Sunday, October 25, 2015

Spain Days 10-11

Day 10 - Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona around mid-afternoon and headed to our hotel.  We usually build in one splurge hotel each trip and El Palace was our splurge for 2 nights.  The staff were very attentive and the hotel was beautifuly decorated.  The breakfast buffet included with our room stay was divine.  Orange juice is fresh squeezed everywhere you go.

The hotel is locate in the Eixample neighborhood, known for it's wide streets and sidewalks, with bycycle lanes in the middle and out of pedestrian and car traffic.  There are loads of fun shops and restaurants as well as gorgeous architecture.  Below are a few shots of Casa Batllo - a Guadi design.  We didn't go in and I didn't find time to research it.

Day 11 - Sagrada Familia

We purposely took a leisurely morning before taking the 1.25 miile trek to Sagrada Familia.  A cathedral, still in the making, designed by Antoni Gaudi.  We only had about an hour in the cathedral as it closed in the afternoon, we're assuming for a service.  Below are photos from the inside and outside.  It has come a long way in the 2 years since I last visited.  Refer to our blog from 2013 for more info about the cathedral.

below - selfie in front of Natvity Fascade

below: tree of life at top of Nativity Fascade

below: Passion Fascade

below: cathedral ceiling mimimicing a tree tops in a forest, including how light passes through.  The four main pillars dedicated to Matthew, Marc, Luke & John

below: alter 

below: looking up at ceiling and the beginnings of the towers dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Christ

below: the gorgeous venitian stained glass windows, so many more are filled in than when I was last here

As you receive this last posting from our Espana vacation, we are sitting in Heathrow airport awaiting our flight to Seattle.  Looking forward to being home and loving on our kitties.  

We'll be back in a couple weeks from Honolulu.  Till then, here's a photo of that delicious gezpatcho that we just can't stop thinking about. So good!  Till next time, Adios.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Spain Day 9 - 10

Day 9 - Sevilla

This was our most leisurely day yet.  We slept in until we felt like getting up, enjoyed breakfast in the hotel then ventured out for a walk.  We made our way to the river, Guadilquivir.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day in the low-mid 70's.  We made our way back towards the Barrio to get lost in the tangled streets and do some shopping.  We stopped for a quick refreshing glass of gazpacho before siesta.  Dinner was at the Italian place again.  Here are some shots of our day.

below: We're pretty sure that's the bull ring in this photo.

below: These gorgeous tiles are everywhere in Sevilla, they have both Muslim and Spainish roots.  In this small plaza all the benches were tiles.

Day 10
Today we board the high speed Ave train back to Barcelona.  A 5.5 hour trip with a train speed average around 185 mph.  It's so wonderful to just hand the driving off to someone else.

Our last day is tomorrow and we will go to Sagrada Familia.  This will be Dean's first time to see it and I'm excited to see how far construction has come in the last 2 years.

Until then ...  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Spain Days 6-8

Day 6 - Sevilla

We arrived in Seville around 1:30 pm, got settled in and went for a walk in the Barrio Santa Cruz. a once thriving Jewish Quarter, full of narrow and tangled streets.  The streets are too narrow for cars, with some buildings so close they are called "kissing lanes."  Orange trees are everywhere and they are teaming with fruit.  We're guessing it must be so fragrant in spring when the blossoms are out.  There are quaint shops, restaurants, hotels and apartments in unexpected nooks and crannies.  This is a welcome change from the super crowded hustle of Madrid.  There is old world charm in this city, if you slow down enough the details will blow your mind.  

