Sunday, March 29, 2009

2009 Tierras de Al-Andalus Photos I

Sunday March 29 2009

Three days into it, no time to sleep or rest... just a few photos from the first 3 days (4, if you count the vet-in day).

Much more to come later!

and more on

Monday, March 23, 2009

No Mas Paella

Sunday March 22 2009

I will never eat another dish of paella again.

I got one of those invites from strangers for dinner: a Catalonian family, the brother of Nuria, who runs the Spanish Fisiocrem business for Paul, the New Zealander, whose El Moli I'm staying at.

Angels and Jordi and their two children welcomed me into their home, with Nuria, Marc and 1-year-old Aniol, and Paul, as if I were another old friend.

We found out we had more than just horses in common. There was also art, music, birds (owls in particular), and travel. Angels and Jordi have been to Iceland and that is my Mecca. And they were all, this evening, discussing their upcoming family trip to New Zealand (where I've been once, but want to return to actually sight-see, so I got jealous listening). And we had a common appreciation for good food.

You know how men do the barbecue thing in the US - Jordi was doing the paella pan thing over the wood-and-brush fire pit here - first artichokes simmering in the bubbling olive oil, then garlic and onions and rice and calamari and green peppers. And it was a huge pan.

Paella originated in Valencia - the Spanish Autonomous Community just south of Catalonia. I've had paella before, and it has not been my favorite, and I'm definitely not a seafood lover. So when I heard paella was being served, while I was a bit squeamish, I know how to be a good guest and be grateful just for being invited for a home-cooked meal, especially by some new Spanish friends.

Well. Maybe it was the wonderful place (Catalonia), maybe it was the old and new friends (treasured), maybe it was the talk, maybe it was the way we ate it - in the traditional way, all digging in with a spoon from the original pan. Or, maybe it was simply the BEST paella I have ever eaten. I ate, and ate, and I kept eating. We all did. Wiped the huge pan out.

Then came the champagne, and dessert, followed by coffee - more time to sit back, relax, enjoy the company of strangers who immediately make you feel like family, time to let the food and ambience and camaraderie soak in, while the sun slowly dipped behind the hills in the west. It was one of the best evenings ever.

Seriously, that was the last dish of paella I will ever have. I know it can never be as good again.

For me, no mas paella.

Cron Raid de Promoció

Sunday March 22 2009

I got a rather unanticipated treat of visiting the site of the CRON raid again - this time for the Raid de Promoció, a 20 km, 40 km, and 60 km ride day.

It was double the size of last week's 120 km** Raid del Cron: 117 horses, of all ages and sizes, various states of fitness and experience. For many horses (and riders) this was the first outing of the season, and for some, the first raid experience ever.

Some of the horses just looked physically young; some of them were definitely mentally young, and got their first taste of 'ridecamp', the vetting ring, trotting out,

actual 'competition' with other horses, starting in a group, and going out on course a second or third time after the vet checks.

All the loops were under a control speed of not faster than 15 km/h, but not slower than 10 km/h, and pulse criteria was 56 bpm.

I happily ran into some old friends, met some more new ones, and generally soaked up the relaxed family atmosphere on another pleasant and picturesque spring day in Catalonia.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Walk Across Spain

Thursday March 19 2009

Walk Across Spain

Step outside in the morning on the balcony of El Moli (the Mill) outside of the small village of San Julia de Vilatorte in this corner of Catalonia, Spain, and breathe deeply of the crisp clean air under the bright early sunshine. it is bracing, fragrant with spring and a nuance of... pig doo.

This area produces a lot of pigs, and I dare say, a lot of pig fertilizer that is used on the ample farmland. It's not enough to make you gag, but just enough to put a slight crinkle in your brow, or raise an eyebrow, or wrinkle your nose just a bit, depending on which way the wind blows.

But anyway...

Put on your hiking shoes, grab your backpack and your walking poles (or, in my case, the Raven), and head out across Spain. Or Europe, for that matter. How about destination: Poland, or Norway?

I started right outside El Moli, walking the Ruta dels Moulins trail along the creek, which soon joined up with the GR2 Footpath.

