And I did indeed sleep late. Began the day watching policemen arrest a shirtless drunken man on the steps of the Metro. Much to my relief, despite a spirited birthday celebration, I did not end up in a similar situation at the end of my night. Spent pretty much the entire afternoon wandering around the Gothic Quarter trying to get back to the 1st century BC Roman pillars we stumbled across the previous day, and charting out paths for our sightseeing book idea. We started to get a little frustrated when we just could not for the life of us find the pillars. We found every other place we’d been to and either taken photos or stopped for a beer or whatever. But somehow couldn’t find the last turn. But finally we did with a great sense of accomplishment. (When we turned around without going inside to the pillars, a French couple standing outside started exclaiming at us, “You should go inside! Go inside!” We explained we’d already been inside the day before. They were quite concerned for the welfare of our historic knowledge of the city.) A couple shots from the Temple d'Augustus ...
It was Sunday, a great day to explore this part of the city because many of the shops were closed. Might sound like a bad thing, but this enables you to see all of the street art. Many of the garage doors that pull down over the store fronts are painted. There are some great paintings. (If you know anything about underground street artists, you might be interested to know we found a “calling card” from Space Invader. That was fun.) I would definitely recommend exploring this area at a time when many shops are closed.
We made it to the Picasso museum and by pure chance it happened to be free admission. I guess Sundays after 5pm (until 7) admission is free. We were initially daunted by the line to get in but it moved fairly quickly. The museum didn’t have any of his famous pieces but it was a good exhibit and very interesting with many of his drawings and paintings from his youth, and a great little film showing something like 48 permutations of the same painting ... he was “copying” a painting by someone else -- a common activity of course for aspiring painters to try to emulate the masters by copying some of their pieces as precisely as possible. Picasso, though, “copied” the painting using his late characteristic cubist style. The film overlays Picasso’s copies one at a time on the original painting (Les Meninas) (or something close to that). He also had an early propensity toward scenes with people attending the dying in their beds. (I don’t know what that’s about.)
Then it was time to get ready and head back my friend’s flat for happy hour drinks around 9, then we went out to dinner for my birthday at a restaurant near their place. Good times. A little champagne to celebrate.
Then Erik and I decided (or at least I did and Erik went along) to act significantly younger than my age and go find a club or two. We found a somewhat quaint and small club to hang out in. Until about 4:30am. It got just a wee bit ugly at the end when I kept running into the people I was trying to dance with. There was a little group of us pounding the floor until closing time. It had been quite crowded earlier and made for good people watching. (young folks are always especially interesting/often unfathomable to watch)
Next day was a bust (for several reasons). Seems like we usually have at least one of these in a trip, but too bad we had one during such a short trip. So now only two days left with much yet to do. We’ll see how far we get. But I certainly wouldn’t mind stopping over here again some day to see some more. There is a prodigious amount of sightseeing available to do here. We did rally in the late evening and strolled down to the waterfront. The sea water is the most beautiful blue. The exact same color as the post-sunset dark-blue sky. Gentle waves hitting the shore. A nice boardwalk follows the beach for a long way. A few catastrophes have hit us in the last few days. For one, my beloved G9 camera quit working. Fortunately I brought my SLR also, though I almost didn’t. It’s not as convenient to carry around but at least I’m not cameraless. Tomorrow we will try to get to the Dali museum by train.
Wow, it's actually before midnight today when I finish writing and misc business. But I'm quite exhausted, so probably you've had to wade through many typos and bizarre wordings... However I'm more interested in sleeping and dreaming than going back to read and fix them.
I’ve been in enough medieval cities or the remnants thereof throughout Europe to love these old, labyrinthine parts of town and to feel a sense of nostalgia for them, so whenever I get back to one it’s like reuniting with an old friend. Barcelona has a lovely quarter, known as the Gothic Quarter (or Barri Gotic), of narrow, curvy alleys and courtyards of varying sizes. Today is Saturday so it was packed with people except for the alleys that were utterly void of people ... just like everywhere as a tourist, there is the beaten and the unbeaten track, and it always amazes me the proximity of one to the other. But thank goodness for the latter. Always so refreshing. The Barri Gotic is a big enough quarter that having not paid a wit of attention when we entered and then wandered utterly without aim, when it came time to head for home we were a tad lost. Yay. I love being lost. Except when I’m really hungry or I really have to pee. Here are some scenes from the quarter. The giant bubble guy was pretty fun to watch with the children all trying to catch the bubbles.
