Houses of the Holy Moley!

Our second full day in Barcelona and about time to hit the Sagrada Familia. Last time Pip and I were here it wasn’t open in any way, shape or form. Quite recently, I gather, the interior has been completed and for the very reasonable sum of 13€ you can enter and ogle. The queue was about 400m long and ranged around two corners before depositing us at the ticket office. Happily we were prepared with cash and I could only feel for those who, after queuing for so long would be faced with the little sign near the end that said, ‘NO VISA’ with a little picture of the VisaCard symbol. Tickets paid for, Gaudi app loaded on the phone and camera clicking we approached the stunning facade, fully prepared (we felt) for the wonders of what might be inside. Just inside the first doors to the vestibule was a crush of photo takers snapping away at everything from the doors themselves to the statues on the walls and tiles on the floor.

Inside the next doors (to the Cathedral) was another crush – this time of dumbstruck (or possibly awestruck – not sure what kind of struck) photographers with cameras hanging limply around their necks and heads craned upwards. We joined the stricken before moving through to join those who had passed through the various strucks and regained the use of their shutter fingers. In the same way as I cannot begin to imagine how our little camera could capture anything vaguely resembling the wonder of the interior, I think words will also fail to communicate anything of its… of its… see – lost already.
I shall re-group and try again. The place is spectacular, cavernous, delicate, illuminated, dark, majestic, simple, sparse and glorious. Having been fortunate enough to visit a number of magnificent cathedrals around and about – I’ve never had the kind of goosebumps this one imparted and judging by the reaction of the crowds within, neither have other folk. We spent about an hour and a half inside – even number young son was suitably struck, although as is his wont it was hunger struck by the end. They say the place won’t be completely finished till 2030 – it will be spectaculo-magnifico-hydramatico-awesomatious.
Now following that experience we could really only catch the Metro back to Placa Catalunya and buy some shit. We needed more appropriate garments, I had completely misread the mood and style of Barcelona and required a more casual look in a warm coat. Pip required some woolly leg garments and Eamon required anything he could talk us into buying for him, although I hasten to add he did part with some of his lucre for a Barcelona training jersey which came as a surprise to both Pip and I.
Sadly, I was afflicted by a blister or four and needed to make for home and a warm salty footbath while Pip and number young son diverted by way of the local supermercado round the corner to lay supplies for the long night at home ahead. They laid in a kg of fresh mussels for €1.30; some pork*; some frozen creamed spinach and a few other niceties for the breakfasts ahead. I cooked the mussels, which also required de-bearding, which I have never done and turned out a yummy bowl of steaming orange meat in shiny black shells. Pip roasted the pork* and provided a delicious dessert of torron flavored ice cream and mysterious Catalan cake.

 

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and we will lay in a course to Parc Guell.

 

* the pork, which I admit did resemble pork of the kind we’re used to was in fact trotters which didn’t thrill me (not being a fan of gelatinous gristle). Pip, being a fan of gelatinous gristle was both surprised an delighted as much as Eamon was amused.

 

 

Statue on the facade.
Stairway to ...
Sagrada Familia
Ceiling
The doors

Houses of the Holy Moley!

Our second full day in Barcelona and about time to hit the Sagrada Familia. Last time Pip and I were here it wasn’t open in any way, shape or form. Quite recently, I gather, the interior has been completed and for the very reasonable sum of 13€ you can enter and ogle. The queue was about 400m long and ranged around two corners before depositing us at the ticket office. Happily we were prepared with cash and I could only feel for those who, after queuing for so long would be faced with the little sign near the end that said, ‘NO VISA’ with a little picture of the VisaCard symbol. Tickets paid for, Gaudi app loaded on the phone and camera clicking we approached the stunning facade, fully prepared (we felt) for the wonders of what might be inside. Just inside the first doors to the vestibule was a crush of photo takers snapping away at everything from the doors themselves to the statues on the walls and tiles on the floor.

