Stuart & Heather visit Spain and France.

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France and the Côte d’Azur

Stu in the morning in Marseille. Cold outside!

Heather.

We left Marseille early in the morning and headed east all the way to Antibes. Antibes is a little town just on the east side of Cannes and was a recommendation from a work friend. It was a very small and quaint town on the coast.

Market in Antibes.

Spices for sale in the Antibes market.

Le Happy Face!

Heather flying over the cote.

The cote.

Ocean. The French Alps are in the background.

The Cote.

Cafe des Chineurs. Where we ate lunch.

We got bold. I don't know how many other times in my life I'll get a chance to eat Foie Gras. It had the texture of a fine cheese (Heather said it had the texture of dog food). It tasted like...salty fat?

More to come!

End of Barcelona, The Pyranese, Perpignan

This post is going to compromise a few days of traveling. We haven’t really had a chance to sit down and post until Thursday, Feb 2!

Morning in Barri Gotic.

Waiting for the metro at the Drassanes station.

Placa d' Espanya...unfortunately the Magic Fountain was under construction. Grrr!

Placa d' Espanya contniued. The arena to the right is where Barcelona Football Club holds it matches.

Stuart happy as a lark with his liter of beer at La Fábrica Moritz in the Eixample district.

Yum, Moritz!

Spanish "Nana" potatoes. They were so good, but Nana's can't be beat! ;)

Just a regular stoll on La Rambla. On the left one can buy various pets like birds, rabbits, torugas (turtles), and chipmunks.

Lemon gelato, tart y tasty.

The fancy version of Spain's typical Estrella, but we did not taste the difference. :(

We head back out for a late snack at iRATi and then Heather directed us to Placa Real to Jamboree for some late night “WTF Jam Sessions”. The stage was filled with a rotating cast of local and out of town musicians. There was one guy, who was kind of acting as the MC and band leader who would sort of pull people in and out of the band throughout the night as he pleased. I think we also saw him whispering into people’s ears what he wanted them to play. Very large personality! Occasionally he would start beat boxing form time to time.

Jam session at Jamboree in Placa Real.

WTF Jam Session at Jamboree.

That pretty much wraps up our visit to Spain. Tomorrow morning we head to the airport to collect our car rental and begin the journey east to France!

<insert sleep>

We decide this morning to head north to Andorra before going to France. Andorra is a tiny country that identifies themselves as Catalunian and thus they speak the same language as Barcelonians. This will be about a 2 hour journey that will push us further and higher into the Pyrenees mountains.

Picking up our new ride. Her name is Bianca Blanca. Isn't she pretty?

Stuart taking Bianca out for a spin.

The cliffs where Montserrat Monistary makes its home (sans the fog).

A Spanish countryside village in route to Andorra.

Catalan independence is based on the belief that Catalonia is a nation, derived from its own history, language and culture. The Estelada flag is seen here, the common symbol of the struggle of independence.

Approaching the Pyrenees Mountains.

Stuart's first time pumping gas in Europe. Awkward. € 1.50 a liter. There's about 4 liters in a US gallon. That's € 5.20 a gallon. Converted to $, that's roughly $7.28 a gallon!

Watch out for cows! There's a horny cow up ahead caught in some kind of amorous love triangle. Beware.

Welcome to Andorra! Andorra La Vella, the capitol of Andorra, is a little city. The Pyrenees are seen in the background. We can tell there has been a lot of construction and push to make Andorra a resort destination for wealthy Spaniards and French.

Inside Caldea, a luxurious wellness center. Various baths are available for soaking, all heated by warm water coming out of the earth. It appears that this place is also under constant construction. The primary areas are open ofr business, but there were only a handful of people there.

This is relaxation at 2,000 meters and 2 degrees Celsius at the Caldea center.

Andorra La Vella and the Pyrenees.

Heather and Stu in Andorra La Vella.

A view back down the valley as we head higher into the Pyranees on our way to the French border. The snow begins falling on us as we get into the upper elevations.

