Having to go the wrong way.

Arriving back at the hotel last night the hotel manager informed us that she had been unable to confirm the booking of a taxi to take us to the airport tomorrow morning as there was a possibility that they would be on strike in corroboration with the demonstration planned for tomorrow. Unable to do anything we retired to bed with the alarm set for just after 7am. They would check the situation at 7:30 and let us know. Plan B was to get the metro to the airport which would involve three changes but doable.

For the first time this holiday there are clouds in the sky, may be this was a sign of what was to come. The front desk informed us that the taxis hadn’t striked and ours would be outside at 8am.

City taxes paid as we check out of the hotel and suitcases loaded. It is at this point the driver warns us that many of the main routes are closed. We head down the back lanes to Monument Columbus down by the harbour but it is here we are faced with our first blockage by the police.

We now have to travel twenty minutes in ever increasing traffic in the total wrong direction. Our driver is on his radio talking to three co drivers trying to find a way out of the city. Every major exit on to the motorway out of the city is blocked by police, no sign of any demonstrators. It is not untill we are almost at the airport some 40 minutes later on a journey that normally takes 20 minutes do we actually see a small group of demonstrators.

Through security and a cup of coffee later we are soon on our first flight of the day. We arrive back at Gatwick at midday and it is here that we have to sadly say bye to Misha, she has a couple of trains to catch before starting back at the vets practice for her night shift tonight. Trying my best not to cry we wave her off on the shuttle between North and South terminal. Luckly it wont be too long till we see her again at christmas.

We now have a 6 hour wait for our flight back to Jersey. We manage to while away a few hours in Wagamama and then sat writing this blog. For once I will actually complete a whole trips blog on time.

Posted in Barcelona, Spain

Gaudi’s final works, very Família

Cobalt bluè skies but definitely a north wind welcomes us this morning as we start our final full day of sight seeing. Calfs, backs and feet are starting to make their presents felt as we walk up what is becoming very familiar to us, La Rambles, to catch the green east route today out to what is probably Barcelona’s most famous building La Sagrada Famíla.

Gaudí took over as chief architect after Francisco Paula de Villar resigned in 1883 and transformed the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear (Art Nouveau) forms. Gaudí devoted the remainder of his life to the project, and at the time of his death aged 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was completed. Relying solely on private donations, Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, only to resume with intermittent progress in the 1950s. The annual constuction budget of €25 million is raised solely by the entrance fee charged. With advancements in technologies such as computer aided design and computerised numerical control (CNC) a much faster progress has been achieved and construction passed the midpoint in 2010 when it was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI. However, some of the project’s greatest challenges remain, including the construction of ten more spires, each symbolising an important Biblical figure in the New Testament. It is anticipated that the building should be completed by 2026—the centenary of Gaudí’s death. Gaudi knew he would never see the completion of this project so he ensured that plaster casts of his ideas were created.

Tickets to enter need to be purchased in advance and you have to choose a 15 minute time slot of when you wish to enter. This time of year the queues (of ticket holders) were short and after picking up our audio guides we started at the Nativity facade – the only one completed before Gaudi’s death.

This façade faces the rising sun to the northeast, a symbol for the birth of Christ. It is divided into three porticos, each of which represents a theological virtue (Hope, Faith and Charity). The Tree of Life rises above the door of Jesus in the portico of Charity. Four towers complete the façade and are each dedicated to a Saint (Matthias the Apostle, Saint Barnabas, Jude the Apostle, and Simon the Zealot).

You enter through the beautiful bronze doors inspired by nature, full of metal leaves, flowers and insects. It is the creation of Japanese sculptor Etsuro Sotoo, a passionate follower of Gaudí’s career who has been collaborating in the construction of the church since 1978. At 7 metres tall by 3 metres wide, the ornate door is the first of four pieces that will be installed in this part of the temple as it is completed. Once inside the absolute beauty of the interior takes your breath away. The use of glass, stone and light is amazing and any number of photographs will never truly show it at its best.

Gaudi used cool bright coloured glass for the windows facing east as the sun rises and warm colours in the west windows as the sun sets.