Inside the next doors (to the Cathedral) was another crush – this time of dumbstruck (or possibly awestruck – not sure what kind of struck) photographers with cameras hanging limply around their necks and heads craned upwards. We joined the stricken before moving through to join those who had passed through the various strucks and regained the use of their shutter fingers. In the same way as I cannot begin to imagine how our little camera could capture anything vaguely resembling the wonder of the interior, I think words will also fail to communicate anything of its… of its… see – lost already.
I shall re-group and try again. The place is spectacular, cavernous, delicate, illuminated, dark, majestic, simple, sparse and glorious. Having been fortunate enough to visit a number of magnificent cathedrals around and about – I’ve never had the kind of goosebumps this one imparted and judging by the reaction of the crowds within, neither have other folk. We spent about an hour and a half inside – even number young son was suitably struck, although as is his wont it was hunger struck by the end. They say the place won’t be completely finished till 2030 – it will be spectaculo-magnifico-hydramatico-awesomatious.
Now following that experience we could really only catch the Metro back to Placa Catalunya and buy some shit. We needed more appropriate garments, I had completely misread the mood and style of Barcelona and required a more casual look in a warm coat. Pip required some woolly leg garments and Eamon required anything he could talk us into buying for him, although I hasten to add he did part with some of his lucre for a Barcelona training jersey which came as a surprise to both Pip and I.
Sadly, I was afflicted by a blister or four and needed to make for home and a warm salty footbath while Pip and number young son diverted by way of the local supermercado round the corner to lay supplies for the long night at home ahead. They laid in a kg of fresh mussels for €1.30; some pork*; some frozen creamed spinach and a few other niceties for the breakfasts ahead. I cooked the mussels, which also required de-bearding, which I have never done and turned out a yummy bowl of steaming orange meat in shiny black shells. Pip roasted the pork* and provided a delicious dessert of torron flavored ice cream and mysterious Catalan cake.

 

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and we will lay in a course to Parc Guell.

 

* the pork, which I admit did resemble pork of the kind we’re used to was in fact trotters which didn’t thrill me (not being a fan of gelatinous gristle). Pip, being a fan of gelatinous gristle was both surprised an delighted as much as Eamon was amused.

 

 

Statue on the facade.
Stairway to ...
Sagrada Familia
Ceiling
The doors

My ‘celona

Leaving the fog, freeze and grey of Paris and entering the sun, warmth and bright blue of Barcelona was a mixed sensation. Being lovers of the freeze, we were both disappointed to lose the euro-winter we sought and excited to see the bright colours and sheer style of Barcelona. Even the drive from the airport took us past architecturally interesting modern buildings and the striking Estrella Brewery. The cab driver even reflected the change in atmosphere – a friendly chap in a fetching beret, quite willing to try and chat to us despite our obvious deficiency in the Spanish stakes (and don’t even start on our Catalan deficiencies).
We had arranged to be met by Blanca or Clare and before too long, Anna turned up and took us up to our apartment; agreed to meet us again on the day of our departure and vanished into the street below. We are most impressed with our apartment. Lovely tiled floor and tastefully distressed walls and doors with a small balcony looking out over the street in a typical apartment building of the area. So, with accommodations sorted it was time to head out into the street and poke around the neighbourhood. 
Our favoured first stop on occasions such as this is always the local supermarket, even if just to moan about the crap deal we get in those at home. Oh, and to marvel at the alcohol prices – 12yo Cardhu Single Malt for $28 (shut up!). We also have a marvelling session at the range, price and quality of the produce available – you know, just standing in the aisles weeping and pointing…
Still slightly in the throws of jet lag, it wasn’t really a choice for any of us to do anything other than sink earlierer into bed.
The morning bought us Barcelona. It also bought us another Metro to conquer and a market to visit. Metro conquering first – and what a fine Metro it was to conquer. Modern clean and easy to figure out, it bore us swiftly to La Ramblas and we then bore ourselves swiftly to the Boqueria. We’ve read a lot about the Boqueria in the last few months and it didn’t disappoint as a fantastic market. Pip went photo crazy. I must say, in terms of Jamon, this place is the epicentre. There are a lot of legless piggies roaming (crawling?) the Iberian countryside, although it’s probably extremely fair to say that the other bits of the piggies are probably piled high at other stalls around the market. All manner of animal parts, fishes, fruits, vegetables, juices (including blood), breads, nuts, spices, nougat, salami, pâté, whole bunnies still in the fur, turkeys, ducks, chickens… are available for sale. Quite fantastic really and quite crowded. We took coffee and madelaines in the midst of this and discovered that the coffee we really wanted is called ‘cortado‘ – a short coffee with hot milk on top. 
From the market, it was out onto the street and into the gothic quarter – old Barcelona. Beautiful narrow streets; funky shops and bars and the way to the gothic cathedral. Yo – full gothic man! Spectacular cathedral complete with American woman throwing herself at my feet at the exit – well, she’d probably call it tripping on the door frame, but I know.
Lunch was our first Barcelonan tapas experience in a tastefully decorated bar next to a table of Melbourne family. Cheese they said – manchego with fig jam of course; prawns they said – in garlic we got; ham and a cold dish they said – Jamon and Russian salad was delivered; beer I said – a huge stein of Estrella was delivered. We could learn to like this kind of lunch, hell – we already have. More walkies after lunch, through the shopping streets and up to the Placa Catalunya where after ogling the pretty fountains and the ice skating rink, ’twas time to fall on our sore feet and dive into the subway for a quick trip home and a siesta. 
Headed out about 7:30 for a quick turn around the neighbourhood and bumped into a market on the main street – followed the market along a few blocks, then followed our hungryosity into a local bar a couple of blocks up from our place. Had one of those western movie experiences when you walk into the bar and all the cowboys stop and stare at you, then go back to their normal business. The waitress showed us to a table and didn’t need to explain that she had no English, so we stumbled through an order that bought Eamon a steak and chips and us a combination plate for two which surprised us by including a plate of patates brava and fried squid and a platter of chargrilled animals – half a bunny, half a chicken, a whole sausage, steak and a pork chop. Not an elegant place, but a real local bar and despite the lack of anything green to despoil our plates, a tasty and huge grilled creature selection served with an aioli that burned your mouth from soooo much garlic. We headed home in a garlic cloud and crammed into our tiny elevator to be home by 10.

