Tuesday, July 19, 2011

barcelona, spain

placa espanya and the museum of national art of catalunya
venetian towersolymic torch monument
track and field for modern day 1992 olympic games.

Sagrada Familia (by Gaudi) in the far distance. by far the coolest piece of architecture i have EVER seen.

La Pedra (by Gaudi)

Casa Batllo (restored by Gaudi)

park guell (by gaudi)

Magic Fountain!

crazy riot/protest thing in the placa de catalunya . it was wild.

arc de triomf

gothic area

Las Rambles

awesome bike rentals for residents of barcelona.

agbar tower

Thursday & Friday, June 9th – 10th: Barcelona, Spain

Espana! This was the definitely the most livable city we visited. When we arrived early Thursday morning we signed up for the “express walk off”, meaning we carried our own bags off the ship. The cruise line really advised against this (probably bc everyone is so old and cant handle luggage) but also that taxis are scarce. We walked out of the port to about 50 cabs. Again – happy with our choice.

Our taxi took us straight to our Novotel Hotel, in the business district of Barcelona (right next to the Agbar Tower, which is a newly constructed circular tower that lights up with many colors at night). We dropped off our luggage, then just started walking. We walked to the Sagrada Familia, one of the archetect, turned artist, Gaudi’s work still in progress. It is a cathedral and basicilia, where Gaudi is also buried. They anticipate it to be completed in the next 30 years. All his work looks like something out of a dream. He was inspired by nature and he combines nature and religion on the Sagrada Familia. From far away it looks like a melting candy wonderland – I have never seen anything like it.

We bought a hop-on, hop-off bus pass at the square and began our days journey. First stop – Placa Espanya with the Venetian Towers, which hosts many outdoor concerts and events in front of the Magic Fountain (or Font Magica) with the Museum of National Art of Catalunya as a grandier backdrop. It was beautiful. We didn’t enter the museum, but made plans to come back in the evening for the Magic Fountain show.

We then bussed on over to the arenas that hosted the 1992 Olympic Games! We saw the Olympic Torch Monument, the stadium that hosted the track and field events, and all the outdoor squares. It is quite the facility. Warren’s coach from BYU ran at these Olympics on this track, so it was pretty cool for him to see.

By this time I was starving (of course), so we skipped a few stops to get to Las Rambles, the main shopping and eating district. It is a long street lined with cafes and street performers. Our lunch was nothing to write home about. So after our meal, Warren was on a serious hunt for some street food his friend Ernesto recommended called shwarma. We asked a couple locals who looked very confused and then a couple guys seemed to know what it may be. They referred us to a Turkish eatery with pigs and chicken roasting. They would razor off some meat and basically make a burrito. It wasn’t called shwarma, I think it was what Ernesto was talking about, but Warren is still not convinced.

We wandered through the narrow streets to find the Gothic area, which had a cool bridge, a church, cathedral and tons of museums. We saw signs for “tapas” everywhere. We then strolled to the public park to see the Arc de Triomf. There were a bunch of guys in the park practicing their bartending tricks with bottles and shakers - throwing and juggling them everywhere. None of them were very good, but it was interesting to watch.

The coolest thing about Barcelona is that they have a public bike rental for the local residents. There are many different stations, so you can pick one up, ride it around town, then drop it off where it is convenient for you. Each bike has a GPS tracker, so if someone tries to get tricky, they can locate it. Everyone uses them. We wished they offered them to tourists. There is even a designated bike line on all the streets, separated from the sidewalks and driving streets by its own curb lined with trees.

We walked through the Placa de Catalunya to find some sort of strike or movement going on. There was a ton of hippies camped out in the square, even some had made tree houses. Who knows what it was all about. Warren tried to listen to the guy preaching to everyone, but they speak so fast. Our Spanish is very limited. But I have to say I was more than impressed with how much Warren could speak and understand, or he just fakes it really well. :-)

We grabbed one of the last buses leaving from the Placa to get back over to the Magic Fountain area. We asked a local late 20-something guy on a scooter a good place to eat. He told us Sylvester’s down the street with “jamon, jamon, jamon” hanging in the windows. And he wasn’t exaggerating. There was so much pork hanging from the ceiling. I ordered a sausage with potatoes and veggies (safe) and Warren ordered some arroz negro (black rice with fish). When our food arrived, I couldn’t even look at Warren’s. We should have taken a picture. It looked like black tar with scary shelled creepy crawlers on top. He felt obligated to eat it, since we were paying for it, but it was a lot of work. He had to de-shell the creatures. It was so gross to watch – the color was the worst part. And that the black would get stuck in his teeth – haha.

