Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cuenca,Spain

Wow, incredible, beautiful and picturesque. These are just a few adjectives to describe the beauty and tranquility of the Storybook town of Cuenca, Spain. Parts of the town are over 1,000 years old. There are two parts to the town the new part and the old part. The old part of the town is pretty much where everyone goes. The old part of the town sits on a "Meseta" an inner plateau part of the mountain.


We where a little worried in the morning because of the very dark clouds. So first, we went into the main Cathedral Our Lady of Grace which was completed between the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the first half of the 13th century. Visiting this church was amazing some of the chapels in the church where the size of some churches in the world. When we left the church the rain did start but it lasted only about 45 minutes in the early afternoon.  At this time we ducked into a bar/cafeteria as they are called in Spain. This was one of the better little places we ate at. The waiter/bar tender is from the country of Ecuador and he really made this experience wonderful.

 After our wonderful lunch experience we decided to continue exploring the town. We walked and we walked and we walked. We first walked through the narrow streets of the town. We went down, then up until we found some trail and ventured out for some wonderful views. There is a river that flows near the bottom of the old town with a bridge that crosses it. We decided to find the bridge because there was a beautiful hotel on the other side. The hotel was an old convent many many years ago. It was a beautiful building that sits on a small mountain mesa.   Afterwards we discovered another trail that meandered along the riverbed. It was a beautiful walk in nature. 
 After a little rest in our room, we went up the hill to a restaurant/bar that grilled everything.  I'm a little tired of all the carbs they eat in this country (Elenita) so I chose this place.  After eating grilled Asparagus and Ribs, we waited for it to get dark (about 9:30p-9:45p) so we could see this wonderful, little Medieval Town all lit up.  After this we walked around a little more then headed up to our room.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Heading toward new adventures

On Sunday, May 29, 2011 at 7:45 am we hailed a taxi outside of our little apartment in Barcelona for the train station. We ate a lite breakfast and boarded a train for the 3 hour ride to Valencia, Spain. This is the home of paella. Once in Valencia we placed our luggage in a day locker and headed out in search for the great paella. Elenita;s cousin from Barcelona recommend going to the beach. Heading toward the beach we spoke to a bus driver who then recommended a place. I have to admit the paella was good but because we are in Spain I felt it was overpriced.


After eating our paella we headed out to the central area of the city. Valencia is a grand city it the central part, with many old beautiful buildings and churches. This is a city where you walk around looking toward the sky.


After our 5 hours of running around Valencia and taking in the beauty we ran back to the train station (literally) to catch our 6:15 pm train for the mountain town of Cuenca, Spain. At 7:30 we arrived at what I would call a storybook town. What a beautiful place. We will write later of our adventures in Cuenca. Here is a picture of the town.

Last day in Barcelona

Saturday, May 28, was our last day in Barcelona .We decided to spend the day in the bohemian neighborhood of Gracia which we discovered earlier. We first stopped at a Mexican restaurant and had guacamole and a beer. We then walked for a awhile and noticed an art walk and street music. This neighborhood has a wide variety of  international restaurants. For dinner (or late lunch in Spain) we decided to eat Syrian food. 
Elenita in front of the Mexican restaurant where we had the most expensive guacamole ever.


Our meals at the Syrian restaurant. Mine we meat a mix of lamb and pork cook on a spit with tabbouleh. Elenita ate a very flavorful dish with chicken and rice cook to perfection.  After dinner we where rewarded with some music in the street form students of a local music college.

video



  Afterwards we went back to our apartment and while we finished packing we watched the champion soccer Europe Cup. Which we Barcelona vs. Manchester, England. It was a wonderful closing to a great 11 days. Barcelona won and the revelry in the streets was wonderful. On to Valencia and the small mountain town of Cuenca, Spain.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Friday, May 27th

We are feeling very sad now that we only have 2 days left in this beautiful city, Barcelona.  Today we headed over to the Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya-MNAC-We're experts now on taking the Metro, transferring etc.  It houses an incredible collection of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Modern Art.  It is also well known for its Romanesque Collection but unfortunately that wing was closed temporarily.  We were dumbfounded by the beauty and the ages of some of these works.

