Barcelona, it’s good to be warm again!

When we stepped off the train a week ago in Barcelona, we actually felt we’d entered a tropical heatwave. That was a week ago, after leaving frigid Marseille. The past week has been a lovely, sunny reprieve. However, the past couple days have been overcast and a bit more temperate. That is to say, jeans and jacket weather. You can always spot the locals. They’re the ones in down jackets, knee boots and scarves. While we too have taken to wearing jackets and scarves, my knee boots were left behind in Paris. Oh well, today is sunny and mid to high 60’s again. Very nice.

 

Entering the old mercat in the historic center.

We are staying in the Eixample (pronounced eye-SHAM-plah) which is the newer part of the city developed beginning around 1864. Here are some buildings sited around our neighborhood. Yeah, this is the new neighborhood. Quaint, don’t you think?

 

The Catalan flag is everywhere. People here are serious about divorcing Spain and creating their own country.


This is a common site on many street corners. Motorbikes are popular for transportation.

Entrance door to our apartment building.

The Eixample is home to many of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural creations, La Pedrera (also known as Casa Mila is an apartment building), Casa Batllo and the most famous, Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia is the huge church that Gaudi is most known for. It has been under construction since 1883 and is a geometrical marvel especially considering the tools available at the time. The completion goal of 2026 marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. This is too huge for one photo. Look closely at all the details.

Antoni Gaudi is considered the father of the Modernist architecture movement. He said his inspiration came from God and the natural world. Barcelona has many examples of this type of architecture from Gaudi himself and his followers.

This is stuck in the wrong spot, La Pedrera, apartment building.

Entrance opposite the picture above.

 

Another facade of Sagrada Familia.

We’ve enjoyed the tapas (small plates) style of eating here. You order several small dishes and get many different tastes and textures. The food is not spicey yet it is quite tasty. There are lots of seafood dishes. Here’s a sampling.

 

Oops, dessert first! This is a cinnamon, sugar baked French toast. A Catalon specialty. It was also a Portuguese specialty I never tried.

This Catalon specialty was also a specialty in Portugal. I never tried it there. When it presented again, I caved. It was actually quite tasty especially with the ice cream.

These are Mediterranean razor clams. We had them in Portugal too but mostly shelled in Cataplana (seafood soup).

 

Mediterranean razor clam next to a steamer clam.

Had a bit of a scare last week. While using the WC, I dropped my phone in the loo. Lucky for me most john’s
in Europe are low flow so don’t have much water. I noticed immediately I’d dropped the iphone and retrieved it.
Seems it sustained little damage. After a two day drying out all seems to be working fine. Phew!!

There is an Apple store here. We’re four blocks from the major shopping district in Barcelona. I’m talking major! You’ll find all the designer labels, Cartier, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Prada, Dior, Hermes, and the list goes on. We can be very proud as along this avenue you can also find Adidas, Nike, and Timberland as well as Apple. And my luggage is already full,  dang!

On Sunday we visited the main cathedral. Construction on this structure was begun in the 13th century and finished six centuries later. The facade was built at the end of the 19th century according to a Gothic design dating from 1408. There was a gentleman playing the classical violin on the steps so we did the Spanish thing and sat at a cafe to listen for a while.


Sculpture outside the Gaudi museum.

Afterward we strolled down to the waterfront and on down to the beach. In spite of it being overcast, it was a very busy day at the beach. People were running, walking, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, paddling, and even swimming in wetsuits. We also noticed a windsurfing lesson going on. The beach was covered with volleyball games.

 

Myth has it the patron saint of Barcelona, St George slayed a dragon that was threatening to destroy the city. You can see images of St Georges and dragons throughout the city.

 

Statue of Christopher Colombus on the marina .

 

Sunday at the beach in Barcelona.

As usual, we were the third table sitting at the restaurant. In typical fashion, the place filled up around us. Yes, we are the trend-setters. Note that I only say this about the mid-day meal. We’re not out eating at 9PM. Sunday was an official paella day. Delicious!

 

It’s not visible but this dish was loaded with tasty bites of shrimp and fish.

Yes, you are seeing correctly, that’s Doug paella on the other side of my plate. We each had our own.

I’m going to close with a few more pictures from La Pedrera, Gaudi’s apartment building that is one of the best representations of his work. The following five pictures are from the rooftop of La Pedrera. Gaudi wanted this to be a pleasant place for residents to walk. Therefore, he ‘decorated’ the necessary rooftop structures such as chimneys, staircases and airflow stacks. It does make for an interesting walk. Imagine this rooftop when completed in 1912 without the chain link fence. It took six years to complete this structure.


  
  

Inside the attic at La Pedrera. Once used to wash and hang clothes now a Gaudi museum. Felt like I was in the belly of a whale.

 

One of my favorite foods in Europe, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil.

