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Surviving Lockdown and Freedom

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

After the 99-day lockdown, it was finally time to get out and do some real exercise

Sunset on Montserrat.
Free to exercise outdoors again.
Free as the birds.

As I mentioned in the last entry, COVID only really hit the world in March. Although we heard about it in the news back in December, nobody took much notice. There was some flu-like virus in some Chinese city that nobody had ever hear of before, but won’t easily forget now. By January, after Christmas holidays, things seemed to be getting more serious. It’s hard for me to think back and remember exactly what was being said at the time and what I thought of it all. I can say this though – I had no idea that it would be so widespread and so terrible in it’s impact on the world. By February there were cases in Europe, and I was getting worried, although the majority of people were saying it was little more than the common cold or flu. By mid-March, there was no room for error and governments around the world reacted how they saw best and put their countries into lockdown. It hit Spain very hard too – one of the worst affected countries in Europe, 2nd only after Italy at the time. Luckily my school were organised and we made the switch to online teaching within 5 days – that thanks to a great management team and some of us working through the weekend getting the new systems up and running and even doing some training. We did a great job I must admit – we retained our students, did tests and even Cambridge exams online, all while teaching via Zoom – I didn’t have any ZoomBombs either! Teachers were extremely lucky to be honest – we could still work. Most of us in the industry kept our jobs and moved online. Sadly, the workers that bore the brunt of the economic fallout were in the transportation, hospitality and retail sectors. Borders were closed between countries (and even between states in some cases!), and no tourists means no money. 78% of people in these industries lost their jobs in Spain between March 11 and April 30th alone. It will take years, if not a decade, for things to go back to normal, if ever. I feel the world has changed so much recently.

It was good to be out and about!
Walking around Sabadell.
Sunset from the back terrace.
We missed the whole of Spring!

Every day was more or less the same though – as we couldn’t leave and go anywhere or do much, life pretty much revolved around mealtimes. Wake up, have breakfast and then do some exercise. Before I knew it, it was lunch time. Watch some TV, maybe even have a short siesta afterwards, then coffee and time to teach some kids. After class it was time for some more exercise then dinner, maybe some TV then bed. Although it was very repetitive, I think the structure helped me from going insane. It was a very tough period for many people, but I must admit that I had it easier than most – I wasn’t alone, I had a nice attic apartment with great views and plenty of space on the terraces (yes, 2 terraces!). Going outside always seemed like an adventure – you’d get to get changed out of your pyjamas and also wear shoes! So, when it was time to go shopping or take the rubbish out, you get the mask on, go outside to an empty or near empty street, feeling like you’ve just woken up from a very long hibernation and were now part of some zombie movie like 28 Days Later. Sometimes, before I got into the habit, I would walk outside without the mask and feel that something was missing, like I’d forgotten to take my keys and I’ve just locked myself out of the house… or worse, that I wasn’t wearing any pants and that’s why people were looking at me weirdly and giving me plenty of space! Now, it's second nature – I used to do the 3-point check before leaving the house; the pat down of your jeans for keys, wallet and phone. The mask is the 4th on the checklist now. After the 99-day lockdown, it was finally time to get out and do some real exercise! I’d been exercising at home, and done some walking outdoors when we were allowed a short bit of freedom between 8pm and 10pm. People that had never walked in their lives hit the streets and walkways, cycling, walking their dogs… there were more people than ever and I didn’t feel exactly safe either. Spain relaxed the laws to let kids out first, then older people and eventually everyone else. There were specific times for each age group that had to be adhered to. Although I think that the government did a good job considering the screwed up situation, many people complained (and still are!) that it hadn’t been handled properly – you don’t have the right to tell us when we can go outside, you can’t make us wear masks, etc. I’m sure that most of these people just needed to complain about something – now, in October, there is no timetabled exercise, so the walkways and paths around the city are back to normal. What people really wanted in Spain, and I’m sure many other places too, was to just go to the bar, sit in the sun and drink with friends. I was looking forward to making up for losing the whole of Spring!

Walking to the top from Vacarisses.
No people and no queues.
The view from the top!

