Monday, August 30, 2010

Barcelona- Walking Around The City

For a couple days in Barcelona, I was in search of the Catalan Music Hall when I was walking around during the day, because I heard it had amazing architecture. I kept looking at my map (and usually I'm good with maps and directions!) and following the roads I thought would take me to it. And I couldn't find it! On my last day, I looked at my map, located my hotel, and realized if I went in a direction I didn't normally go, the Music Hall would be a 5 minute walk away! And I found it right away. It was beautiful. I wished I'd had time to see a concert or show there. Maybe another time!

One day, I saw several of the Gaudi architectural sites, including the Casa Mila and Casa Bastllo, the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. Really interesting architecture, and each building is completely unique. The Sagrada Familia really impressed me. Gaudi worked on designing and building this church for 40 years, devoting his life and his time to it. He knew he wouldn't live to see it completed, but he left drafts, illustrations and 3D models. Ever since he died, in the late 1930s, local craftsmen and construction workers have continued to work on building the church. They have built on Gaudi's ideas as inspiration, while incorporating their own creative ideas, to design and construct this masterpiece, this church. It's still under construction today, and they hope to have it finished in the next 2 decades. I found it really inspiring how dedicated and passionate Gaudi was to his vision of building this church, and also amazing how the community has continued to support his vision. The church has amazing architecture, and it's very interesting and unique. I wish Gaudi, who was inspired to build it, could see it now, still a work in progress but almost complete.

After my visit to the church, I visited Parc Guell, a large city park with Gaudi architecture in several houses and buildings. It has a great view of Barcelona, and the buildings are bright, colorful and fun. Many people were there hanging out, enjoying the warm summer day.

Another day, I took a half-day train trip to Montserrat, a beautiful monastery high up in the mountains about an hour outside Barcelona. I met a nice Spanish couple on the way, and we tried to have a Spanish/English conversation, which kind of worked. Then we arrived at the Montserrat stop. From the base of the mountain, you can barely see the buildings. Then I took another train up the mountain to the monastery. The monastery had beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, hiking trails, and lots of trees. There's several buildings, a shop, cafe, a church and other buildings. It was a nice natural setting to be in, up in the mountains with a beautiful view, a contrast from the busy city of Barcelona. When I left, I decided to take a cable car back down the mountain to the train station. About 12 of us crammed in and held on to the rails as the cable car/gondola took us down the steep mountain. That was exciting!

I took the train back to Barcelona, looking out the windows and wishing I had more time to take the train through Spain. Later that evening I walked along the harbor, browsed at some street souvenir stands, and ate dinner down by the shore for my last evening in Barcelona.

The next morning I had a cappuccino and chocolate croissant sitting in the Placa de Catalunya, a huge plaza in Barcelona, before I got on the bus to go to the airport, and then I was off to Romania. Barcelona is such an interesting, diverse city. I really enjoyed just walking around and seeing the architecture and people-watching.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Barcelona- A Beautiful City on the Sea

Barcelona. I knew as I watched the city go by from the windows of the bus coming from the airport that I was going to like it. Beautiful architecture, many people bustling about, shops everywhere, warm sunny weather. By the end of the first evening, I loved the city. I soon realized my hotel was just a short walk from Placa de Catalunya, the main plaza in Barcelona and a main central area of the city. Once I checked into my hotel, I found out I'd been given a free upgrade- to a suite! Wow! The suite was on the top level of the hotel with huge windows, from which I could see the Placa, the hills, the Cathedral, and some of the historic parts of Barcelona. A great way to start my stay in Barcelona.

Later, I wandered past the Cathedral and around the Barri Gotic, the Gothic Quarter. The streets were narrow and cobblestoned, lined with shops, cafes, ice cream shops, bakeries, clothes shops, souvenir shops, and more. The streets were busy with people, and I heard bits of several languages and noticed people from several countries. I walked past part of the original Roman city walls, past some museums, shops. I looked at some restaurant menus as I walked along, looking for some good Spanish or Catalan cuisine. I finally found a good option for a restaurant, and I tried chicken paella, a traditional Spanish baked rice dish with tomatoes, peppers and herbs. A glass of red sangria went well with it! Later I came across The Ramblas as I wandered around. The Ramblas is a famous street in Barcelona, filled with tourists, street performers, souvenir shops, street stands and restaurants. It was a great place to people watch, with many people everywhere coming and going.

The next day, I toured the Cathedral nearby, with some beautiful stained glass windows and chapels. Later I saw a few of the Barcelona tourist sites on a bus, stopping at places like the Olympic grounds from the 1992 Olympics. It was interesting just looking around and seeing the city as we drove along. Barcelona doesn't seem like as big of a city as it is, and I found the people very laid-back and friendly.

