Museo del Prado

Posted on April 20, 2016. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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The Prado is one of the world’s greatest art museums.  It is a main reason to visit Madrid.  It houses masterpieces by Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch.  A great thing about the Prado is that it is free to enter after 6:00p.m.  Because it was just a few blocks from where we were staying, this meant we could visit several times.

There will be a long line forming around 5:30, but if you get there about 6:15 you almost waltz right in!  Then you can see everything without paying the approximately $20 entrance fee they charge during the day.  We didn’t find it excessively crowded when we went at night,  but it was October, which is considered to be the shoulder season, transitioning from high to low.

The bad thing about the Prado is that they don’t allow photography.  I know it is to protect the artwork because many people can’t figure out how to turn off their flash and millions of flashes at artwork does have a detrimental effect.  But it still annoys me.  So I did steal one shot…

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This spectacular Sorolla masterpiece.   And the guard in the next room heard my shutter release and came running after me.  Ah…the excitement of being a criminal on the run!  Ah to be yelled at in Spanish!  A shrug and, “Lo siento…” and I am forgiven if in a disgusted voice.

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Bellagio Bicycle

Posted on March 13, 2016. Filed under: Italy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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Beautiful sights big and small in the Italian lakes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bad Weather Hiking – Switzerland

Posted on January 24, 2016. Filed under: Switzerland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

Our first hiking day.  The trip had been planned for months.  The mountain vDSC08750iews had been dreamed about.  That feeling of being so small next to those behemoths.  And that air.  Oh, the big breaths of mountain air in the sunshine.  I couldn’t wait.

Ha!  It had been a wonderful summer AND fall, they told us.  Weeks and weeks of perfect weather, they said.  And now.  This.  Pea soup fog and rain.  No views.  So sorry.

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In the guidebook, that scene above has a backdrop of jaw-dropping mountains.  Not for us today, though.  We have to settle for the charming old stone barn on the grassy slope.

Getting to the col or pass was disappointing too…

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We could barely see right in front of us.  It does bring focus to the sharp terrain at the top of this col, though, forget about looking out on any vast expanse.

 

 

So, we decided to makeDSC08773 the best of it.  It could be snowing and a lot colder we told ourselves.  This is the mountains.  It’s unpredictable and it can change really quickly.  Or not.   Maybe we need to change.  Plans.

We did 2 days of this before cutting our losses and zooming off to Zermatt by train and bus.  After arriving there the sun came out and we did day hikes in fabulous weather for the rest of the trip.  Sometimes you just have to be flexible!

 

 

 

 

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Is the Cablecar Cheating?

Posted on January 11, 2016. Filed under: Switzerland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

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Uh, the answer to that would be, “NO!”  Let’s not forget we are on vacation!  Perhaps a 6-8 hour hike in the mountains (read:  either all up or all down) is enough exercise?

We found the cablecars (téléphérique in French and seilbahn in German) in Switzerland to be fast, efficient, and a lot of fun.  We used them from our base of Zermatt to get up into the mountains to begin our day hikes.  We also planned to use them on the Haute Route whenever we could, but nearly missed the one into Zinal. 

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This is because the trail passes a cable car that closes at 4:15 and we had just missed it.  (Maybe there was some crying and stomping of feet.)  But then we found out 45 minutes later that first cable car station was for an entirely different town!  We just made the 5:00 last car down the mountain after a very difficult, wet, cold hiking day.  Our eyes bulged out watching the trail below the cable car.  It took about 20 minutes to descend on the cable!  We estimated an additional 2-3 hours if we had had to walk that path.

We couldn’t believe it when we were suddenly done with the day and off to find our hotel.  Ah…that sweet feeling of completing the hiking day.  Body buzzing…thanks to God for the help!

 

 

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Barcelona’s Sagrada Família

Posted on December 20, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

Our first approach through a little park was not a surprise as we were eagerly looking for the façade to come into view…

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But the magnificence was already apparent.  Begun in 1882, and designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), the building is still under construction.  Cranes are busy all over the place.  And when we got closer we could see the line that stretched all around the entire city block on which the building sits.

