After spending a month in Spain, where it doesn’t “rain on the plain” (at least not in July!), in August 2010 we went up to northern Wisconsin where there had been a LOT of rain! As a result, everywhere I went, there were mushrooms blooming; mushrooms in a variety of shapes and colors. Fascinated, I decided to photograph them. So here is my photo journal of mushrooms!

Golf ball?

This one looks like a muffin with a bite taken out of it! Yum?!

Is this a mushroom or a rock??

twins joined at the head?

Friday, our last full day in Spain (E13 – Part 2)

Our last day, Friday, we went to class for the last time (I took more pictures, of course), had our last two meals (breakfast and lunch) at Barradas, packed, and then KF, Dale and I went out to complete our mission of buying dresses! We walked north this time, traversing streets we’d never been on before, and accomplished our mission! Each of us came away with a dress from the same store where one of the other girls had bought the dress she wore to the farewell dinner (Kelly bought one just like it)!

Most of my classmates. Mer (our instructor) is in the middle. I wrote on the board “Buena suerte, Mer! Adios!” because she also was leaving Enforex, to try her luck at getting a job elsewhere.

My other instructor, Alicia, holds a placemat/map of New Caledonia, which was a gift from one of the students, who is from there.


Enforex computer lab

Dale was on his own mission – to buy magnets that his daughter had only just informed us she wanted. This was annoying, since there had been nice magnets at virtually every museum and souvenir store we had visited throughout the entire trip and we hadn’t known until now that she wanted them. Plus the area we were going was not a tourist neighborhood per se, and there was really nowhere to buy the type of magnets he wanted.

What we did find, however, was a really nice little restaurant with fresh and inexpensive food! We only had ice cream (lemon with no added sugar!!) but noted the fare for a possible return for dinner if we didn’t like the offering for our last supper at Barradas. In fact, the food that night at Barradas was not to our liking at all, and once again our group of six adults set out for this place we had discovered. Along the way, Dale decided to go to a Chinese bazaar – not the one we usually go to – to look for magnets (I knew he wouldn’t find them but he was stubborn) and he said he would meet us at the restaurant. I didn’t think much about it, since Dale usually has a pretty good sense of direction and we’d been there only a few hours before.

At the restaurant, I ordered a vegetable calzone which was really great! It was filled with tomato and lots of hearts of palm! Yum!! Prof. A ordered the same thing and also really liked it. I also ordered a slice of tortilla, but ended up wrapping it to take back for our breakfast next morning, because I was full after eating the calzone.

Two hours passed and Dale did not show up!! At one point, I went out to look for him, but realized I could walk all the way back to where we separated and never find him, because he could just as easily come around the other way. I worried about him, but Prof. J told me quite sharply to stop thinking about him – he was independent and could find his way. She suggested he might want some alone time, but I seriously doubted that was the case – if so, why would he have put up with going on girly shopping trips for the last two afternoons?? So I said no more, but said a silent prayer for his safe return to Barradas.

Now I was glad about the tortilla because perhaps he had gone back, unable to find the restaurant, and would want something to eat. But when we got back, he was not there! His bag was there, but KF said he hadn’t taken it with him that evening. Now I was really worried!!

KF was developing a cold and wanted to finish packing and go to bed early, but she offered to go out with me to look for Dale. We met up with some of the other people from our group and told them that if they saw Dale, to tell him we were looking for him and that I had brought back a tortilla for him!

About halfway back, we came across Prof. J and A–, who had split off from us after dinner to go to a store. Prof. J was putting away her cell phone and said that Dale had just called. He had gotten lost, finally found the restaurant, and was now on his way back. KF asked if I wanted to go back or keep going to meet up with him. I was indecisive but leaning toward meeting up with him, so we continued on. We finally saw him, crossing a street ahead of us. I yelled to him and when we met up, gave him a big hug!! He had gotten lost and, after finding a place to stop and have a sandwich, showed us on the map where he had gone. He had walked a long way, all the way north to Rio Rojas!! And not having his street map, he could rely only on Metro maps to orient himself. He always used San Bernardo as a reference point, and a couple of times he knew he was very near the restaurant, but just never got to it.

I was so relieved, because although he is resourceful, he still cannot communicate well enough in Spanish to be understood. And I was grateful to KF for coming with me even though she wanted to stay in her room and pack – she’s a great friend!

Yesterday (Saturday), we got up early and I took a shower. We were all packed, so we decided to go out for coffee, since the dining room at Barradas was closed until 8 and we had to be on the bus by then. Prof. A went with us, and I took the wrapped up tortilla to have with the coffee.

At 8 am, we were all on the bus with our luggage stowed underneath, except two girls, who were roommates, were missing! Apparently they overslept, having relied on S– to wake them up! She had gone and knocked on their door earlier, but they had gone back to sleep. Why they didn’t set an alarm clock, I have no idea. Anyway, S– went back to get them, and to their credit, they got up and to the bus in less than 15 minutes!

As the bus rumbled by Barradas, we waved and some of the girls screamed goodbye to Fernando, the night watchman, and then we watched the familiar sights of Madrid go by for the last time.

The flight back was long and noisy, but I managed to sleep a little, thanks to a sleep aid. Shortly after our return, we went to my sister’s house, where our extended family were gathering for a family birthday party – there were three family birthdays between July 30 – August 11. The cake had number candles on it – 81, which was the sum of all their ages!! We stayed until 7:30 pm (2:30 am for Dale and me!) but then we just had to go home and go to bed!

