The Tale of Two Cities July 20-24, 2008

Katrina and I were most anxious to feel the sun on our face after spending a week in the cool weather of Berlin. Barcelona did not let us down on the weather front. It never went below 28 and it was even warmer when we hit the coast. Once we landed in Barcelona we tried out the transit system, the bus we were on did not seem to have a map nor did the driver call out the stops. This did worry me a bit and gave me a sore neck from constantly turning my head in a full circle (Exorcist) trying to read street signs and hotel names. Fortunately for us our hotel was a stop away from a huge plaza which you could not miss unless you were asleep. From there we had a 2-4 minute walk to our hotel. Steve had been there already for about 3 days for the conference he was attending, but he did manage to welcome us when we arrived at the hotel.

Barcelona was a hard city to enjoy, like Sevilla there we many interesting winding streets to explore.

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However, the city itself was very busy with people rushing , cars racing in circles and old buildings that were being dwarfed by the present architecture which made it feel unwelcoming.

It is not that the people were unfriendly in fact it is a city working hard for the tourist money. There were many waiters jumping out in front of us during our evening search for food, trying to encourage us to eat at their restaurant. We soon found out it did not matter what restaurant you ate at they all served the same thing. Even what they passed off as tapas could not compare to what we found last year in Sevilla. Last year in Sevilla every Tapas Bar we went to was an adventure in food, in Barcelona it was becoming monotonous. Never mind the fact I could not even order a glass of Sangria only on the coast was I able to order a glass, in Sevilla there was Sangria everywhere. Sevilla has historical charm while Barcelona is trying hard to be charming for the tourists. I was not alone in feeling a little let down by Barcelona even first time tourist in Spain Katrina was not totally captivated by Barcelona.

But I would not be fair to Barcelona if I did not mention some of the amazing things we did see. To begin with the Plaza that was not far from our hotel was called Placa Espanya. As you make your towards the Placa Espanya in the distance lies the hill or small mountain named Montjuic.

On top of that hill stands the National Palace which is now home to the National Art Gallery. To reach the palace one has to climb several flights of stairs or if do not want the exercise you can use the escalators. Mind you the exercise is worth once you reach the top the view is stunning.

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In behind the Palace is a lovely park, it is what is below and in center of the Palace that bring the tourists 4 nights a week to Montjuic the Magic Fountain.

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It is a light and water show done to music for about two hours in the evenings, as Spain does have water shortages they have limited the show to the 4 evenings (Thurs. – Sun.). The show is a visual delight and a photographers dream.

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The most amazing day we spent in Barcelona is what I call the Gaudi Day.

We spent the whole day looking at the amazing buildings of this architect who managed to combine geometry, nature and to me fantasy in these buildings.

The first building we came upon La Pedrera (Stone Quarry) as it was considered a bit of joke for it looks. This building was in 1910 ten and some the apartments are still living quarters for those who can afford the rent. One floor is open for public viewing, we decided not to tour the inside of this as there was another building that caught our eye.

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However before touring that building went to see the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi was not the original architect. A year into the construction of the building Gaudi took over as architect in 1883. To say he changed the original design is an under statement, even during construction he was coming up with new ideas. The church is like a visual bible it is no wonder that the church is far from being completed.

Just to give you an idea in Gaudi’s design there are 18 towers presently 8 have been built. It is hoped to have the construction completed by the 2026 the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. The model does not do it justice but it gives an idea what it will look like.

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After spending almost an hour taking in this Neo-Gothic/Modernist church from every angle. we decided on a lunch break.

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We needed some nourishment for the long walk still to come and get some much needed shade, we managed to pick a very hot day to do all this hiking around.

After our break we went to a park designed by Gaudi for Count Guell. The mosaic of tiles, using mother nature as a frame work for his design to ensure it was a place of peace and calm. To the fairy tale like design of the two houses that stand at the entrance of the park. Some say one looks like the house from the story of Hansel and Gretel.

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The Tour we did take Casa Batio a nautical adventure here the seas and oceans became Gaudi’s vision for designing this house.

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The are no straight lines just curves or should I say waves. Enjoy the underwater dream of Gaudi.

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Published in: on June 29, 2009 at 8:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Thank God For Spain July 10-19, 2008

I had learned while travelling with Katrina not to expect very warm weather. During our 9 days in Berlin visiting Derek the temperature never hit 20c. I was beginning to think winter was around the corner. Of course most of my packing was for hot weather as was Katrina’s. The mornings always showed great promise blue sky and sunshine but by noon it became overcast and cool, we wore many layers during that week.

Berlin is still the evolving city that I had seen last summer. The biggest change is the Palast der Republik (The Palace of the Republic), it will no longer exist, in fact as I write this it may no longer be there. Built in East Berlin where once the Berlin City Palace stood (damaged during WW II and later on demolished by the government in 1950. Now with unification the present day government is tearing down the Palast der Republik to allow for the re-construction of the Berlin City Palace. One part of the Palace still exists and that is the golden balcony which had been used for the Council of State building. It will be interesting to see what Berlin will look like once the re-construction of the Palace is completed, who will be standing on the balcony and speaking to the people of Germany?IMG_1510

Other highlights of our Berlin visit was biking down major streets of East Berlin with Derek as our tour guide. Sometimes we were right in the middle of traffic, what a way to spend your birthday!! No wonder I needed that glass of red wine after our tour. Derek took us to where old communist building that had been abandoned since the end of WW II, eventually taken over by squatters and now taken over by the government. There is one building that has remained with the squatters and they have turned it into quite a complex of bars and artisan shops. Sadly rumour has it the government wants to kick the squatters out, I am sure there will be quite the fight.

Just when you think you have seen and heard everything we came across two Bunkers one which is supposedly haunted and the other owned by someone who has built his home on top and will give tours upon making an appointment.

There were many things we saw that day the last remnants of a train station that was bombed,

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Watchtowers that look too small for even one persontower

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and the famous Rosenstrasse where the German women stood in protest to save their husbands from being sent to Concentration camps.

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My birthday was filled with history and ended with a beautiful dinner with Derek and Katrina.

Though there was seldom a day when it did not rain we still decided to try our hand at canoing outside of Berlin in Spreewald. This area is known for its pickles, when Germany was dividend this where East Berliners went for pickles. So now instead of finding hot dog stands we found pickle stands and were they big.

We discovered that they grow the pickles along the numerous canals that exist in the area and this is where we did our canoing.

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Very easy to get lost even with a map just take a look at Derek’s expression pretty well tells the story.

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It would not be fair to Berlin if I did not mention the great meals we enjoyed at the many ethnic restaurants that now grace the city of Berlin. The best part was that no matter what restaurant we went to, we were never rushed. One time we sat at our table for about 4 hours enjoying a Sunday Brunch which provided meals for breakfast, lunch and even supper. It goes without saying coffee and ice cream were always good.

Of course as always my stay with Derek was too short and I am looking forward to seeing him again. Next stop Barcelona for some heat that is why I titled it thank god for Spain one place where Katrina could not bring on the cold weather.

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Published in: on June 27, 2009 at 9:06 pm  Leave a Comment