In my view, it is foolish to stand in that line, wasting a whole day of your vacation!  We learned our lesson at Park Güell from 2 days prior.  After that bad experience of waiting too long to get in, I came back to our apartment to research buying tickets online.  I was glad I did because the wait was 2 days for online tickets!  It did make me a little nervous because I had never done this before and I had no way to print out the tickets I bought.  I found out this is unnecessary as they will scan your phone at the entrance and you are on your way.  We did have to find the proper entrance for this, but it wasn’t too hard to do that and we had arrived plenty early for our entry time slot so we weren’t too bothered.  We bought tickets for entry and for the elevator up the towers.  So, visiting this cathedral went off without a hitch for us.

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I am putting a lot of photos in this post, but I have to just accept that they are so inadequate.  I have been in a lot of European cathedrals, all magnificent in their own way, but this place actually took my breath away when I entered.  It seemed otherworldly to me, and so special, yes, I would say holy.  Holy means set apart and completely unique.  These are perfect descriptions of this space.

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The rainbow windows and soaring, plant-like pillars created these otherworldly effects.

Don’t miss the museum in the basement showing how the building was designed.  You can look into the workshop where they are still carving stone too.

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After this, the bus back home for fresh fish from the market for dinner.  What a great day!

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Casa Batlló, Barcelona

Posted on December 8, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , |

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We passed by on the bus in the morning.  The line outside snaked around and wasn’t moving at all.  I made a mental note to check on it when we passed on our return because, of course, we had to see  Casa Batlló, one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece apartment buildings from 1904.

This is another time to buy tickets online, but, happily we discovered that late in the afternoon the line disappears and you can waltz right in (at least in November.)  So we squeezed an audio tour in at the end of our day.  Of course this place is more magnificent in person than any pictures I’d ever seen of it.

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Whenever we tour historic homes I love to imagine living there.  This apartment was so unusual it was a little hard to do.  It would have been quite an oddball in its day.

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And yet, the attention to things like light and airflow would have made it more comfortable than most dwellings.

 
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And the beautiful lines, colors and details are everywhere.  Door handles are molded from human hands and even the servants’ quarters and roof are part of the design.
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This was a great way to close out our long day of Antoni Gaudí’s work.

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Barcelona’s Park Güell

Posted on December 5, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , |

DSC07438We did some things right and some things wrong.  Isn’t that always the case when you are traveling by your own wits?  It’s also part of the adventure.  Our first full day in Barcelona I was itching to get to the famous Park Güell, designed by  Antoni Gaudí, the famous modernist architect in 1900 to serve a small community of well-off society.  It had grown larger than life in my imagination and I wanted to sit on those undulating, mosaicked benches!

We proudly hopped on a city bus to take us to the north into very residential areas.  This is always fun.  You get to see how people actually live in a place, not just the busy tourist areas.  Also, the number of tourists on these buses are usually low and those that are there are like us, and we often meet interesting, adventurous people!  Also, it’s a bit nerve-wracking because, “Yikes!  How will we know where to get off!  And how does one indicate to the driver to stop?  And how do you get the door to open!?”  All these things get figured out in a snap, sometimes with and sometimes without help of local passengers.

When you unload you are a bit rattled from the experience, but also gratified that, indeed, you used the bus to arrive!  Ok, so we got to the entrance and found out that we made a big mistake.  Here is my proclamation for you if you are going to Barcelona (even in the supposed low season, which I don’t think really exists):  Use your smartphone to make reservations at all Gaudí sites unless you go very, very late in the day except for the cathedral for which you absolutely should have reservations in advance.

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We had to wait in line for an hour in the hot sun to get a ticket which gave us an entrance time 2 hours later.  So we killed 3 hours of our first day in Barcelona waiting around at the entrance to the park.  If I had just gotten the tickets on my telephone we could have waltzed right in.  It is very easy to go on the websites of these sites and purchase tickets.  Then you just show your phone and they scan it.  Boom, done.

Ok, so I can learn!  But for this day we were stuck.  There was nowhere to go, really, and the vendors at the entrance knew they had us.  Sky high prices for ice cream, water, and soda.  And, although it was October, it was hot in the sun, so we did spring for some water.  When we finally got in it was worth it, of course, there is no place like this anywhere in the world!  I felt as though I was inside a piece of art.

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In spite of the tickets and specific entrance times, it was quite crowded.  We had to wait in a line of sorts to get that photo of us with the lizard fountain.  The good part, though, is how all the various tourists from literally everywhere help each other out taking pictures for each other.  This simple act always warms my heart.