Last Thursday in Spain (E13 – Part 1)

As I mentioned in my last post, Thursday night was to be our farewell dinner. We had been told that there wasn’t even going to be a farewell dinner because there wasn’t enough money left, but as it turned out, our professors found a place to use whatever money was leftover. The name of the restaurant was Riazor and it was a little south of Plaza Mayor. We were to meet at 9:30 pm to walk there and we would have tapas and sangria at 10 pm. We also had a “town meeting” at 5:30 in the Barradas dining room, at which we were given surveys to fill out about the program, everything from rating our Spanish classes, the excursions we took, and the directors of the program.

Barradas dining room

Thursday was the last day of class for one of my fellow students, Miriam. She is a beautiful, soft-spoken German of African descent who is married to a very handsome young man and they are expecting their first child, a daughter to be named Sofia, in November. While many of the students in my class had been in and out, she had been there the entire time I was there. So I took a couple of pictures of her with Mer and Alicia, the two teachers.

It was also the day that I was taken out of the class to take an oral test. During Alicia’s class, we were having a laugh looking for a “novio” for one of our young students, a Chinese girl named Xixi (pronounced Cici). Birgit, a middle aged German woman who joined the class only last week and I were pulling up pictures of our sons to show around. The picture I pulled up of my son on Facebook was passed around and he was pronounced “guapo” (handsome) and that he didn’t look anything like me! However, he does look very Spanish – with his name and appearance he would blend in well in Madrid. He wasn’t right for Xixi, though, because “tiene gafas” (he has glasses).

The oral test was a bit hard – Mer asked me what I thought about the news that the region of Catalonia has banned bullfighting. I felt that I didn’t express myself very well and there were words I couldn’t think of so I had to resort to either repeating something or saying something more simplistic. Even so, I scored well on the test, so perhaps I am too hard on myself.

After lunch, because of the heat, I didn’t want to do much, but Dale, KF and I went out to do some shopping. K and I were sort of on a mission to find cheap dresses that we liked (and that fit, since there are few choices in my size). Most Spanish women are thin and stores are filled with a variety of cute styles that look as though they would fit nicely on someone who is about 6 inches wide! My size in Spain is 50 or 52, or XL. Large is more like a U.S. medium, Medium is like our small, and you can imagine who can fit into a Small or Extra Small!! There are very few obese people in Spain.

After the town meeting, I took a shower and got cleaned up for the dinner. Everyone showed up wearing nice dresses (except for the two guys, of course!) and some wore heels, which I thought would make it difficult to walk on some of the streets.  On the way, I looked at the places we passed with nostalgia, knowing it would be my last time. Plus, the weather by that time was absolutely gorgeous – it had cooled off considerably after sunset and there was a refreshing breeze!

The restaurant has hosted some famous people, including Salvador Dali, whose picture was framed on the wall, among others. We went upstairs and were seated at a long table set up with white tablecloth, cloth napkins and two cups for each person. One was for cold mineral water served in liter bottles, and the other for sangria, served in glass jars. The tapas began arriving and there was plenty for everyone – Iberian ham, sharp cheese slices, ham and cheese croquettes, tortilla española, calamari slices, asparagus spears, potatoes in tomato sauce….soon I was stuffed!! We also got a piece of chocolate and whipped cream cake for dessert. It was a wonderful meal and we had a great time.

Afterwards, everyone split up into their usual subgroups, and we “older” adults (me, the professors, and KF, – only 24, but mature for her age!) headed to a Cuban restaurant called “Cuando Sali de Cuba” to listen to live music and have one more drink. On the way there, we encountered a group of Galician bagpipers playing in the street! I got closer to take pictures and to see if they had a CD for sale, but they didn’t. A man who was not part of the group, but associated with them, saw me and asked me if I was Galician. Scottish, I told him. He then began talking in very fast Spanish or Galician about our common Celtic heritage and what else I am not sure, but something about “alegría.” He asked the band between songs if they had a CD for sale – they did but not on hand. I have always wanted to get some Galician “gaita” music, but I guess I’ll have to look for it on Amazon!

This has nothing to do with where we were going; I just saw the sign and thought it was, uh, interesting!

At the Cuban restaurant, there was a duo singing traditional Cuban favorites and playing guitar and bass with accented percussion and (KF’s favorite) cowbell! Most ordered wine or sangria, but Dale and I ordered mojitos, the famous Cuban drink with rum, mint, sugar and water. It was strong! We sat behind the musicians at the only small tables in the place, on stools. Twice vendors came in from the street with bouquets of roses, trying to sell Dale roses (presumably to give to one or more of us!). Dale was the only male in our group, surrounded by five women! The musicians sang “Guantanamera” and improvised on each verse, to sing about people in the bar: Este señor, rodeado de rosas, they sang, and then went on to say something about although he (Dale) was surrounded by women, he declined to buy roses for each of them!

By the time we had finished our drinks, some of us were ready to dance a little – Prof. A and I, and at the very end, I got KF to join us! We had a good time and I am glad we went – between the cool breeze surrounding us as we walked the streets of Madrid at night, the tapas at Riazor, the Galician gaita band, and finally the Cuban bar, it was a very satisfying evening. We arrived back at Barradas at 1 am and collapsed into bed!