We pullover at a ski village just west of the France border. This seems to be a popular place for British, French and Spanish ski vacationers. At this point, the snow is really coming down and we get a little worried about what road conditions may be like.

Ski Village. Almost to France! Maybe you'd like to visit the "Cementiri" where they bury the skiing and snowboarding accident victims?

Heather and Stu in Encamp, right before the French border.

As we cross the French border, road conditions deteriorate rapidly. We're forced to move very slowly in our little car!

We endure another hour or two of this snow ride. After getting somewhat lost, we finally decide that we need to find a spot to stay the night, so we start following signs for Perpignan on the coast of France. Both Heather and I were about to have heart attacks starting and stopping on these little mountain paths. We backtracked first to Bourg-Madame, right on the Spanish/French border. At least we were out of the mountain passes and the windy, slippery roads! As night begins to fall, we start heading east to Perpignan on N116. The signs tell us there are about 98 kilometers to go, which should take about an hour. As we continue driving, we notice the snowfall is picking up and that we’re climbing elevation. Uh oh… Indeed we are headed back up into the Pyrenees mountain ranges, except now it’s dark and the temperature is well below the freezing point. The next two hours are brutal and we only cover about 30 kilometers. It was dark, snowing and quite treacherous going back through the mountains. again. We finally trickle down into dry territory and make our way to Perpignan.

Our hotel in Perpignan. It was cold outside! Much colder than Barcelona.

We head out for dinner. Perpignan is very pretty at night!

Casa Sansa, where we ate our first French meal. Très bien!

Casa Sansa. Heather had calamari and I had chicken. A tartes tatin with apples and Grand Marnier which we couldn't really taste. Stuart was so tired he barely remembers this meal. That drive took it our of him!

Insert a very deep sleep here, for Stuart at least. Heather is dealing with a little sinus congestion :(:(

Good morning Perpignan! From the view of our hotel balcony.To the west you can see the mountains we just came out of.

We make our way east on the freeway and pull over for some lunch and sight seeing in Arles. The Romans conquered Arles around the birth of Jesus and many sights still exist from this time period, including the Roman amphitheater, theater and streets.

The ancient streets of Arles.

The Arles Amphitheatre, built around the 1st century BC. This amphitheater is still in use today and was under repair while we were here.

Cobblestone paths through Arles.

A church.

The Roman Theater in Arles. This structure could hold up to 8000 people and was built around the 1st centiry BC.

A fountain in Arles.

Heather and Stu in Arles.

We left Arles and are now on our way to Marseille!

Exploring Barcelona

The morning started with breakfast at our hotel and then a journey through the barri to explore.

Morning in el Barri Gotic.

El Call. This was the center of the original Jewish settlement inside the original wall built by the Romans. It took us quite a while to find this spot! The roads are incredibly narrow. As you look up, the walls angle out of the building and the ally way narrows to just a couple of feet at the top.

Although no sign explicitly demarcates it, this is what Heather and I believe to be one of the few reminantes of the original wall built by the Romans around the old city of Barcelona. According to Wikipedia, this dates the wall at close to 2000 years old! This wall is the exterior of El Call, the original Jewish district.

Heather and I peeped a very incognito Synagogue being held in El Call, the ancient Jewish district of El Barri Gotic in Barcelona. Very small door!

A man carefully and artfully scrapes slices of Jamon Iberica from the leg of a cured pig. This is a traditional food in Spain.

Heather spotted this shop. The "Dolar Tattoo" shop. Would you get a tattoo at a place that not only costs a dollar, but manages to spell "dolar" wrong? No!

The Arc de Triomf. We jogged past this on day 1. The Arc is in the center of a long expanse that directs people south through the Parc de la Ciutadella.

Parc de la Ciutadella. This park occupies the site of the old military citadel and houses the Parliament building, the Barcelona Zoo and several museums. Built in the 18th century.

Font de Parc de la Ciutadella

Parc de la Ciutadella.

The Monk Parakeets are very common in Barcelona. In the park, they were tagged with numbers.