Parts of the walls are very interesting and you can see the centuries of continual building over and on top of previous structures. The oldest parts of the city are several columns dating from 1st century BC. They are preserved in a glass shelter and by now are far below the general street level. Here is a photo that somewhat shows this stratification and hodge-podge, as the pigeons are perching in an area with several different layers of building materials from different time periods.
Oh, and we’ve moved digs. We spent the morning and afternoon with our most agreeable friends/hosts of the opulent flat and have now left them to a couple quiet days to themselves. We’ll see them again tomorrow for dinner. So after checking into our new budget hotel (yes, it’s quite a drastic change) we went out for our meander. Along the way we also stopped in a Dali museum. Quite a nice one; we’ve been to several around the world. It was fun to see some photographs of Dali standing at some of the Gaudi places we’ve been to. So, my brilliant theory that Dali was influenced by Gaudi was proved correct. I’m sure no one else has ever had the insight to put the two together before, and I can assuredly claim and publish this mind-blowing theory as my very own. ;-) On the right, an interesting Dali creation of a 3-D scene of wooden figurines.
I guess I’m narrating backward. Now I will tell you about our morning still spent with our friends (the 5th party member flew back home this morning), so was just 4 of us. We took the subway to a flea market and walked through briefly, then walked through a very pleasant part of town with lots of open park space and an arboretum. Erik was extremely pleased with himself when he managed to jump up high enough to pluck an orange from the laden trees in the park. His pleasure turned sour, literally, after tasting it and puckering up. Thems not eatin’ oranges.
There was a beautiful arc de triumph, like ones you’ll see everywhere ancient conquerors patted themselves on the back for a successful (or at least perceived successful) military campaign. This one was made of red brick, however. And again more beautiful scenes of the city. (I ran out of camera battery.) I think my friend has broken a Guinness record for number of stitch photos taken in a single location or a single week, stitching together numerous panorama shots. I will have to steal some from him and post them to you.
Somehow night has descended again with surprising rapidity and it’s after midnight already. Have to rest up for my birthday tomorrow. So off to bed I shall go and probably sleep late.
I think the best thing about today was our dinner. We had the gall to sit down for dinner on a Friday at the early bird hour of 9:40pm. The cook arrived about 5 minutes after we sat down. The restaurant was picked by one of our party who had read of it in a guidebook as a restaurant with authentic Basque cuisine. Seemed a necessary outing. Turned out to be a bit of a fiscal indulgence, but I’m sticking with the “necessary” clause in the interest of fiscal justification. The proprietor was great. We were the only people in the joint for the better part of 2 hours. The wine was nice, the appetizers were scrumptious, the main course delicious and the dessert decadent. And the apperatif shot floral and yummy. (and I don’t know how to spell apperatif correctly) The main course was codfish cooked in frothy olive oil. One might swear it was really 8 pounds of butter, but the proprietor insisted it was olive oil. And browned garlic. Mmmm. The dessert was pears soaked in red wine, and I think one must assume some sugar. Fantastic. It was a lovely evening.
But that certainly is not to imply the day was not similarly so. We toured another Gaudi, La Pedrera, first thing in the morning. It was very cool, because as you now know, I love Gaudi! It’s tempting to describe some of his architectural elements and landscapes as Seussian, but that would imply just a little too much random whimsicality. Gaudi is about producing “organic” qualities in his forms, but this often comes very close to Seuss’s fictional forms. Close, but it wouldn’t be accurate to formally make a comparison. At any rate, good fun stuff.
Probably a little too un-PC for today ... a lot of old advertisements and photos line the hallways.
Then we walked about with our friends, went to the Olympic park where the Barcelona summer Olympics were held. This was far more interesting and beautiful than I would have guessed. Then we rode a gondola to the top of a hill where perches a fortress with some incredibly formidable cannons pointing out to sea. The gondola ride was the epitome of loveliness, and afterward we ate an overpriced lunch at a restaurant with a priceless view, overlooking both ocean and city.
K, well off to try to sleep and dream... though for once my vivid dreamscapes may be nothing special compared to the sights I'm seeing here in my waking hours!
Today is the first day of the rest of my life. As citizen of Barcelona. When they try to kick me out of this opulent flat in which I currently reside, I will barricade myself in. Tomorrow I’ll spend the day recruiting minions off the streets of Barcelona to help me defend my stay. In all my travels I have yet to cause an international incident. But one must move forward in their life…. perhaps this will be my 15 minutes of fame.