Last week in Spain

July 29, 2010

We are on our second to the last day in Spain. Saturday morning we leave Madrid and arrive back in Chicago in the afternoon. People are doing their last minute things: last minute shopping, last minute sunbathing (yes, some of the girls actually went to the park today in this oppressive 100 degree F head to sunbathe!!), last minute emailing, last minute museum going, etc. On the other hand, some people are spending a lot of time sleeping. A virus has been going around and several members of our group have gotten sick. Or perhaps it has been brought on by fatigue in some cases.

It is just so HOT and I am sick of the dirt! I think I have learned a lot here, and for sure my Spanish has gotten a lot better, partly due to studying in class and partly due to gaining confidence as I interacted with people every day. And of course, this was the main point of the trip. I have very much enjoyed my stay here and have seen and learned so much about this country – including the cultural impact it has had on its Latin American former colonies. I have loved the artwork, architecture, the history. But I am ready to go home.

What this tells me is that this program is exactly the right length!

So here is an update on my last week in Spain:
After the weekend in Barcelona, we returned to Madrid and our usual routine on Monday. Classes at Enforex from 9:30 to 1:30. Lunch at Barradas after that, then studying, siesta or relaxing. Dale and I went out to a book store (Casa del Libro) and music store (fnac) where I bought a couple of CDs.  On Monday night, after our dinner at 8:30, a group of 7 of us decided to take the cable car ride over Madrid. The cable car station is just beyond Templo de Debod and it closes at 9 pm, so we had to walk FAST!

We found out that because it was so close to closing time that we could only go to the end of the line but NOT come back on the cable car!

Views from cable car

Palacio Real from the cable car

The ride dropped us at a park on the far outskirts of Madrid called Casa de Campo. When we got there, two of the girls decided to walk around the park on their own and the rest of us wanted to find a way back. There was a family with a small child in a stroller with the same problem. It was nearly sunset so 5 of us figured it would be best to hang with these people who appeared to be natives.

Actually, they are Colombians who live in the Spanish city of Alicante and are in Madrid on a vacation. So they didn’t know how to get back either, but still there is safety in numbers.


It was enjoyable talking to them. They told us how they wanted to go to the U.S. but could not get visas because they are from Latin America. The two year old daughter, Natalia, a Spanish citizen, would have no problem getting a visa for the U.S.!! As we followed the path to the road, then followed the road, asking along the way, that led out of the park, I talked with them a lot and thought about how comfortable I was feeling about conversing in Spanish. I didn’t have any trouble understanding them either!

bullfighting practice!

I was worried about the 2 girls who had gone off on their own, and said a private prayer for their safe return. They returned safely!

Actually they got back before we did because we stopped to have sangria at a bar in Plaza 2 de mayo, after we got off the Metro at Tribunal station. It was hard to find a table – the bars were packed! And the custom here is that you don’t pressure people to leave if others are waiting. A waiter will not even give you the bill until you ask for it, and won’t collect it until you hand it to him or her. This is a nice custom, in my opinion. I don’t like to be pressured to leave a place when I am relaxed and engaged in a conversation over a drink at a sidewalk cafe or any restaurant for that matter.

Tuesday we did another thing we had wanted to do – have chocolate fondue with fruit at Valor. We had had chocolate and churros a few times at the famous Chocolatería San Gines, but this time we wanted to go to Valor. It was very hot and we were not in the mood to do much else. When we found the place and went in, we came across the foursome from our group who always do things on their own. It was fun to sit and talk with them, which we rarely get to do. The fondue came with a tray of 4 different fruits cut up into pieces. It was yummy! There was so much chocolate leftover and such a shame to waste, so I ordered a 1/2 order of churros to finish it off!!

Wednesday we went to buy our last souvenirs. KF came along again, and showed us a whole section of Corte Ingles that sells souvenirs!! I bought several things there and Dale finally found a flamenco doll for his sister’s collection. We actually had gone out shortly after class, skipping lunch at Barradas, because KF wanted to visit the Cerralba House which was free on Wednesday. We didn’t know exactly where it was, so we asked someone when we were in the vicinity, who turned out to be American, and she told me that it was closed for restoration since she had also tried to go there! So we went to Nebraska, an Americanized sort of restaurant where we had a bocadillo of ham and cheese filled nuggets, and salads. On the way back in the oppressive heat we went to Palazzo, the Italian ice cream place.

It is a pity about the heat because I wanted to go back to the Buen Retiro park and explore the rest of it, but I just can’t do it in this heat. Unlike the girls who went there to sunbathe today!! Yikes!!!!

Little park in our neighborhood (between Barradas and Enforex)

Street near Barradas

Today we did some more shopping to buy cheap clothes! I bought a blouse and KF got a dress. She is unsure about the dress, whether it’s too colorful to wear to work, or the neckline is too low (wear a tank top underneath!!). Anyway her dress was cheap – only 10 euros. The clothes here run the gamut – you can find just about anything and people wear all different styles. At first I found the clothes expensive, but have since learned where to find cheap items!! And everything is on sale in July. There are “Rebajas” everywhere.

