Adios España

Ok…. so we’re sitting at the airport waiting to board which means that we are at the end of this leg and the end of the whole epic trip. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the people following along, all the people who commented on the blog and on Facebook – knowing that people are reading makes it all worth while.

Tomorrow in Barcelona looks set to be utter chaos with major strikes, more marches and protests and apparently there are marches into Barcelona from outlining towns in Catalunya – so although we’re sad that it is all going on, we’re also very pleased to be going home.

So…. The highlights:

Jenny: in no certain order – The Douro Valley, Porto, the Coimbra University, Seville, the old Jewish Quarters, the history, the buildings, the food (in the beginning, when we weren’t sick of it), the tours and the lovely guides, the little walled towns, I’ve had my fill of cathedrals, but I have to say The Alhambra (Grenada) and the Mezquita (Cordoba) were my faves, and of course the top of the list is the Sagrada Familia, making the paella, pastel de nata, the weather and sitting outside to people watch.

Shell: in no certain order – everything Me Jenny said + finding me new red shoes and being able to be understood in Spanish.

The lowlights:

We agreed – the smoking and the crowds of tourists (yes, I know we are part of that group, but…

So what have we learned on this trip? We learned that…

  1. Spanish people don’t take a breathe when they talk
  2. the taxi drivers must go to the Stirling Moss School of Taxi Driving
  3. there is no Uber in Barcelona!
  4. restaurants don’t open until 8.30pm +
  5. kids stay up until all hours
  6. you really only need 2-3 outfits when you travel
  7. you should get to the buffet breakfast early
  8. and that you shouldn’t overload on breakfast in case you find tasty morsels when you’re out and about
  9. we love Ruby port wine
  10. noise cancelling headphones are a necessity to everybody’s personal safety

DOORS! DOORS! GET YA DOORS!

For those regular followers, you’ll know that I love a door, but rather than peppering the blog with shots of doors and their knockers throughout each post, I thought I would save them all for one post at the end…. If you don’t love doors, there is nothing for you to see here.

Door lovers, enjoy…

And here are the knockers, handles and peep windows…

And some tiles….

You’re welcome.

There’s no place like home

Today – our last full day in Barcelona, and indeed our whole trip, we went in a different direction. I like to take the backstreets. It gets you away from the crowded tourist spots and you always find hidden treasures… and today was no exception. We went out in search for shoes. Spain produces some lovely shoes and Me Jenny had been holding out until we got here so we didn’t have to carry extra things in our suitcase…. also because in all the shoe shops we’d seen so far – they all had winter stock in and we were after something a little lighter.

We finally found a shop that had exactly what Me Jenny had been after, however, we experienced what can only be described as the rudest shoe salesperson we have ever encounted, who couldn’t even take her finger off the trigger on the Dyson she was pushing around our feet for the two seconds it took for us to ask to try a size…. she just rolled her eyes and kept on vaccing… so with that, we spun on the comfy shoes we were already wearing and sighed deeply knowing that our shoe journey was probably over….. then we took a spontaneous back street…

And we found these!!!! I love them. Handmade right here in Barcelona. Mine are on the left and Me Jenny went for a more sedate pretty pair…

Each morning for the whole trip we have had a sizeable brekky to set us up for the day, and then each day we’ve come across something delicious looking, but we couldn’t try it, because we weren’t hungry…. each morning we said, ‘shall we just have a light brekky today?’ and each day we had a similar amount….. not like ‘big breakfast’ size, but enough to make you not hungry for a few hours….

Table decorations in the breakfast room

Anyway, today we said it and we meant it. Just a little light something and then as soon as we found our shoes, we turned a corner and there was an empanada shop! We’ve seen these all over Spain and wanted to try one, but never did because… breakfast!

Not today…. we shared a little ham and cheese number and it was delicious.

There is a sign on the wall that says: “As they can be eaten with the hands, it is unforgivable to use a knife and fork.” I agree.

And some amazing art – is there no end to the use of a coat hanger? We sat here and admired this artwork while we ate our empanada.

There has been a lot of talk about Christopher Columbus on this trip. Each guide we spoke to told us that he had done something or other in the building we were in. He met with Queen Isabella in this palace…. He sat with the priests in this room…. etc… And here he at the end of Las Ramblas pointing to something else he did – The Americas.

We found ourselves a lovely spot for lunch overlooking the marina and had glasses of Rose that were nearly as big as our heads…

And Jenny picked out which boat she would like for her birthday…

Tonight I had booked a special birthday dinner for Me Jenny at a Michelin Star tapas restaurant Called Bodega 1900. The reviews were fab and it looked like it would be a great experience.