Gaudi designed the interior to look like a forest with the interior columns reaching up like great trunks of trees , the tops looking like trees which have been pollarded and the new branches supporting the higher balconies. Once again there are no flat surfaces. Light is filtered down giving the appearance of daple light through the leaves and branches of trees. There will be two further facades, passion and glory. Passion is virtually complete and is so different with the sculpture Josep Maria Subirachs using very angular designs and the use of bone like structures to complete Gaudi’s ideas. This facade tells the suffering of Jesus on the cross.

Three hours later we finally manage to leave. There is just so much to admire.It is our hope that we will come back in 2026 so see it completed. Back on the brilliant hop on hop off bus we move on to Park Guell with a brief stop at Sante Pau. A former hospital built between 1901 and 1930 and was still used untill 2009. Now it is a museum and culture centre.

Tired at the end of four very busy sight seeing days I am not sure we were in the right frame of mind to visit Park Guell. Designed by Gaudi and built between 1900 and 1914 and opened to the public in 1926. The idea was for this to be a housing area but on completion of the first house and no buyers the project was shelved and eventually Gaudi and his father moved in to the only house ever built.

With part of the park being repaired and feeling drained we drag ourselves back down the steep streets back to the bus stop, having to run the last few yards to catch the bus. A quick shower back at the room and back out again for dinner. Tomorrow we have an early start for what will end up being a long day travelling for us all.

Posted in Barcelona, Spain

The first day of Gaudi

Breakfast started on the Rambla in the dapled morning sunshine. The trees are quickly shedding their leaves as autumn approaches, the sky is beautifully blue again with a light wind definitely giving a colder feel to the day.

First on Misha’s very organised tour today is Mercat de la Boqueria.

The first mention of the Boqueria market in Barcelona dates from 1217, when tables were installed near the old city gate to sell meat. The current name is believed to derive from the Catalan boc, meaning “goat”, therefore a boqueria would be a place where goat meat is sold. Later, the authorities decided to construct a separate market on La Rambla, housing mainly fishmongers and butchers. It was not until 1826 that the market was legally recognized and construction began on March 19, 1840 under the direction of the architect Mas Vila and officially opened in the same year. The inauguration of the structure finally took place in 1853. A new fish market opened in 1911, and the metal roof that still exists today was constructed in 1914.

The market was such a feast for the eyes and nose. Many of the stalls today are places to eat but several still sell the local cured Jambon and olives alongside fish and meat.

We amble up to Placa Catalina which is the start of the various hop on hop off bus tours. We choose the Barcelona city tour company and purchase a two day pass at €39 each. This company offer two routes. The orange west route and green east route.

Today we take the orange route which will eventually drop us off at La Pedrera formerly known as Casa Mila. Our route first takes us round to the Olympic stadium. Originally built in 1927 for the 1929 International Exposition in the city, it was renovated in 1989 to be the main stadium for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

We decide not to get off the bus here even though it is a free attraction as there doesn’t appear to be much to see, and instead carry on to the beautiful Palau Nacional, now an impressive art gallery.

It is here we hop off to take the escalators down through the gardens to view the Font Magic (a water fountain which is best seen at night)

and then hop on again and round to Camp Nou. The famous Barcelona football stadium.

It is here that most of the passengers exit and once again with a quick shuffle and light footwork we manage to score the ultimate goal of the front seats at the top of the bus.

A few stops later and we arrive at Casa Mila. This was the last private residence designed by architect Antoni Gaudi and was built between 1906 and 1912. The building was commissioned in 1906 by Pere Mila and his wife Roser Segimon. At the time, it was very controversial because of its undulating stone facade and twisting wrought iron balconies. There are several structural innovations including a self-supporting stone façade, an open plan floor, underground garage and a spectacular roof-terrace where the chimneys are said to be the inspiration for the storm troopers in star wars.

It is popularly known as La Pedrera or “open quarry”, as a reference to its unconventional rough-hewn appearance,

Continuing on down the Passelg Gracia on foot, trying to get our 10,000 steps a day completed, it is very noticeable that we are in the affluent area. All the shops are Cartier, Prada, Channel or Gucci etc – definitely only window shopping here.

By now it is after 1pm and tummy’s are rumbling. We check the menus of a couple of restaurants and actually dismiss Txapela as its illuminated menu on the pavement looks terrible. But you should never choose a book by its cover. Luckily we take a peak in the main cafe area and it looks so authentic with stools up at the bar and a wonderful display of tapas on the counter. A glass of cava each, we just about manage to limit ourselves to 3 tapas dishes each. They were just so amazing.