Supermarket next door to Barradas

Tonight is our farewell dinner. We are going out to a tapas place near the Plaza Mayor at 10 pm. The tapas come with a glass of sangria, but some of us are thinking of having MORE sangria afterward somewhere else!! So it is the night to get a little dressed up, take some nice pictures and spend a last evening together. Tomorrow we’ll be going to our last classes, packing and trying to figure out how to carry all our purchases!! 🙂

Barcelona – Day 3


July 25, 2010 (Sunday)

Check out time was noon.We had a few hours to kill, so we had breakfast and then wandered on the Ramblas. I bought an ashtray for my niece made out of an aluminum soda can, and Dale had his picture taken with his “hero” Don Quixote.

Here is the aluminum can artist. The first picture shows his finished product for sale (I think they cost 1 euro each). The next three pictures show how he does it.

Once he cuts and weaves the strips of the can together, it is amazing the variety of colors and patterns the finished products has.

More living statues – always something to look forward to on Las Ramblas!

Dale with Don Quixote!

Mass was just finishing at a nearby church, and we were allowed to go in and look around.

orange tree in courtyard

By 11:30 we were ready to go, and met the cleaning woman as we were leaving! I was melancholy as I heard the elevator voice announcing doors closing and opening in Catalan for the last time… (Since we had bought lots of souvenirs, we had an extra bag, so Dale went down in the elevator with his luggage first, then I went down).

Dale loaded with baggage, at the little doorway to our apartment building!

We left our luggage at the office of Visit All the World and checked our email on their computers. Then we headed out the opposite way on the Ramblas, in the direction of the port. Even though it was Sunday and many places were closed, the interesting characters that come out in costume to earn money from tourists taking pictures were there as usual. The silver man whose head was “separated” from his body had apparently come out of his box to scare a girl who was screaming – in glee – as he chased after her.

I had planned to take the cable car up to Montjuic, which was the site of the Olympic Village, as well as a luxury hotel and a fort, and from which you have splendid views of the huge port and the city of Barcelona. However, the location of the cable car station was an optical illusion – we walked toward what we thought was it only to discover it was much farther down the beach! In the end, we didn’t go on it.  Dale was relieved, because he is afraid of heights!

In this picture you can see the cable cars that go up to Montjuic.

We walked and walked, and it was a sunny, hot day, but at least there was a breeze near the ocean.  We crossed a boardwalk bridge, and found ourselves at a modern mall! By that time we were very tired, so we found a sandwich place and had lunch, then we walked back.

We walked along the ocean walk where we saw interesting trees, a Picasso-like sculpture, and a giant lobster!

This root looks sort of like an alligator’s head!

We ended up coming upon the Museum of History of Cataluña and we went in and spent an hour there before it closed. I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see, but at least got some background on the historical inhabitants of the region. I was interested in finding out more about the Catalan language and also about the region’s fierce independent spirit.

There was a vendor on the Ramblas selling souvenirs touting Catalan independence from the rest of Spain, such as T shirts, Catalan flags and the like. There had also been a man covered in red paint who had signs calling for an end to bullfighting in the region. (A story was on the news about this issue today – apparently Cataluña is due to vote on whether to ban bullfighting. I hope they do.)

We ran out of things to do and still several hours to kill. We rested in a quiet square with plenty of shade and watched a little boy chasing pigeons around and acting surprised when they flew away. He didn’t give up though. His mother sat on the bench next to us, watching and calling him occasionally. She had to get up to keep him from going into the street and we watched her luggage when she vacated the bench. We talked to her a little but our communication was impeded by the fact that she was French and spoke very little Spanish or English.

soccer champions!

Plaza Catalunya

Eventually we headed to Plaza Catalunya with our luggage. We had scoped out the airport transportation and had found out exactly where on the plaza the blue airport buses stopped. When we got on the bus, the 5 chicas that we hadn’t seen all weekend were already on the same bus!!

The next Wednesday, we had a test in class and the written portion had two topics to pick from. One of the options was to describe the most recent trip you took. I wrote about Barcelona and got compliments from my instructor!! She said I wrote it with emotion, showing my joy at seeing the city, and that it was a pleasure to read!!! Yea!!!

Here is the last picture I took in Barcelona. It is one of the narrow streets off Plaza Catalunya, typical of the old part of the city.

Barcelona – Day 2 – Gaudi – Parc Guell

July 24, 2010

After touring Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral, we took the metro a few stops, then walked a couple of blocks to a series of escalators.

We also climbed some stairs.

Finally we were high enough to get a good view of the city. Notice the spires of Sagrada Familia rising higher than anything in its surroundings.

Parc Guell is high on a hill, and is suprisingly dry, supporting desert vegetation. From this spot, we also could see the tops of some of Gaudi’s structures in the park.

To visit the park, you walk along a wide dusty path, among a variety of flora, including palm trees and cactus.

Follow the crowds and noise to the Gaudi stuff!!

It was a challenge to take pictures that didn’t include a single person!

Patios, rooftops and structures have the characteristic undulating forms typical of Gaudi, with ceramic mosaics in a variety of designs and colors, with whimsical figures such as open mouthed lizards ending in fountains. Even the plants in this area give the impression of waves and arches. There is a house there that Gaudi lived in, but did not design. Inside you can visit the rooms (the ticket price for this was included in Sagrada Familia) and also see some of the furniture he designed, with handles that mold to your hand, chair backs and arms that are designed to conform to a person’s natural curves. Once again, pictures tell the story better than words.