We flew in on US Airways, and as its name implies, it is a domestic airline…. a bit of a shock for those of us who travel abroad relatively frequently…. no flappy things on the head rest to lean your sleepy head against; no personal TV consoles; and most egregiously, NO FREE DRINKS! For some reason in the middle of the night when everyone was trying to sleep, they decided to fill the big screen at the front of the cabin with some TV show, which though I did not watch I could discern through my eyelids must have been something about the history and utilization of strobe lights. And of course, the obligatory fussy toddler.
Nonetheless, we arrived in Barcelona in good spirits. People ask me all the time as a trip looms near, “Are you excited for your trip?” The answer in all honesty would have to be, “No.” (Sometimes I answer “yes” for convenience, but I’m telling you now that if I say that, I’m lying.) I used to say that I only got excited once I was on the plane that was exiting the U.S. and in the air. But I realized driving in rush hour traffic from the Barcelona airport to our friend’s-friend’s flat in the city, that truly I only actually get excited when I’m in the taxi or bus or train, whatever, from the airport to my first on-land destination.
Taxiing into Barcelona brought back fond memories of riding sportbikes with our friends in Greece as the motorcyclists and mopedists (it’s a word, I’m sure) were lane-splitting all around us. Though here they are a bit more cognizant that speed limits exist. Still, it made me nostalgic for the naughty feeling that riding in Greece gave us Americans zooming between the cars at double their speed, lining up at stoplights in front of the cars like the starting grid for a race until the cars honked to signal the motorcycles to go. It would be so great if we could lane-split in the States.
Well anyway, we’re not in Greece but in beautiful Barcelona. Everyone I talked to who had been here raved about it and I can see why. I can also see that one week will be a paltry amount of time here. Barcelona alumni also went on and on about “Gaudi”…. love Gaudi, love Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi. And little ol’ me knew nothing about this Barcelona architect. Boy, do I feel silly. Because now I love Gaudi! Gaudi Gaudi! I’m a fan!
Yesterday after dropping our luggage off at the flat and reuniting with my friend from last year’s South Africa Earthwatch trip and meeting his wife, Erik and I just roamed the streets randomly. Since the guidebook I ordered off Amazon 3 weeks ago never did arrive, we struck out in complete ignorance, though our friends accompanied us for awhile with some tips. Then we parted ways for the rest of the afternoon. We passed several Gaudi buildings. Hope to tour the insides later in the week. Today we went to Gaudi’s piece de resistance, the Sagrada Familia cathedral, and Guell Park. The cathedral is an epic of architectural vision and ingenuity. Not at all like your typical European cathedral, it is shaped with Gaudi’s signature organic forms, and Christian iconography is minimal. It is all about soft lines, shapes and color. It seems obvious that Dali’s artistic visions must have a deep-seated inspiration from Gaudi architectural forms. (Hope to go to Dali museum outside Barcelona later in the week.) Here are some photos from the Sagrada Familia.
While our friends attended a soccer game last night, Erik and I took a much needed nap and waited to greet another arriving guest. So we are a party of 5 for a few days. Got a late night dinner (normal dinner time around here) around 11:30pm at a spot just behind our flat, came back and had beer and port at the flat. Wandered off to bed about 2:30am and got up at 9:30 this morning. (yawn….) Spring weather is lovely. Here are a couple photos from the market. Tons of peppers and tons of candy.
OK. Time for happy hour. Some random street scenes.
Durban, South Africa
So we’ve gone from sea level, snorkeling at Kosi Bay, to nearly 10,000 feet high in the Lesotho mountains. From 90 degrees F in Kruger to 30 degrees at Sani Pass. Hot dry wind to cold blowing snow. Land as flat as a pancake to magnificent cliffs of dragon’s teeth in the Drakensburg mountain range. I guess most areas this large will have a wide diversity of landscapes. But having packed all that into 3 weeks makes the country seem a bit more epic. Then of course the extremes in wealth and poverty. We haven’t really seen much in the way of blatant opulence, but definitely decidedly upscale places, which have more impact when juxtaposed with the shanty towns and rural rondevals.
So we woke up at the top of Sani Pass to cloudy but clearing skies. It hadn’t snowed very much more overnight from what had accumulated when we went to bed. The folks from yesterday had found a ride down. By the time we finished breakfast, the clouds had broken enough to allow us to see down the pass we would be descending, and the snow on the road was melting fast. The proprietor told us about a snowstorm that happened in 2002, when about 30 tourists at the pub/B&B got suddenly and unexpectedly snowed in. The proprietor, meanwhile, was snowed out as he’d gone down the pass to run errands. The tourists were trapped at the B&B for a month! 30 days and nobody could get up or down the pass. Finally, they rescued the trapped people with a helicopter. The only thing the people could find with which to mark out a “pad” for the helicopter to see where to land was a bottle of ketchup. Imagine getting trapped like that!