 

Eamon in the gothic quarter
She is the egg man
Jamon in the supermarket
Whimper!
Cloister in the gothic cathedral

 

C’est You, C’est Me

What an uneventful journey was our 8 hours to Guangzhou – our 6 hour layover and then the final 15 hour push to Paris. 
Despite the fact that I’m one of those people who love Chinglish, even I was overwhelmed with the sheer number of poor translations into English in the small area of the Baiyun Airport at Guangzhou that we inhabited for 5 hours – it’s really almost every sign that the ever-helpful Chinese translate that ends up botched. Don’t misunderstand – I’m extremely grateful that the signs are translated, but it does amuse me and it seems there must be a huge market for a canny translator out there. Suffice to say we avoided using “The Exit of Flight Cancellations”. We did not avoid using one of strange east-west restaurants in the terminal we were in which brought us smoked chicken sangas, prawn dumplings and noodley dishes, served with a small, unpeeled orange as dessert. The airline, China Southern, was all efficiency and unsmiling, but attentive flight attendants. The flight highlight though was the seated stretching/acupressure/tai chi lesson that was well followed by all on board just prior to landing on both our flights.
We were all a little tired and testy by the time we disembarked at Charles De Gaul and began to follow the signs to RER, which our relentless research had indicated was the correct way to reach Paris from the airport. Once more we can all attest to the restorative effect of a coffee / chocolate on the economy class traveller. RER delivered us unto Gare du Nord and the Metro, quite easily delivered us to our tiny, but funky Hotel 20 Prieure in Bastille, where we had prearranged to deposit out luggage until check-in time. Luggageless, tired in mind and slightly grimy from nearly 30 hours in an airplane cabin, we set out to ‘do’ Paris – in the style of a Cook’s Tour but sans the bus.
First stop – a pharmacy for a cure for a cut to the roof of my mouth which had prevented me from eating anything salty, crunchy, crusty, spicy or sharp. Small bottle of rhubarb extract and tiny paint brush applicator procured at the pharmacy on Place de la Republique and it was on through the fantastic backstreets and lanes to the Pompidou Centre (for the fontain); then the Ile de Citie to Notre Dame; a swing through the St Germain to drink in the atmosphere and a coffee and quiche. Stopped in at a curious store selling Basque Produce and sampled spectacular salami and cheese and drank a cup of what was described as Basque water but was actually more akin to Grappa (exhales loudly while thumping chest).
Paris was chilly to say the least – around 1C – and I was not well prepared having gambled back in Brisbane that I would not take a heavy coat for 1 day in Paris. After a visit to the glass pyramid outside the Louvre it was noted by all that our adrenalin may well be wearing off and we made for the Metro and a quick trip to the Champs Élysées so Eamon could take a Facebook profile picture with l’Arc in the background, before a return to Bastille to check in. We had a small, triple room with a bathroom and extremely comfortable beds, which we thought we might just lie on for a few minutes before hitting the town once more. I don’t know what woke us, but our few minutes of deep sleep seemed more like a couple of hours (it actually was more like a couple of hours, which explained the seeming).
After much cajoling, threatening and only small amounts of slapping around the cheeks, Eamon was ‘motivated’ to join us for a nighttime trip to the Eiffel Tower. Metro again to the Ecole Militaire, then walk a few hundred meters in search of an invisible tower. We were sure we should have been able to see it and doubts and recriminations started to fracture our small group before we realized that the golden glow we could see was it. It was just that the bulk of it was hidden in fog. It was kind of beautiful though, so we paid to ascend to the 2nd etage and gaze into the fog.
