Gaudi Day

Can’t go to Barcelona and not Gaudi. Sunday we hit the highlights: Park Güell and Sagrada Familia. We knew we had to go to the park, but didn’t really know what to expect. It’s beautiful and there’s even some shade. Very important in the almost solstice day sun.

Jake rides and escalator when there are perfectly good stairs next to it.

We walked. You don’t have to. (More on our crazy choices to walk later.) There’s a big hill and many steps BUT there’s also a couple of escalators. There’s also a nice bus that goes right there from the corner of our street, but why would we do that? Up we marched. The entrance to the park is at 150 (492 feet); the top is at 210 meters (689 feet). No me importa. It’s good for us. Jake is young and I am planning to go to Patagonia.

Anyway, the park is amazing and very Gaudi. We wandered around and thought we should go into the Gaudi Museum, but tickets had to be purchased online (pretty common these days) and the site was being finicky, so we gave up. We use the “let’s walk this way” method of exploration. There are several different suggested routes through the park, but we chose to wander. The path is mostly circular and we got to hear some lovely salsa music near the viaducts. Gaudi was inspired by nature, tried to consider ecological needs when he designed and was not at all a fan of straight lines.

Gaudi was very religious and very political. He was a Catalan separatist who even spent a few nights in jail after being arrested at a protest. We have seen the separatist flag flying around town, but, despite some fierce opinions, Cataluña is still a part of Spain. He also was kind of a weird dude. Because he had rheumatism and his doctor suggested vegetarianism, he ended up living on lettuce, olive oil, and some nuts. In his later life, he became a recluse and his shabby attire contributed to his death. He was hit by a tram, but nobody recognized him and he did not receive adequate medical attention because people thought he was a homeless person.

From the park, we walked back down the hill and ran into a little Lebanese restaurant. Yum! There are only so many patatas bravas one can eat. Hummus and falafel hit the spot. If you happen to be in the Gracia neighborhood, give Sannin a try.

While there, we debated whether we should go inside Sagrada Familia. Yes. We should. We looked at a couple of pics online and promptly bought tickets. Wow! The light streaming through the stained glass is breathtaking. Construction on Gaudi’s masterpiece cathedral began in 1882 and was supposed to be finished in time for the centennial of his death in 2026, but Covid had other ideas.

My pictures cannot do it justice, but at least you can get some idea.

Between Gaudi jaunts, we stopped at a place I just happened to notice on the map: Plaça de John Lennon! Well worth the few extra blocks. It’s a plaza named after John with a small playground and murals. I took a few photos.

Don’t Do As I Do, Unless You Like Stairs

Today, Monday, was our last day in Barcelona. We stopped back at the La Boqueria market to wander by ourselves, since we had only been there on the tour. You really can’t beat watermelon juice that is just pressed watermelon. Yum! We walked around and took in all the foodie sites and we might even have some treats to bring home.

Steven (you remember him, he’s usually on these trips) had reminded me that there is a cable car, or telefèric, to the top of Montjuïc, where there is castle with incredible views of the city. You can take the Metro to a funicular that drops you right at the cable car. Do you think that is what we chose? If you do, you don’t know us. We walked. The market was halfway there so it made sense to us.

Today’s total, according to my semi-accurate phone health data stands at 24,160 steps, 9.2 miles, 34 floors. Not all at once, but a fair amount of climbing to the cable car.

If you are smart, you will take the funicular up and walk down (or don’t walk at all). You can also take the funicular to or from the top and only do the cable car one way (or not at all). We did the round trip and thought it was fabulous. The castle, with a separate entrance fee, offered more amazing views plus castles are cool! Mostly, you are outside the castle so don’t leave your hat and sunglasses in the locker thinking you’ll be inside like I did.

We did choose to take the funicular and Metro back. We hadn’t been on the Metro yet and we discovered that it’s very clean and easy. We had Venezuelan arepas for lunch at Tumatey. Muy rico! and finally, went to a bookstore to buy a Catalan Pepa pig book for the grandbaby. She’s going to speak many, many Pepa languages before we’re done.

After a break, we headed out for our last night and briefly debated going into Casa Batlló, which is only a couple blocks from us, but the 35€ price tag scared us off. Maybe next time.

Tomorrow, we take the train to Madrid.

24 Hours to Barcelona

Plus, a busy Saturday

Door-to-door for my nephew Jake, that is. He took and early flight from Chicago Midway to Dulles. I met him there, so we were both early since Steven is still on grandpa duty and he didn’t want to get stuck in DC traffic and not be at daycare on time.