 Pere Serra - Madonna of Angles and Saints, around 1385.

At 2pm my cousin Juanjo picked us up to take us to the beach resort town of Sitges, one of Catalunya's most popular resort towns.  Because we were vacillating between going or not going he decided he would take us, he didn't want us to miss it and we are glad we didn't.  It was the most beautiful, charming seaside town ever!  Some beautiful, big old mansions built, after the Spanish Civil War by Catalans who had gone to Cuba, started successful businesses and came back here to build their homes.  The Bacardí Family left for Cuba from here.  They just opened a Bacardi Museum here, unfortunately we didn't get to see it.



The old part is filled with old, narrow streets crammed with cafe's, boutiques and antique stores among many others.  Of course a beautiful, 17th century Baroque style church sits right on the water.  There are also 3 other museums and many beaches to visit.  We chose to stay outside and enjoy the day.  Juanjo walked us all around the old part, drove us from one end to the other all along the street that runs along the water and took us over to the Marina and Village.  We sat in a beachside restaurant, 'El Pic-Nic' for some delicious Tapas and Desserts.  Our dream would be to come back some day/year to Barcelona and stay here at the beach for a few days, its very quaint!

                                                                         Howard's lunch.

Back in Barcelona we stopped for a cup of coffee so Juanjo's daughter, Adriana, (20yrs.old) and I could meet.   She was just as wonderful as I imagined from our contact on FB.  I encouraged her to go to CA to meet her cousins.
We had one hour to rest in our Apt. before another cousin's (Gerado) wife came to pick us up.  They had been on a cruise since we arrived and this was the 1st and last opportunity for us to finally meet.  It had been a very long day and I was exhausted but I'm so glad we went.  She picked us up about 9:30p and we joined Gerado at a Sidewalk Tapas bar.  It was so much fun to meet him, he is quite the jokester and his wife, Nina, originally from the Country, Georgia was also very delightful.  We enjoyed the late night ambiance and more delicious Tapas.  Around 11:30pm Nina took us back to our Apt were we proceeded to collapse. 

One more very relaxed day in Barcelona and then we're off to Valencia for the day and Cuenca for 2 nights before heading to Madrid!  We're going to do a lot of resting on those train rides!

Barceloneta

Barceloneta is the area of Barcelona near the beach, port and harbor. Yesterday we decided to rent bikes and ride along the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea and through the Barceloneta neighborhood. It was a perfect day for this activity with beautiful scenery.
 After our 2 hour ride, Elenita's cousin Juanjo took us to a famous and very simple bar with the best " patatas braves" in Barcelona. It was a very simple place with a wonderful owner and fun ambiance.
 The patatas were wonderful and we loved the owner. Another great discovery off the tourist path. We feel so fortunate to have someone show us the side of Barcelona that normal tourists do not see. After walking around the neighborhood Sarria  we went back to the apartment to freshen up. We then walked over to see a another Gaudi house. La Pedrera (meaning the 'The Quarry'), is a building built during the years 1905–1910, being considered officially completed in 1912.  Antonio Guadi was way ahead of us time. Here is another example of his artistry.
 Above the entrance to the apartment building and below is the rood top.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wednesday, May 25th

Today we were determined to get into La Sagrada Familia- Gaudi's most famous work!  This was our 3rd attempt and I'm happy to say that we were successful.  Timing is everything!  We hung around the apt. today, doing laundry and what not and didn't get to the Church until 2pm, what a difference 2 hrs make, we almost walked right up to the ticket booth.  We bought the Audio guide with our ticket and it proved to be wonderful, you could just wander around at your leisure and listen to history, descriptions etc.  It was an amazing experience.