Forcing ourselves onwards it is only minutes later that we are staring up at the weird but wonderful (I seem to be using this word a lot this holiday) building of Casa Batllo.

The house was bought by Joseph Batllo in 1900 a well know family in the textile industry. It was in 1904 that Gaudi was commissioned to renovate the house with no restrictions and was completed in 1906. The Batllo family continued to occupy the house until 1954 when an insurance company acquired it from the children following the death of both parents.

An audio and smart phone technology guides you around the house, explaining the design and function of each room.

There are no straight lines anywhere and some ideas such as the use of small shutters like fish gills in the internal doors to control the temperature are just brilliant. The use of light and colour is wonderful. Once again there are just so many photo’s that we have taken trying to capture it all.

Two hours later and tired legs we make our way back to the hotel for a rest and shower for an hour before we head out again for dinner.

After last nights disappointment we decide to ask the duty manager for a recommendation for a good paella. Without hesitation she gives us the directions to 7 Portes (doors) down in the harbour area. This is also one recommended in the on board flight magazine. We are very fortunate to get the last table not reserved, with many people being turned away after us.

7 Portes started as a cafe in 1836 and it wasn’t until 1929 when it became a restaurant. In its 180 years many famous actors, musicians and politicans have enjoyed this traditional restaurant. What a difference. A lovely meal enjoyed by us all and then a walk back through the tiny lanes of the Gothic quarter to the little cafe for what is becoming a bit of a habit. Coffee, churros and hot chocolate before retiring.

Posted in Uncategorized

A walk through 2000 years of history

Waking to a wonderful blue sky we make our way back to Les Quinez Nitz again this morning for breakfast. But first we locate the starting point of the free walking tour. Most large cities offer these. They are usually given by students and it is us that decide how much we should pay them depending on how entertaining and knowledgeable they are.

After getting, as usual, slightly lost down the back streets we eventually get back to Placa Reila and a table sat in the sun. Misha has a very Spanish breakfast of bacon and eggs on fried potatoes. Andy has his usual, yogurt fruit and granola and I have the continental option of a croissant and coffee. In the square this morning is a collector’s market surrounded by a brick a brack sale, but it so different to ours back home. All the sellers are men and it is mainly men who are perusing and bartering. With one even buying a pair of court shoes we are assuming for his wife.

I hope he did the pair

As it approaches 11 am we are sat outside the Travel Bar ready for our tour. Joe introduces himself, once a budding actor in Reading, but with work drying up he sold everything and came to Barcelona for 10 days holiday. On his second day he came across the Travel Bar and three years later he is still here doing the walking tours. With his love of history the whole tour is “performed” in chronological order starting with Hannible and his elephants and ending with the Spanish civil war. If you are ever in Barcelona I would thoroughly recommend this tour.

Joe with his cue cards.

The original single entrance into Barcelona where taxes would of been collected and now the narrow streets are home to buskers and beggars.

Les Sardanna. Traditional folk dance of Catalona that locals participate in every Sunday.

Supporting orchestra.

The last few remains of the aquaduct that bought the water into Barcelona.

With the tour finishing down by the harbour we continue on to the Colombus monument before climbing part of the way up Montjuic to catch the cable car to the top.

Just a few of the hundreds of bike positioned all around Barcelona that you can hire.

Pigeon pooped Columbus pointing to his home.

We chose not to pay the entrance fee for Castell De Montjuic but wandered around the ramparts admiring the views over all the cruise ships in the harbour and across the roof tops of Barcelona town.

La Sagrada Familia.

Dinner tonight was not so good, note to ones self, don’t go on the recommendations of the guide, but dessert in a small artisan cafe on the way back to the hotel makes up for it. It was just lovely and quirky.

Ps sorry for all the photos and believe me this is only just a few of what was taken today.

Posted in Barcelona, Spain

Four days in Barcelona

Yesterday we were up at 7am to catch the EasyJet flight from Jersey to Gatwick. We are meeting up with Misha to enjoy five days in Barcelona. The city has been in the news a lot recently with the Catalan independence movement seeking separation from the Spanish government, which all kicked off last week with the local Guarda wading in heavily to disrupt the referendum. Let’s hope it has all settled down by now and they are glad of three visitors after some winter sun and a bit of paella.