By the time we had finished seeing the park, we were really exhausted! We dragged ourselves back to the Metro (a different one, with less steep decline, but still lots of steps to go down), stopping at a souvenir shop to fulfill Dale’s promise to his sister and daughter to get them the souvenirs they asked for.  I got a t-shirt with the image of one of the park’s mosaics on the front.

The Metro was quite far and we had to make a pit stop in a public library before entering the station. On our way back, we came across an interesting church, with a patio in back, where we took a rest!

When we got back to our apartment it was nearly 8 pm! We stopped at a place to buy a sandwich (for me) and a bread pizza (for Dale) and some boxed pineapple juice to have for our breakfast the next day. Around 9 pm we finally decided we should go somewhere for dinner. Right down the narrow street from our building, on the edge of a square, is a place called Menage a Trois. The waiter was dressed in a tank top and jeans and had tattoos all up and down his arms. But hey, he did his job and the tapas we ordered were quite good!! And not TOO expensive!!!! The sangria was just right, not too strong.

By the way, on this square are some Roman tombs that had been dug up. They looked like a series of gravestones that you might see at a place where you can order headstones. A big plaque explains what you are looking at as you peer down at them. (No pictures – it was too dark!)

Barcelona – Day 2 – Gaudi: Sagrada Familia

July 24, 2010 (cont’d – I’ve decided to have one post for each Gaudi site we visited, since I took so many photos at each place!)

Next we walked east toward the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous unfinished

Sagrada Familia spires from a distance

cathedral. Gaudi was a very religious man and envisioned building a grand monument to Christianity. The completed church is to have 12 towers, one for each of Christ’s disciples, and a taller one in the center for Christ himself. This tower will not be taller, however, than Montjuic, Barcelona’s tallest hill, because Gaudi believed that only God could build taller structures as part of the natural world.

Backtracking a bit…we were tired and hot and stopped a few blocks before the church in a surprisingly empty cafe, on a large street but that was not crowded with tourists. There I had very good gazpacho and a main dish of chicken and fried potatoes. I think we had taken a street less traveled, because on the street parallel to this one, a block south of it, we encountered a stream of people walking to and from the cathedral.

Another Gaudi-designed building, on route to Sagrada Familia

36 years ago, on my first visit to Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia had no roof and only one facade. That facade, with the theme of the birth of Christ, had traditionally sculpted figures and the overall effect of these plus the other decorative items and the original towers made it look like a sand castle, as if wet sand had been dripped slowly to create the towers and the rest of the facade. Now the building has another facade, which is what you come upon first when you arrive at the church and pay your entry fee. This one has the theme of the life of Christ and the sculptor’s vision was quite different. The statues are modern and angular. Although the overall effect is very striking, it didn’t seem congruous to me, with the vision and artistry of Gaudi’s work. Gaudi left models of the entire church and how it should be built, but not the specific artwork to be included on the facades.

Since the church is still under construction, the audio tour was a bit confusing and we ended up just sort of looking on our own, listening to some of the explanations (we had to share a headset this time, because it cost extra) and stood in contemplation of the interior. The stained glass windows are beautiful and the colors are in perfect harmony with their location and function in the building, but many had to be viewed through screens of cloth and scaffolding.

The pictures show some of the things we saw on our audiotour.

Front entryway

“Wet sand castle” facade

Interior: windows & ceiling

Outside (back) again

There are bunches of fruit on these pointed rooftops!

Next stop: Parc Guell!

Barcelona – Day 2 – Gaudi: Casa Batlle

July 24, 2010

The next day, Saturday, was what I called “All Gaudi, all the time.” After finding a place to have coffee and a continental type breakfast, we headed out walking toward the Gaudi houses about a mile north of Plaza Catalunya. I had thought of just viewing them from the outside because a girl in my class who had visited Barcelona said Casa Batlle cost 18 euros to get in! However, we discovered that there was a small discount for students and seniors, so that each of us had to pay only 14.25 euros.  I had to argue with the guy selling the tickets because he looked at my iNext card and nowhere on it does it specifically indicate that I am a student. No one had ever questioned this when I had used it before. I said to him in Spanish that not just anyone could get this card, that it was only for students (I was making this up although it might be true, I don’t know!) and in the end, he accepted it. Anyway we both got in for the reduced price. Although it was still expensive, the Casa Batlle was well worth it. With the entrance price we got an audioguide so we were each able to walk through the house and listen to each explanation at our own pace. Of course, as everywhere, it was crowded with tourists making picture taking somewhat difficult, but at least here we were allowed to take pictures.

The pictures can describe this incredible house better than words.

Front facade of Casa Batlle.













I will continue my narrative of our Gaudi day in the next post.

Barcelona – Part 2 (Day 1)

July 27, 2010

(July 23, cont’d) We set off after a short siesta for the Palau de la Musica. I never knew about this place, but Prof. A had strongly recommended it and said that the mosaics were absolutely incredible. We found it easily and paid for two tickets for a 3 pm tour. We got a bit of a discount because they had slightly lower prices for seniors (jubilados or retired people). Since it was only 1:30, we headed for the Cathedral.