We had dinner at a adorable little Italian place l'Oca Giulva (Goose something), about 40 feet from the door of our hotel.  It was by far the best Italian meal we've had outside of Italy.  What a treat!  After dinner we walked in and around Plaza De La Virgen De Los Reyes (Plaza of the Virgin of Kings).  We stopped and listened to a street musician playing his guitar.  Simply lovely evening.

below: "rush hour" behind a tour group on a kissing lane

Day 7 - Sevilla

We had a somewhat slow start to the day.  Once we got going, we headed out to Sevilla's cathedral and Giralda Bell Tower.  The cathedral is Europe's third-largest church behind St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London.  It is also the largest gothic church anywhere - another Guiness Book for World Records.  When they ripped down a mosque of brick on this site in 1401, the Reconquista Christians bragged, "we'll build a cathedral so huge that anyone who sees it will take us for madmen."  They built for 120 years.  This church also holds the remains of Christopher Columbus.  His pallbearers prepresent the regions of Castile, Aragon, Leon and Navarre.  

Giralda Tower was formerly a Moorish minaret from which Muslims were called to prayer.  The towers construction begain in 1184.  It became the cathedral's bell tower after the Reconquista.  A 4,500 -pound bronze statue symbolizing the Triumph of Faith (specifically the Christian faith over the Muslim one) caps the tower and serves as a weather vane.  In 1356, the original top of the tower fell.  The top we see today is the 16th-century Christian-built top with a ribbon of letters proclaiming "The strongest tower is the name of God."  The tower tells a history story, Roman foundation followed by a long Moorish period then capped by our Christian age.  By law, no building can be higher than the statue atop the tower.  In Latin, around the four sides of the tower near the top reads "TURRIS FORTISSIMA NOMEN DNI PROVERB 18" meaning "The name of the Lord is like a strong tower" (referring to Proverb 18:10)

We climbed to the top of the tower, which has 34 ramp segments rather than stairs.  The segments are tall and wide enough to allow the muezzin, in charge of calling people to prayer, to climb to the top on his horse.  The Christians added the final stairs with 17 steps leading up to the bells.

After a couple hours in the cathedral we walked the main shopping area in the city.  The pedestrian only streets are full of some higher-end stores, some mainstream stores and the end of the lane is anchored by an El Corte Ingles Spanish department store.  It's like Macy's and Fred Meyer in one.  You can get just about anything in there.  

We had dinner about 20 feet from our hotel this night at Bodega Santa Cruz Las Columnas.  We noticed right away the locals eat here.  The menu is a board on the wall, in Spanish, and the wait staff keep track of your order by writing down the amounts of the tapas you consume with a grease pencil.  Once you pay, the barkeep wipes away your order and goes to the next.  We just took a stab and called out some things on the menu accompanied with a cervesa (beer).  Each dish cost 2-2.50 euros so if you don't like it, no problemo.  One interesting dish was chorizo cooked with crashed egg (fried egg) which was covered in a tomato-ish sauce and lima beans and served with a thick slice of fresh bread.  I liked it, Dean didn't,  We also tried the gazpacho ... my my MY!!!!!!  Wow, was it good.  They served it in a small drinking glass with an ice cube.  We drank our soup just like we drank our beer.  No messy, dripping (or leaking) spoons.  This is how soup  should be served.  We finished the meal with a little spot of ice cream and a short walk.

below: the cathedral high alter

below: the tomb of Christopher Columbus

below: ramp and bells inside Giraldi Tower

below: view of Sevilla from top of Giraldi Tower

Day 8 - Sevilla

Today we visited Real Alcazar, the royal palace in Sevilla.  Originally a 10th century palace built for the govenors of the local Moorish state.  Today it still functions as a royal palace and is the official residence when the Spanish royals are in town.  For a thousand years it has been the centre of power and a royal residence.  The palace of King don Pedro was not finished until the 14th century, and has been enlarged since.  It is one of the best examples of Mudejar (moodee-har) style and it is the oldest palace in use in Europe.  There are spectacularly decorated halls and the courtyards have a distinctive Islamic-style.  Can you tell the differences between Muslim and Christian architecture?

Before siesta, we stopped at the Bodega Santa Cruz again for a 'glass' of gazpacho - delicious on this warm and sunny afternoon.

