Friday, March 27, 2009

2003 Europe -- Barcelona

We are nearing the end of our 2 week trip around Europe which started in Prague after Angie's semester of school there.  To start from the beginning, click here: PRAGUE

July 5th: Barcelona
This part of the trip caused me the most consternation when planning our European vacation. Barcelona was so far from anywhere else we were going that I wasn't sure how we could fit it in. I even checked into flying. Angie had studied a lot of the architecture in Barcelona and was hoping to get to see it first hand. I ended up going to Europe not knowing if we would make it to Barcelona, but with the rail system being so good and the sleepers being a good way to spend the night, we decided to go ahead with the expedition.  So when we left Cinque Terre, we booked a sleeper train out of Milan and headed to Barcelona.
We were rather surprised when we woke up and looked out of the window of our sleeper room. Don't know what I expected, but it looked like we were in a desert. We were still a little ways from Barcelona, but it made me wondered what we would see there.

We made our way to the dining car and had our free breakfast of---bread and jelly.
Our train arrived in Barcelona about 9:30 am. We had decided to book a sleeper train to Paris for that night, so we went and stood in line to do that. Our plans were foiled again. The sleeper was sold out, as well as the train to Paris the next morning. But there was a train to Montpellier the next morning, so we went ahead and made reservations for it, figuring we could connect to something going to Paris from there.
So our priority now was to try and find a hotel so we could leave our luggage and head out to explore Barcelona. The first hotel sign we saw was right there in the train station, so we went to check it out. 100Euro for the night and we could check in right then, so we took it and checked out our room. (I did find it interesting that in almost all the hotels that were set up for 2 beds, the beds were actually pushed up next to each other.) The room was nice and even came with free internet access down in the lobby.

Soon we were walking to see the sights. It was so different from what we had seen in most of the places we had been so far. No old narrow roads and alleys, instead there were wide open roadways.

Even the walkways were wide.

There were even outside escalators.

Then in the middle of all this was a nice little park.
Fortunately Angie seemed to know where she wanted to go, so I just followed her. The first stop on her agenda was Pavello Mies van der Rohe. It was originally built as the German Pavilion for the 1929 World's Fair and was the last of the Mies van der Rohe's works before he emigrated to the United States.

From there we wandered up to Olympic Park and checked out some of the structures there, including the Sports Palace, stadium, and the area by the Telecom towers which were built for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Then we caught public transportation and headed to the part of the city where Gaudi's La Pedrera and Casa Batllo buildings are. Built in the early 1900's, they had very unusual and interesting styles to them.

Gaudi liked to use undulating stone in his structures and these residences are no different. Here is the La Pedrere building which was recognized by UNESCO as "World Heritage" in 1984.

Inside La Pedrera is an apartment that can be toured, as well as a small museum in the top floor. The furnishings in the apartment were period pieces of the early 1900's.

But the most fascinating part to me were the chimneys on the roof.

A short distance from La Pedrera is Casa Batllo--restored by Gaudi in the early 1900's also. It was originally designed for a middle classed family and situated in a prosperous district of Barcelona. We toured the residence, but no inside photos are allowed.

A short distance from there is the Sagrada Família. It is a massive Roman Catholic church still under construction. Construction began in 1882 and continues to this day. The temple is scheduled to open for worship by September 2010 and is scheduled to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

We were getting hungry by now, so we decided to find a nearby restaurant and have lunch before touring the church.

We elected to eat indoors since it was another hot day. Along with our Spanish potato tortillas that Angie had bragged about to me, we shared a pitcher of Sangria. Both were great. In fact after a few glasses of the ice cold Sangria, I was not feeling any pain for a few hours!

After lunch we went back to the Sagrada Familia. This is another of Gaudi's works. He spent the last 15 years of his life working on it and it still has a long way to go.

The interior columns remind me of trees. You can see the molds and materials that are being used in it's current construction laying throughout the interior. Some of the plans for the church were lost in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The present design is based on reconstructed versions of the lost plans as well as on modern adaptations.

Money from tickets purchased by tourists is now used to pay for the work, and private donations are accepted through the Friends of the Temple. I'm happy to say we helped build this church!
Even the stained glass windows are like none others i've ever seen before.

Back outside we wandered around the whole building.

There are 3 facades to the church---the Nativity, Passion, and Glory. Each having a very different character from the others.
When we were done marveling at this work in progress, we did a little shopping in some nearby stores (and cooling off in the air conditioning for a bit).

Then we jumped on a bus and headed up to Parque Guell. It is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudi". The park was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site, the idea of Count Eusebi Guell, whom the park was named after. There were suppose to be 60 houses built here, but only 2 were built (not by Gaudi). When they didn't sell, Gaudi bought one in 1906 and lived there with his Dad.
Now it's a municipal park and a neat place to wander around.

Gaudi seemed to design this park to fit in with nature pretty well as opposed to the flamboyance of a lot of his other places.

Being up on a hill, the park has great views of Barcelona and the bay.

Gaudí's house, "la Torre Rosa," is now a museum and contains furniture that he designed. Angie toured the house, too, while I rested my weary feet again.

The terrace was a great place to sit and watch people and look out over the city. We even bought some olives from a vender near there. Angie and i love olives. I don't know what they filled them with, be neither of us could eat them! I had even put my bottle of water on the table we were sitting at and they made me remove it from the table since I hadn't bought it from there.