The Cathedral of Barcelona (not to be confused with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia) is a Gothic structure built in the 1400s. Inside are beautiful high arched ceilings and stained glass windows. Each chapel around the side is different and worth seeing. They are each dedicated to a saint or the Virgin and are places for votive candles and private prayers. Some are luxuriously decorated in gold leaf and highly ornamented, while others have a simple beauty. In the middle is the altar and main sanctuary, also rather lavishly decorated. The cloister area (Which for some reason I couldn’t figure out how to get into either 36 years ago or this visit but saw it through a window) contained graceful arches surrounding an inner courtyard with a garden and fountain. There is also, just under the altar, the tomb of Saint Eulalia, whose importance I know nothing about, but she must be important to this cathedral because her tomb is reached via stairway directly in front of the main altar.

Cathedral ceiling – partial view

main altar & stained glass windows

Santa Eulalia’s tomb

We also climbed to the top of the cathedral which afforded nice views of the city.

Barcelona from cathedral rooftop. In the distance is Mont Juic, where the 1992 Olympic village was located.

Outside the Cathedral we discovered a series of panels entitled Repression and Resistance. There was a map indicating the location of each of these 10 panels throughout the Ramblas and Gothic Quarter. Each panel has a large black and white photograph on one side, and on the edge there is an explanation of the picture in four languages. All of them were taken during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco era that followed. I found the two of these located there  to be as interesting as the Cathedral itself!

After our tour of the Cathedral we headed back toward the Palau de la Musica. On the way we stopped to have a coke at a sidewalk cafe.

Modern addition to Palau de la Musica

The guided tour was to begin in the cafeteria of the Palau. There were interesting pastries and other goodies there, very beautifully presented, but they were all overpriced so we simply sat down and waited for the tour. I took a couple of pictures there before I realized no pictures were allowed in the palace. The cafeteria has a glass facade with Tiffany type glass panels. The ceilings are decorated with ceramic flowers where each of the sloping arches meet at a point. Pillars are covered with decorative and colorful mosaics, mostly of floral designs. The room is spacious and lets in a lot of light.

When the tour guide came, she took us first into a room to the left of the cafeteria where there were padded seats set in several rows in a semi circle. It was explained to us that the Palau de la Musica was originally conceived in the late 1800s as a residence and rehearsal place, as well as a concert hall, for the Orfeu Catalan Choir. This choir gained acclaim just before the turn of the century as one of the most professional choirs in Spain. An architect was commissioned to design the palace and other artists were to contribute as well.

We watched a video about the Palau’s history before the guide took us to see the concert hall. The concert hall seats over 2000 people even though it doesn’t seem this large. Some of the seats on the sides are cheaper for the concerts because although the acoustics and sound are great from all parts of the theatre, these seats do not provide a good view of the stage.

The organ in the Palau is magnificent! It has over 1700 pipes and the guide had it “play” one of its “demo” pieces. The sound was incredible!

The ceiling of the concert hall is covered with glass mosaics which meet in the middle in a light fixture that hangs downward and resembles the sun. In a circle around the rim are a pattern of women’s heads made of glass. Along the edges of the ceiling are more ceramic flowers and mosaics spelling out the names of several composers (Mozart, Rossini, etc.)

Alongside the stage are statues including those of the founding director of the choir (?) and the most beautiful are the ones that surround the back of the stage. There are a series of 12 women playing different instruments representing different cultures around the world. The bust of each of these are carved statues, but each torso ends as mosaics of their beautiful dresses, so that the statues appear to melt right into the wall. It is spectacular! Many types of performances take place here – symphony orchestras, operas, choirs, recitals, etc. The rehearsal room we were in at the beginning is sometimes used for small chamber concerts.

The upper floor (above the theatre balcony) is closed to visitors because it is private – it used to be the apartments of the workers, then the choir, and now it is the managing offices of the Palau and the Orfeu Catalan choir.

The old ticket booth

Outside the Palau are several columns covered in multicolored mosaics. It is hard to take good pictures of them because even crossing the street you cannot get far enough away. Only one of the Palau’s outside facades is visible from far away, since there used to be a church there but it is no longer there and was replaced with an open plaza.

After our tour, we headed to the Picasso Museum. This museum is housed in a series of 5 large houses located on a street on which several grand houses stood (all the others are still there but have been converted to apartment buildings or offices). These buildings all date from the 1700-1800s. The inside of the building is cool because of its construction and its patios and arches. (Of course, the galleries are air conditioned!) The most interesting thing about the Picasso museum is that, by seeing paintings from his earliest (doodles in a Latin school book) to some from his most famous abstract & cubist periods, you get to know and understand the artist. He enjoyed whimsy and had a sense of humor. He liked to experiment with different forms, shapes and colors. There are a lot of paintings from his early professional life done in realist style, which are very nice. There are some from his experimentation with impressionism, a few from his blue period, and almost nothing from the period of the 1930s-1940s, but then many of these are at El Prado in Madrid.

Entrance to Picasso Museum. Photography was not allowed inside.

In the 1950s Picasso did a series of studies (over 50 in all) of Velazquez’s famous painting Las Meninas. We had seen the original work in El Prado. What Picasso did was to take each of the characters in Velazquez’s work and refashion them in his own way. There are a series of 3 paintings of the Infanta, for example, two of them very abstract, one of them more impressionistic. He did some canvases of portions of the painting, and three or four of the entire painting. If you were to see these by themselves you probably would not recognize them as being renditions of Las Meninas! However, as part of the series, they are very interesting. Dale didn’t like most of these, but I had my favorites, for different reasons.

