.

Cycling abroad

And by that I mean in the continent I’m from. I wrote a post for en bici por madrid about city riding in the Pacific Northwest with a few comparisons to riding in my adopted city. Enjoy!

Words and pictures

Life has been busy and blogging hasn’t been a priority lately. Good things have been happening, though. Here’s a taste of the past few months, in which I’ve

rediscovered the complete awesomeness of Asturias;

fallen in love all over again with Lisboa;

still been bike commuting and gotten the bici a little fame;

uncovered the mystery that is Andorra;

and, in pursuit of more snow, been to Gredos and back in a day.

I’ve also been randomly working on a map of my favorite spots in Madrid. Enjoy!

El Midi

Rarely have I spent as much time admiring a peak as I have the Midi d’Ossau. I’ve walked past it, all the way around it, and gazed upon it from virtually all of the points on a compass. Though it’s just over 100 meters shy of the Pyrenean standard 3000-meter mark, it’s an iconic peak because its distinctive rocky mass is visible from so many places and doesn’t have to compete with any other giants in the vicinity. The Midi stands alone.

Last weekend some friends and I finally set out to conquer it. After my experiences with Almanzor, I wasn’t sure we’d make the summit on the first go, but I figured we’d give it a try.

September is a lovely month for mountain climbing. In fact, last September we finally did climb Almanzor (no issues there without snow), and the Midi also proved to be no problem at all, apart from the crowds of people we were climbing with. It is advisable to rappel down the three chimneys you find at the start of the ascent (and some people roped up them), and you have to wear a helmet because there are some serious rocks that fall from time to time, but it is nowhere near as vertiginous as the Gran Facha, for example.

Here are some different views of the peak from my wanderings in the Pyrenees. This one’s from the Col de Peyreget, directly south of the peak and so close it’s nearly unrecognizable.

You might have to strain a bit to see this one, but it’s the highest peak here among these May snow-covered mountains, and looks a bit like a camel’s hump

Here’s the first view we had of the Pic du Midi on the HRP in 2010, from the Col des Moines, which is just beyond Astun.

Later that day we climbed up the Pic d’Ayous to get a better view of the Midi through the drifting cloud.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the view we had from our campsite on Lac Gentau, near the Refuge d’Ayous, the next morning.

Then we continued east on the HRP and looked back on a new view of the peak.

Last summer I got yet another perspective on the Midi from the Ibones de Anayet.

We spent a long day finally climbing it, and the sun had gone as we hiked out to the van last weekend, but we kept looking back at it.

Mountains, part II

The Pyrenees are so big and have played such an important part in my Spanish mountain education that they deserve their own post. I’ve spent a lot of time in this great mountain range, crossing between France and Spain, meeting all sorts of livestock and humans in the hills and valleys along the way. Here’s a bit of a tour from west to east, along the length of the Pyrenees that I’ve walked.

This summer my sister and I walked part of the HRP through the Navarran Pyrenees, where the impressive Pic d’Orhy was our first obstacle.

Mornings in the Pyrenees are magic. Especially when you’re camped next to a spring, like we were at the Source de Marmitou, just over the French border near Lescun.

My first trip to the Pyrenees, in 2007, led us to the spectacular Ibón de Acherito.

I’ve gazed upon the Midi d’Ossau from many angles and it’s striking any way you look at it. This summer we saw it from the Ibones de Anayet, just west of the Formigal ski station.

Crossing the rocks pictured here with no trail to speak of and high above the valley below was frightening and exhilarating,

but the view from the pass we reached (the impressively steep and narrow Port du Lavedan) over the Ibones de Arriel and south into Spain was definitely worth it.

Near the Col de la Fache, below the pyramid-shaped Grande Fache (Gran Facha), you can find snow and ice above a crystal clear ibon well into August.

The Gran Facha is a 350-meter exposed scramble from the col to the top. The views from the summit are amazing, though at the time I was concerned about making it down safely.

