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17 interesting facts about Catalonia

We share the most interesting facts about Catalonia gathered on our recent trip to the Catalan Pyrenees.

Located in Spain’s far northeastern corner, the Pyrenean mountains serve as Catalonia’s border with southern France and Andorra. Catalonia is both an autonomous community within Spain and a historic principality that once extended into France.

Much has been reported of Catalonia’s desire to break away from Spain and its ongoing bid for independence. We could write an entire piece on political facts about Catalonia alone. However, the news reports do the region an injustice. There is so much more to Catalonia than protest and politics. Continue reading

Exploring Hell’s Canyon in Catalonia

Hell’s Canyon in Catalonia reminds us once again why we fell in love with the great outdoors.

“Eat a big breakfast,” said Jordi – four words that told me I’d have a hell of a morning. I’m not one for big breakfasts, but I’ve learned that when an uber-fit mountain guide tells you to have one, you should have one.

I added lashings of pa amb tomàquet to my plate, a simple but delicious Catalan dish of bread, tomato and olive oil. I ate toast and nutella and cheese and crackers and cereal and yoghurt and washed it down with two cups of tea. Then I ate more pa amb tomàquet. There was no way I’d be running low today. Continue reading

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Hiking in Aigüestortes National Park, Catalonia

We spent a day hiking in Aigüestortes National Park across a wild landscape of twisting waters and soaring summits in the Catalan Pyrenees.

Tucked away in the northwestern corner of Catalonia, deep in the Catalan Pyrenees, is the region’s best-kept secret: Aigüestortes and Lake Sant Maurici National Park or Parc Nacional d’Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici in Catalan.

Aigüestortes is absurdly pretty. Mighty jagged peaks tower far above evergreen forests and myriad glinting lakes. It’s a landscape begging to be hiked – and so we did. Continue reading

Iron nerve: via ferrata in the Catalan Pyrenees

Our trip to Catalonia begins with a via ferrata in the Catalan Pyrenees, testing my nerve, strength and agility.

I lean out from the rock face and even though I’m fastened in three different places, my heart kicks a skittish beat when I look down at the ground. I’m only metres above it, but suspending myself from an iron rung and leaning into the abyss goes against my natural instincts.

Jordi, our expert guide from Outdoor Adventour, tells me to lean out further. “You have to know you’re safe down here in case you need to do this up there.” Continue reading

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10 long-distance hiking trails from around the world

We look at some of the finest long-distance hiking trails from around the world.

I’m always looking for new outdoor challenges (to add to my current bucket list of climbing the seven summits and sailing the Pacific Ocean). Completing some epic long-distance hiking trails sounds like the perfect challenge for me.

Traipsing along quiet hiking trails in the backcountry for weeks on end is my idea of heaven (and I dare say Kia would enjoy the time away from me too!). But, which one to choose? Continue reading

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Wild continent: the best National Parks in Europe

The best national parks in Europe are home to the wildest scenery and most thrilling outdoor pursuits the continent has to offer.

Europe’s finest wilderness has quite rightly been enshrined and protected in its national parks. Great glaciers, soaring mountains and primeval forests stretch across Europe’s 50 sovereign states. We take a look at the wildest and best national parks in Europe. Continue reading

World’s most stunning big wall climbs

It was five years ago that I first came across a big wall climber. A tiny speck on the side of a gigantic granite wall, the climber was bivvying in Yosemite National Park, the Holy Land of big wall climbing.

I couldn’t comprehend how someone could sleep tacked onto the side of a wall, suspended thousands of feet above the ground, sometimes in treacherous weather conditions. Continue reading

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Punta Arenas: following the Ferdinand Magellan route

The sprawling city of Punta Arenas, situated on the historic Ferdinand Magellan route, is not easy to define. It’s possible that the city itself is confused about its identity. Once a penal colony, it is today part roughneck, part modern metropolis, part open-air maritime museum.

The town’s position overlooking the coarse and inhospitable Strait of Magellan – the most important natural passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – makes it essential to Chile’s maritime trade and provides access to the Antarctic peninsular. Continue reading

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10 most unoriginal expat destinations

Are you a female American manager in Germany, a British man teaching in Spain, or an Indian businessman in the Emirates? Then I’m afraid you’re among the world’s most unoriginal expats, according to the 2014 Expat Insider report from InterNations, an expat community with more than 1.4 million members.

We examined the report and picked out the top 10 most popular expat destinations and cross-referenced them with the Expat Insider rankings of overall satisfaction. It’s interesting that only three countries appear on both lists (USA, Switzerland and Spain), indicating that many expats might find a better quality of life in a country other than their chosen one. Continue reading

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39 Spanish phrases I used most in South America

Like many Brits, I have never been great with languages. It’s not for the want of trying. Over the years I’ve made sporadic attempts at learning German, French, Greek and even Swahili, none of which have been very successful.

When arriving in South America I was a little nervous to say the least. My meagre Spanish consisted of a few words I had learnt from Spanish friends back in London, and most of those would only be appropriate at a football match. Luckily, I had Kia whose Spanish is far more advanced than mine.