Our return to Earth was met with the sudden realization that we were hungry now. We headed back the Metro but our starvation led us into one of the thousands of suburban Brasseries that seem to inhabit every corner in Paris. We spotted one that was reasonably full and figured that we could maintain our urban respectability by dining now (the clock had just ticked past 8:30) – any earlier would have been shameful. This turned out to be a classic Brasserie – Escargot for entree; steak and frites; escalope; gateau; chocolate mousse and creme caramel. Our flight had well and truly caught up with us now and only a taxi back to the hotel would do. I know I fell soundly asleep in the cab and I suspect we all dozed off on the 20 minute trip. BTW – Taxis in Paris are cheap and by cheap, I mean much cheaper than Brisbane. Taxis will be added to my list of Brisbane whinges.
I feel I can safely say we all slept like rocks and woke slowly. We had breakfast at the hotel which had an amazing setup in the basement. There were machines for many breakfast items. One had water in it and little holders that hooked over the side for an egg to sit in. Toasters, Nespresso, Juicers, Kettles – a fine collection of breakfast electronics. All in an elegant room. We took it in then took off. Pip wanted to visit the food hall of Galleries Lafayette in the 90 minutes we had before we needed to be airport bound for our Easyjet flight to Spain.
It was an effort, but one that was worth it – what a fabulous food shop! Suitably impressed and looking like being late it was back to the Hotel in a cab; collect the baggage and back down the Metro to retrace our journey of 28 hours earlier. Made the airport by noon and checked in in the nick of time for our 1:45 flight which boarded at 12:45 so that the fight for seats can be over by take-off time. I was relieved that we weren’t involved in one of those situations they like to film on ‘Airport’, where the angry passengers threaten and abuse everyone while the hapless staff try to calm them down. It was quite easy really and Barcelona was soon to be.
Pompidou Centre
Mr Eiffel's Tower
L'Arc
The Exit of Flight Cancellations
Look at that s car go
Galleries Lafayette

Washin’ and Hopin’

Say? What’s that lump in those jeans I just washed… oh, laddy boy’s passport. Many people don’t carry their passports around in their jean’s pocket and many other people check they’ve removed important identity documents from their pockets before placing their pockets into the washing machine.

I blame McDonald’s, who insisted Eamon bring his passport to his recent interview as proof of citizenship and right to work. Perhaps I shouldn’t blame McDonald’s, after all they’re just trying to comply with legislation and legislation is the work of the Devil and the Devil has been long known to inhabit Parliament House, so I guess, like a good Australian, I can quite rightly blame the government for this horrible laundry catastrophe.

We tried hanging the passport on the line and we tried convincing ourselves that it didn’t look that bad despite the fact that the pages were somehow expanded to be larger than the cover. Still, Pip called the Emergency Line – the one you call when you’re suddenly caught in a popular uprising in a small middle-eastern kingdom, or when faced with recently laundered passport 52 hours before heading to Paris (emergencies are relevant to personal experience). The Emergency Line seemed very good at being helpful and calm – we needed to phone the Brisbane office in the morning and make an appointment and take a complete new application with all the documentation and photos and money – take lots of money.