After a short siesta we headed out to a Flamenco show at the Museo del Baile Flamenco.  The one hour show was full of passionate emotion (pain, joy, seduction and love), great guitar music, double jointed wrists and the superhero fast dancing feet.  It's loud with stomping, clapping, singing and random shouts of "OLE!".  The vocals had a muslim feel about them, which makes sense given the history of this remarkable city.  Personally, we could have done without the singer, not because of the style but because he was annoying.  The dancers were fantastic.

Tomorrow we have no agenda.  We're going to walk to the river, wander around the barrio and probably do a little shopping.  There are local craftsman in Sevilla, which is a treat since we haven't seen it in Spain on either visit.  

On a totally different note, we've found ourselves enjoying and competing with the health app on our iPhones.  The app counts/tracks steps, flights climbed and miles walked.  Dean got cheated out of at least 9 flights when we climbed the tower a couple days ago.  We've been speculating since the tower has ramps rather than stairs, it messed with the app.  Dean is still peeved.  

Still a few more days of Spanish vacation to come, stay tuned ...

Monday, October 19, 2015

Spain Days 3-5

Day 3 - Madrid
We arrived in Madrid by train around 2:30pm and had a quick taxi ride to Hotel Atlantico.  After a short siesta to get our bearings, we headed out to explore a little.  We were hungry and believe it or not, we went in search of pizza.  Yelp said there was a 5-star place close by.  We found it, but decided we weren't as hungry as originally thought, so we hit the shopping street Gran Via instead.  The streets were teaming with throngs of people.  It was like walking in packed crowd exiting a stadium.  We've been in crowded cities before but nothing like this. By the time we made it back to the pizza place, it was closed.  We missed our window for late lunch.  So, we yelped another one that didn't close for siesta.  We went to Pizzeria-Trattoria which was about a ½ mile walk.  The crust was perfect, which made for a good pizza. 

After dinner we walked to Puerta del Sol & Plaza Mayor, the historic core of the city. Due to the volume of people and temporary structures in the plaza, we didn't get to enjoy the space as we'd hoped.  The plaza was set up for some type of show/concert and was not the open space we expected.  Loads of people everywhere.  We made our way back to the hotel.  We asked if the sidewalks are always so full of people and the consierge said no.  We learned a new European store, called Primark, had it's grand opening the day we arrived and the store was about 2 blocks from the hotel.   They had areas of the sidewalk cordoned off with gates so people could queue up in line to get in the store.  The lines went around the block and down the alley behind our hotel ... ca-razy!

Day 4 - El Escorial and Botin
We had a leisurely start to the day and after breakfast made our way to the train station.  We took a 1-hour train to El Escorial.  This 16th century palace was built more as a symbol of power rather than elegance.  It was built at a time when Catholic Spain felt threatened by Protestant heretics.  It is about 650 feet long and 500 feet wide, has 2,600 windows, 1,200 doors, and more than 100 miles of passages.  400 years ago the "extremely Catholic" King Philip II ruled his empire and directed the inquisition from El Escorial.  The building was conceived by Philip II to serve several purposes: a grand mausoleum for Spain's royal family, as a monastery to pray for the royal souls, as a "small" palace to use as a "get-away", and as a school to embrace humanisim in a way that promoted the Catholic faith. This place is immense.  The Pantheon Real (Royal Pantheon)  is several stories deep inside the palace.  It is the guilded resting place of 26 kings and queens - 4 centuries of Spanish royalty.  There are two coffins waiting, unmarked, for the current king and queen.  We climbed the stairs into rooms filled with tombs of lesser royals leading to the Pantheon de los Infantes.  Rooms and rooms filled with the remains of various royal children who died before the age of 7.  There are also a couple rooms filled with the remains of babies.  

The town of El Escorial is slightly different from other towns we've visited in Spain.  It has a hint of bavarian architecture and we suspect this comes from King Charles V, Philip's father, who was from Hapsburg.  