 

Interesting sign one block from us. A steakhouse selling Nebraska beef.

 

Funny the things you see on a morning walk. Yup, we went back for breakfast.

This is the day the Lord has made.

Rejoice.

Give thanks.

Be glad.

Mourning in Paris and more…

I started this post toward the end of our week (last November) in Paris so will just pick up from what I was writing while there. Since Paris, however, we spent 6 weeks in Portugal (see previous post) and recently returned to Lyon to finish our long term VISA process. After Lyon, we spent two days in the blistering, frigid, windy, yet sunny, city of Marseille. Now, back to Paris and all that is France.

We’ve been in Paris for a week now and are getting ready to leave tomorrow. About halfway through our time, last Friday night, the terrorist attack occurred. At last count, 189 were killed and over 300 critically injured. Naturally, Paris, and the world, are in mourning. All museums and other National sites have shut down in honor of all impacted. The Eiffel Tower is dark as is Disneyland, all museums and other national sites of interest.

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You see we did get in some sites before everything closed down.

Our flat in Paris was on the fifth floor. In the US, what we consider the first floor is the zero floor in Europe. There was no lift! Yes, we carried our five bags up 94 narrow steps. Then down again when we left. Of course each day we walked up those steps more than a couple times!

Steps in our Paris flat

Steps in our Paris flat

imageAn interesting fact about France is that in most public places where steps are involved, escalators are only available to go up, not to go down. In some train stations there are no escalators. Elevators are marked for wheelchair use only. You would expect us to be quite svelte by now with all the steps and site seeing. Not happening. In Lyon we had 85 steps to our flat. Our hotel in Marseille was on the second floor, really.

Over the past two weeks we traveled from Pierrelatte to Saint Remy visiting Arles (the haunts of Van Gogh), Les Baux (another Roman Castle and village on the road from Rome to Spain), Nimes (pronounced Neem, the birthplace of denim and home of a well restored Roman arena). Most of this time we spent with Stella, our former exchange student from Italy and her boyfriend. What a great re-connection we had.

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Then we covered the sites of the movie “A Good Year” in the Luberon region (past post). From there we headed to the French Riviera visiting Monaco, Nice and Antibes. We found the Riviera to be very crowded and the beaches quite rocky. Not our cup of tea. For the past week we’ve been in Paris arriving via train from Lyon where we returned our car. Yes, we’ve covered a lot of territory.

What we’ve learned. The French have some great national highways much like our freeways called the autoroute. The exception is, as in Mexico and most all of Europe, these are private toll roads. You can take the two lane state funded highways for free. Most of the time these roads are more scenic, are well maintained and much slower! However, the cost of the autoroute can be as much or more than what you pay for fuel. For example, traveling from Villefranche sur la Mer on the Riviera to Lyon we paid $54 Euros. Ouch! Didn’t use a full tank of fuel though.

I think I’ve talked a bit about food. Just a note, cooked carrots are very common in Provence. (Sorry Janneen). We’ve had them in Paris also but not every dish. Maybe it’s just the season?? Serving sizes are generous. Dessert and coffee are integral parts of the meal. It seems that everyone eats dessert and has coffee after. Coffee always comes after dessert, never with! When in France… Oh yeah, I’ve been doing it too. The coffee is typically a shot of espresso. It’s very good, a satisfying end to the meal. Desserts are good too.

Also related to eating out, the waiters and waitresses, as a group, really hustle. They get paid a liveable wage and want to keep their jobs. They work at their career!

The French do love their dogs. For the most part they keep them on a leash. However, there are times when they are on laps in restaurants. Hmmm. And that was on The Riviera! The French aren’t big about picking up after their pooches. Gotta be watching your step.

Most Brasserie/bistros have outside seating. This is great until you sit down and realize you are in the smoking section. Yup, the outside spaces are where the smokers sit since they can’t smoke inside. There are a lot of smokers in France, young and old. It’s surprising the national health care doesn’t fine people for smoking since it must impact health care costs. And people smoking at the entrances to public places as well as along public walkways can’t be good for anyone. Enough of my soapbox!

The man purse is alive and well in France.

Now for some pictures.  We say Au Revoir to France and we’re off to Barcelona, Spain.

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Where in the World is Portugal?

Since mid November we have been in Portugal. This is where we headed when leaving Paris. During our week in Paris the terrorist attacks occurred which closed all tourist sites for half of our stay. Coming to Portugal seemed pretty secure, off the terrorist radar and a spot with mild weather to begin our European winter.

So where, exactly is Portugal, you ask? It’s just to the left of Spain if you look at a map. Specifically, Portugal is bordered on the north and east by Spain and on the south and west by the Atlantic Ocean. This makes it the farthest point west in Europe. Just google ‘map of Southern Europe’ and you’ll get a good picture of where Portugal is situated. It’s quite a small country and doesn’t seem to have much impact on the World political stage.

