Enjoying the Sights, Sounds, and Mountains of Europe

By Crystal Star Maison


This past summer I was blessed with the opportunity to venture to Europe for my first time, and I even go to climb while I was there! I spent 2 weeks wandering through Portugal, Spain and Italy seeing the historical sights (I’m a HUGE history nerd), eating tons of food, and doing any adventures that I could!

See some of Crystal’s photos at the end of the post.

While in Portugal, I did my first-ever water solo over the freezing Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon in Sesimbra—almost immediately after I landed from my 16 hours of travels! The water was so numbingly cold that even though I was exhausted, there was no way I was falling in! Jet lagged and stubborn, I finished two slopey-crimp lines without falling in. The next day, I kayaked through the sea caves and forced myself to swim in the ocean just so I could say I had, though I regretted immediately. I finished off the day by visiting castles, hiking (had my first bout with poison oak) and wandered until 2 or 3 in the morning! I was only in Portugal for three days, but it was amazing and packed with fun…and walking. Lots of walking.

From there I headed to Barcelona, Spain. To fall in love.

I know what you’re thinking, “Wait! Crystal met someone in Spain?! This just got juicy!” Ha! Nope. While there are, in fact, gorgeous people everywhere in Europe, I was referring to the country itself, the culture, and of course, the climbing that stole my heart.

I had two solo travel days in Spain before my friend came out to meet me for the remaining days I was there, and so I moseyed everywhere. I didn’t even try to find specific places; in fact, I put my maps away and wandered around letting myself get completely, and wonderfully lost. I walked about 15 miles that first day just weaving through the maze of alleyways and neighborhoods; drinking in the differences of each block.

Attempting to communicate with what little Spanish I know, I soon came to find out that in Barcelona the main language is Catalan- not Spanish. Still, I was able to get by, mostly due to the patience of the people there, and their skill in discerning between my charades and broken Spanish.

I didn’t eat anything that sounded like something I had ever eaten before and was blown away at just how delicious everything is, like Paella; where has that been all my life? In my first two days I went to as many churches, museums, and castles that I stumbled upon and walked until my legs felt like they were going to fall off.

When he finally arrived, my friend, Dehnis, humored me and joined me for another church, and more wandering/nerding out. On one of the days, we even went to the beach to swim at the sea, which was so warm I could have stayed in it forever.

We went everywhere we thought looked cool, and then, on the fourth day, we finally went to Montserrat to climb.

It was a 2-hour train ride to get to Montserrat from Barcelona, but the views were extraordinary. We passed fields of forests, country, and sunflowers along the way. As the train made its way up the mountain to the monastery, you could see green and open nature for miles-all the way to Barcelona. At the top of the mountain, you become suddenly surrounded by stone giants that were easily four to eight pitches high, covered in positive features and just begging to be climbed. We climbed for about 5 hours with our awesome guide Isaac after having wandered and hiked around the medieval town of Montserrat.

The rock there was an experience by itself.

It was conglomerate rock, which is basically tons of pieces of different types of rock clumped together and hardened; it was like nothing I had ever seen before! Red, black, white, purple—every color of rock I have ever seen all montaged together into majestic mounds towering above. It was delicious. There were odd, color-mixed beauties that just danced you up the wall. And the view from the top? Well, I don’t think I have ever seen anything so gorgeous in my life. I cannot wait to go back; but next time, just to climb.

We had one last day of touristing Spain, then we flew to Italy. Was it a cappuccino- and pasta-filled trip from there? Why yes, yes it was. I proudly ate my weight in pasta and gelato, and even learned from an Italian chef how to make authentic noodles and tiramisu! (I know what you’re thinking; if we aren’t friends already, you want to be now. I’m ok with that).

We also went to the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and all the other must-sees like the fountains, Pantheon, Colosseum, Catacombs, Pompeii and even hiked Mt. Vesuvius—in flip flops!

We packed quite a bit into the short time of two weeks, but the coolest thing to me from the entire trip was all of the people I got to meet and differences in culture experienced. I find that traveling teaches me something new each time, whether it be a weekend away, or a whole new country. Something is always gleaned.

This trip reminded me of the importance of being present; minimizing time on technology, and maximizing time with people. I did not see a single person chilling on their phone while I was in Europe, but I did see people having meaningful interactions with each other, sitting at cafes, or on benches just chatting and enjoying the day, the views, and each others’ company. So simple and, yet, so powerful. I hope to break some habits and to carry on these and all lessons I learn from trips when home. So, if you see me, I would love to slow down, chat, connect, and hear all about your adventures and any “moments” or lessons you experienced while on them! See you around the gym!