Thursday, 25 June 2015

Adventures in Catalunya

Clockwise: 1) That'd be me. Hello. I shall be your guide today. 2) The funicular, which will take you from the base of Montjuic to the top. If you ask it nicely. 3) The gardens at the Castell de Montjuic. 4) The cityscape

In Spain, where I spent two wonderful weeks this June; I spent every day soaking up the warmth of the sun, I encountered a woman who told us that her eight year old "needs to learn to ride his motorbike this summer," and between all the quirky architecture, all the wacky sculptures, and all the unusual (to me) wildlife, I spotted subtle signs of MotoGP fans like me everywhere I looked. Needless to say, Barcelona city, and the mountainous countryside surrounding it, was a pretty amazing place to spend a fortnight.

Click through to see more photos of muh face. And click to enlarge the photos!

A MotoGP fan who got lost. One of my favourite photos from the trip; my brother with Camp Nou reflected in his glasses.

One of our earliest excursions - excluding the beach visit and food-hunting fiasco we'd had on the Sunday we arrived - was a trip to Camp Nou. Of the six of us who were there, only one was an actual football fan. He seemed to have a pretty good time. I felt out of place more than anything, but enjoyed the tour and museum all the same. I don't think I knew enough about football to be able to appreciate it as much as I could have. (Football fans: I'm sorry.)

Clockwise: 1) Inside Camp Nou. From the perspective of an unexpectedly comfortable swivel chair. 2) Me, my Dad, and my brothers. None of the people shown in this photograph know anything about football. 3) A trophy that I know nothing about. Really, I am sorry.
They did have a lot of non-football related things there too. Hockey trophies, and the Olympic Torch from 1992, to give you some examples. There was one little corner, though, right at the end, which really caught my attention.

Clockwise: 1) Me. In a hat. 2) and 3) A little collection of Jorge Lorenzo's racing gear. In my mind, the best bit of the football museum.
A small collection of Jorge Lorenzo's gear; without a doubt, my favourite part of the stadium. 

At the top of Montjuic, I discovered my dad apparently missed his calling as a holiday brochure and hat model.

We had a little time to spare that afternoon, so we got lost for a while and ended up in Montjuic (pictured top, too). A scenic spot with a great view of the city, we passed the while by taking the funicular to the top of the hill, and wandering around the Castell de Montjuic.

Clockwise: 1) The monastery. As seen from the station at low-end of the funicular. (I'll come back to that.) 2) A happy little cable car that carried happy little tourists down from the mountain. 3) Some of the fancy architecture in the centre of Montserrat, complete with a too-tall tree that threw off my composition. 4) Me and Dad, happy out with our €3 aviators and knock-off Ray-Bans respectively.

Having seemingly developed a taste for altitude, our party - now eight in number - ventured towards the mountain of Montserat the next day. At something absurd, around 1,200m above sea level, it was a pretty spectacular view to be fair. Even at that; there were rock climbers, pushing ever higher up the rock faces above the monastery. 

Clockwise: 1) The little building I've been trying to figure out. 2) The view looking upwards out of the funicular, at the point where the two trains pass each other. 3) Me, with my dad and brothers, having trekked up the mystery building. 4) The grand vista. Not bad, huh?

Regrettably, we didn't have our harnesses, so we made do with the funicular. It's hard not to be satisfied with a ride in a train that is designed exclusively to ascend and descend a set of cleverly designed tracks carved into a mountain at 45 degrees, anyway. At the top there are a whole series of walks, too. We took a short route, but realistically, we could have spent hours exploring that area alone. We found this little building along the way, but I'm sorry to say I don't actually know what it was, apart from religiously significant.

Clockwise: 1) Above the entrance to the basilica. 2) Papa Doodle and me standing in the centre of the mosaic in front of the entrance. 3) This cool dude was one of a LOT of statues dotted throughout the place. 4) Yours truly, once again, posing like an idiot. 

Having taken the funicular back down the mountain, we regrouped and headed for the basilica. Everything was overwhelmingly huge, and beautiful too. We weren't allowed to take photos inside, obviously. You can trust that every inch of that building is ornately detailed, inside and out.