Vignemale is probably the coolest mountain I’ve seen in the Pyrenees. The day we were there in August 2010 there had been a helicopter hovering nearby. ‘Dropping food off at the hut?’ we asked a park employee. No, he explained grimly. It was looking for the body of a climber who had fallen into a crevasse in April.

The views from Monte Perdido are spectacular: this is the Lago Helado and the Cilindro (and the procession of people heading up the mountain).

And here’s Perdido itself, part of one of the two Spanish national parks in the Pyrenees, Ordesa.

Without cows, sheep, and shepherds the Pyrenees wouldn’t be the Pyrenees. This is the Cirque d’Estaubé, just east of Gavarnie.

The other Spanish national park in the Pyrenees is Aigüestortes, home to the eerie peaks of Els Encantats.

From Mont Roig, a peak in Catalunya near the end of our walk on the HRP two summers ago, we had this view back at the snow-covered mountains of Maladeta Massif, many kilometers away.

This journey is to be continued.

Mountains, part I

I don’t post about all the mountain adventures I go on. That would be a very time-consuming activity. Though I suppose thinking about all the posts I would write is also fairly time-consuming. I’ve decided to just give a bit of a photographic tour of Spain’s amazing mountains. Here goes:

Madrid’s got some pretty great mountains just an hour from the city center. Here’s one from my first trip to la Pedriza way back in January 2006.

I always go back to la Pedriza. This year I was there just after a snowfall.

Peñalara is Madrid’s highest peak and this year we attacked it from the north, and found some good ice near the summit after trudging through lots of deep snow.

I still haven’t walked the entire cuerda larga, but I like taking pictures of it. It’s at its best when it’s snow covered.

Summer is a good time to get to Madrid’s sierra, too, though. Too bad swimming in the lakes on Peñalara is totally prohibited.

Mountains get a little wilder to the west of Madrid. Gredos is pretty stunning and is home to the highest peak in the Sistema Central. I don’t get tired of the view of the cirque, with Almanzor standing tall in the middle.

Close to the summit of Almanzor you get to places that look like this, overlooking the so-called canales oscuras.

Rarely have I been so grateful for the sunrise as I was on this morning in a valley in Gredos where we’d had some problems the day before.

To the east of Madrid, the mountains aren’t too shabby either. The view from Ocejón over Guadalajara is pretty nice.

And in winter the mountains there are a lot of fun, too.

The Basque Country has got some nice peaks

as does the oft-overlooked Montaña Palentina. Beware of hunters, though.

Just north of where that photo was taken, you come across the spectacularly sculpted Picos de Europa.

And the Pyrenees? Oh yes. They’re coming. In their own post.

From coast to coast

I spent the summer the way I like to: far from Madrid. When I have spent time here in the summer, it’s always been fun and full of great cultural activities, but I need to get away from the pollution and the noise once in a while.

This summer was a big fat Pyrenees sandwich on coastal bread. I started at the beginning of July in Cantabria and Asturias, two jewels of the northern coast of Spain, and ended up in late August on the Costa Brava, two hours north of Barcelona.

Random thoughts and notes from these coastal spots:

1) Hydrangea are everywhere in both Asturias and Cantabria in the summer and they’re gorgeous.

2) Tip for travelers to Santander: the local train station (FEVE), the national train station (Renfe), and the bus station are all right next to each other. The bus station has left luggage lockers. It’s a traveler’s dream. (Why couldn’t more cities be like this?)

3) Check out Playa Guadamía and also Playa de Ballota and Playa de Andrín (next to each other) near Llanes in Asturias.

4) Barcelona is great for wandering (but avoid Las Ramblas). I re-discovered Plaça George Orwell in the Barri Gòtic with the added bonus of a delicious vegan spot on the corner.

5) The Costa Brava is full of Dutch people. In case you were wondering.

6) The coves in Costa Brava are lovely, but don’t expect solitude (even the nude beach was packed!). Would make a good coastal hiking destination in a shoulder season as there are lots of trails.

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