Thousands of people were gathered at the Magic Fountain for the late night water and light show coordinated with music. It reminded me of the Bellagio water show in Vegas, but not as cheesy. The music was from all over the map. We retired home by taking the metro (best decision). We were able to purchase 10 trips for around 8 euro. It went right back to our hotel in just a few stops.

The next morning we woke up early to meet up with a Gaudi tour we signed up with. We met at the Placa de Catalunya when is started raining! Luckily we were prepared this time. There were lots of old people on the tour (the norm) and we had a nice airport bus to guide us around town. We journeyed by the Casa Batllo and also one of his most famous works, La Pedra.

We then drove up to Park Guell, which was a community Gaudi had helped with the irrigation and city planning, that never really took off. All his architecture is beautiful and dream-like. There were two gingerbread-like houses, a market 80-something columns and a decorated roof and walk-ways that fit into nature.

The tour ended at the Sagrada Familia, where we were able to skip the line to go inside. The inside reminded me of a light-colored Tim Burton movie style. The pictures just do not do it justice. The tour was well worth the price we paid.

We stopped for lunch back at the Placa at a side street cafeteria type café. The food was actually very good. Warren tried some traditional pizzas on a flat baguette and I had a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg atop and Italian pasta salad. Muy bueno.

We had planned on renting bikes in the afternoon and relaxing on the topless beaches, but the rain was relentless. We retired to our hotel for an afternoon nap. We were able to connect with Eugene and Andy and planned to meet them for a very late dinner. In Barcelona, people start eating dinner around 8:30pm and restaurants serve dinner until 2am. We planned to meet them at 9pm. I found a restaurant online that was listed in many guidebooks. The main reason we chose it was because on the review sites the management of the restaurant had actually taken the time to rebuttal against the bad comments made. And their rebuts were hilarious. We decided it was a must.

It was called Taller de Tapas, located on the windy back streets of the Gothic area. I don’t think I gave Andy and Eugene great directions (granted it was a little difficult to find) bc they never showed. Unless we totally just got stood up by our new bff’s. Lame. Maybe we wont be visiting them in Miami after all.

Warren and I ordered the following traditional Spanish style tapas (which is basically a small plate or appetizer size): pebrots de padron (hot and spicy green fried peppers), brocheta de pollo marinado con finas hierbas y vino blanco (grilled chicken kebabs marinated with white wine and herbs), patates braves (fried potatoes with garlic mayonnaise and spicy smoked paprika sauce), xoricets de Pamplona a la sidra (sizzling chorizos braised in asturian cider), and of course the traditional bread with a light tomato sauce. It was delicious. Best food in Barcelona we had during our stay.

And that’s it!! That was our trip, the abridged version (believe it or not). :-)

Friday, July 15, 2011

got this today.

cant say how or where. but i will say - i love it.
also loving this. it has brought a fresh organizing element to my day.

ps. we have one more europe post (barcelona) coming soon!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

nice, france & monte carlo, monaco

local market

collector item cars by the dozen drove by us on our walk along the coast

the park that we reached by elevator is in the top left of this pic

view from the top of the park

view of bay in monte carlo

Wednesday, June 8th: Monte Carlo, Monaco & Nice, France

This port we had to access through a smaller tender boat to shore. It didn’t take too long and we had met up with Eugene and Andy to spend the day with them. We walked through a few streets in Monte Carlo to the train station, where we could not find a counter to by tickets. We hopped on the next train to Nice, the capitol of the French Riviera, and made it there (as stow-aways).

Along the way, a couple from Mexico tagged along with the four of us (I forget their names). We walked down the main street to get to Nice Old Town, which is on the coastal edge with views and a beach on the French Riviera.

We stopped off at the local market and took a look around, and ate a light meal at a café (penne pasta in a cheese white sauce and sliced ham on top). We then headed to the park on top of the hillside with amazing views of the Riviera. We were able to take an elevator up and down in the park, which was very convenient and saved us a lot of time.

We decided to take the public railroad back to the train station (very short day) which only cost 1 euro. We made it to the station to find our asian family, who told us the train was canceled (some strike – of course) and that we would have to take the bus. So back down the railroad to old town to catch the city bus.