Just outside Montserrat, where I got in the way of a cool Spanish gentleman.

To say that we expected to be in Montserrat for an hour or two shows you how uninformed we were about that whole venture. We had only set aside an afternoon to explore, which worked out fine for us. To really make the most of it though, I'd probably set out a little earlier and plan to return later. It's a busy place, and there's a to take in.

I was delighted with life for the three days we were at the Catalan GP. This the first of a lot of photos taken of me while we were there. Consider yourself warned.

Our next stop was the most highly anticipated of them all. The Catalan GP at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona. I had been looking forward to that day long before those tickets were even bought, and I'm happy to say that the whole event more than lived up to expectations.

Clockwise: 1) I forgot my hat. 2) Jorge Lorenzo leaving his pit box. Spoiler: he won that weekend. 3) VR46, the doctor himself, leaving his pit box.

We had tickets for Tribuna 8 (I'd recommend it!), but on the Friday, while we watched the first free practice sessions, we were free to roam wherever we wanted around the track. We got a good look at everything from all parts of the track, including the grandstands. There, you could watch the mechanics readying the bikes before their respective riders performed their rituals and mounted.

My little big brother loves getting his photo taken. He never just glares halfheartedly at the camera...

I don't think I sat down, throughout the whole first day, I was so excited by it. Although day one typically has the smallest crowd, the atmosphere was still amazing.

Just a normal day, hanging out with two reigning world champions. Top: Tito Rabbat, reigning Moto2 champion. Bottom: Alex Marquez, reigning Moto3 champion. Right: Their pitbox, with their bikes and a few of their crew.

One of my favourite things about the Circuit de Catalunya, is the pitwalk they allow on the first day of MotoGP events. I had been before, in 2012, so this year I was a little more prepared.

Top: Zarco. Middle: Guevara. Bottom:Syarin. Right: A woman who perhaps picked the wrong place to take a phonecall.  

Prepared, in that I made everyone aware that I was going to disappear into the crowd and they wouldn't have a hope of finding me for the hour and a half that I was let loose around the MotoGP paddocks so they shouldn't even try to keep an eye on where I am.

Top: A view of the start-finish straight. Bottom: Me and Franco Morbidelli. I realise I look like a crazy person in most of these photos. I was just happy, ok?

That's exactly what happened. As soon as those gates opened, I was gone. They let the public get thisclose to the bikes and garages, and a lot of the riders - more Moto2 and Moto3 riders than MotoGP guys - come out to take photos an sign autographs for fans. Sometimes people from different teams give you posters and stickers and things too.

Left: The tower at the end of pitlane. Right: Me and Ana Carrasco.

So, as well as taking photos with the first full time female rider in Moto3, and two reigning world champions, I went home that day with autographs and posters too. Not a bad day, as far as I was concerned.

Top: The safety cars. They're taken all around the globe with the MotoGP calendar. Middle: Up close and personal with the bike of Stefan Bradl. Bottom: I had to include a photo of the Irish flag as seen in pit lane. There is one guy riding with the tricolour! G'on Eugene Laverty! Right: Me and my uncle.

You can also get pretty close to the safety cars during the pitwalk too. Those BMWs are taken all over the world, and they're always entertaining. You'd think a safety car would be slow and boring, but the drivers like to drift as much as possible.

Left: Helmets by Rossi. Those things cost a few grand, if you're interested. Right: He does smile sometimes!

I love that sport so, so much, and I'm a fan of almost any rider you can name. So saying; I, when presented with a sea of shops full of tshirts and hats and stickers and everything else, ended up buying a lot. Good thing I got a new job recently, eh?

Clockwise: 1) Me scaling the railing to see better. 2) The friendly marshal who told me to climb higher. 3) The crowds! 4) The scooter-riding photographers, on a mission. 

