Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Partels Do Barca

After a uneventful evening train at the border changeover we meet a family of five on their European vacation, we thought they were pretty hardcore traveling across Europe on trains and such with three kids!!! We arrived in Barcelona to a bright and sunshiny day were we made our way through the narrow streets, shopping, eating tapas, drinking sangria, and buying espadrilles.  Today after spending the morning at the laundry mat (clearly our Spanish/Catalan/Gujarati is not the best, and yes Sankat’s language is the default after trying Spanish and almost everyone in stores speaks it, crazy huh?) we headed to the Picasso museum which is in an old castle where each small room reveals another stage in his life through text and art.  Pretty impressive place.  Who knows what Barcelona will have in store for us over the next few days!!!   
Sagrada Famalia
Saturday morning we woke up to a downpour and decided that with the crummy weather we would hit Barcelona’s most popular tourist destination, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s incomplete life work.  This amazing cathedral has been under construction for over 80 years.  Gaudi took his inspiration from nature and created modern art.  The church was super impressive and worth the 45 minute wait, while we were waiting the sun came out and the stained glass was unreal as the rays shown through into the chapel.  We decided to make it a Gaudi day and took the Metro across town to his park, which was a piece of land purchased by a count for Gaudi to make a miniature village.  The project was cut short and left unfinished but still impressive (I guess unfinished was his theme). 
Reggae Band in Gaudi's Park

From a hill in the park we could see the sparkling ocean we realized we had not set foot in it yet and we headed for the beach.  The beach seen was a complete shit show that makes North Ave beach look like amateur hour.  There were tons of bachelorette and bachelor parties going on, in the States girls usually are the ones dressed up and doing ridiculous challenges here in Barcelona the men are all about the theme party.  The big deal is for the bachelor to dress in some ridiculous outfit (usually like a woman) and the attendees would wear matching outfits of some sort.  We saw an entire Baywatch crew complete with rescue devices with the groom in a one piece and enormous fake boobs!!  After some people watching at the beach we headed back to the hotel for some tapas, sangria and bed. 

Hanging out on the Field
On Sunday we headed to Camp Nou where the Barcelona football (soccer) club plays.  The season is over so Sankat head to settle for a stadium tour instead of a live match.  We started in the museum where we saw the history of football then we saw the locker room, field, press box and the stands.  On our way back to the metro we stopped by a high school football match to watch for a bit. That evening we walked back to the beach to explore the boardwalk further.   It was Sunday so there was a little less of the drunken frat boy scene and more of the families enjoying their day at the beach.  We walked the full length of the beach and enjoyed time sitting out by the ocean. 
Cooking Nerds
On Monday, our last full day in the city, we enjoyed a lazy morning of hanging out grabbing coffee and last minute souvenirs.  That evening we took a Spanish cooking class.  We joined four other couples from the US in a intimate kitchen lead by our Chef Kim (a guy).  We learned to chop vegetables make sauce, soup, a dessert and of course paella.  Hopefully you guys can come over to our house and have a Spanish meal prepared by us!!!
On Tuesday morning we tried to navigate the Barcelona metro system to the airport, we got lost transferring from the metro to the suburban line but ended up in front of the Gaudi apartment that we had missed!!!  Of course our flight was delayed to Ireland due to a strike in France.  Once our flight finally took off it was an hour longer than usual due to the airspace restrictions over France and for only 8Euro we could buy Pringles, Sprite and a water!!!

Now onto Ireland!!!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

From Champagne to Paris to Barcelona in 24 hours!

Dunkers for my Champange
After our visit to the French open we hopped on the high speed train to Reims, in less than an hour later we jumped off the train and headed to our hotel.  Reims is a super cute little town with a great square and of course the token Notre Dame cathedral.  An extraordinary amount of WWII went down in Reims including the surrender of Nazi Germany in a small school across from our hotel.  There we visited the map room where Eisenhower planned many battles (the original maps are still on the wall) we saw the actual place where WWII came to a close.  As we wandered through the town in and out of amazingly restored buildings with great Art Deco architecture.  We also spent a few hours at the Mum champagne tour learning how champagne is made, and of course the difference between champagne and sparkling wine. 

