here, there, everywhere

Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

One Last Romantic Evening

In Europe, Spain on July 26, 2011 at 3:41 am

The south of Spain was lovely but it was time to head back to Barcelona for one last hurrah.  The morning after we were in Gibraltar I flew with the parents back to Barcelona for one more day before heading home, while Andrew left for two days in Seville. We spent a lovely day cruising the Old City again and finished the day and vacation with a trip to Montjuic, site of the Olympic stadium. At the bottom of the mountain, close to Placa Espanya, are the fountains and even if the music selection is a bit cheesy, the displays with lights are quite fantastic.  Much more elaborate and bigger than the Bellagio in Vegas (did I really just write that???)And after almost 24 hours of travel time, I’m writing this last post from the comfort of my own computer.  About to crash after spending two great weeks of touristing, vacationing, catching up with old friends, and taking in a whole new country, I’m glad we went and the whole trip was worth every second.

That’s all for this trip, hopefully the next adventure is not too far off.

Gibraltar

In Europe, Spain on July 23, 2011 at 10:57 pm

After spending all of Friday getting over the previous night’s dulce de leche, I got out of bed to shower and go with the family to Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain.  Once again lots has been written about it so I’m not going to rehash anything here.  But here’s what I do have to say about it.

Gibraltar still belongs to the British so you have to bring your passport when you cross the border at the airport.  We parked on the Spanish side and walked over and to get to the main town, you actually get to walk or drive across the airport’s lone runway.  When a plane is ready to land or take off they shut off the runway similar to a raised bridge deck or train crossing and wait for the plane to do its thing before opening everything up again.  We were up in the siege tunnels when a plane took off and could clearly hear the loudspeakers as the security personnel was basically yelling into it telling pedestrians to clear the runway.

Click to watch the plane take off.

We spent the early afternoon touring the rock, including the caves, a brief stop to hang with the Barbery apes, and then a walk through the siege tunnels on the northern end.  Gibraltar is far bigger than I imagined and it creeps me out a little to think it’s still a small bit of land belonging to the British with a very small toehold on the continent. Obviously they’ve hung on to it tenaciously but still, what if Spain decided to close access to the ports or shut down the overland route?

While we were having lunch in a British pub, Mom saw a wedding party enter the neighbouring church.  Later on as Dad and Andrew were exploring the rock by cable car, Mom and I sat in the church to keep cool while we waited.  We ended up talking to a fellow who turned out to be the florist who handles all the weddings in that church.  That day there were 3 weddings and when there are multiple weddings on the same day, the couples end up sharing the floral arrangements.  This is fine when they agree on the same thing, like all white bouquets for example, but when they have different ideas it obviously creates more work for him.  Like the first bride of the day who wanted red and white arrangements – he got to work earlier than usual to stick the red flowers in.  As soon as that wedding was over and all the guests had left, he went back into the church to take the red flowers out so the next party’s requirements of all white were met.  Once, he told us, he had just finished lining the church pews with calla lilies, and as he was talking to the bishop or whoever, someone came in and walked off with all the lilies.  Klassy.

Fortunately leaving Gibraltar was far easier than leaving Granada so we were able to get back to Fuengirola with enough time to head to the beach for supper.  The beaches there are beautiful, more than 4km long with soft sand.  The whole strip reminded me a bit of Miami without the art deco, and once again demonstrated how humans love to be out in the sun with its rays on bare skin.   Some more bare than others, and unfortunately it’s never as great as you think it’s going to be.

Lost in Translation

In Europe, Spain on July 21, 2011 at 12:41 pm

A fountain at Al Hambra, Granada

Yesterday we went to Granada to check out the Alhambra, a 13th, 14th, and 15th structure from the Nasrid dynasty. I won´t give details here, everything that could be said has been said so I don´t need to try and add to anything. Rather, this post is about how being a North American has taken away certain coping mechanisms.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are so used to cities and towns being laid out on a grid. This makes it very easy to find your way around, especially if one way streets are limited. Here, however, as in most European cities, it´s rare to find things laid out in such a methodical way. Cities grew up around the centres so their maps resemble the spokes of a wheel or a mishmash of streets. This is fine if you´re from one of them but can be confusing if you´re not. Take Granada for example, not only were the streets wrapped around like snakes, none of them had street signs which meant we couldn´t even get a point of reference once down in the Old City. Or was it the New City, or the Moorish quarter? Our GPS unit sucks big time, it´s more confused than we are I think. What I found disconcerting about this, apart from being lost and 32 degrees out and everyone´s tired from a long day, is that all of a sudden it felt like my coping mechanisms had gone the way of the street signs. I sat there feeling like an idiot for not being able to find my way out of there.