We might have stayed longer to visit some of the other buildings on the grounds, but we had reservations at the famous Botin restaurant. So we hoofed it 20 minutes back to the train station for the 1-hour long ride back to Madrid.  Botin holds the Guinness World Record for longest running restaurant in the world.  Their business card states: Casa Fundada En 1725.  Some of it's fame is derived from the fact Earnest Hemingway frequented the restaurant.  The building has been renovated and some of the floors repurposed over the years; however, now it only serves as a restaurant.  The line was easily 50 people deep when we arrived for our 8 pm reservation.  Theyquickly  funneled us into the door and up the stairs to tables.  These waiters really earn their keep, all the food and beverages are run up and down the stairs on foot (and it is a 3 story building!).  We had croquettes to start, their famous suckling pig, filet mignon, green beans with jamon along with sangria for dinner, and white chocolate cheesecake and pineapple with caramel sauce for dessert.  The pig was delicious but our favorite dish of the evening was the beans and ham, believe it or not.  

Day 5 - Madrid
First thing this day we headed out the door to Palacio Rael (Royal Palace).  It is considered by many to be Europe's third-greatest palace and has a sumptuous interior.  The palace is the product of several centuries.  Philip II made the wooden fortress which stood on this site, his governing center when he established Madrid as Spain's capital.  The current structure was buillt by Philip V who wanted his own private Versailles to match his french upbringing.  The palace has been added on to over the years and now boasts 2,800 rooms full of luxurious tapestries, probably three times as many chandeliers, frescoes by Tiepolo, priceless porcelain and bronze decor covered in gold leaf.  The palace still hosts ceremonial functions including formal state receptions and royal weddings.  It is here where we also saw the Spanish Royal Crown, the Spanish Throne and the Royal sceptre.

Next up Museo Nacional del Prado.  We saw works by Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, Diego Valazquez as well as several Italian and Flemish masters.  Goya's black paintings were creepy and disturbing.  His other works were much more enjoyable to view.  We found  we really like the Flemish paintings.  There is a huge collection by Peter Paul Rubens.  We learned there are so many Flemish paintings in the Prado because Spain rulled the Netherlands between the years 1581-1714.  

We spent the later afternoon/early evening shopping.  Madrid is a fantastic place to shop.  Loads of choices and very reasonable prices.  Still hoards and hoards of people on the sidewalks, now add vats of pouring rain and umbrellas to the mix.  Yoy!!  We made our way back to the hotel to dry off and take a quick siesta before heading out for dinner.  

Dinner was a-mazing.  We went to this Taco joint close to the hotel, Takos El Pastor.  It is a tiny place with maybe 20 seats and you order at the counter.  Tacos are a euro each and cocktails were 3-5 euros depending on what you ordered.  The tacos are small, open face with just seasoned meat of your choice and maybe a few diced onions or cheese.  We enjoyed the beef, chorizo, chicken and pork.  We feasted and spent very little.  Oddly enough, we enjoyed these tacos better than the dinner at Botin.  

above: view of Madrid from palace grounds

Day 6 - Off to Seville 
Back on the high speed train to Seville ... more to follow

Friday, October 16, 2015

Barcelona Take 2

It's our second time visiting this fantastic city and it's starting to feel familiar.  We actually recognize some areas now and are able to easily navigate.  I get two days to tinker around while Dean is working.  The evening I arrived I was immediately whisked away to dinner with 12 guys from Dean's work team.  We started at a client cocktail party then went to dinner at this little hole in the wall place that seated our big group plus maybe 12 more.  The restaurant owner came over made some suggestions and the boys were all "yeah that sounds good, just bring it."  The plates just kept rolling and the wine kept flowing for 3+ hours.  It was an all protein meeal, not a vegetable or anything green in sight.  I learned a new term from one of the British team members when he announced loudly that he was wearing his "meat pants so just start bringing the food."  We had tomatoe bread, clams, calimari, steak, jamon, red prawns (scampi) and the house red was quite good.  We all toasted to the good evening with lemoncello at the end.  We finally made it to the hotel at 12:30 am and I had been up for nearly 2 days by this point.  I collapsed into bed and didn't move a muscle for 5 hours.  

