Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ola! Barcelona

Sunny Spain, right? Well, not exactly, there was better weather here in The Netherlands than our rainy visit to Barcelona. Oh well, can't win them all.

pictured: view from cathedral courtyard, Columbus statue at the harbor

Barcelona is truly an architecture-lovers city. The modernista movement, and in particular Antoni Gaudi, transformed the city in the late 1800s. We've pictured some highlights you can see, even the lampposts are stylish. One that we can't do justice to is the Palau de la Musica Catalana; the inside is a spectacular work of modernista design. We toured the hall but photos are not allowed. Click the link and explore the "facilities" section to see more of the hall, especially the inverted stained glass dome.

pictured: Gaudi building, Palau exterior, lamppost (we liked the bat!)

The Sagrada Familia is as much a living construction site as it is a uniquely amazing building. The century-long construction has resulted in a real variety of styles. Look at the difference in the musical sculptures vs. the menacing "passion" facade. Touring the site, it's hard to imagine what it will be like when it's finished (current prediction: about 20 years).

pictured: Sagrada exterior & column, musician carvings, "passion" carvings

Saturday we took a bus tour to three sights outside of the city. The Torres winery is one of Spain's largest. An interesting tour, but if you know us you know that we were "somewhat" disappointed that we only got to taste one wine. Next we were on our way up to Montserrat, where a Benedictine abbey sits halfway up the mountain. To get there we took a "rack railway," and while we were there we took a funicular to the top. At the abbey, we saw a wedding and a drum corps/procession (we never did find out what it was for). Leaving by bus, we went to Sitges, a resort town on the medittereanean. Although the weather wasn't great, we can see why this is a popular spot; beautiful beaches and lots of restaurants and nightclubs.

pictured: montserrat & rack railroad, the abbey

Speaking of restaurants, of course we had a good time sampling the food and wine. In fact, at most places the wine is ridiculously cheap (in price, not quality), so we had the opportunity to have lots of cava (spanish sparkling wine). Our best meal was lunch at Ot, a restaurant near the Sagrada Familia. Our most interesting meal was lunch at Can Culleretes, where the only english spoken was when the hostess seated us. Our waitress, best described as a spanish version of the typical "italian mother," didn't speak a bit of english, so ordering was an adventure. We didn't do too bad, but did end up ordering three desserts by accident!

The food market is huge ... everything from meats to seafood, cheeses to spices ... but the best thing is that there are even tapas bars right in the market! We sat down to some cava and a big plate of serrano jamon that was carved right off of a leg hung by its hoof.

pictured: fruit/nut and seafood stands at the market

Other than the weather, the only other bad point in Barcelona is the amount of "non-violent" crime. Within our first 20 minutes of walking around we were approached twice by pickpocket scams, even by two old ladies (trying to "sell" flowers, they distract & steal money). Luckily we had been forewarned, and Rochelle's use of the dutch "Nee!" (no!) stopped them in their tracks. See, we are learning to speak dutch!


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Paris Redux

For our second trip to Paris, we decided to make the Musee d'Orsay our main sight. Situated right on the river Seine in an old train station, it is a fantastic museum with extensive impressionist and art nouveau collections. We really enjoyed the setting and the artwork.
Pictured (click to enlarge): interior of Musee d'Orsay

After satisfying Rochelle's otter-like love of oysters for lunch (not to mention wine for Rich), we toured the Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise. Although the vandalism is a shame, it is a beautiful cemetery. Music lovers can visit the graves of Rossini and Chopin, among others. Those with more modern taste can brave the throngs looking for Jim Morrison's grave. It's now blocked off with a fence and guarded by an armed guard. I'm not sure he would appreciate the tacky flowers and cigarette butts, but who knows?

Pictured: graves of Jim Morrison, Gioachino Rossini, wine lover?
Saturday we headed off to the market. When we first got off the metro, we followed some equally clueless English people until we found some signs that pointed in the right direction. At first we were bummed that we made the trip -- the first market we came to was filled with cheap stuff (clothes & tourist junk) and scary guys hawking pirated DVDs. After a while we found the antiques section. We weren't really shopping for anything, but it was interesting to see everything from huge chandeliers to art filling stall after stall.

Pictured: Notre Dame gargoyles and rose window
We headed back to the Ile de St. Louis to tour Notre Dame. While the inside view of the windows is beautiful, it's the details on the outside that really make it interesting. There must be some sort of gargoyle record here! At dusk, we took a boat ride on the Seine which provided some great views of the Eiffel Tower (pictured below).
Looking for some refreshments, we stumbled on a Canadian pub called The Beaver on the Ile de Cite. We went upstairs and played darts for a while before a group of french students came up. We decided to let them play a round and then quickly decided that we'd move downstairs before we were killed (the darts were real, and the students were real bad)! Downstairs we talked to some friendly Canadians while the France-Scotland rugby match played. This explained the kilt-wearing men we saw all weekend (unfortunately, France won by a landslide).

Catching a restaurant on a weekend night in Paris can be an adventure, especially if you're looking for something other than the typical bistro. We got lucky both nights, finding a spanish/catalan restaurant Friday night and a french/ place on Saturday. But we had to do quite a bit of walking past overflowing places first!

Sunday we did more walking around the latin quarter. We stopped at the Pantheon, checking out Foucault's pendulum (pictured) and the nationalist surroundings. All in all, it was a great 2nd trip to Paris and we've barely scratched the surface of all of the things to do and see there.