The original Las meninas by Velazquez

One of Picasso’s renditions of Las meninas

(Note: The above two pictures were downloaded from Google, so you can make a comparison).

Dale admitted to having been somewhat disappointed with the Picasso museum, but I really enjoyed revisiting it after all these years!

There are many of these “living statues” on Las Ramblas. You never know when they are going to try to scare you!

Two more living statues

For dinner we went back to the Ramblas to a restaurant recommended by the Insight guide and listed as “inexpensive” called Egipte. In spite of the name, there was no Egyptian food on the menu. We each ordered a special that includes a choice of two dishes, a drink, bread and a dessert. I made similar choices to what I had had at our hotel in Valencia, and the food was sort of good, but the meal we had in Valencia was much better, I thought! Plus this was much higher priced. Maybe for Barcelona it could be considered “inexpensive.”

Barcelona – E10 Part 1

July 27, 2010

Barcelona is the number one tourist city in Spain. This is in clear evidence when you get there and walk along the famous Ramblas. Literally thousands of people seem to be walking there at the same time, and if you look down the street you see a mass of moving heads that appears to be some sort of demonstration or rally. But it isn’t – it is merely a mass of tourists!! The prices in this area of Barcelona are jacked up too and when we would enter a shop or restaurant, the employees would automatically speak to us in English.

There were lots of tourists when I first visited Barcelona 36 years ago, but the major change since then (besides the obvious changes and modernization of the city that have taken place) is that the language of Catalan is predominant everywhere you go. City signs are first in Catalan, second in English, and castellano (Spanish) is relegated to third! If there is only one language on a sign, it is Catalan. 36 years ago – 1974 – Franco was still alive and Catalan was forbidden in public life, so of course, signs were in Spanish and everyone spoke Spanish. Being the fiercely independent minded region that it is, however, Cataluña preserved its language and culture and now it is proudly used as the co-official language. Of course, the residents of Barcelona speak Spanish also, but some people have commented that they actually prefer to speak English rather than Spanish. There is a great deal of resentment left over from the past, and even lately the region continues to lobby for increased autonomy. If they got their way, Cataluña would be a completely independent country.

One of a series of panels throughout “old” Barcelona, entitled “Repression and Resistance.” Each panel has a photograph taken during the Franco regime, with an explanation on the side in several languages.

Barcelona is not only the tourist capital of Spain, but it also the most important port. Prof. A and I have discussed this. The port is huge and there are container ships and container yards spanning at least a square mile, in my estimation. Therefore, her theory is that the region would not suffer too much from its separation from Spain, but rather Spain would suffer from the loss of Cataluña. I don’t know what will ultimately happen since I have not been following the issue closely, but it is in the newspapers nearly every day and within the last few weeks there have been some massive demonstrations in Barcelona. The one time when everyone was unified was when Spain won the World Cup. Some of the most important players came from Cataluña and Barcelona’s soccer team is the best in Spain.

That being said as a preface, when we were told we had a free weekend to do whatever we want, I didn’t have to think twice before choosing Barcelona. I loved its independent spirit and feistiness when I went there 36 years ago and I couldn’t wait to visit (or revisit) the Gaudi landmarks and the Picasso museum. So about 2 weeks or more prior to the scheduled weekend, we went to make reservations.  I had hoped to take the Ave (the bullet train) but it turned out to be too expensive, so we booked airline tickets. Five other  young women – decided to go together and stay together in an apartment to make it cheaper
for all of them. For only two people, however, we found out it would be quite expensive so we reserved at another apartment building. We were told that there are many people in Barcelona who own these small apartments in desirable areas of the city (the Ramblas area especially) and they have companies take charge of renting them out to tourists who go to the city for a short stay. It is a good deal because the apartments are more than just a hotel room. You can save money by buying your own food and cooking it in the apartment. At the end of your stay, there is a cleaning service that comes in to clean it for the next guests.
A Mexican girl among these five, who speaks fluent Spanish, had arranged for a bus to come to Barradas to take us to the airport, and sharing this among all of us saved us a lot of money. The flight was to leave at 7 am on Friday, July 23, so we had to be ready to leave at 4 am!!

Even though there was a strike of the air traffic controllers in Madrid, it did not affect our flight to Barcelona. Everything went very smoothly.

When we arrived in Barcelona, the luggage came quickly and we all went together to take a bus into town from the airport. We had been told to take this bus to the Plaza de España and then take a metro or a city bus from there. La mexicana was taking charge and I let her, even though it soon occurred to me that the bus was making stops beyond the Plaza de España and maybe it was going to Plaza Catalunya, which is just north of the Ramblas. However, I went along with her advice to get off the bus on the next stop after Plaza de España. I later realized I should have asked the driver and saved us taxi money.

When we got off the bus, Dale and I spied a taxi stand and soon were off on our own. Actually the taxi driver was very nice and helpful. He had never heard of the name of the street on which our lodging was located, but looked it up in his map book. He found it and took us to the Ramblas, stopping close to where we had to go, and showed us how to get there. He advised us that the small streets and alleyways could be dangerous, full of pickpockets, so we should always go back to the Ramblas whenever we were walking around. In fact, he was reluctant to let us off there, sure that we would be robbed! I made sure he got a nice tip.