Though construction of Sagrada Família had commenced in 1882, when Gaudí took over the project in 1883 he transformed it with his architectural and engineering style—combining Gothic and curvilinear, Modernista forms[8] with ambitious structural columns and arches.[9][10]

Gaudí devoted his last years to the project and at the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.  He left drawings of his project and dedicated people of all talents are still working on it, the money from the visitors is paying for it.  It is still years away of being finished.  Gaudi was a very devout Catholic and his works show it.  



We had a spontaneous fabulous evening!  My cousin Juanjo called and asked if we wanted to go out for a drink.  We said ' Sure" but of course we thought soon, maybe 7-8pm?  No he said he'd pick us up at 9pm!  What were we thinking, this is Spain!  He picked us up and we drove to their house to pick up Eva.  He wanted us to see his Cuba room and Eva wasn't there yet so we went in for a drink.  My Spanish relatives are rich, what happened to the Cuban Duelo's?  He wanted to show me his Cuba room.  He says he loves everything Cuban.  It was a wonderful room dedicated to everything Cuban.  Eva arrived and off we were.  First up to the mountain of Tibadaio to see the city by night lights, it was beautiful.  Then off to a Tapas Bar for some Tapas of course and some wine.  The Place was packed and it was Wednesday night.  We left our name and crossed the street for a quick glass of wine.  At 11pm we finally got seats at the counter, the place was still packed, unbelievable!  Juanjo ordered for us and we had some wonderful Tapas and a wonderful Spanish bottle of wine.  This night was a real highlight for us.  Here we were in a local Tapas bar, not a tourist bar, with locals, eating fabulous food at 11pm at night, we couldn't have been happier!
We ate razor clams, cockles, veal, duck liver, wonderful wine and great desserts. But best of all was the people we where with and the environment.

Tomorrow we're off for a bike ride along the beach!
Buenas Noches!  Elenita y Howard Arturo

Tuesday, May 24th

Our excursion today was to Montserrat,  a mountain chain near Barcelona, in Catalonia, Spain. It is part of the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range. The main peaks are Sant Jeroni (1,236 m), Montgrós (1 ,120 m) and Miranda de les Agulles (903 m).[1] The Caribbean island of Montserrat is named after this mountain chain.

It is well-known as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary We took the Metro to the train station and then rode for an hour or so.  Had an enjoyable chat with a Chinese couple from Calgary, Canada.  After the train ride we had to ride a Teleferico up to the town of Monteserrat.  What a beautiful ride, not for those afraid of heights though.  The Basilica was off limits until 12noon(unless you were actually going in to attend Mass) so we decided to go further up the mountain and hike some trails down, the views were incredible, this really is God's country.  We meandered back down the mountain (about 1 1/2 hrs.) and then continued down below the Basilica to the Sacred Cave.  In this Cave, about the 12th Century a small wooden statue of the Black Virgin was found.  A replica is now in the Chapel and the original Statue is in the Basilica.  We took a Funicular back up to the Monastery and went into the Church.  It was beautiful, absolutely an amazing work of architecture and art.


 

Sunday May 22nd!

This Sunday morning we were off to the Cathedral,  no, not to attend Mass (we are both non-practicing Catholics) but to see the Traditional Catalan Dance, Sardana.   Every Sunday at 12noon the Proud Catalans meet to dance and they are joined by a  group of classical musicians.   We got there by the Metro, our first time!  It is incredibly efficient, easy to figure out and very clean.  We arrived early so decided to have a cup of coffee at the Cappuccino y Crema Cafe just around the corner from the Cathedral.  Howard decided to try the Hot Chocolate, so many people had said how wonderful it was.  Well, this was pure, melted chocolate in a coffee cup, picture Hershey's Syrup but hot!  I love Chocolate and I didn't even find it appetizing.  We requested hot milk to make it easier to swallow.
Walked over to the Cathedral and they had already started, it was fun to watch.  Many different groups were formed, some small, some big and some even wore special T-shirts.  We watched for a while and then decided to enter the Cathedral, Howard was even impressed.  He gets tired of going into Churches but he couldn't believe it, it was that beautiful.  We have beautiful churches in Mexico but these are even older!