Now Eamon, who had wisely opted for a sleepover at a mate’s place and thus escaped the pre-calming-down wrath had to be arranged to be collected in the morning and taken to a place where passport photos could be done, while I needed to complete the application and assemble the documentation – birth certificates of anyone who’d ever been to our home; a set of paw prints from our dog… the usual stuff. I hoped our friendly local pharmacist would agree to agree he’d known Eamon for at least 12 months and would sign the back of the photos.

After extensive and tricky navigation through the Passport Office’s helpful phone enquiries system, I managed to arrange an appointment for 9:50. So I fired up the Vespa and headed to collect number young son and have him photographed; had the pharmacist verify him; abandoned him at the Post Office and wheeled off to New Farm for Pip’s signature and that of a witness. I made it to the City after a lovely stop at every red light between New Farm and ANZAC Square and thought for a moment that I should calm myself and consider the stress that was causing a pain behind my left eye – nah, that’s lack of coffee I rationalised. No street parks, so a few U-eys and I darted into the world’s most expensive, ‘we don’t have a scooter-rate’ carpark (Side note: $40 for 1h20!!!). I made the Passport Office right on time and, to my complete surprise, they were on time as well. 

I held out the sodden but very clean passport and tried to convince them it’d be alright – but really I wanted them to say “ewww… we’ll get you a new one straight away”. I had thoughts of stern-faced Chinese Red Army officials being called over to inspect my son’s passport and was very conscious that I did not know the Chinese for “it smells nice though!” Helpfully, the Passport people gave us the choice – keep it and risk having Julia Gillard call my 14 yo son in a Beijing Prison or give it over to be cancelled and risk them not being able to produce another one instantly. They would really try their best, they said but no guarantees.

The thought of spending quality time in Paris and Barcelona with Pip and no son dragging along flashed through my mind and after a quick call to Pip (to make sure I was making the right decision…) I said, “Yeah – Why not. We’ll give it a go.” Most cavalier I thought – just the thing an urban gent such as myself might say in a similar circumstance. Worst case – alone adult time in Europe (which was really starting to sound appealing.)

3:30pm they said. That was when we’d know if they made it.

Passport

 

Barca Barca Barca!

 Just over 25 years ago, Pip and I arrived in Barcelona after a particularly gruelling journey that involved an unexpected diversion into the heart of southern France, due the inexplicable splitting of a train and our choice of wrong carriage. I remember finally having to change trains at Port-Bou where the railway gauge changed. We were tired and surrendered to one of those fellows who stand on station platforms touting cheap hotel rooms. We followed him along the street to a Pension named Nuevo Colon and then, wondering why he didn’t disappear after he had delivered us there, realized that a tip was required. I think the tip we proffered was entirely inadequate, but then so was the Pension. 
Apart from the artistic wonders of Gaudi and Miro and Dali and Picasso, the thing that sticks in my mind was a pastry called, I hazily recall, Xuxos – a kind of long donutty thing filled with Catalan cream and an excellent accompaniment to coffee. Our Spanish was poor, but not as poor as our Catalan and we stumbled around a summery city bumping into strangely beautiful architecture and monkeys in the pet shops. I also recall being embarrassed by a waiter who snatched bruschetta from us and rubbed the garlic and tomato into the toast to rescue it from the dickhead tourists who were trying to slice it. Obviously well before I became an urban gent – when I wore a younger man’s new romantic, outsized shirt and diagonally fastened jeans (it was 1986!)

1986 Simon

Now it’s almost 2012 and we will make our triumphant return aboard an EasyJet from Paris via the I hope not prophetically named, El Prat airport. We willing not require the services of a hotel tout as we have arranged an apartment for 10 days. Barcelona will be as different as we are. We will have with us our 14 year old son and a range of apps to help us speak and find our way. We know about bruschetta now. Although we will once again come from France, this time it will be planned. I did try and find my old diary from the mid 80s – a kind of no circulation blog I guess – but it’s whereabouts remains a mystery. I’ll just have to try and remember the places I’ve already been – wouldn’t want to ‘do’ the same places twice in 25 years!

We’re heading off on Boxing Day – missing the sales – on China Southern Airways and will have a quick stopover in Paris en route. Ba-ba-ba-Barcelona…
Populart