Well, not us. We were able to leave as planned. We left Lesotho through the tiny border post atop the pass and then, it’s a bit odd, but the South Africa border post is all the way at the bottom of the pass. It’s a no man’s land for about 30 minutes of driving. I really adore these tiny border crossings, as both ends of Lesotho and leaving Swaziland. So refreshing when you consider what you have to go through to get into my country ... I love my good ol' USA, but damn, it sure is a hassle to get back in.
The views from the pass were spectacular. They lived up to the reputation the guidebooks gave them. Not much traffic on the pass because you must have a 4x4 vehicle. Most people park their 2wd cars at the bottom of the pass and take a 4x4 shuttle jeep/land-cruiser-type thing up. Apparently, the South Africans all want to come up when there is snow on the pass because it doesn’t really snow in South Africa. Indeed, we passed about 10 land-cruiser shuttles coming up the pass while we went down. One time, a woman in the car going up, who had her window rolled down, said to us, “The snow is melting on your car!” This must be quite a novelty to have snow on your car that is subsequently melting. The road was gloriously twisty and steep. But I think we would not have lived had we tried it yesterday.
So we drove on to Royal Natal nat’l park. The roads we took there were quite remote, no traffic, few houses, as it is an area where a few people own large ranches/farms. Our “luck” held and while driving one of these dirt roads, we heard a loud “psshhhht” and our rear tire instantly deflated. The car jack that came with the rental truck was not very well built and while jacking up the car, it broke. A couple cars passed us driven by black people with no acknowledgement of our obvious situation. The first car driven by a white person stopped and offered to help. The next car with a white person stopped and asked if we needed more help. Not sure if there is anything to be made of this or not. One thing I kept thinking about in this region of large land-holdings by whites is the situation in Zimbabwe. I think I if were a white ranch owner here I would be a bit nervous wondering if the same thing could happen in South Africa….
Anyway, a man and his daughter stopped to help us; they used their own jack equipment, and somewhat similar to the German guy in Balule, just pretty much took over and changed the tire himself. We offered beers from our cooler, as that’s the only thing we ever have to offer in friendship and thanks, but it was early in the day, not exactly happy hour. So he declined with the phrase we’ve come to hear so often here when people help us, “It’s a pleasure.” And he drove off. We were unable to see the things I had hoped/planned to see today, but it’s OK. We had a beautiful drive anyway. The Drakensburg range is stunning. We stopped at a B&B that was mentioned in our guidebook as having internet access. Since I had some blog posts I wanted to make, as the internet situation has been so dismal here, we shacked up there at “The Tower of Pizza.” Naturally, we had pizza for dinner. You might not think it from the B&B name, but they had lovely little rondevals to stay in. So basically, camping post-El Diablo was a bust. Cost us more money to stay in accommodations, but hey, c’est la vie. We would have been quite miserable in the truck.
So that brings us to our last day!! Oh dear. Travel time always runs too short by a horrifically long shot. We went for a hike in Royal Natal park. It was great to stretch our legs a bit. It was a beautiful hike. The tops of the mountain spires were covered by low clouds, so we could only guess at their heights. We followed a river valley and eventually walked right along the river, which was as crystal clear as anything could be. The trail wasn’t a loop, so we had to retrace our steps out, but it might as well have been a loop, for the outbound trail seemed quite different; the sun had come out and the clouds lifted from a lot of the mountain tops. We were quite surprised to see just exactly how tall the sheer cliffs were. Really spectacular. Couldn’t ask for a better day to end the trip on.
Now we’re in Durban, checked into our B&B and only now finally trying the South African liquor, amarula. The retired folks on the train told us we must try it, so at last we have. Tasty. Maybe duty free will have some…. :-)
In our frequent encounters with hospitable folks, we were given the phrase, “it’s the African experience.” By now I presume this means something along the lines that things break down frequently, don’t go quite right, but others will help you out and you’ll be alright in the end.
Posting now from an internet cafe in Durban while Erik unloads the truck. Then we plan to seek out some more bunny chow – the signature Indian dish of South Africa. Apparently, the largest concentration of Indians outside India reside here in Durban. Or so they tell us. But then they've told me so many things ... this is the last hill; their parents are dead and they’d like to go to school; there are no lions in the park.