Another view of the city from the park with the 2 Hansel and Gretel looking buildings near the main entrance of the park. I believe the one on the left is where the park care taker lives.

This is considered the main entrance of the park, although it was where we exited. Not sure how we ended up entering up above.
The idea of this being the grounds for a subdivision sounds great to me! I wouldn't mind living on grounds like this.

We headed down a street from the park and came upon another museum.

I forget what this place is called, but there was a lot of strange sculptures on the grounds. (Joan Miro museum?)
We checked on touring the inside, but didn't have enough time to make it worthwhile.
So we looked out over the city again before heading to a subway station and going downhill underground. That was a rather interesting ride.

Then we caught more public transportation and headed back to our hotel. Got back about 9:30pm---totally exhausted again. Dinner ended up being peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our room and later we went down to the lobby to use the free internet to catch up on our emails.
One day is definitely not enough time in Barcelona!!! I hope to get back there some day!
Click here for our next stop---PARIS !     

Thursday, March 26, 2009

2003 Europe--Cinque Terre

Starting in Prague (to start at the beginning, click here PRAGUE ) we then went to Ronchamp, Geneva,  then Rome.  Next in our stops of our mother/daughter 2 week European vacation was Cinque Terre.  Only spent 1 night there, but it was well worth the "trouble"!

July 3, 2003:

Last breakfast at the Golden Tulip. After 3 busy days in and around Rome, we were hitting the rails again. Now we were on to Cinque Terre (5 villages). I had come across pictures of this area while searching the web months earlier and was awed by it's beauty. Some of Angie's friends had talked about it, too, so we decided it was a place we wanted to check out. So I had made reservations for one night here, too---in RioMaggiore, one of the 5 villages.
It took another half day to get there with a couple stops and switching of trains.   At one point it looked like the mountains had snow on them, but we were told it is actually where white italian marble is mined from.

It was interesting riding on all the different trains. This one had a cute little snack car which we spent quite a bit of time in. Loved the seats facing the windows.

The little villages were a nice break from the cities we had been in---much more peaceful and laid back. Plus they had a totally different kind of beauty. Cars weren't allowed in this area, except for business vehicles, the street were narrow, lots of narrow alleys, pastel painted buildings, little shops everywhere, laundry hanging from clothes lines outside windows, steep hills and steps, and beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea with waves breaking over boulders of marble.

Finding our B and B was a little tricky. The directions said to go through a tunnel and turn left and go up to #34 on the steps. The beautifully landscaped street was quite steep and long. Half way up, we started wondering if I had the right directions. So Angie stayed with the luggage and I went on to find the room. The section it was on was so steep that they did build steps. I found the room, nothing fancy, but it was clean and comfortable.

After going back down to get Angie and our luggage, we unloaded and started walking around town some more.  Then we decided to train on to Montarosso and swim, so back to the room we went to change into swimsuits and back down to the train station we went.
After a short wait for the train at a stop overlooking the water,

we were back on a train heading to another of the 5 villages.

The first beach was packed with people, but it was a pay beach.
Walking through Montorroso

We continued on until we finally found the public beach. It was rocky and the water was rough and murky, but it felt good.
Eventually we trained back to our village and walked up to the top of the town.  Views from there were spectacular.

 As the sun began to set, we went to our room to change for dinner. Most places were closed by then, so we ended up back near our room. We even ran into some more "kids" that we kept running into in Rome. Even chatted with them for an hour or so.

After dinner, we walked back down to the marina to look at the water at night.

Back up at the room, we were ready to rest again.

July 4:
We were up and at breakfast (bread and jelly again) by 9. We checked out and left our luggage there while we ran around RioMaggiori a little more.  There are walking trails between the 5 villages and we had planned to walk a bit of them, but it turned out there was a fee for most of it.

We didn't have much time, so we just walked the free area and marveled at the water, the flowers and cactus, and buildings stacked on top of each other.
Also loved all the pastel colors in the little towns.

Then we sat for awhile and watched some bar employees bring in decorations for 4th of July---in France. I guess they get a lot of American tourists there.
We grabbed lunch nearby---pasta with pesto this time. I looked forward to getting some of the sweet wine that area is known for, but they were out of it. So we tried Grappo and Lemoncini---yuck!
Then it was back to collect our luggage---all 5 pieces of it (Angie had sent one suitcase back to Chicago with her roommate, but still had a bunch more from her 5 month stay in Prague. I just had 2 carry on pieces. We were washing clothes in the bathtubs at night).
We caught the train about 4pm and rode the train to LaSpazia and connected with a train to Genova. Then on to Milan to catch a sleeper train to Barcelona. We arrived in Milan about 7 and our sleeper arrived at 7:30. Soon we were on our way again. We had to pay another sleeper supplement, but by having first class tickets we were able to get private sleeper cars made for 2 people.

Others had to share cars with bunks for 6 people. We were able to lock our door and wander the train without worrying about our stuff. The supplement was high at 98 Euro @, but many hotels would have been that much, too. So we settled in for our 13 hour trip. We were even given little travel packs with soap, sewing kit, comb, ... . I didn't sleep well, but it felt good to rest my increasingly weary legs.

Breakfast the next morning in the restaurant car was included in the price of the supplement.

To continue on to Barcelona with us, click here: BARCELONA