The city is on my bucket list and, not having seen Misha for a few months, it was decided that rather than her come over to Jersey to enjoy our Autumn cold and drizzle, it would make a lovely break for us all to go and enjoy a long weekend in Barca.

Misha started her journey at the same time as us but at the end of a full night shift. After taking a taxi, several trains and the shuttle to North Terminal she finally met up with us at 13:00. Now we could begin the holiday with a bottle of Prosecco and a lovely lunch at Jamie’s. Just the ticket to get the holiday started.

With the usual scramble to get ahead of the ‘speedy boarders’ at every opportunity, we made it to our seats well ahead of the mass and even got our hand luggage in the overhead lockers above our seats. The flight left on time at 16:30 and an hour and a half later we started our descent through an amazing electrical storm. We exited the departure hall to a tropical deluge and, after some confusion as to which part of the terminal we were in, we finally located the transfer operators desk in another building. Twenty minutes and three pairs of soggy shoes later we are checking into Dalia Rambles, our city centre hotel for the next four days which is just meters off La Rambles and next to the Opera house (should we get lost).

We quickly drop our bags off in our rooms and dodging the showers we go for a late wander around. The hotel manager recommends restaurant Les Quinze Nits in Placa Reila, a lovely square just across the road from the hotel. With a little persuasion the restaurant manager manages to locate a table for us under the arches overlooking the busy square. A gas heater does a wonderful job of keeping us warm as we people watch. With the “looky looky” men wandering past trying to sell us a wide range of items from umbrellas, blue flashing sunglasses and wooden fruit baskets, we enjoy our first evening in Barca with a selection of local tapas and local vino. Starting to yawn we retire early ish as we have so much to pack into a full sight seeing agenda tomorrow and Misha has only had about 2 hours sleep in the last 24 hours. Looking forward to the next few days.

Posted in Barcelona, Spain, Uncategorized

Four Passes and another new country Austria

Today was another fantastic day of riding. The wet weather gear stayed packed which makes it so much more enjoyable. Our plan for the day was to take the motorway via Innsbruck as far as possible. Leaving the hotel we complete our first Pass (Passo Lavazè) through a lovely small village with cobble stone streets before dropping down to the motorway. Having gone about 15 miles and passing hundreds of lorries we decide that we have had enough of this and change our route to Dave’s supplied one. This now sees us complete the Jaufenpass before heading up to Timmelsjoch.

Timmelsjoch is a 2509m climb through the Alps that sees us cross from Italy into Austria. At the very top with icy winds we stop for a bowl of traditional soup which is a clear broth and a large dumpling with bacon in it. Its wonderful and really warms us up as we watch the mist rolling around the peaks.

The descent is lovely with long sweeping bends and we once again join the motorway. With the Arlberg tunnel (14km long) closed we took our final pass of the day and arrived tired but really chuffed at our hotel in the town of Feldkirch,which is right on the Austrian / Swiss border.

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Posted in Austria, Feldkirch, Uncategorized

Bellavista Cavalese

Yesterday’s bike journey took us through the Dolomites for the first time with today a rest day. We are staying in a traditionally styled alpine hotel in the town of Cavalese with views across to the Lagorai mountains.

We started our rest day with a walk around the town looking for the farmers market that was mentioned on a leaflet provided at breakfast time. Unfortunately what we failed to realise was it was in the next town. But we did have a nice stroll whilst we looked.

It is obviously popular with skiers as all the cafes and restaurants had racks for your skies outside. Back at the hotel we pick up our discount card that we were all given and walk through the gardens to the cable cars.

Our discount card entitles us to two free tickets for the cable car which takes us 9.3 km up the Alpes Cermis.

At the top it is not too cold but there is still a small amount of snow from the other days dump. Having finished a lovely hot chocolate and wandered up to the information board that shows you which mountains you can see in the distance we make our descent back down.

Just as we climb in our first gondola a paraguider makes a leap of faith off the mountain right next to us. It is amazing watching him rise up on the thermals before drifting off over the valley.

Back at the hotel I spend the afternoon reading whilst soaking up some sun before trying out the spa facilities also available at the hotel. Andy takes the opportunity to ride a couple of the Dolomite passes without all the weight of the main panniers, top box and me on the back.

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Posted in Cavalese, Dolomites, Uncategorized
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