We left the park and walked down to the beach for a second time. The first time we found the beach was on our fabled jog that ruined my feet (we did see a wonderful sunrise over la playa!).

"Homentage a la Barceloneta" at Playa Barcaloneta. This sculpture, by Rebecca Horn, is meant to commemorate the old shack shops and botegas tha used to line the beaches of Barcelona until the restoration in 1992.

Sand castles in progress.

The Simpsons in Sand.

Montserrat and Tapas

Saturday morning started out cloudy with a little rain. Since we arrived in Barcelona, we’ve wanted to take one of the many gondola rides offered by the city. Unfortunately, most are shut down for annual maintenance. One ride that still runs is the Aeri de Montserrat, a cable car system built in the early 30s that takes tourists 1350 meters up into the mountains to the Montserrat monastery. After breakfast, we walked down to Liceu station and rode to Pl. Espanya and boarded the Renfe 6 headed towards Monserrat. The trip was about 1 hour.

A good day starts with Heather's shirt on backwards!

Tickets for lines and trains to Montserrat

After transferring to the Renfe, the first 5 or six stops are underground and dark.

The Spanish country side on a rainy day.

Estació Martorell-Enllaç. We had to transfer to a different train here. Almost to Montserrat!

base station for the rail car that will take us up to Montserrat. Built in 1930 by Germans.

Riding up into the fog.

Trains passing in the fog...

The landing station, 1800 meters up. It's about 8 degrees C, or 46 degrees F.

Headed to the monastery

Maybe the Montserrat marketers should have consulted with an American concerning vulgar hand gestures when designing the logo?

courtyard of the Montserrat Basilica

We got in line to what we thought was the entrance to the basilica. This line kept us heald up for a half hour and we had no idea where we were headed.

Still in line. We pass by a lot of beautiful artifacts.

We finally figure out we are in some kind of pilgrimage line to touch the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, or La Moreneta. Built in the 12th century, is a small Romanesque statue made of wood. It depicts a seated Black Virgin with the child Jesus on her lap. Her dark color is due to changes in the varnish with the passage of time.The room was lined in gold.

On our way out of Montserrat back to the aeri.

Tickets. We had a fun time trying to figure out that we had to buy tickets to get home.

The valley.

When we get back to Barcelona, its raining. We take a little walk around before getting back to the apartment to warm up.

Just west of Las Ramblas is the St Josep Mercat, an open market with any possible food you could imagine, from the yum to the yuck.

Cured pig legs, Jamon Serrano. A nice house warming gift.

Dragon fruit?

Meat on a stick, 1 Euro.

We pop into iRATi for tapas around 4pm. In Spain, tapas function as a never ending selection of bar foods. When Heather and I walked in, we ordered drinks and were given a single plate. From then on, we made selections at will. At the end of the meal, the waitress counts up our toothpicks and then delivers us a bill. Very good indeed!

iRATi. Very good tapas and only a few minutes from home!

So many options!

Plate 1. Sweet cheeses, bacon croquette, a tuna salad kinda thing with salmon on top, and ham with a pepper.

Bacon croquette. Some options are better than others!

Plate 2. Added some kind of seafood pate

Heather wasn't too much of a fan of this one. Too seafoody...Good thing about tapas, if you don't like one selection, make another!

Before the end of the evening, I picked up a scarf.

Good night!

Gaudi

Breakfast in Catalunya train station on the way to El Park Güell

Lesseps station in the TMB.

Park Güell entrance. The park was designed by Antonio Gaudi.

Park Güell, overlooking Barcelona facing south.

Hazy overview of Barcelona. In the center is Sagrada Familia.

Old guys playing bocci ball

Heather skipping through the stalls in the Metro.

La Sagrada Familia was Gaudi’s magnum opus. He spent the last 40 years of his life working on it but it was never completed. At this point, the best guess on completion is 2060.

The baskets at the top of the spres have fruit in them, except one which has corn.

The newest facade of Sagrada Familia is far from being finished. When completed, it will be the main entrance.