Then, lightning delayed the flight two hours. No one’s fault, of course. One cool aside is that we had a woman pilot! I still don’t rate United very highly. The food on Delta is a tiny bit better (it is airplane food). My breakfast snack was the nameless grain salad they gave me with my dinner the night before since I ask for a vegetarian meal. I’m not sure why yogurt and a granola bar are not vegetarian, but ice cream with the special meal is. Or why I needed a gluten-free cookie. Don’t ask how it tasted — I didn’t try it. Jake’s food theory is that there is only one special meal and it covers all food issues. He may be right although they offer a long list of options. Also, since I’m being picky, if they are going to give out headphones for the inflight entertainment, they may want to at least make sure you can hear something through them.

We landed about an hour and 20 minutes late. We didn’t have anywhere special to be, so that was fine until we saw the immigration line. We spent two hours waiting to get into Spain. At least our luggage was waiting for us. Then we saw the cab line, sigh. However, that moved very quickly and soon we were checking in. For Jake, that was about 24 hours on the road. My assessment so far: It was worth the wait!

With time to spare, we stopped to get some caffeine and then walked over to Sagrada Familia, which Jake was immediately impressed with. Who wouldn’t be? We wandered and got the lay of the land. Everyone told me Barcelona was beautiful. So far, we’ve only gotten a small taste of it, but how can you go wrong when every time you look up, there’s a Gaudi rooftop?

Last time, after much-needed showers, we discovered that around the block from us is a wide street full of outdoor dining spots. Tapas and wine it was!

Saturday

After 12 hours of sleep, we were refreshed and ready to go. We headed out toward the Picasso Museum figuring we’d find food along the way. Yes we did! We ended up at Zenith, which turned out to be a chain with cafes in Madrid and Lisbon as well. Hmmm, this may work out. The food was great. We shared shakshuka and berry pancakes. (Warning: the pancakes are SWEET, but the portions are European, so you won’t feel too bad about it.) Delicious!

Going to a museum that focuses on one artist gives a different understanding of the work. The Picasso Museum has a great collection of his early works and then uses video to show either close ups of his brush and color technique or what infrared photos showed of the paintings underneath paintings.

The highlight for us was the 1957 Las Meninas series, in which Picasso reinterpreted the same scene many times in many paintings done on the same day. The museum is housed in what were five palaces built in the Catalan Gothic style. The entrance feels like heading into the bat cave.

We spent about 1.5 hours there, but I feel like I could easily go back. Neither of us was sure how we would feel about the museum, but we figured it was a must and it was.

Next, we were off to a paella cooking class with Just Royal BCN. First, we did a tour of the famous La Bouqueria market. I love European food markets and this one was as amazing as the rest. Because we were with our chef, we got some samples and I am sure we will be back for the turron, which is sort of nougat, sort of marzipan. (Yes, Steven, you will love it!)

The class itself was led by Teresa, who was fun and a great teacher. We tasted a variety of tapas and got explanations about them, made Spanish omelets and Catalan creme plus, of course, paella. Group activities can be a lot of fun if you have a good group — and we did. Mostly Americans since it was in English, but also a man from Morocco and a woman from Jersey (the real one).

We asked Teresa what to do after the class, since it ended at 7. She suggested the jazz club just downstairs from the class, which was in in Plaça Reial. For various reasons, we ended up at a different club, Harlem Jazz Club, but it was waaaaaay too early for Barcelona, so we decided to wander. We headed over to the waterfront and just took in the sights. I know you want more photos, so see below. The building being renovated so classily with the Samsung ad hiding the scaffolding is the Catedral de Barcelona.

Finally, we were off to the Harlem Jazz Club to hear … a blues band? At first, we were a bit disappointed, but Chino & the Big Bet exceeded our (admittedly low) expectations. They were a bit bluesy, a bit jazzy, a bit swingy and Chino is full of energy. The Big Bet seems to be a revolving duo of bassist and drummer and Chino has been around the Barcelona scene for at least a decade. He speaks great English too, since the crowd seemed to be mostly English speakers.

They ended the night by leaving the stage with their instruments setting up in front of the bar and playing “Sweet Sue Just You.” Thanks! It was 2 a.m. We walked back to our AirBnB and crashed.

The S & S Lemonade Company

We are working hard to make lemonade from the lemons we have been given. Last week, we had the next six months all planned. One week in Barcelona, three months in Fez, a month and a half in Rome and then a couple of weeks in Amsterdam. Then COVID reared its ugly head again and handed us a bunch of lemons. Morocco closed its borders for a minimum of 14 days beginning the 28th of November, the US added travel restrictions, and the EU seemed to be getting increasing jittery about travelers.