On Wednesday we headed back to Paris and waded through the crowds of the Louve so that we could see with our very own eyes the La Joconde aka the Mona Lisa.  The Virgin and Child hall was pretty overwhelming with 100s of pictures of the Virgin Mary and naked chubby babies, the Mona Lisa was pretty creepy with her eyes never coming off of us as we moved around the room

Mona Photo Bombing Us

even though there were 1000s of tourist paparazzi snapping her picture, and the Winged Victory was gorgeous!!! That evening we met some of Sankat’s classmates for a quick supper before we grabbed our night train to Barcelona. 

The Front Yard our Barcelona Hotel!!!
After a uneventful evening train at the border changeover we meet a family of five on their European vacation, we thought they were pretty hardcore traveling across Europe on trains and such with three kids!!! We arrived in Barcelona to a bright and sunshiny day were we made our way through the narrow streets, shopping, eating tapas, drinking sangria, and buying espadrilles.  Today after spending the morning at the laundry mat (clearly our Spanish/Catalan/Gujarati is not the best, and yes Sankat’s language is the default after trying Spanish and almost everyone in stores speaks it, crazy huh?) we headed to the Picasso museum which is in an old castle where each small room reveals another stage in his life through text and art.  Pretty impressive place.  

Who knows what Barcelona will have in store for us over the next few days!!!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Oh Oui!!!!!

The Tower!
What a beautiful city, I hopped on the metro and met up with Sankat and my professors.  We quickly headed out to see Notre Dame and of course the most iconic sight the Eiffel Tower.  AMAZING, the Eiffel tower is even larger than I imagined it and the details of Notre Dame are incredible.  Notre Dame’s downspouts were gargoyles!  That evening we headed to the restaurant in our hotel that even Anthony Bourdane had trouble getting into.  It was an epic meal of foire gras, white asparagus and a cheese platter the size of the table. 
Before Dessert Cheese Tray!
The next few days were filled with magical sights all over Paris.  We roamed through small boutiques, ate at sidewalk cafes, and drank champagne at midnight.  I had a small run in with the metro security.  They thought I jumped the turnstyle,which of course I would do with my husband, my professors and her sister and husband aroundL  After much arguing and my complete and utter lack of French I was 30 euro poorer.  The evenings were filled with amazing dinners, gorgeous bottles of wine and good company. 

French Open 
Sankat found out that his cousin Reshma, her husband and kids were in Paris too for the French Open.  We were able to grab a quick breakfast with them one morning and Reshma generously got us tickets to the French Open where we were able to sit in the Players Box and hang out in the Players’ Lounge.  Sankat was in utter heaven.  On Monday afternoon we grabbed the train to the neighboring region of Champange to check out how the bubbly is made!!!!

Pub crawls and Curries

The next morning I woke up super early to grab a bus back to the airport of course the bus never came so I got in a cab and got to the airport in plenty of time.  Headed through security and located the lounge, I was the only person there so I settled myself in with some cheese, brown bread and cappuccino to facetime Sankat. I boarded my plane outside in the pouring rain and had a bumpy flight to London.  Steve sent a car to collect me and I headed to his house. 
It was a beautiful and sunny day in London perfect for sightseeing.  I dumped my stuff off and headed out to see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament and much more.  We then grabbed some food and cocktails at a great French place.  Afterwards headed back to Steve’s place to grab a sweatshirt and surf the web for old friends.  After some goggle stalking we headed out on our two man pub crawl.  Steve showed me the full smear of pubs and bars by his house.  We began with a proper pint, then to another English pub called the Library, then onto a cocktail bar and finally ending the evening at an American whiskey bar (complete with bras on the ceiling).  And like every good English evening of drinking we grabbed kebabs for our walk home.   
Steve Training Ninjas
The next day Steve headed to work while I set out to find a coffee shop to get some work done.  My first stop was the Monmoth Coffee shop in the Covenant Garden area, what a great cappuccino (here they are served with a dusting of cocoa, ohhhhh yea).  I did have to move to another shop though because there was no wifi there.  I spent the day working and catching up on all the emails I had missed in bumming around Ireland.  That evening I meet Steve at a Buddhist cultural center to watch him train ninjas (yea you read right).  I was super impressed by Steve’s teaching skills and thoroughly enjoyed watching them leap over chairs with no noise and fighting with swords.  After training we hit the pubs till then closed, after many failed attempts at finding an open pub after 11 we ended up at a Indian restaurant that was complete with massive murals of the royal family and union jacks.  My personal favorite was the one of the boys with no shirts no.  The Indian place serves beer so we ordered a bunch of dishes and continued to have some pints. 
The next day Steve decided work was overrated and played hooky so we set out to see the other sites in London (Sherlock Holmes’ house, Kings Cross and the Rosetta Stone).  Next we hit up the hip new eatery called “Burger and Lobster” and it serves what the title is.  So of course we had one of each, it was delightful.  Steve has a membership to a private club in SoHo so we headed there next and had many drinks in the posh leather booths with crystal chandeliers. 
Baker Street Tube Stop
Couple of P'ville Kids in London
The next morning we headed out to Harrods, from the outside it looks like a medieval castle but the inside your average department, except the food area.  WOW!!!!  There are food counters everywhere all centered around themes (caviar, steak, sushi, burgers on and on), each counter has about 20 stools at it, and there were two massive rooms catering only to dining.  You can also do all of your grocery shopping at Harrods, they have everything up scale that your traditional supermarket does, of course you would need to take out a second mortgage on your home for one trip.  We then headed over to the financial district so I could see where Steve works and go on a walking tour entitled Crime and Punishment.  We met the tourguide at the tube stop and headed out to learn about how criminals were treated in the early days.  London proper is actually only one square mile, that used to be a walled city.  We saw where William Wallace was executed, the walk to the gallows from the jail and a church from 1130.  Pretty amazing and super nerdy.  That night we had another epic meal at Zuma, pretty freaking fantastic. 