July was here and we could finally move around more, between cities rather than just to the supermarket. This meant some real hiking – finally! I felt pretty fit, considering the 3 months lockdown, and when it came to the test, I was very happy. I had been planning a big 2-week hike along the Pyrenees, following the GR-11 route on the Spanish side, so I needed some practice first. Time to dust off the boots (and the camera of course!) This practice come in the form of Montserrat. You can drive to the monastery, or even get a cable car or tram, but I wanted to walk it, bottom to top. I started the walk in the sleepy village of Vacarisses, a small ‘urbanisation’ of houses and barky dogs, but in a lovely part of the countryside – you can see the Magic Mountain from nearly everywhere in the village. The walk was fairly easy to start off with, which was good as it was mid-July and 30c already. It was about 5kms to the town of Ministrol de Montserrat, which sits at the bottom of the mountain. Quick stop for water restocking and a snack for energy before following the trail through the town square and up towards Montserrat itself. I’d never hiked from bottom to top before, and although the path was easy to follow, it wasn’t the easiest walk I’ve ever done! When you look at Montserrat, it looks tall and daunting with the jagged peaks and tree shrouded sides. You wouldn’t think that you could walk up it just by looking at it. There was a path, but it was quite dusty and rocky, and in some places washed away by rain or the amount of people doing this hike. With a few stops on the way, my hiking partner and I reached the tree line and found an easier way to go, getting out of the baking sun a little. We reached the top, a little tired but very sweaty! It was quite an achievement I think – July temperatures, first time doing it and also because the most walking we’d done in 3 months was taking the rubbish out. Well done us!

Santa Cova de Montserrat.
Welcome to the Abbey of Montserrat.
The empty patio of the abbey.
View of Montserrat from Ministrol.

It was a Sunday and normally this place was packed. It was about 2pm and there was nobody around. A few people were having coffee at the one place that was open, a few others in the monastery itself, but I could nearly count everyone on my fingers. This made the place a little spooky, but great for photos! We had a coffee and some sandwiches, walked around the buildings, noting that the cable car and rack railway were shut – another reason why not people weren't here. Taking advantage of the lull in tourism here, we walked straight into the church without queuing, to get a look at the inside and also to see the statue of the virgin Montserrat. Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey was founded in the 11th century (no cable cars then!) and is still a working place of worship today, with 80 resident monks. What you see today isn’t 900 years old, it was rebuilt between the 19th and 20th centuries, but is a truly impressive sight. I just love coming up here. Montserrat (or Montse as I call her), is an icon that is the patron saint of Catalonia, sharing the honour with Sant Jordi (Saint George in English). Some people believe that the wooden statue was carved in Jerusalem in the early days of the Church, but it is more likely a Romanesque sculpture dating from the late 12th century. It was given to the abbey in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII, and is now called La Moreneta by the Catalans ("the little dark-skinned one" or "the little dark one"), which is a bit funny to me, but it also used to have an inscription on the frame that read “Nigra Sum Sed Formosa" (Latin: I am Black, but Beautiful).

The view from Sant Salvador de les Espases.
Sant Salvador de les Espases.
I'm ready for the GR-11.

Having taken plenty of photos, stopped sweating somewhat and paid our respects, we headed back down. The walk back down was fairly quick, and much cooler too. We reached Ministrol and stopped for a hard-earned ice-cream. Being Sunday, the trains aren’t as frequent as during the week, and as I ate my calippo, I checked the trains only to find out that we probably wouldn’t make it for the scheduled train. The train after this was more than an hour’s wait. Welcome to Renfe on Sunday! There are 2 companies that operate here in Catalonia – the national company Renfe, known for their stinky, dirty carriages and poor service; and the local state-run company, the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya, which has a much better reputation for being on-time and also cleaner. Luckily for us, there is an FGC station in town, which would also take us home – just a slightly longer way. Feeling more relaxed that we didn’t have to run 5kms to the other station, we casually strolled to the nearer one and got on our train without waiting much at all. After such a hot day (I think it hit 35c), I was tired, hot and sweaty, and even a little sore to be honest. I know that my planned hike would be much tougher – 20km or more, every day, for 10 days. This was a good bit of training though and I felt confident that I would be able to do it! I felt so confident that I actually hiked up Montserrat the following week – all the way this time, all 20kms of it, in similar heat. I also squeezed in another hike to Sant Salvador de les Espases, a little hermitage with a great view of Montserrat. I was finally ready to tackle the GR-11.

Montserrat in the summer.

Remember to also follow me on Instagram at: MyUncleTravellingMatt. July 2020.


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