The city of Granada. It looks very simple from up here, no?

We tried asking people where we were on the map but here again we hit road blocks. Some said map was too small, which I doubt to be true since we ended up being pretty close to where we meant to go in the end. What´s probably more true is that people don´t read maps. I tried with two ladies, they had no clue where to find us on the map, and this became more apparent the more people you asked. I find that odd, that an entire group of citizens can´t find where they are on a map. Maybe this is more due to the fact they are from the area and perhaps they find their way around by points of reference. Once again I´m led to believe that North Americans have standardized life so much that if we´re met with a challenge like this, we don´t cope as well as others might.

And the other thing I find strange, and kind of hate myself for saying it, is how surprised I am by the lack of English speaking. When I lived in The Netherlands, or visited other European countries, even in the Arab speaking countries, it was something of a badge of honour for at least the younger generation to be able to string a few sentences together. They saw it as survival in the sense that their countries are generally small, who´s going to learn their language, or that the world is developing with English as the common language, it might be necessary to adapt if you´re going to keep up. Here, you are hard pressed to find anyone of any generation you can have a basic conversation with. Maybe in Barcelona it´s a bit easier, but even there it was difficult. And these are international places, you see and hear so many languages, to not pick up the basics is hard to understand. My sense is that they´ve dug their heels in and will not learn English. Maybe it´s because Spain is a large country, relatively speaking, and doesn´t move much outside it´s borders. But I wonder if that is part of their current economic problem, that they see themselves in isolation and don´t understand they are part of the larger world stage. It´s a surprise when other countries start telling you how you have to change your rules. I wouldn´t like it either.

Anyway, back to yesterday, our rental car is gutless as evidenced by our inability to leave our car park. There was no way that thing was going to make it up the steep incline in one go and in the end it required a team effort, Dad reefing on the e-break and Andrew revving the engine in the hopes it would propel us forward. It probably took 3 minutes of starting, revving, and stalling before we finally got to the top at which point the power in the garage went out and we couldn´t give our ticket to exit. Once again it was a Griswold experience. I´m not sure if I liked Granada in the end, it was reminding me of those creepy towns in American movies where a family inadvertently gets stuck in a town full of inbreds and everytime they try to leave they arrive at the same intersection which sends them back to town centre. Alhambra was great, the rest, well, I don´t need to go back.

Today is for recovering, sleeping in the sun and rotisseriíng my body for a full tan. And I´m going to ponder this regimented life we lead back home and figure out if there´s a way I can relax a little more when I get back.

Doesn’t need an explanation

Long Way Down

In Europe, Spain on July 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Girl on the steps at La Padrera, Barcelona

The weekend in Copenhagen was great, not so much the city, can´t say I´m a fan, but the time with everyone from the trip was exactly what I think all of us needed.  When you are not with the people you share experiences with, it comes out in a torrent when you finally do meet again, and it turned into 2 days of reminiscing and reminding each other what we went through.  There was a lot of catching up, drinking, dancing, and just sitting around and relaxing.  The rest of it I´ll leave in my memory banks to be restored only when with the Culture Vultures.  But I love them all and have no problem posting that.

Since I was leaving at 4am from Adam and Anne´s place outside Copenhagen, I decided to stay up until the cab came which meant it was the long haul from 9am the morning before.  I got back to the airport around 5am and was greeted by that overwhelming stench of sausage.  The flight back to Barcelona was fine and I was able to pull myself together enough to get cleaned up and head into the city for the day.

