Archive for December, 2007

Paris, France

Karie on Dec 30th 2007 02:50 pm

Loosely following Frommer’s guide to “Paris in 2 days”, we started out with a bang.  Our first day began at the Louvre, the most visited art museum in the world.  It used to be a fortified royal palace, and it has been re-built and added to several times over the centuries, with parts of the existing building dating back to the 1500’s.  This place is massive.  You could run through the halls all day long and still not see everything.  Since Mr. Frommer had a huge list for us to accomplish that day, we prioritized.

We pretty much made a beeline for the Mona Lisa.  If you’ve never seen her, you might be surprised… some would even say disappointed.  It’s relatively small and unassuming.  I personally think that if they were to secretly move it into another area of the gallery without the plexiglas, ropes and guards, one might easily pass by and not give it a second look.  Nevertheless, it’s always cool to see a “masterpiece.”

We spent a couple hours hitting some of the other highlights, such as Venus de Milo, the crown jewels, etc., then we moved on.  We crossed Seine via the Pont Neuf, wandered through some parks, visited Notre Dame, walked the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe, and ended the day at the Eiffel Tower.

We arrived around dusk, just as they illuminated the tower, giving an orange-colored hue to the clouds above, which hid the very top of the tower.  I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower before, but for some reason it seemed so much more magnificent this time.

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t’was the day before christmas and all through the bus…

Karie on Dec 24th 2007 08:34 pm

Scott & I figured that Christmas Eve would be a nice day to take mom and dad to Parc Güell, for some of the most interesting architecture and scenery in Barcelona.  The park sits atop a hill, and there’s no easy way to get there (especially for our “Senior Citizen Tour Group”, as I lovingly refer to my parents).

Even the Metro doesn’t get you very close; however, we discovered that Bus 24 does!  Brilliant!  Mom and dad have not yet experienced this form of public transportation in Barcelona, so it will be like 2 adventures in 1.  What we didn’t count on was the bus being a bigger adventure than the day’s planned activities.

Come to find out, the buses were striking this day, so only about 25% were in operation.  This apparently makes for crowded buses, as determined citizens force their way onto a bus that you’re sure can’t hold one more person.

Mom and dad caught the bus near their hotel, and we later hopped on the same bus just outside our flat.  My parents situated themselves near the rear door, in an effort to gasp for fresh air at every stop, and Scott & I were at the front of the bus.

About ½-way through our cozy ride, a distinguished looking man in the middle of the bus started causing quite a stir.  He was yelling at another man in Spanish, and it took us a while to figure out that he was accusing that man of trying to pickpocket him.

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Road Trip: Nice, France and Monte Carlo, Monaco

Karie on Dec 20th 2007 08:27 pm

The road trip continues as we head for the French Riviera, stopping in Nice for a couple of nights. “Côte d’Azur” (the blue coast), as they call it, is exactly what you see in the movies. Sand, crystal blue waters, and luxury cars as far as the eye can see.

From Nice, you can catch a 20-minute train to Monaco, which is one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen.  With roughly 32,000 residents, Monaco is the world’s 2nd smallest independent nation (following Vatican City)… and definitely among the wealthiest.  Walking through the casino in Monte Carlo makes the high rollers in Vegas look like amateurs.

We spent the first half of the day browsing through a Christmas market along the harbor.  There were vendors selling specialty gifts and food.  And of course, no sidewalk market on the sunny blue coast would be complete without a man-made winter wonderland for children, including ice skating, snow showing, skiing, snowmobiling, and a Christmas train.  It was possibly better than actually going to the snow.

From there, we walked along the Mediterranean, with yachts to the right and designer boutiques to the left, as we approached the infamous casino.  The front was lined with Ferraris, Bentleys, and an occasional Smart Car for the “green” millionaires.  Even the taxis are Mercedes.

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Road Trip: Figueres & Cadaqués, Spain

Karie on Dec 18th 2007 08:12 pm

With my parents visiting for the holidays, we wanted to give them a little taste of Europe, but without running them into the ground (which we nearly did anyway).  So we opted for spending a few days in Barcelona, taking a road trip up the coast of Spain into the French Riviera, back to Barcelona, off to Paris, then back to Barcelona again.  Simple enough, right?

So we pile into our rental car and start driving.  We had heard that Catalonia gets the short end of the stick in Spain, in that it’s the only region that has to pay for their own roads.  Hence, we were expecting some tolls along the way… but when we saw signs that the next toll station accepted credit cards only, we realized that we were in for more than pocket change.

The final tab in a 4 day road trip (with no driving on one of the days) was 100 Euro in tolls.  That’s about $145.  Not to mention the gas, which is equivalent to about $6.50/gallon.  Anyhow, we were committed.

First stop: Figueres, Spain, a charming little town whose only real claim to fame is the Dalí Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí in Catalan).  We only had 1 day to spend here, but we figured that would be enough time to visit the museum and explore the small town.  Well, contrary to our “Europe for Dummies” book, it turns out the museum is closed on Mondays.  (Personally, I’m pretty sure the outside of the museum was just as interesting as the inside anyway.)

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Catalan Christmas Traditions

Karie on Dec 17th 2007 03:16 pm

Every culture holds dear its own traditions, and this year we have the opportunity to experience those of Barcelona. For example…

  • Christmas is celebrated for all 12 days that we sing about, although I have yet to see any partridges or pear trees.
  • Young & old anxiously await the arrival of the 3 Kings on January 6th, while Santa (or Father Christmas) takes a back seat on December 25th.
  • Children beat logs wearing funny hats until presents fall out (more on this later).
  • Health, luck and prosperity are represented by the addition of a questionable gnome-like character hidden somewhere in the nativity scene (more on this later).
  • 310 streets throughout town are decorated with lights.
  • It’s not politically incorrect to wish someone a “Merry Christmas”, “Feliz Navidad”, or “Bon Nadal.”

Being a metropolitan city, where the most common forms of transportation are feet or subways, Christmas brings the streets to life. While there are a couple malls, the most popular way to shop is roaming up and down the store-lined streets, or the infamous Christmas market outside the Barcelona Cathedral.

At the Christmas market you can buy gifts such as hand-made jewelry or scarves, as well as anything needed to decorate your home for the holidays, i.e. Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and of course, pooping sheppards and logs… What, your Macy’s doesn’t carry those??

I think the last two Catalan traditions, being two of my personal favorites, deserve further explanation…

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Back to the U.S.A. to get our Visas

Karie on Dec 15th 2007 10:19 pm

On our first morning back in the U.S. (after waking up at 3am thanks to the jet lag), we headed down to the Spanish Consulate in Los Angeles.  We are now the proud holders of Visados Residencias de Espana!  We still have one hoop to jump through to finalize it all, but it’s downhill from here.

Visas in hand, we headed for the second priority of the trip… Target!  Target is high on the list of things I’ve missed, among the ranks of Penny Lane, Mexican food and Cheez-Its.

We have been loving Barcelona and honestly try not to spend too much energy focusing on things we miss (ok, except maybe Penny), but when we found out we were coming back home, we realized how much we had to look forward to.

I thought we wouldn’t get to see any of Scott’s family for Christmas, I thought I wouldn’t see my niece again until she was two, and I thought I would have to live with the regret of leaving my red plaid heels in storage for a year.

I realize we’ve only been gone 3 months.  I mean, some people vacation longer than that, so it’s not like we experienced some huge culture shock upon returning to American soil.  Nonetheless, a lot has happened in the last 3 months…

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