Day 1 - Adjusting
My day began with a super slow start and I didn't accomplish much.  The rainy, muggy weather complimented my sluggish start.  I made my way on the metro (subway) over to Il Corte Ingles (the big department store in Spain) to find the travel agent so I could get our train tickets for Madrid & Seville then back.  You can't quite trust the "foreign" websites with these types of purchases so I went to the old fashion travel agent. I was not alone in my endeavor, the queue was 8-people deep when I left.  I bought shoes 😀 on my way out of the store, officially marking the start of my vacation.  I made my way back to the hotel for a very quick siesta (I love love love siesta - nothing like a little nap in the afternoon.  It feels so decadant.  After siesta we were off to dinner with more of Dean's colleagues.  We had tapas and cocktails (sangria) at one place them went to another restaurant for dinner, dessert and more great conversation.  The boys even let me pick the drink ... Cava Sangria with mellon.  They liked it well enough to order another pitcher.  Dean works with a great bunch.

Day 2 - Montjuic
Despite the lack of sleep I was up and at it early.  We had breakfast together.  Dean went to work and I went out to explore the neighborhood of Montjuic.  The train station is about a mile (maybe a little more) from the hotel and Dean had a pre-paid metro card as a conference lab captain.  Trains make it is so easy to get around.  The metro has frequently running cars and takes you just about anywhere you want to go.  I made my way up to the top of Montjuic "mountain" then hoppped on a cable car to the very top at Castell de Montjuic.  On the way back down from the castle I met a young lady from Poland, who's father was attending the VMware conference.  Small world.

Translated literally Montjuic means "Mount of Jews."   This neighborhood was also the site of the 1992 Summr Olympics and the 1929 World's Fair.  The wooded hillside overlooks the city and port of Barcelona.  At the top is a star shaped fortress, Castell de Montjuic.  Today it is an empty brick and concrete shell offering expansive city and port views.  Originally built by the Spanish government in the 18th century and intended to keep an eye on the city and stifle it's citizens.  When dictator Franco was in power during the 20th century, the castle was the site of hundreds of politiccal executions.

I began the trek back down the hill via Jardin de Laribal which had lovely walking/jogging paths.  About ½ way down I stopped at the Fundacio Joan Miro (museum).  Joan Miro (pronounced zhoo-ahn mee-roh) was another Catalan artist who created modern and contemprary works.  The art was fun, fantastic and at times disturbing, though I suspect disturbing was not his intent.  Joan believed everything in the cosmos was linked - colors, sky, stars, love, time, music, dogs, men, women, dirt and the void.  He creatively mixed childlike symbols of these things.   Some of it I got ... some I didn't.  

Continuting down the hill is the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (Catalan Art Museum).  My feet had had enough at this point so I just spent a little time enjoying the grounds rather than going inside.  Below are photos of the Font Magica (Magic Fountains).  Several times per evening, after dark, music and colored lights bring the fountains to life.   Perhaps when we return to Barcelona in a few days we'll be able to take in the show.

Below - looking torward Placa d' Espanya

Dinner was at Bar Canete near La Rambla.  We met one of Dean's colleagues and his wife.  Wow, the food was good.  It's wonderful to be able to order several small plates and enjoy a couple bittes of several dishes.  

Day 3 - Travel to Madrid
We're taking the high-speed Ave train, which takes 3 hours and 10 minutes to go 432 miles (with a few stops along the way).  Our top speed was 212 kph (about 186 mph).  It's a smooth ride and so fun to go whipping by cars on the freeway,    We have several things planned for our 3 days in Madrid.  Stay tuned.