Our original plan was to fly from New York to Barcelona on the 1st of December, then on to Morocco on the 7th. When Morocco closed, we changed our plan by re-booking our flight to Morocco for the 14th and found a new AirBnB for the (now) two weeks in Barcelona. On the 30th of November we drove up to New York for a business dinner and then had lunch on the 1st with my aunt and uncle. During lunch we found out that our flight to Fez on the 14th was canceled and that all the flights to Fez were canceled for the entire month.

We now had two choices. First, take our flight to Barcelona and hope that Morocco re-opened on the 12th, and that the flights would be re-instituted. Second, cancel our flights to Barcelona and all our AirBnB’s and then figure out a new plan. Our decision was made either easier or complicated because we only had about 17 days left for our Schengen zone visa and we really do not want to overstay.  

After a long walk and a discussion, we decided to postpone the trip. Sue got in touch with Delta and cancelled our flights to Barcelona (which were leaving in about 4 hours). We had already checked out of our hotel, so we made a reservation at 50 Bowery, where we stayed back in May. Once we checked in, we worked on a short-term plan. We let our families know that the trip was on hold and as they always do, they rallied round and offered us any assistance we would need. My mother, ever resourceful and for some reason, wanting to see us again; convinced one of her friends to lend us her condo until the end of December as it was going to be empty until the New Year.

Once that was settled, everything else fell into place. In the morning, we rented a car and drove to my sister’s house where we collected our trusty 2006 Saab 93 convertible (Quote of the day is from our brother in law: A wise person would take the Prius (our other car) to Florida, but I assumed you would take the Saab – he knows us so well!) On Friday morning, we drove to our storage locker and swapped our cool weather clothes for warm weather gear. We stayed last night at my son’s house in Baltimore (and just happened to spend a little bit of time with our granddaughter). This morning we headed down 95 for the first 800 miles of the trip. Nine hours later, we are comfortably seated in our hotel in Brunswick, Georgia. Tomorrow we will do the last 400 miles and then settle in for the month.

What will the new year bring? We don’t know. Our plan is see if Morocco opens up before year end. If it does, we will likely resurrect a slightly shorter version of the original trip. If not, then perhaps we will head to someplace warm for the rest of the winter. Costa Rica, Belize or Martinique all seem like possibilities, or perhaps somewhere in South America.

We promise to keep you posted. In the meantime, I want to sign off with two thoughts: First, we are incredibly grateful to everyone in our families who offered us food, lodging, support and any assistance we might need without a second thought. Second, we were forcefully reminded that we need to be flexible. If Morocco isn’t in the cards for this year, then something else will be. No point in trying to swim upstream, we will just go with the flow.

I will add one more thing: We know that we are lucky in that we can afford to spend another night in a hotel in New York and take a bit of a loss on our AirBnB. We have flexibility partly because we have resources.

Oh, the Drama

We’ve been a little quiet this past week because we were fitting in four months of social activity into two weeks. Friends, family, Chicago to Baltimore, Thanksgiving, with lots of lunches and dinners and even a bit of work sandwiched in. But, we’re on the road again, complete with the latest Covid drama.

We’re hoping to get back to Morocco. This is from our 2017 trip.

Yesterday, our very communicative and kind Fes AirBnB host told us that Morocco was suspending all flights in and out as of today because of Omicron. Yes, we were supposed to be headed to Morocco in less than two weeks. December 7 to be exact. Hmmm, what to do?

Steven and I have worked out a pretty good system for decision-making, I may patent it:

  • Step 1: Ask, “What are you thinking?”
  • Step 2: Listen to answer.
  • Step 3: State your opinion.
  • Step 4: Go back-and-forth on the merits of different plans.
  • Step 5: Confuse the matter by saying, “How about this?” or “Did we consider that?”
  • Step 6: Say, “I think we should do this.”
  • Step 7: Person 2 says, “Me too.”
  • Step 8: Accept that everything will cost more than you want it to.
  • Step 9: Execute plan.
  • Step 10: Stop thinking about plans you opted out of.

So, that is what we did. We waited for Ryan Air to cancel our flight (didn’t want to pay a chance fee but Steven chatted with them and they said they would email when the cancellation became official) and then re-booked the same flight for a week later.

Our new plan is to stay an extra week in Barcelona. (Oh the pity!) (Oh the things we do just so you, our dear readers, can sit at home and live vicariously through our foolishness,) Our ears on the ground in Fes (that’s our AirBnB host) says that the scuttlebutt is that the ban won’t last longer than the original two weeks because Morocco doesn’t want to miss the holiday tourist season. Fingers crossed.