Portugal is primarily a Catholic country and has a strong family focus.  Their language is distinct from Spanish, however, some words look similar. The sound of the language is very different. The s in words sounds like sh. As do the ‘x’s’ and the c’s with a little tail.  The Portuguese also skip over vowel sounds. So, when you listen to conversations, it’s truly difficult to make out anything that sounds familiar. There is so much sh sound. Initially I thought people were speaking Russian or some Slovic language. Lucky for us, many people speak at least some English. The few TV channels are mostly in English with Portuguese subtitles.

Our first few days were spent in the capital city of Lisbon, known as Lisboa to the Portuguese. This is a very cosmopolitan city set along the Tejo River that empties into the Atlantic. It was pretty cool thinking this is where many of the explorers of old began their journeys.

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Monument to Henry the Navigator and other explorers out of Portugal.

Plunking on the Rio Tejo.

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Ornate building in Lisbon.

Panorama of Lisbon

Panorama of Lisbon.

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While in Lisbon we also learned about Fado.  Fado is a Portuguese form of music that is mournful and soulful, often about the sea or the life of the poor. It sounds very much like Portuguese soul music bordering on classical at times.

  
Doug and I went to listen to Fado on my birthday here in Faro. We had been initiated to Fado while in Lisbon. 

The week before my birthday I went to the Monchique Termal Spa with a friend from South Carolina who we met here.  It was interesting, one treatment was to get sprayed from the neck down with a fire hose, back, side, front, side, repeat. Another was sitting in a plastic container that covered your lower body and having water jets rotating onto different parts of your lower body. They have natural spring water with a special mineral content that supposedly cures what ails you or just feels good. Susan and I also added in a nice 12 km hike up a mountain. It was a special experience for turning 65.

Monchique Spa, the pools weren’t heated but there was an indoor pool, sauna, steam room, and relaxation room.

   

Susan and I taking a pix break.

  

Fire Lookout, our destination.

  

Our guide

 

On my actual birthday we visited a small town east of us that straddles the Rio Galao, Tavira. At one time this was the largest town in The Algarve. It’s quite lovely and quaint with several monuments and Renaissance architecture.

 

65 Year Old woman holding up statue

  

Inside one of Tavira’s churches

    

Tavira on the river

  

Great lunch with good friends, Rubin and Susan.

and of course with my main squeeze.

  

Train back to Faro.

 
We’ve also traveled west from our home base of Faro to the west end of Europe, Cape Sao Vincente and the town of Sagres. Henry the Navigator’s school for explorers was at Sagres. Cape St Vincent is actually the most southwest point of Europe and consists of a lighthouse over looking these huge cliffs.

Sagres is the town furthest west. This entire area is bordered by huge cliffs that drop into the ocean. There are several beaches that are very popular with surfers and windsurfers. Along the cliffs the local guys fish with rod and reel. It’s crazy to see them cast out over the cliff and reel in an 8″ fish. Poor fish is probably dead by the time it reaches the top of the cliff. We were told about 5-6 fishermen are lost each year getting too close to the edge of the cliffs.

 

Cliffs at the end of Europe

  

Cape St Vincent lighthouse.

  

Can you spot the fishermanand his rod?

  

Surfing beaches

  

What surfers do when theres no surf.

  
Fort in Sagres that's also part of Henry the Navigator's school.

Sagres’ fort and Henry the Navigator’s school.

  

This 100 ft diameter circle is a mystery. Some think it’s a sundial, others a wind compass.

  

The shoreline is rimmed with huge cliffs.

  

Now she’s holding up a cannon.

 
There have been other adventures through the Algarve but I’ll spare you the details. Portugal is a somewhat poor country that reminds us of Mexico. The cost of living is similar to Mexico. The Portuguese make great wine (reds, whites and ports), olive oil and harvest salt from the sea. Other main products are fishing, cork and textiles. We’ve had lots of good fish meals. Typically everything is also served with boiled potatoes or French fries. Smoked cod, although not from here, is a main staple of the local diet. This is a hold-over from when ships went to sea and salt cod was a long lasting staple.

The lifestyle here is laid back and family focused. We’ve really enjoyed our stay here. This would be a good place to land for awhile if it weren’t so far from the Pacific Northwest. Even phone calls are tough when 8 hours separates you.

Monday we head back to France for a week to finish our VISA process. After that we head to Spain. Thanks to all of you for following our travels. 

Be fully present wherever you are. I am here.

 

Lunch with salad.

  

Poinsettias in bloom.

  

Cork tree grove. Part of the bark on the trunks has been harvested.

  

Lots of tiled surfaces in Portugal. Reminders of African influences.

  

Orange trees .

  

Shiny fish in the market.

  

Hams hanging