The bus drove on the windy coastline of the Riviera and took about an hour (compared to our 20 minute train ride that morning). We arrived just in time to take a picture with the famous Monte Carlo Casino and then discover that there was a line of about 2,000 people to get back on the boat.

All in all, Nice was beautiful and very quaint. It was definitely more relaxed than other days and ports. A nice way to end the trip.

Friday, July 1, 2011

pisa & florence, italy

leaning tower of pisa

the classics....

the duomo

inside the duomo

view from the top....

walking around town

santa croce church

Tuesday, June 7th: Florence, Italy

The day started off with the same asian family to share a cab to the train station, where we took a train from Livorno to Florence. Warren had told me, “it’s your day, we can do whatever you want”. All I really wanted was a nice Italian meal, a picture with the leaning tower of Pisa and some cute scarves, which I did find. :-)

We hopped of the train in Pisa and Warren started his stop watch to calculate for 1 hour (the trains only came once an hour). We wanted to have plenty of time in Florence, so Pisa needed to be a quick trip. Taxis were barren. Warren spotted a train that Rick had listed as a way to get to the leaning tower, so we sprinted (through the rain) to the bus and hopped on. I asked the girl next to me if it was heading to Pisa, and we had the right bus, but the wrong direction. We got off at the next stop to where we found a lone, empty taxi – thank you! He took us to the tower where we walked around a few minutes and both got one of those classic pictures of us trying to hold up the structure. We were so cool. We saw another bus, confirmed its direction, then got it to head back to the train station. Pisa took all of 54 minutes, where we caught the next train about 6 mins later.

In Florence, we wandered off the train, through an underground passageway to the other side of the square, past some churches, where we stumbled into the Duomo and Baptistery. The Baptistery is known for its massive bronze doors, and the Duomo for its massive dome atop the Cathedral of Santa Mara del Fiore.

We heard the line for Accademia would be long to see Michalengo’s “David”, so we headed to the museum. Word on the street was right. It was over a 2 hour wait. Our taxi driver had told us to buy a reservation ticket for anytime, then go through the reservation door bc they never check the time. But all the rezzie tickets were sold out, and that line seemed even longer with all the tours! So we decided that a picture with the replica would have to do bc we didn’t have 2 hours to spare when there was so much more of the city to see.

Wandering through the streets we found many churches, a hospital, statues and even a catholic funeral taking place. We made our way back to the Duomo Museum where we purchased a tour and walked right in (skipping the line) to the Cathedral. The tour was the best idea we had all day. The floor was what was most impressive. It is the original and from higher up, you can see the unique designs that represent special religious meanings. Our tour guide took us up to the roof and different look out points to the city. Warren was pleasantly surprised and liked Florence much more than he thought he would. Now HE wanted to see other things too, and it became “our” day. :-)

Next we tried to find a Rick recommendation for lunch, but after wandering the narrow streets for a half hour we gave up and settled for pizza and a sandwich. We were short on time, so it probably worked out better this way anyhow. We sat in the Piazza Signoria to eat and then took some pics with the replica statues of David and Perseus, holding Medusa’s head.

What Warren loved most about Florence was that it is a walking town. There are some cars and taxis, also scooters, but they cant all fit on some of the narrow side winding streets. We walked through a small street to get to the Santa Croce Church (where Michelangelo is buried), to which we found it was closed.

So, we moved on to find my scarves. Warren had heard there was great shopping on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, so we walked along the waterline to it. It sprinkled on and off and when rain would come, everyone ran for cover under the awnings of shops. On the bridge were stores mostly with jewelry, so we did a quick walk through, picked up our most expensive and least tasty gelato of the trip and strolled back towards the train station through shops that contained……scarves! I was very happy.

The 3:30 train back to Livorno had been cancelled, and we arrived for the 4:30 train hoping it would be on track. We met a couple production guys for a Blue Man Theater tour on another boat that was docked at the same port. They are treated like royalty on cruise ships from what they were telling us. Much better than our server and cabin attendant, who could only the leave the ship 2 hours a day and slept under water level in a shared cabin. We cant figure out why they do it, bc I don’t think the money is much better and they have to be away from the their families for months at a time. For these production guys though – sounds like cake. They get to travel and have all their room and board free.

We were going to share a train with them back to our ship (theirs was parked next to ours), but we ran into our trusty asian family and split a cab with them back to the boat. Florence. Pisa. Check.