We walked away from Sagrada Familia to find food.

Paella and steak.

After our huge lunch and a proper nap, we head out again to explore further north of the city center (Catalunya). We walked south on Passela de Gracia back towards Barri Gotic, taking in the sites.

Casa Mila (La Pedra), designed by Gaudi

Casa Batlo (Gaudi)

Close up of Casa Batllo.

Drinks and snacks at some British African bar called Obama?!?

Heather stops for a crepe on the way home.

Morning Run, Broken Feet and Barri Gotic

One of my favorite things to do is to go on early morning runs through Oakland. Making my way through various neighborhoods, I find myself absorbing the sights, smells, and sounds of the city. These things can be easily missed by the comfort and safety of a motor vehicle, thus never feeling the true vitality of a metropolitan area. For me these morning runs are not only good for the mind, body, and soul, but they also help me fill in the gaps of my mental GPS. So I figure why not do the same here in Barcelona, right? Before we left the states, I told Stuart that I would like to do some running during our trip and to my surprise, he thought it was a great idea and decided that he too would like to join me on my early morning excursions.

Due to jetlag, our bodies were wide awake at 6:45 am this morning and we figured to start our first full day in Spain off with a run. Stuart laced up his sneakers, I slipped into my Vibram’s Fivefingers, and we were out the door with a few Euros in our pockets (just in case we need to grab a drink or a bite while out on our run). It was still quite dark outside when we started our adventure, but Barcelona keeps its streets well lit during the nights. As we jogged through the Barri Gotic, every thing was still and quiet, the only noise that could be heard was the sound of us breathing and the soft pitter patter of our steps. The city was still asleep. I wanted our first run to be a short one, 20 to 30 minutes, because this was Stuart’s first run since 2005 (his first run with me up to Lake Temescal when we first started dating). Unfortunately our curiosity of got the better of us. Wondering what lies around the next corner compelled us to further and further away from our home on Carrer del Pi.

Running through the Barri Gotic is like running through a maze. Not only do the streets and facades look the same, but the buildings tend to be of equal height, so there is no visible landmark to gauge how far you went. Weaving in and out of hundred year old side streets, making a left here, and a right there, and before we knew it our short run turned into a two hour tour of the city. Stuart’s legs were pretty wrecked from the extended run. He’ll be stumbling for a few days.

After a nice cleanup and coffee and bread from the baker next door, we popped into Drap, the miniature model shop close by. Heather was in love.

Mini guitars for miniature houses at Drap.

Miniatures are so cool!

Our home away from home, Hotel Raco Del Pi.

The namesake of our street and hotel is Maria Del Pi (Mary of the Pine Tree). Basilica Santa Maria Del Pi is a short walk from our hotel and is a beautiful example of a gothic cathedral. It was built in 1362 has been modified many times in the last 650 years. An octagonal bell tower was added in 1368 and completed around 1461. It stands above the surrounding buildings and can be seen from our hotel room. The basilica was practically destroyed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War and many pieces, including the large rose shaped, stained glass window below have been rebuilt.

Inside the Basilca Santa Maria Del Pi

votive candles in Basilica Santa Maria Del Pi

After a trip home (Stu’s feet are still sore from the morning run) we took a nap and then walked over to another grand gothic cathedral, the Barcelona Cathedral, also known as Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, which dates back to the 13th century.

The gothic architecture above Carrer del Bisbe, east of our hotel and along the west wall of the Barcelona Cathedral.

Gaggle of geese make their home inside the garden of the cathedral.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, aka Barcelona Cathedral

Fountains in the Cathedral garden.


We leave and head over to Gloria Restaurant for supper.

Cafe con leche

Another walk home through Barri Gotic.

Back home to Placa del Pi beside the basilica and just down the street from our home.

Buenos noches.