I went to La Padrera to check out another of Gaudi´s feats, and ended up having to press rewind on my audio guide 1000 times as I kept blanking out and not understanding what was going on.  After that I managed to down a coffee and resurrect a little, but wandering around Barcelona with no sleep for 36 hours was difficult and I´m a little surprised I wasn´t mugged as I must have looked totally vulnerable and out of it.  I wanted to sleep at the airport on the way to Malaga but that didn´t happen, so by the time I landed I was on the edge and ready to rip someone´s head off.  I looked for my dad or brother and when I didn´t see them, figured I had not communicated that they were supposed to get me.  I had no phone number and didn´t know the address of where we were staying.  I found the internet but the f”·$%ing @ key was nowhere to be found and I was cursing at the computer when I realized there was a line of sympathetic (or scared?) people behind me.  Finally I stomped back to arrivals and saw Dad and Andrew there.  Turns out people aren´t supposed to come from outside to the arrivals so they were waiting there but I never saw them.  Then they start telling me about their trip from hell with the ill functioning Tom Tom GPS unit which is geared for North America and not Malaga.  Took them ages to get to the apartment and I guess by the time they had to come back to get me they were at the end of their ropes.  So the Block family was more like the Griswolds last night and only a long sleep could save us all.

But, we managed to get to the apartment and I´ll describe it this way although it will probably make people roll their eyes if it doesn´t give them the totally wrong impression.  I have to explain that the happiest place in the world for me is definitely the lineup to the Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland.  I love the night ´sky´, the fireflies and the slightly humid, sticky air that surrounds you before you get on the boat.  Well that´s what I thought of when we got out of the car and entered the complex.  The lights from the other apartments were lending a warm glow to the courtyard, the sky was dark but still luminescent, the crickets were chirping, and the air was sticky and warm.  Mom was sitting on our deck waiting for us and it was just like coming home after being away a long time.  I´m very grateful for this part of the trip, not just because we are staying in a great place, but because it´s where we´ll chill out and take it easy for a bit.  We´ve got a few places to visit in Andalucia, but we´re all agreed that hanging by the pool, going for walks, and eating meals on a patio is what we want to do for now.  And that´s fine because the end will come too quick and we´ll have to head back to our busy lives in Canada.  May as well enjoy the sun and relaxation while we have it, and it´s pretty great just to be together for this time as well.

More to come when we can pry ourselves away from the water.

The Three Musketeers doing what they did best, somewhere outside Copenhagen

Fruits and Jewels

In Europe, Spain on July 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm

I remember posing for this but must have forgotten that I gave my permission to be displayed in public. Now you know what I look like when I’m thinking while I’m naked.

Today was a slow start, we eventually started moving around 11am when we headed to Mercat de Boqueria, a food lover´s paradise.  Mostly fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses, there were a few pastry stands and places where you could buy spices.  The fruits were a sight for sore eyes.  So far most of the food here has consisted of sandwiches loaded with meat and cheese which is fine if you like it but not so much if you´ve been told you´re allergic to half of it.  My favourite sandwich name is the ´bikini´ and I haven´t bothered to find out why they call it that, if I knew I might not laugh so much.  There was every imaginable fruit under the sun in this market, and every stand was packed with colourful fresh juices on ice.  I downed a strawberry and then chased it with a blackberry banana.  There were also little cartons of fruit salad and it all tasted like it was grown next door, no California hothouse strawberries to be found.

Fruit drink stall, Mercat de Boqueria, Barcelona

Mmm mmm meat! Mercat de Boqueria, Barcelona

More meat!!!! Mercat de Boqueria, Barcelona

Fish, Mercat de Boqueria, Barcelona

Next we made our way over to the Palau de la Musica Catalan which is consistently described as ´jewel box´and ´garden´.  It´s a music hall built on the grounds of what used to be a cloister so the buildings around it filter out much of the natural light.  To compensate for this the hall was constructed using as much glass as possible and the overhead light is let in through what is called ´a drop of light´, a giant, intricate, stained glass skylight which drops into the auditorium.  The acoustics were lovely as demonstrated by the organist playing ´Jesu, Joy of Man´s Desiring,´ in a short, impromptu concert.  The rest of the building is magnificent, a little more ornate than my personal taste goes for, but you can certainly appreciate what they accomplished in creating it.

Exterior of the Palau de la Musica Catalan, Barcelona

Dad went back to the apartment to wait for my brother to show up while I accompanied Mom on an emergency trip to the dentist.  My dentist office does not look like this one.  We entered a cavernous, modern and very sleek reception area, and were then directed to the waiting room.  We sat on leather sofas which rested on marble floors in front of high-def TVs and a huge, marble fireplace.  Two hours later we were on our way and reunited with Andrew who had just arrived from the airport.