So I donned my new ruby slippers for the occasion and Me Jenny popped on her new top…

And here was what we tried…

  • special liquid olives
  • razor clams
  • tuna with a tomato and onion sauce (this one tasted way better than it looked, therefore no photo)
  • 3 day cured, thinly sliced beef
  • tomato bread (a staple in Spain)
  • calamari sandwich with aioli and ‘special sauce’
  • calamari with squid ink
  • meatballs

Then we had cheesecake, but that was gone before I could get a photo!

From the street, you walk through the front part, which has a couple of small tables and a bar along the wall where you can sit and on the right hand side, they are preparing the cold dishes…

Then through the doorway, you go through to the bar on the right and the table area before the kitchen where they prepare the hot dishes.

You can choose to have the ‘surprise’ menu where the waitperson/chef choose 10 dishes for you or you can just choose from the menu…. We were a bit concerned that we’d get something we didn’t like, but if you choose for yourself and you don’t like it, you’ve only got yourself to blame, so that’s what we did.

Everything was delicious. Happy Birthday me Jenny.

A day with Mr Gaudi

Yesterday we hit the town to look at one of the major things that Barcelona is famous for – Mr Antoni Gaudi.

In most of our hotels our room as been miles away from the lift, or through a couple of miles worth of tunnels…. but in this one – we we’re good to go – I’ve taken this photo from the doorway of our room. Thank you Hotel Colon!

First we found the Place Reál where some of Gaudi’s first works are on display – the lamp posts for example.

Then we stopped at the La Boqueria Markets. Last time I was here with my lovely friend Felicity, they were closed on the only day we had free…. so that was a bit saddening – but this put a smile on my face (and hopefully hers too!)

Then we cruised the streets making our way up to our destination – the Casa Batlló. I loved this image of the pretty Vespa trying to fit in with the big black motors.

The yellow ribbons are for the Catalan Independence…

The line wasn’t huge, but it was still existent…. I’d been in before and Me Jenny wasn’t keen on all the stairs – especially at €25 a ticket, so we just admired her from the outside. How do you think this design would fit on the canals in Mandurah or along Chapman Road in Gero?

A couple of blocks up the street is another of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The bottom and the roof top are a museum, but the rest is residential apartments…. Imagine living there!

I love the curved lines in all his buildings… this shop down the street a bit obviously also loves the curves!

We sat down to have a caña along our way and we asked the chap behind the counter if he had beer and what Me Jenny and I both heard was, “Yes, we have Australian beer.” “Really, what kind?” was my reply. “Australian. Australian”, is what we thought he said, confused as to what we meant. So I went over the taps to see and this (pic below) was the only tapped beer they had…. Now say that with a Spanish accent. Goodness, we laughed – well Me Jenny and I did – the guy didn’t know what was so funny.

Our Gaudi day tour next lead us to the masterpieces of all masterpieces – The Sagrada Familia. We had tickets for a 4pm guided, skip the line tour – skip the lines tours are my favourites…. the guided part – although our chap had some interesting information, sometimes it’s just nice to get in and soak it in by yourself.

So this church started being built in 1882. Gaudi wasn’t actually the original architect – there was another bloke who after a year pulled the plug and they gave it to Gaudi, who was only 30 at the time. For the first year, he followed the first guy’s plans of a modest, single tower church and then decided to scrap that idea and start again.

When Gaudi died in 1926 only a quarter of the church had been completed. he was 73 when he died (hit by a tram!) so he knew that he was never going to see it completed, but the builders were going to follow his carefully laid out plans – all drawn up with sketches, notes, and plaster models, etc…. until 10 years later in 1936 during the Spanish civil war, revolutionaries set fire to the crypt and the broke into Gaudi’s workshop destroying a lot of his plans. It took 16 years just for them to piece together what was left and construction started up again in the 1950s and since then with advanced technology and building techniques and more up to date materials, there are some that say that the design is too far from Gaudi’s original plan, but others who say if Gaudi were alive today, he would’ve be a fan of progression and would have wanted to use what technology was available to him.

This is what it’s meant to look like when it’s finished… 18 towers – 12 for the apostles, one each for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (they get the ones with the winged creatures), one for Mary (she gets the one with the star) and the tallest of for Jesus (he gets the big 3D cross)

This is a model showing what has been built (in grey) and what is yet to be done (in cream)… They’re aiming to be finished by 2023 – the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death….

Just quietly, I think they might be dreaming.

They don’t have any financial assistance from the government nor from the church, they only rely on donations & ticket sales – but with 4 million visitors every year – we worked out that at an average of €37 per ticket – that’s €148,000,000 per year just in ticket sales alone… how many towers can you buy with that much?