We left here and wandered around the tiny, winding streets and ended up in the harbor.  It was a beautiful day so we grabbed a table and had a Tapas and beer!  Our favorite beer so far is  AK Damm.  Someone told us that Beer is not big here but that isn't true.  Sitting here under the hot sun we felt like we were in San Francisco, both cities have lots of tourist walking around.
Had a wonderful lunch at a small place close to the Picasso Museum where we were going next.  The owner was French and very personable! Have I mentioned that Catalans aren't very personable, not the staff in restaurants anyway!
We stood in line waiting to get in to the Picasso Museum (a lot shorter line now then earlier).  Neither one of us are really Picasso Fans so we wandered thru quickly and left feeling...Ok, we saw it!
From here we continued walking the wonderful little winding streets and accidentally found the Parc Citadel, a wonderful park in the city with lots of green space, a small lake where you can row boats, a beautiful Monument/Fountain and more.  This Parc was filled with locals and we were happy to have stumbled upon .
We walked out thru the Arc de Triumph and found ourselves on the main boulevard to walk us home.  Our Apartment is very well located.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sat., May 21st! and Sun May 22nd

I have a new admiration for Bloggers........this is time consuming and takes creative energy!  I'm afraid that Howard and I don't have either!  For these reasons we are very behind, we're sorry!

Saturday we chose to walk around a residential neighborhood that looked really nice from the Tour Bus. It was an easy walk (even with our sore feet) from our neighborhood.  This area was filled with small, sidewalk restaurants, many small plaza's each with their own church and of course many narrow, criss crossing streets.  We stopped for some Tapas and a Beer in one of them.  Not sure if I've mentioned this before but the Bar/Restaurant staff are very cold.  If you don't aggressively say "Hey, over here, I'm starving, thirsty etc., they don't give you the time of day, no eye contact, NADA!!  We have had a few exceptions but I'm afraid it is the Rule here.  The friendly staff we have met have been from Argentina, Columbia and other parts of Spain.  We have commented to them how personable they are and they have said "yeah, Catalans are very cold, aren't they?"  It gives us more appreciation of Mexico, they couldn't be warmer people!

We found Gaudi's first house that he was commissioned to design, right after his receiving his Architect degree.




We meandered back to our Apartment for a home cooked meal.  About 10 minutes after we got home one of my cousins called, he wanted to pick us up in 45 minutes, we said sure!  He drove us out of the city, thru a beautiful forest into a very nice suburb of Barcelona.  I finally got to meet my Barcelona Duelo cousins, it was a very emotional evening!

Sunday will follow soon ;)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2nd Day on the Tourist Bus - May 20th

Today we are taking the Bus around the Eastern Side of the city!  Have I mentioned that normally Howard and I don't do this sort of thing, we are more free spirited, but I must say its a great way to get an overall view of a city.
We enjoyed the views around the entire route 1st and then went back around to get off at Parc Guell, up in the hills.  This system is very efficient so we figured we could enjoy Parc Guell, have lunch somewhere and catch the bus again back home.  Unfortunately around Placa Catalunya, the hub of Barcelona and closer to the water then the hills, Mother Nature came calling so we got off and went to the big department store - El Corte Ingles.  While I scampered around looking for the, Howard was checking out ythe wonderful supermarket in their basement - finally found Granola for our yogurt!
We decided to do a little walking by going to the next stop to hop on our bus.  That would have been fine if we hadn't gotten lost in the labyrinth of winding streets that go every which way-beautiful streets in a Medieval like way, lots of shopping!


After asking for help we found our bus stop and fortunately it arrived just as we did. We hopped back on and headed towards Parc Guell.  Our goal had been to enjoy a nice lunch in a quaint place, well that didn't happen.  We ended up in a place that just helped fill the void in our stomachs.  Up the hill we went towards Parc Guell, passing a beautiful church and walking thru yet another wonderful neighborhood (this city is filled with them).  On the way up the hill we came upon a surprise - I don't know if Spaniards are lazy or if they just want to help the tourist but we had help getting up the hill.......