We were going to go up Montjuic this evening to see the fountains on display after sunset, but baby was ti-erd, so we opted to show Andrew La Sagrada Familia and then settle in for an early evening.  The problem with doing these whirlwind trips is that you knock yourself out trying to get everything ready before you get to the airport, and then you force your body to adjust to a whole different time zone while walking miles in the heat to see everything you can see.  It´s a pretty great place, but I now know why I hate being a tourist and why living in a city and seeing things at a slower pace is so much more desirable.

Tomorrow will be an early morning as I have to get to the airport and make my little detour up to Copenhagen for a few days.  The group I traveled with in 2002 is having a reunion and it timed just right so that I could make it.  I haven´t seen most of these people in almost 9 years so it will be the first time we get to reminisce as a group and I am so looking forward to hearing how people interpreted the experience.  It´ll also be a nice break from the heat as well so perhaps I won´t look like an oil slick for a few days.

More from Denmark…

Garbage and Romance

In Europe, Spain on July 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Assuming “Moreover” equals “Entrees”. Restaurant menu, Barcelona

First, I have to say once again how lovely the drivers are here.  Really, I cannot get over how friendly they are and not one of them has tried to kill me yet.  Best drivers ever.  I know that Barcelona is lovely, much has been said about it in other blogs and travelogs, but what hasn´t been mentioned much is the garbage situation. I am impressed by the recycling here and am inspired to write about it.  On almost every corner there are 4 to 6 giant bins and each has pictures on it to indicate what you can put inside.  There´s a bin for composting, another one for DIAPERS, others for paper, plastic, and wood.  Watching people use them all convinces me that we can easily learn how to do this back in North America, and yet we´re still waiting for composting bins in urban areas of Vancouver.  I haven´t seen much, if any, trash lying around the streets so it would seem that people here take pride in their surroundings and do a pretty good job of keeping it all clean.  Hats off to Barcelona for that.

Rooftop view from our apartment, Les Eixamples, Barcelona

But there´s another side of garbage, the human side, that´s also quite apparent.  Today we wandered into the Gothic Quarter, lovely medieval streets, lots of pretty window boxes, laundry lines flapping overhead, and the overwhelming pungent odour of raw sewage.  It smells like a few hundred years of excrement in some areas and it doesn´t disappear after just a few seconds.  It kind of hovers around your head and follows you for a few metres until you can gulp in fresh air.  Turn another corner and the smell hits you head on again.  I love the architecture but it´s a little hard to give it my full concentration when I´m checking my shoes all the time to make sure I didn´t step in someone´s crap and am carting it around with me.  However, this is no reason to not visit the neighbourhood and if you can get by the stench you will be rewarded with great sites, pretty shops, quaint cafes, and the 13th century cathedral in the middle which houses some pretty big truckloads of gold.  We spent probably 45 minutes in there capped off with a trip to the roof and a great view of the city.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona

Fresh smelling street in the Gothic Quarter. Uh, not really fresh. Barcelona

Gothic Cathedral under scaffolding. Barcelona

Looking down into the crypt in the Gothic Cathedral, Barcelona

Afterward we made our way to La Rambla and strolled down to the waterfront and over to the beaches.  Beautiful white sand and lots of people out there to enjoy it.  Eventually we caught the subway home, bought dinner at a takeaway place and ate a delicious meal on the rooftop of our apartment building, looking out to the Mediterranean and all points in between.

This brings me to my second topic of the title of this blog, romance.  It´s alive and thriving here and not just because the Spanish are passionate people as evidenced in their colourful discussions, but because everything about the life here lends itself to being romantic.  Picture wrought iron balconies everywhere, flower shops where the blooms are outside and scenting the surrounding area, wine, good food, and a language that just sounds sensuous.  Can you see the young guy outside on the street, holding a flower and singing to his girlfriend on one of the balconies?  I haven´t see that yet, but I can certainly imagine it happening.  I can´t see it in Vancouver where it´s overcast most of the time and 90% of the balconies are 6 inches wide and covered in green glass.  And for some reason young couples making out on the street here don´t gross me out as much as they do at home.  I hate to say it but I actually find it kind of cute.  And as we crossed the street to get to our apartment tonight, we passed a bride and groom decked out in wedding finery, eating lime popsicles and walking to wherever they were going next.  But the best romantic moment of the day was in the subway station.  As I got out of the train and walked the platform to the exit, I passed an elderly couple saying goodbye.  She was in the train sitting by the window, he was on the platform.  They put their hands together through the glass, holding them there and smiling at each other until the train pulled away.  No words, just looks and years of understanding between them.  The ultimate romance.