The GR Footpaths in France and Belgium (Grande Randonne'e), Holland (Grote Routepaden), Portugal (Grande Rota), and Spain (Gran Recorrido) are a network of long-distance hiking trails in Europe, that are connected with the European "extremely" long-distance footpaths, covering 60,000 km, that will take you in every conceivable direction over Europe: middle of Norway to the middle of Italy, tip of Greece to the bottom of Spain, Ireland, Great Britain, top of Finland to tip of Turkey, Portugal to Estonia or Poland.

Designed by the European Ramblers' Association, founded in Germany in 1969, today it is composed of 50 ramblers' organizations from 26 European states, with over 5 million individual members. The local ramblers' organizations maintain the paths, markings, huts and campsites along their routes, some of which have been in existence for over 100 years; work on preserving rights of way; and promote the history and culture of the areas through which the trails pass.

The trails vary from forest trails to paths along fields, roads through villages, dirt roads between fields; past old Roman ruins, ancient walls, old mills, castles, farms. You can follow the silk routes of Europe, the Troubadour routes, the European parks and Garden route, the Wenceslav route, or the Hanseatic route.

Simple markings indicate the route, on tree trunks, rocks, walls, signposts, or on the ground, of (most often) red and white paint: white stripe over red stripe indicates the correct path; a red and white "X" indicates the wrong direction. They aren't always easy to see, (for instance, sometimes a tree trunk is overgrown by vines), and sometimes you take a wrong fork in the trail or road a dozen yards before turning around to try another fork or two until you find the correct way.

The Raven and I followed our GR2 path skirting Sant Julia on side paved roads, then onto dirt roads and trails between planted fields. After we passed a private castle and some old pig farm sheds, the route began climbing, until we had a decent view of Sant Julia in the distance below us.

I don't think horses are prohibited, although I didn't see any signs of horses; though on another part of the GR2, Paul used to ride his New Zealand horses. That was a good long stretch, and good underfoot, though the area I walked had a lot of pavement, and plenty of stones on the trails. I met two other walkers today, and have seen bicycles on the trails also.

And the route went on - beckoning to just come around the next corner, just come over this next hill. And after that - just one more corner, just one more hill. And then the next one... Indeed, we could have just kept going. I think Norway would have been our ultimate destination. : )

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spain: Ruta dels Moulins

Wednesday March 18 2009

In the region east of Vic, Spain (an hour north of Barcelona), you can follow, for about 2 miles, the Ruta dels Moulins - the Route of the Mills - a series of old canals and mills that used the water flow from the spring-and-run-off-fed creek, to grind wheat and sharpen farm tools over the centuries. Many of the old mills have been restored and are now residences, having first been built between the 12th and 16th centuries. Some are crumbling and disingegrating ruins, half hidden under vines.

El Molí de la Calvaria, where I'm staying, has evidence that the old lock was built in the 11th century; the first document is from 1236 AD. The original mill is on the ground floor, and the house above was built in the 16th century. Above the door is carved in stone: IHSENMO TI CALVARI MORT DELS DE ASI TE RECORT, in probably a mix of some old Catalon and Latin, meaning, roughly, "The Dead here will think of you," which I'm sure is meant to be some sort of blessing. (Or, if you try googling the translation: "...agony of death by now well pruned." Hmmm...)The inscription is, you can still clearly see, from 1596. The mill is now a museum, and the owner still runs it on Sundays to show how it worked (and to feed the resident ducks with the seeds : ). A lock is opened in the retention pond, water is funneled under the mill to turn the two large wheels (and a smaller one outside, connected to a small circular stone, which was used to sharpen tools), which turn the millstones in the mill, which grind the wheat.

The millstones have grooves, or furrows, separating flat areas, or lands. The grooves furnish cutting edges and channel the ground flour out from the stones as the wheels turn. The furrows and lands are carved in repeating patterns, or harps. This millstone has 8 harps.

Outside the ground floor mill doors, there are still the ancient iron rings in the stone walls where you can tie up your horses while you visit. : )