This section below is definitely new since last I was here. I’m not sure I love the difference in colour or that it covers up a bit of the original facade, but…. who knows, in the end, maybe it will all look amazing.

This is the facade on the other side…. I’ve always thought this side looks a bit like it’s melting. Originally this side was meant to be painted and those melty bits are actually flowers and plants and animals, but you have to get close to make them out.

The only thing on the front that was ever painted is the tree at the top covered with white doves…

There are also bits and pieces over the years that have fallen off or damaged due to civil war, so they’ve been fixing those as well which is why they are a different colour to the rest of the facade… The Roman soldier lost one of his legs, someone lost a hand and the harp player had to be replaced altogether.

Then we went inside. I love the inside of this church. We’ve seen some churches in our time, and this trip has been no exception, but I love this one because it is sooo different. The stained glass windows are amazing and have been designed in those colours to capture the sun at different times of the day, and they have writing included paying homage to saints, holy places, etc… The pillars are designed to look like trees in a forrest; the winged bull is one of 4 winged creature statues statues a bull, a lion, a person’s head and an eagle which will go on the top of the 4 towers.

Outside on the first side we looked at we could get a closer look at some of the statues… The ones on this side are truely depressing! They represent the stations of the cross – this one for example is when Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed (even the rooster got a gurnsey!)

Last time I was here I purchased a fridge magnet like this below and for the life of me I couldn’t remember what the numbers meant…. So today I found out (possibly for a second time?) that each row of numbers adds up to 33 – the age Jesus was when he died.

A quick look in the gift shop on the way out and I’m telling you – I keep seeing signs for the Camino – whether it be markers on the ground or words in stain glassed windows – I’m definitely being called….

After being completely Gaudi’d out, we returned again to our hotel to look at our own cathedral… with the Gaudi Museum in front of it!!! There’s no getting away in this city.

And as we are thoroughly sick to death of Spanish tapas food…. we found some Japanese noodles #grateful!

Happy Birthday to Me Jenny

Today is Me Jenny’s birthday….. we’re going to see if we can find her some Spanish shoes and then we have a special tapas dinner for a special lady at a special tapas restaurant that has a Michelin Star!!!

Me Jenny should have her own Michelin Star just for being so fabulous.

Um….

Three hour train journey from Valencia to Barcelona – all was normal. We noticed a few stops out of Barcelona that there were police at one of the stops and a crowd of what looked like students, but didn’t think anything of it. When we got to the the Barcelona train station, we hopped off the train – everything still normal, then we got to the door to find a taxi and were met with a crowd of people and about 200 armed police surrounding the entrances to the building. First we thought maybe it was climate change activists. There didn’t seem like a lot going on, but with that many police we thought it best to move away from the area quick smart.

So we got to the taxi line along with approx 2000 other people all lining up patiently for a taxi – of which there were none! We stood and watched for about 10 minutes and 2 cabs pulled up so we made the decision to start walking in the direction of our hotel and away from the station thinking we’d hail a cab on the street.

We walked for a bit and then found another taxi stop. We stood and waved at quite a few, but they were either occupied already, or they drove straight past. We were a bit far from walking distance from our hotel and so with two suitcases and Me Jenny, walking the whole way there was out of the question. We gave a final wave and were again ignored, we turned to start walking down the street a little more and a taxi pulled up, calling out to us – he’d essentially flagged us down! We jumped in and in our best Spanglish, tried to ask what the hell was going on a the station and that’s when we learned that today, of all days, was the day that the sentencing had been given for the 9 politicians of the Catalan Independence Party and the followers of that party were not happy Jan!

Here’s a bit of brief history from what I can understand:

In 2017 Catalonya’s Independent party – who wanted to become a republic away from Spain bungled a vote to do with becoming independent… they didn’t do things lawfully and were initially charged with ‘rebellion’, ‘sedition’ and ‘misappropriating funds’ – the bigger charge of ‘rebellion’ was dropped, but they were all found guilty of the other two charges. Their fate has been discussed for the past 2 years, but today all 9 of members who were involved were sentenced to prison terms ranging between 9 & 13 years – pretty harsh in the eyes of most people, but especially their loyal supporters – 100s of 1000s of them, and they all took to the streets and more seriously – to the airport to share their disapproval.

Pic: El Pais

It was chaos! The police blocked the roads to the airport, so the protesters walked the 16km distance – it took them 3 hours, so the police were well prepared by the time they got there. Riot Police.