Later that day, I walked all along The Ramblas, from the harbor to the Placa de Catalunya, stopping to eat at a restaurant along the way, browse at some shops, watch some of the street performers, etc. I walked through a market nearby, filled with meat stands, cheese stands, fruit and vegetable stands, and more. It was very lively and busy and fun to walk around. The first couple days, I think I enjoyed just wandering around the city the most, looking at the architecture, watching people, etc.!    

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Driving About Germany

We got up early one day to drive up to St. Peter-Ordling, a seaside town on the North Sea where many people go for vacation or to relax. On the autobahn, I noticed many Mercedes, BMWs, and Volkswagon- I definitely felt like I was in Germany!

Once at St. Peter-Ordling, we walked along the sea a bit but it soon started to pour rain really hard, again, so we hurried up to a restaurant along the sea. The building was up on stilts, with a  metal roof, so we could hear the rain pouring on the roof. I was just glad to be somewhere warm and inside! The rain had stopped once we were done with lunch, so we walked along the beach by the sea, for what seemed like miles, taking photos, wading in the water, just enjoying being out by the sea. Many beach chairs, called strandkorbs I think, with a shade and foot rest, were along the beach. I can see why people go to the North Sea to relax- even on a rainy cool day it was really fun and relaxing!

Another day we drove to Lubeck, which is a nice town that was fun to walk around, with cobblestone streets and historic buildings from the 14th century, and a river running through it. We did some shopping and had a late lunch in an outdoor cafe in a huge outdoor plaza.

On my last night, we made raclette, a traditional dish, when each person creates their own meal in a way. A grill sits in the middle of the table and each person has a small metal dish to pile all their food. Various bowls of vegetables, cheese and hamburger were all around. We all just chose whatever we liked for our dish, and then put it on the grill. Our dish stayed on the grill until the meat was cooked and the cheese melted. We ate as many dishes as we wanted, along with toasted bread, toasted on top of the grill. It was a fun evening hanging out with my friends for one last evening in Hamburg...

I really enjoyed seeing my friends, seeing some places in Germany, reminiscing about fun times in the past, talking about German and American customs and phrases, talking about our lives, and just hanging out. My friends thought it was funny that Minnesotans say "Gesundheit" when someone sneezes- I think it's because we have so many German immigrants in this area of the U.S. I refreshed my memory and used the little bit of German I know when we were out and about (like "danke" and "bitte,"etc.). And my friends were great, they always were ready to translate for me whenever needed. It's interesting hearing American songs on the radio- it seems strange hearing the familiar music in an unfamiliar country. A few songs had been out in the U.S. a while already, and we talked about American music and movies. In Europe, they always seem to be a step ahead of us in fashion though. When we shopped, I often saw clothes that I thought were really cool!... Germany was fun, I had a great time with my friends, and the time went by too fast. I was off to Barcelona the next day!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Arriving in Hamburg, Germany

After the long flight over to Germany, and the months of looking forward to this trip, I waited for my luggage at the baggage claim in the Hamburg airport, while watching a BMW commercial on the TV. I thought my four friends were probably waiting for me just on the other side of the doors, and I was excited to leave the airport. I was visiting friends I'd met years ago, some who I hadn't seen in 5 years. I grabbed my suitcase and headed out the exit, where I was greeted by the 4 girls. I had shown many of them the sites in Minnesota and a few other places in the U.S. when they lived and studied in the U.S. Now I was visiting them, and they were going to show me around their city!

After I was settled at one of the girl's apartments, we all took the train into Hamburg to see a few sights. We walked along the old harbor, past old brick warehouse buildings, new modern apartment buildings, and historic buildings, walking across canals, down by the harbor, to the beach, over to the Alster lake, through some street stands. It only seemed appropriate (since I was in Germany) to stop at the sausage stand and get a bratwurst with sauerkraut, and a beer (mixed with lemonade) to go with it.

Later we took a ferry along the harbor, past some of the large ships and also past some cruise ships. We stopped to walk along a beach, but then it got cold, rainy and windy. It didn't stop the many groups of people all along the beach from continuing their picnics and BBQs. I saw many of them stay seated on their blankets on the sand, put on their jackets, and pull out their umbrellas, and continue their grill-out. Then it started pouring so we hurried back to the ferry, soaked. That day I learned to always have my umbrella, just in case. My German friends were all prepared with umbrellas and jackets.

The next day we walked around downtown Hamburg some more, walking down by the lake, seeing more sites, and stopping to have coffee at a cafe along the way. All of the coffee shops had nice outdoor seating areas, with many chairs, couches and umbrellas. I was glad to find so many coffee shops and cafes (I love good coffee!).

Later, we went to a park filled with people having BBQs and picnics, playing soccer, or just hanging out. The park had many pretty gardens, roses, ponds, and lakes, and it was just relaxing to walk around and enjoy the afternoon and look at all the pretty flowers. We ate at an outdoor cafe in the park, and watched a water show with fountains and music on the lake. What a nice afternoon! We stopped at one of the "eis" stands and had ice cream, a popular snack in Germany. Yum!