For those of you asking if we are worried about Covid, the answer is no. Morocco doesn’t want us there because they have a low infection rate, well lower than that in the United States. You can argue that we have a higher testing rate, although I don’t know if that is true or not. All I know is that since we have been here, I have seen more unmasked faces in indoor, public spaces (including food-service workers and pharmacy assistants) than I saw in France or Turkey. And, in those places you had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to get into public places such as restaurants or museums. Restaurants also (mostly) required proof of vaccination. Given all that, we believe the risk of travel is really no worse than the risk of staying here.

We’ll keep you posted. If we can’t get into Morocco, we may be looking for a place to stay at a guest bedroom near you. 🙂

Just some updates

We are continuing to make plans and knock items off the to do list. This week has been, for lack of a better term, workmanlike….oh god…sorry Sue…workPERSONlike. 😉 (Finally, my positive influence sinks in.)

We are grappling with a list of necessary, but fairly uninteresting, things we will need to arrange while we are away. We need a place for our mail to be sent and a place for our cars and stuff to be stored; we need to order power converters, find movers and research local phone plans. All of which are to a greater or lesser degree being moved forward.

For the French portion of the trip, we have been looking at all the secondary arrangements such as car rental, place to stay in Paris for our final weekend, transport between Clemacy and Nice and then Nice to Paris. Sue is trawling through a bunch of guidebooks that we borrowed from the library looking for interesting things in Burgundy [apparently we can go wine tasting…who knew ;-)], and on the Côte D’Azur (I would like to digress for a moment to whine about WordPress…They introduced new editing software which has removed non-English letters such as ô from our version. So when I want to use characters with an accent, I have to go Word, insert the character and then copy it into WordPress. I hate when software upgrades remove useful features – especially when the feature is then re-released as a paid for upgrade – sorry about that digression. (No, I am really disliking the latest WordPress version. Try someone else, if you ask me. It seems less intuitive and less user-friendly.) Somewhat surprisingly, wine tasting is also available near Nice!

We decided to rent a car for the month we are in Clamecy, as we will be pretty isolated and we want to be able to take day/weekend trips (remember – wine tasting is available). I checked all the normal sites and found reasonable pricing, but, as always with rental cars, insurance and additional drivers are extra. Those two requirements nearly doubled the price of the car. The French government has a program that allows auto manufacturers to provide new cars on rental periods of 21 days or more, tax free to non-EU residents. This is the link to the Renault information on the program which is called Temporary Transit. The program provides brand new cars, includes all insurance, allows multiple drivers and does not charge to drop the car off in a different location from where it was rented.

Our original plan for traveling from Clamecy to Nice was to drive back to Paris, drop off the car and then fly to Nice. However, the flights to Nice (including our expected luggage) and the car pricing have us thinking we will drive. It looks to be an 8-hour drive, which is significantly longer than the 1-hour flight, but once you add in traveling back to DeGaulle, getting to the airport early, and my time insanity, it seems like it will be a couple of hours longer to drive, but not as big of a difference as one would expect. We are considering stopping for one night somewhere along the way just to get in a bit of touring.

We are planning on taking the train from Nice back to Paris on Nov. 12. We think it might be good fun to watch the countryside roll by from the south of France. I think it is about a 6-hour journey, but the train schedule and tickets are not yet available. Sue found a nice AirBnb in Paris for our last weekend (Nov. 12-16). It is in the 10th arrondissement on Faubourg Fishmonger street (I think Sue is sending me a message. I won’t add the message here; it’s subliminal). It is a ground-floor studio which means we won’t have to haul our luggage up any stairs, and that makes me very happy.

We also decided that on our way to Fez in December, we would stop for a few days in Barcelona. One of the challenges of going to Fez is that the flights only run on certain days of the week. Tuesday and Thursday gave us the most flights. We found that the cheapest nonstop route from the U.S. that would connect to Fez is through Barcelona. Once we knew that, we figured we might as well stay there for a few days and see the city. (It is high on my really-want-to-visit list.) We found a nice AirBnB near to Las Ramblas and booked it.

The extended trip now looks like:

Aug. 30: Fly to Paris

Aug.31: Arrive in Paris, rent car and drive to Clemacy

Oct. 1: Drive to Nice

Nov. 12: Train to Paris

Nov. 16: Fly to Chicago

Nov. 22: Fly to Baltimore

Nov. 30: Fly to Barcelona

Dec. 6: Fly to Fez

Mar. 6 (ish): Go to somewhere else (Roma, Barcelona, Greece, Amsterdam…who knows?) (All ideas welcome!)

May 10 (ish): Fly to Baltimore

That is all for now.