When we first arrived and finally go the cab our driver explained in arm flailing Catalonian (which is easier to understand) what was going on and that he would try to get us as close to our hotel as he could as all the roads were blocked, so he dropped us on Las Ramblas and then just gave arm waving directions. I had been to the square before, so was ok with where we were going…. then as the afternoon progressed, we wandered around for a bit and there didn’t seem to be anything else going on.

The feeling in the street for us was like they had a protest earlier on in the day, but that it had finished and everybody had gone home. We had a bit of tapas, looked around, but then when we got back to or hotel to sit and look at the cathedral, we heard the chanting and the cheering and the singing of what we learned was the Catalonian national anthem.

The view from our room…. at least we had something lovely to look at during the ‘troubles’

We could’ve been listening to a footy game from outside the stadium. There were police everywhere and helicopters flying overhead.

We weren’t sure if these were extra protests that had happened on the fly after the announcement of the sentences or if they were preplanned on top of the earlier marches – just in case the sentencing went south. We didn’t know how long they would go on for or how long they were going to occupy the airport for – we’re flying out in 3 days. There was utter chaos at the airport with quite a lot of people injured by the police brutality – many of the instances were filmed and uploaded straight to Twitter. It was horrifying!

This was at the airport Pic: NBC News

We considered our options – would we try to get a train to Madrid and fly out of there? Would we just stay in our hotel until Thursday? We emailed our lovely travel agent – Lyn Tyson (seriously, book her for all your travel needs – she’s awesome…. and how much of a relief it is to know she is a phone call away if things like this happen)

The noise we could hear from our hotel went on until about midnight and then when I got up to check at about 12.30am, the street was empty and the city was in silence.

Then today we woke up it was like nothing had happened! People were getting about their business, going on tours, eating tapas, sipping sangria, shopping, and going to work…. Nobody that we spoke to mentioned it at all.

Pic: Fodors

After yesterday I can’t imagine that that is the end of it and that there will probably be more protesting to come, but hopefully by then, we’ll be well and truely back in sunny Mandurah eating something other than tapas!

Fear not dear friends and family – I’m looking after Me Jenny and we are keeping ourselves extremely safe, avoiding major squares where people might gather and staying relatively close to our hotel area. Also the amount of police that are in the city should be making us feel safer. We have one more day, then we’re on our way home.

The river runs dry!

Our final tour in Valencia was to the City of Arts & Sciences. Valencia used to have a river running through the centre that used to flood all the time and after the last time in the 1950s they decided to divert the river around the city (flooding rivers seem to be a theme in Spain!). Anyway, they were left with an enormous dry river bed and didn’t quite know what to do with it.

They couldn’t just leave it as a gaping hole in the ground – it went for 9kms through the city. The choice was to make it a multi lane highway or an open public space….. so over the space or 30 years, they have made it into the most awesome open public space. Running tracks, playgrounds, walking/bike paths, baseball & football fields, ponds & fountains, a performance space…

… and this – the City of Arts and Sciences, which is an architectural marvel.

The second half of our tour was to be wined and dined by Nick, our chef who presented us with a 10 course degustation tapas dinner with matching wines on the top floor of Valencia’s tallest building.

The views weren’t too bad….

Then the sun went down and all the lights came on…

Then like clockwork – the moon came up and she was a beauty. It was one of those moons that were really red and full and so clear that you could see the little American flag not waving…. almost. But naturally, you can’t take good photos of the moon with your iPhone. It just doesn’t do it any justice.

But in real life, it just got better and better.

Our group consisted of a couple (one from the USA, who spoke a bit of Spanish and the other from Estonia – English speaking); a couple from Romania (he spoke a little bit of English, a more Spanish, she spoke both languages well); 3 older siblings from Spain who only spoke Spanish and us.

So, we wondered what was going to happen over dinner with this big language barrier, but thought that there were enough people with both Spanish and English that we should all get along well.

However…. the couple from Romania didn’t speak to anyone except each other, the Spanish trio spoke a little bit to each other, but not much and the man from USA talked solidly and exclusively about himself in English to us.

I tried desperately to use google translate to communicate with my table mate – one of the Spanish ladies which was funny even it if wasn’t successful, and so in my very broken one word Spanish and a bit of mime, we had a laugh together. It wasn’t until half way through the dinner that we learned Mr USA could speak Spanish and he spent what time he wasn’t regaling us with his achievements, letting the Spanish speakers know which part of his achievements they’d missed out on. He asked no questions. Maybe his knowledge of Spanish (and English) was limited to “I” statements only.

Anyway….. besides that little snippet, it was a lovely evening with a great view and delicious food….. and I may have a new best friend from Pamplona.