Hey wait, I’ve seen this before in your other post. Yes, but it’s romantic and deserves to be put in here twice. Flowershop, Barcelona

Barcelona First Days

In Europe, Spain on July 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mom and Dad have a timeshare that is fairly international and they know if they want us to join them, they need to pick a destination my brother and I are interested in.  This time they picked Spain so on Saturday morning I flew out ahead of everyone else for a two week vacation.  It started well enough on the leg from Vancouver to Toronto, but then took a slight header south due to the Bradley Cooper double header to Barcelona.  I took sleeping pills to knock me out for the 7 hour flight, but each time I woke up to the living nightmare of his blue eyes staring at me either from the A-Team (so very very bad) or Limitless (I can only imagine how awful that one was).  Nevertheless we arrived without further incident and I managed to make my way to our accommodations for the next week.

We are staying in an apartment on Carrer de Valencia and Passeig St. Joan and it is AWESOME.   Wrought iron balconies and a direct view of the spires from La Sagrada Familia which is only about a fifteen minute walk away.  Mom and Dad showed up a few hours later and we went for dinner and then a walk to keep ourselves awake til 9pm.  Because it was Sunday the city was fairly dead and I was looking forward to seeing what happens when everyone goes back to work.  This morning we headed to La Sagrada Familia so the parents could jump on a city bus tour while I´d go in the basilica to check it out.

First impressions of a ´busy´Monday morning – very quiet and relaxed compared to home, and no joke, these are some of the nicest drivers I´ve ever had the pleasure of observing.  Even when you almost get clocked stepping out in front of a moving vehicle, they don´t even honk or yell at you.  They just do that Catalonian wave thing and as soon as you´re safe on the sidewalk they´re on their way.  I´ve heard one horn since being here and have not seen one driver gun for a pedestrian or cyclist.  And speaking of cycling, it is so nice to see parents with young kids riding around the city.  Note to Vancouverites who hate the bike lanes, you´re not very nice.

La Sagrada Familia is wonderful and I didn´t think I´d ever want to spend that much time in a church, even on a Sunday morning.  What they´ve done with the light in there is beautiful and serene, and despite the hoards of tourists it´s all very calming and easy to meditate if that´s what you want to do.  I loved the choir lofts, rooms for 1000 singers, and the 2000 kg bronze statue of Christ outside hovering above the entrance as He ascends to heaven is also magnificent.  I hate using adjectives like awesome, cool, etc., but whatever ones used here are only appropriate for the awe that place inspires.

Then I headed to Parc Guell to see where Gaudi lived and to view some of the architecture in the park.  Once again very lovely, as you step out of the trees colourful mosaic roofs and crosses appear and you can wander down the meandering paths to pass through covered arches where musicians are playing.  My favourite was Yerko who was playing a kora, an instrument from western Africa.  Since I just finished reading ¨The Book of Negroes¨I´m drawn to anything that comes out of the book, and luckily the kora is one of them.

I spent about an hour and a half wandering through the gardens to make the most of the mountainous hike to get up there, and was struck by how many of the street vendors are immigrants from different areas.  Normally in other European places the street hawkers are from one area of Africa but this time there were Afghanis beside Pakistanis beside Ivory Coast beside Korea.  It was a most diverse group of people and I wish I had time to sit down and get all their stories.

It was very warm today which inspired some guys to wander around with their shirts off and I had the (mis)fortune of observing some very odd body hair patterns.  It was all natural as far as I could tell, I´ve never seen hair grow like that on a stomach.  And this was the first time some of them had seen the sun so the white mosaic tiles were not the only things reflecting light in the gardens.  All in all it was a lovely first day in the city and a pleasant way to start the vacation. Barcelona is lovely and I completely get why people decide to stay here forever after arriving.

And now a word about gladiator sandals.  I hate them.