That morning I had thoughts of seeing the park in the morning and the cathedral in the afternoon.  Ha!  I knew that wasn’t happening, but we did pass Casa Batlló on the way to the park.  The line for that stretched very, very far.  But now, later in the day, I wondered what that line would look like.  Next time I’ll tell you about Casa Batlló!

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La Sage to Cabane de Moiry

Posted on November 29, 2015. Filed under: Switzerland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , |

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This was a crazy day!  We hiked from La Sage, Switzerland to the Cabane de Moiry.  It was a total of 8.12 miles in very difficult altitude and elevation gains and losses.  One of the hardest days of the Haute Route, we jumped right in and made this our first day.  Not so smart in retrospect.  We were not adequately adapted to the altitude yet which made it more difficult physically and added to the estimated hiking time.  A 6.5 hour trip took us 8 hours.  To make things worse there were no views almost all day.  We were in some of the most beautiful mountains in the world and we couldn’t see a thing.

By the time we got to the Cabane we were wet, cold, and exhausted.  It was wonderful to come into the dining room, though, which was warm and welcoming and flooded with light from the huge windows.  Mind you, no views of the extraordinary glacier right outside were available with all the fog, but we were going to be more comfortable soon, at least.

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We got checked in and got our own room even though the room could hold 4 people.  We bought our shower tokens (about $5 for a 5 minute shower.)  Got settled and then headed back to the dining room for dinner.  It was so good!  Lentil stew, lasagna, salad, dessert.  Really, really satisfying.  But just as we were starting to enjoy that physical buzz you get after a tough day, it began to snow.  Very soon 6 inches were evidently piled up.

Bill and I both lost sleep that night worrying about our descent in the morning.  The rocks at the end right before the cabane were tricky without snow, I was wondering how we would manage with 6 inches covering everything.  We decided, though, we would just figure it out and in the worst case we could turn around and stay another night.

By morning, though, the snow was melting and very slushy.  We worked with our poles and managed the rocks fairly easily.  Those rocks, fresh in the morning, after some rest, were a lot easier than tackling them in ascent at the end of the long day before.

We even got some stunning views of the mountain, glacier and barrage in the morning with some sun poking out.  It didn’t last long, but at least we got to see it!

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Barcelona Food Fair

Posted on July 9, 2015. Filed under: Just Fun, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , |

Spain food fest 2Olives!  Oh my!  On our first day in Barcelona we headed out on foot to see what we could see.  Almost right away we ran into a festive food fair with everything from artisanal cheeses and beers to huge crusty loaves of bread to this vendor of Spanish olive varietals.  I must admit I didn’t even know that olives came in orange!  For €1 we received the tumbler of olives with the toothpick AND a small tin of Malden salt.  Each type had a distinct flavor and texture.  What fun!

Before we were through we also had a fruit smoothie made only of fruit, luscious cheesecake without a crust (what a great idea), and locally produced beers.

Ok, although crowded, we were beginning to settle into Barcelona!

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Eating in Barcelona

Posted on June 26, 2015. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Spain Tapas 1Tapas in Barcelona are definitely designed for the tourists.  Everything has a toothpick in it.  Grab a plate take what you want, save the toothpicks.  When finished take the plate with the toothpicks back and they charge you accordingly.  It’s a good system, the bites are interesting and not too expensive, if a little contrived, everything on top of a piece of white bread.  Madrid’s tapas bars were definitely less polished, more like actual little local joints where each specialized in something special and delectable.  Barcelona’s tapas were pretty much the same no matter which place we chose.

Our first day or 2 we did quite a bit of eating at these places.  But we were hungry for some authenticity.  And we had a whole kitchen back at the apartment!  We started scoping out markets.  Of course we went to La Boqueria on las ramblas, probably the most famous market in Barcelona.  We took the guidebook’s advice and avoided the sellers near the entrance to get deep into the place and find the less tourist-oriented merchants.

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We found the discount-fishmonger there.  If you would buy the whole piece of whatever fish he had you would get an amazing price!  It took a bit of stretching my knowledge of Spanish to get this understanding, but once my brain connected the dots we cashed in.  So for 2 nights in a row we went and bought the whole hunk of tuna the guy had.  For about $20 we gorged on fresh tuna for several meals!  It was a fun find.

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