Parc Guell is a big, beautiful public park designed by Gaudi (one of his first projects).  It was originally planned as a Residential Development, when it didn't succeed it was made into a park.  It is filled with architectural fantasies, lots of mosaic themed benches to rest on while you enjoyed the magnificent views of the city, the house he lived in for years, a Ginger Bread look alike house... The expansive garden included many trails for hiking, a variety of Mediterranean tropical plants, flowers, Palm trees and many others.  Its a wonderful place to visit when you want to get away from the sounds of the city.


 Our energy being totally spent we stayed home and enjoyed some Tapas from a tiny joint just around the corner from our apartment.
Buenas Noches, Elenita y Howard Arturo




 












Saturday, May 21, 2011

We are in Barcelona

Our first full day we decided to walk out the door and head towards one of the major plaza's. This is a beautiful city to walk and wander aimlessly around. We found ourselves at Placa Catalunya - a main hub in the city. On a whim we decided to buy a two day pass on the tourist double-decker bus. The plan was to just sit on it for the whole route - 1 day west and the next day take the east route. We would then decide what to go back to and see again.

  Thursday we claimed our seats on top for the best views and happily road around unitl we got to Montjuic (mount of the jews). Here we decided to disembark and see the castle and views of the city. From this stop we took a funicular to the top. The view of the city and the Mediterranean were Spectacular.
 We walked back down through beautiful gardens and hopped on the bus again. This area also has an Olympic stadium (from the 1992 Olympics), an Art Museum and Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village) - like the Epcot Center of Spain. We will come back to that later, we've been told it is worth it. At the stop closest to our apartment we got off and headed home ( not before stopping for a beer)! We were determined to go out at night so we napped the afternoon away. We headed out for dinner at 9:45 pm (wow that is late for us). Sat at a sidewalk Sausage restaurant (my husband is Polish ya' know) and enjoyed a sausage and beer. From here we walked to the famous "Las Ramblas" a pedestrian walk way that goes all the way to the port. It is filled with vendors, entertainment and masses of people late at night. We made our 1st language FauxPas while buying ice cream in a cup.  Howard asked for 2 Chicas (small) and the girl started laughing.  Once she calmed down she explained to us that ' Chica' in Spain only means 'Girl', so Howard asked for 2 Girls! - note to ourselves, only use the word Pequeño for small!

We were pretty far from home and exhausted so we took a taxi home and walked in the door at 12:30am, not bad for 2 old gringos!

Ciao,  Elenita y Howard Arturo
   

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Our Adventure begins

Our adventure began with 2 days in Mexico City. As usual we enjoyed every minute discovering a new neighborhood (Zona Roma) filled with sidewalk cafe's, bars and many book stores. We had the privilege of touring the Presidential Palace, rarely seen by the public, to having kind people on the Metro offer assistance with directions. I know  a lot of you hear/read otherwise, but we only meet the kindest, friendliest and helpful people in Mexico City.

Our flight to Newark,NJ was uneventful but our 4 1/2 hour drive to Ithaca, NY was beautiful. Being a California girl it impressed me how we could travel through 3 states in such a short time. Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania and northern New York are out of a Norman Rockwell painting - hills, trees, rivers, creeks, farm houses, American style colonial style homes and more trees.

Of course David's graduation was the highlight of our trip. We enjoyed his company but sadly we were not able to explore the beautiful outdoors because of the weather was wet and gloomy. David told us that Ithaca, NY is second in the nation to Olympia, Washington when it comes to gloomy weather.

Next stop Barcelona, Spain! Our packed flight went smoothly and Wednesday morning we find ourselves in Barcelona.  We took the Aerobus and a taxi to our apartment. After a short nap we walked around our neighborhood. First impressions - one could spend days without ever going into a museum  ...strolling wide tree lined boulevards, admiring the19th century architecture, ornate balconies filled with plants/flowers and stopping at a sidewalk  tapas bars. It appears to us that strolling the city with the locals is all the entertainment we needed.