Arriving at the narrow, dark street, first we couldn’t find the exact address. Finally we found it and saw that we were facing a locked entrance covered with graffiti. We had no idea how to get in, so we pressed some buttons next to the door even though I didn’t like the idea of disturbing other people.

The entrance to our apartment building!

Finally we took out the reservations again and I read the directions on it carefully. I wanted to kick myself! I had received these instructions at the travel agency and had forgotten to do anything about them. We were supposed to have called 24 hours in advance to get instructions about what to do when we got there. We asked at a nearby cafe where we could find a public phone and were told there was one at the other end of the little square we had entered.

I had absolutely no idea how to use the phone – I had never used a public phone in Spain before. Since we’ve been here, I have relied on email exclusively, since I did not bring my cellphone, wanting to save money by not using prohibitively high international Internet & phone rates. I tried inserting coins and pressing the codes indicated to get instructions. I got some instructions but didn’t understand them completely. However, one thing I realized I could do was use a credit card so I wouldn’t have to worry about having the right change or not getting change back from a one euro coin. I stuck the card in the slot and dialed the number on the reservation. A voice came on saying that my call could not be completed as dialed, or something to that effect, followed by some clicks and then the line went dead.

Shit, now what, I thought. I was beginning to get desperate and panicky, and was on the verge of tears. I told myself to get a grip – I had to take control because I was the one who spoke Spanish and Dale was depending on me. I was wishing we hadn’t left the other chicas in such a hurry… Here I was – the bilingual teacher who gets compliments on my great Spanish, and now I was just feeling like a helpless American tourist!

I decided to try to find a place where I could use a regular phone. A hotel – that was it.  We went back to the Ramblas wheeling our suitcases behind us ( a common sight, by the way) and I headed for the nearest hotel that looked large enough to have a nice reception area with a phone. At the hotel, we were able to use a hotel phone, which charged us only 40 centimos, instead of the 70 centimos I would have to pay at the public phone.  I asked if I could just dial the number, and she said to dial 0 first. (So THAT was the problem!!)

I was very relieved and happy to talk to a very friendly and helpful person on the other end. She told us where their office was and reassured me that we would be able to get our keys, leave our luggage there if we needed to, and even use their Internet.  Buoyed by the release of built up tension, I happily led the way to the office following her instructions. It was only a short distance away.

The woman at “Visit All the World”, the company that handles these apartments, was Swedish and very nice. We had to wait awhile but it was worth it because she switched us to an apartment that was already vacant and clean, so we would not have to wait until 3 pm.  Keys in hand, we headed out, our bags in tow, to search for the breakfast place she recommended before going to the apartment. We were both very tired and very hungry, so we were going to take care of our stomachs first!!

The restaurant, named “Ra”, was behind the Boquería Market, a huge fruit and vegetable market halfway up the Ramblas. We had a sort of American style breakfast (which was what Dale wanted). Dale had bacon and eggs, toast, coffee and juice, and I had a tortilla española (a sort of omelet with potatoes inside), French bread, coffee and juice.

We finally got into our apartment, which was an interesting experience in itself! The doorway to the building (the one covered in graffiti) was actually quite small and we had to duck to get in – it reminded me of Alice going into the looking glass, the portal to Wonderland!! Once inside the foyer, there were stairs leading upward but our apartment was on the 4th floor. We had been given specific instructions about what to do: even though the apartment was really on the fourth floor, it was officially on the 3rd floor, because there is a floor called E (Entresuelo) which is between the Bottom floor and the 1st floor. In U.S. terms, our apartment was actually on the 5th floor because what we call the 1st floor is here considered the Bottom floor or Lower Level. The first floor is one flight, usually, above that, or in this case, another flight above the Entresuelo.

We were also told that the elevator was extremely small, barely enough for us to fit in with our luggage. In order to fit, we had to stack the suitcases on top of each other and stand very close together (good thing we like each other – ha ha!). The doors closed as a woman’s voice said in Catalan “Doors closing” (something like “Trancan portas”). We pressed the button 4 and when we arrived on our floor, the voice said “Planta tres” and “Ouvrim portas” (open doors). The doors opened and we were at the door of our apartment!

The apartment, once inside, was very nice and modern, with black furniture and white walls. There was a bedroom, an anteroom with closets, a bathroom, a kitchen/dining room, and a living room with a TV. Each room had overhead lights and lamps and all were well lit. The shower was interesting – it had glass around the sides and an opening but no curtain to protect the floor outside from getting wet. The shower head was very adequate but the faucets for it were confusing. If you turned the main faucet to the right, you got water from the shower head. If you turned it to the left, water squirted out sideways from two sets of jets on either side! This was nice if you wanted to take a shower and wash off without getting your hair wet. However, we had to be careful with the hot and cold settings. We also discovered there was no soap, although there were towels. We made a mental note to buy soap sometime today.

I took this picture off Visit All the World website. The bedroom of our apartment was something like this, very spacious.

We took a nap for about an hour, then by 1 pm were feeling refreshed and ready to sightsee! I had an agenda planned out: Today we would go to the nearby places, because of our late start ‘ the old Cathedral, the Palau de la Musica and the Picasso Museum, all within a short walking distance from each other and from our apartment.