We spent the whole weekend trying to get the best views of the track, with variable success. At one point, I ended up climbing halfway up a fence to see an unrestricted view of the Moto2 guys accelerating into the main straight. Fair play to the track marshal who promptly marched over and told me to climb higher. :)

The many faces of MotoGP spectators. Check out the cool dude in the background.

And of course, there was race day. There were SO MANY crashers! A great set of races though, all the same.

There was a sign at the Marquez Museum saying that photography wasn't allowed. But no one was there to stop me.

After the MotoGP had ended, I still wouldn't shut up about it until someone brought me to see the little Marquez Museum. As I said; it was small, but I loved it. It was completely empty when we were there, so we could get right up close, looking at leathers, helmets, bikes and more. I think it's safe to say the €1 entry fee was worth splashing out on.

A selection of palaces, bullrings, stadiums, and basilicas as seen from the rooftop of a bus. Also; bits of said bus.

Finally satisfied, we headed back to the city by train, and hopped on the tourist bus. Honestly, I thought I'd want to get off as soon as I'd got on, but it worked out great. It's like tapas. Rather than getting one thing really well, you get to have a little taste of a lot of different things. And you can get on and off whenever you like, so if you like the look of something, you're free to check it out more fully if you want to.

Left: The funicular over the port of Barcelona. They're mad for them in the city. Right: A selection of the statues dotted throughout the city.

It's a city of sculptures, Barcelona. Everywhere you're met with some weird shape representing David and Golliath, or a monument to Columbus, or gleaming golden fish along on the beachfront.

Top: I like colours. And cityscapes. Bottom: It wasn't just my dad. My WHOLE family missed out on careers in hat catalogs. 

On our last day, for our last taste of the altitude we all seemed to be craving, we drove up to Tibidabo. Why they built an amusement park up there is beyond me, but in 1899 they did, and it's one of the oldest parks in the world that's still in operation. It was strange being there; seeing all these old classic rides, including the Red Aeroplane, which is a replica of the first plane to fly from Barcelona to Madrid.

Ahh. Don't the family look nice?

You can trust that the view was pretty impressive.

Left: My dad pretending to be an oil painting. Right: The outside of the absurdly beautiful house we stayed in. 

And at the end of every day; we would all come home to this absurdly beautiful house. I absolutely fell in love with it. A former winery, and sympathetically restored by the wonderful owners who lived nearby, every inch of the place was photo-perfect.

A few details from around the house. I took a hundred photos of that window. There were a lot of wooden signs around the place, handmade by one of the owners of the house. This Celtic one was my favourite.

With six bedrooms - four of them ensuite - we had more than enough space for eight people. And with plenty of seating indoors and out, and a decent kitchen, we ate mostly at the house, rather than eating out.

A lot of the weird (to me) wildlife were surprisingly patient. They were more willing that my family to let me take their photo.

One of the added benefits of that was seeing all the local wildlife wandering by. Huge crickets would hop across your path as you walked, you could watch wild boar roaming the field below the house while you had dinner, you could say hello to passing toads as they walked past the table while you drank coffee in the morning.

Top: Lizard! He lived behind that sign for a little while. Middle: I sat on the ground that day and got visciously attacked by ALL the dogs. Bottom: There were a few heads like this around the gardens. Right: My dad, getting exciting, having seen a bird of prey.

And what's more; while we were there, there were also seven puppies living next door. Pretty friendly ones, it must be said.

A selection of photos I took while on walkabouts around the house.

It was on a huge plot of land, too, and there were trails leading every which way. In the mornings and evenings, if we were ever just hanging around, I used to set off and explore the place. Big fields, old cars, rusted machinery... there was always something new to discover. 

This photo would be lovely if he wasn't wearing a t-shirt that has the grand master on it. I think I like it better for it though.

I can say, honestly, that this trip was one of the best trips that I have ever been on. I loved it completely; the bikes, the countryside, the viewpoints, the architecture... everything abut the place was spectacular.

Hi Pigeon.

For the record: Thank you to my brother, who took a lot of the photographs in this post. He did a good job, considering he's never had any real interest in photography before. Anyway. That's enough of me. Thank you all for putting up with my ramblings!

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