The Trip Begins

We’re flying on the first leg of our trip between San Francisco and Barcelona, SFO-MIA. Last night we arrived at the holiday inn express around 10:30 and grabbed a snack before forcing ourselves to sleep by 11:30, knowing the alarm, courtesy call and phone alarms would be waking us up to catch the 4:08 am shuttle to the airport. We actually got to the airport too early, the TSA was not yet moving travelers through the security checkpoints. Heather and I have noticed on multiple occasions that a certain music plays over the PA in the security areas. It’s a kind of faux-middle eastern ambient techno that seems to have a calming effect. We assume this has been focus group tested to make disgruntled pat-down victims less likely to “push the button”.

The SFO-MIA leg is 5 hours and 15 minutes. We’re currently 2.5 hours into that journey and Heather is asleep. I’m reading Anthony Bourdain’s “Medium Raw”. The in flight movie looks like it might be a remake of Footloose. Without plugging in to hear the sound it looks like pretty people flailing themselves around empty warehouses. Occasionally the dancers seem to get caught in awkward situations like the “country western bar” or the “hip hop club” that puts them at a slight disadvantage in terms of discipline. Within a few minutes, though, all is well and some kind of dance-off occurs. a fight at a wedding turns into a dance contest with an endless stream of confetti and breakdancing bus boys. When I look up a couple minutes later, the credits are rolling.  We switch from American Airlines to Iberia for the transatlantic long haul in Miami.

 

Leaving MIA to MAD on Iberia 6122

Heather exploring first class

The seats stretch out completely flat.

Iberia's first class can stretch out completely flat and has a massage function

Dinner

For dinner on Iberia 6122, Heather enjoyed the tenderloin and I had the stuffed pasta. I started with champagne and then joined Heather with the vino rojo. The salad was nice. We’re practicing our Spanish with the attendants.  After supper we took our shoes off, covered up and watched a few episodes of the British edition of The Office. I dozed a little.  After multiple napping attempts, I gave up and watched Warrior on my little personal TV.  The end made my throat swell up but I didn’t cry.

Buenos dias. It’s 7:30 am and the tail fin mounted camera is showing a faint rainbow of sunrise directly ahead of the airplane. Even with the chair completely horizontal, I wasn’t able to sleep, but Heather did. Its only 10:30 pm in San Francisco. I hoped I would beat the jet lag monster but it looks like I’m going to spend today caffeinated and slightly less than smart. We have to switch planes again in Madrid before the last leg to Barcelona. That will be a two hour flight and then we’ll need to figure out how to get to our hotel, H10 Raca Del Pi in the barri gotic.

We’ve made it to our hotel in the heart of Barcelona off of Las Ramblas.

Heather relaxing on the bed

We open the large porch door out onto the bacony and listen to the city. The neighbor has a parakeet in a cage. The temperature is surprisingly warm.

Sticking with the tradition of discovering bizarre amenities, like the magic bedroom in Curacao, Heather has discovered an electronic panel near the bedroom.

Hitting the power button and what comes rolling out? Some smooth Kenny G...

After a few hours of napping, we decided to head out from home to take a little bit of exploration in. We walk west past Cathedral Santa Maria del Pi through the narrow Barri Gotic allyways until we arrive on Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a boulevard that starts at the southern end of Barcelona at the Mediterranean front and shoots north up through the old city to Catalunya, the city center. We likened this to Market St from the Embarcadero to Union Square. We headed south on Las Ramblas toward the water.


Boating on the Mediterranean

A quick pause at Bar del Pi close by to our home for a snack before we take a nap.

Dinner at Elizabet's. Tapas: Corquettes, Lomo sandwich.

We leave and walk west through Barri Gotic to try to find a broadcast of the big soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid (Royal Madrid). Most of the bars and pubs we pop in to are so incredibly crowded that no one can even stand and get a view. We finally find a spot in Restaurant Gloria.

Barcelona scores!

The game ends in a tie. That’s a very unAmerican quality, a game ending in a tie. We couldn’t figure out what was happening because everything was in Spanish. The clock ran out…we were waiting for over time to begin… and everyone just got up and left.

Quiet walk home. We had no idea it was well past midnight. We're quite jet lagged.