Of course, I couldn’t rely on Kia all of the time. There would be times when she wouldn’t be by my side and more importantly I didn’t want to spend several months in South America not interacting with the people I met. I set about practising Spanish on language app Duolingo, writing down a few phases here and there and testing them out on unsuspecting waiters and hotel staff along the way. Continue reading

10 real-life fairytale buildings

One of the best parts of travel is visiting a surreal place previously seen only in pictures. Whether it’s an unknown abode hidden in the hills of Portugal or an iconic structure plastered in the pages of National Geographic, these places are eye catching, heart halting, jaw dropping. In short, they could be straight out of a storybook. Here are our favourite fairytale buildings from across the world. Continue reading

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10 great travel books to read on the road

Having spent hours, perhaps days, on long journeys with our heads buried in books, we select 10 great travel books to read on the road.

1. The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Ernest Hemingway

When talking about Ernest Hemingway and travel books you’ve got plenty to choose from. I’ve gone for The Snows of Kilimanjaro as it holds a little bit of sentimentality for me. I read the short story just before I climbed Kili back in 2010. It didn’t help me with my climb and it’s not exactly full of optimism, but it’s a great read reflecting the time and culture that Hemingway was embedded in – for good or for worse.

2. Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell

Not exactly another cheery tale but Orwell doesn’t do cheery. Whether you’re a socialist or a nationalist you can’t help but be moved by Homage to Catalonia Orwell’s personal account of his experiences from his time in Spain during the Civil War. His description of Barcelona after the Communists’ initial successes is uplifting and full of hope for the left-winger among its audience (including me). If you know your history then you know that unfortunately it doesn’t end so well for the lefties.

3. Kon Tiki
Thor Heyerdahl

Kon Tiki is a (fairly) modern day tale of adventure and bravery on the tropical seas if there ever was one. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl and his six-man Norwegian crew set out to prove that Polynesians migrated from South America as opposed to Asia during pre-Columbian times. He thought the best way to do this was on a raft. A raft modelled on and built from designs and technology available at the time. Oh, and the trip was 6,900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean. What a man.

4. Notes from a Small Island
Bill Bryson

If you’re British, this is laugh-out-load funny. Relentlessly. I don’t know if it’s as funny if you’re not British – you’ll have to let me know. Apart from its hilarity, Notes from a Small Island gives a great insight into British culture and mentality, as viewed by an outsider. Not to mention great descriptions of a cross-section of British towns, cities and regions always described in satirical detail. Quite heart warming all round, really

5. Around the World in 80 Days
Jules Verne

It’s a classic! How could it not be in here? I had a bit of a mad Jules Verne obsession when trekking across Norway a few years ago and read about ten of Verne’s tales. Around the World in 80 Days is a great a place to start. A rip-roaring adventure from the 19th century full of quaint references and some questionably political correctness! Good old-fashioned dream-of-travelling-the-world fun!

6. The Last Place on Earth
Roland Huntford

I love this book because it offers a deep and methodical insight into the contrasting preparations and expeditions of Amundsen and Scott to reach the South Pole. Both made it, but only one survived. However, The Last Place on Earth controversially highlights how this was written in the wind and destined to happen from the start. The book is deeply critical of Scott, hence the controversy. From reading this it’s a wonder he even made it out the English Channel!

7. South
Ernest Shackleton

South. Just reading the title makes me shiver. They don’t make ‘em like they used to! The South Pole had gone to Amundsen and Scott in 1911 and 1912 respectively, but there were still trophies in the Antarctic up for grabs. Shackleton, unfortunately was not going to win one on this endeavour. Beset by problems from the off, this is a tale of human endurance in the face of adversity if there ever was one. Marooned on the Antarctic continent, Shackleton leads his team on a harrowing three-year quest for survival.

8. Into Thin Air
Jon Krakauer

In 1996 eight climbers were killed and several more injured on Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth. Krakauer was one of the lucky ones. By Jon Krakauer: Into Thin Air is a chilling insight into what it was like to be on the mountain during those godforsaken nights. As a climber and adventure-junkie I rather foolishly hold onto the dream of summiting Everest one day. After reading this, I’m not so certain I will.

9. On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does
Simon Garfield

I love maps. I can’t help it. This isn’t just about maps though; it’s more a reflection on travel and exploration over the ages. It also touches on the way people, and travellers in particular, engage with the world around them as they journey from one place to another. On The Map is a bit geeky for sure, but thoroughly entertaining and informative.

10. Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson

I just re-read Treasure Island for the first time since I was a child and had to put it in. It’s still great. Just the names evoke the anticipation and excitement I felt as a child of what I was going to do when I grew up. Long John Silver, Billy Bones, Black Dog, Ben Gunn and a tale of buccaneers and buried gold are what young boys’ dreams are made off. Well, they were for me anyway.

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5 stunning film locations we love

The first time I went to New York back in 2000, I was uncertain that I would enjoy it. It loomed large and vivid in my mind, woven by a hundred films I’d seen in the past. The noise, colour and oversize personality depicted on screen were sure to be a letdown – how could they not be?

Of course, I was wrong. I absolutely loved New York. Still in its pre-9/11 era, the city was vibrant and welcoming. The food, the energy, the delicious September weather was heady and romantic, just like in the films. Continue reading