The next day I headed back to Kings Cross to get on the high speed train to Paris.  Even though it was 6 am the place was packed.  It was pretty chaotic getting through customs and headed to the platform.  Ninety minutes later I was in Paris.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Castles and Cowpies

Exploring an abandoned castle
The next morning we woke up super early to hit the Ring of Kerry.  The guests last night convinced us that this sight was not to be missed and they were right.  The road was narrow and windy.  We stopped at a local fishery and bought some fish (couldn’t get any fresher), we explored a vacant castle from the 1300s, had lunch in a pub, and did some off road hiking to the top of a hill to get the whole view.  The burger I had at the pub was AMAZING local Irish beef stuffed with bri topped with a tomato and arugula, oohhhhhhhh yea.
That evening we arrived at Laura and Cory’s next job which was with a family where the mother was Irish and the father French.  They had two tweenage girls and they had made a cake to welcome us.  They gave us a tour of their amazing property complete with a hoop house and goats.  We talked over cake and tea about the problems that face youth in Ireland, US and France (alcohol was their largest concern). 
A cowpie surrounded castle
The next morning Maureen and I got up early to hit the road for Dublin (at this point our car smelled like mildew and we couldn’t figure out why).  As we drove north we stopped in Cashel to explore yet another ruined castle (this one from the 1100s).  In my excitement to explore the ruins I stepped in a MASSIVE cow patty (I should’ve been looking out because there were over a 30 cows in the field).  Maureen reacted with great laughter as I tried to remove the shit from my foot and flip flops (now the car would smell even worse)!!!!!  We carried on the road to Dublin and found our hostel dropped off our luggage and went to the rental car agency.  Of course being Sunday it was closed and we continued our adventure to the airport.  Several roundabouts later we arrived there and finally got rid of the car.  We arrived back at our hostel and the smell had followed us to our room (I promptly tossed my sneakers). 
Look who we ran into in Dublin
We then headed out to find dinner in Dublin.  Aside from the bombdiggity burger the food in Ireland had been very disappointing and we were craving a really good meal.  We walked to Grafton street, stopping in an amazing sprits store that sold mini bottles of whiskey from each of Ireland’s counties.  We then made a loop of the area restaurants wanting to make the best choice for dinner.  Boy did we choose well!  We shared a caprese salad with massive stacked tomatoes with generous portions of mozzarella, cured meat with arugula and Parmesan

 and an entree of lamb and hummus.  Amazing, plus they had wine and after endless pints of beer it was pretty awesome. 

Irish pubs and Cliffs

So after a night of sleeping in the mansion’s back yard on Achill Island, we got back in the car and continued to drive south.  We first stopped in the town of Keel out on the island to see the beach of course there were 100s of sheep, about 55 F and sand blowing like bullets.  I have now been on a beach with cows and a beach with sheep, who would’ve thunk. We jumped back in the car and headed south to Galway.  Once we got to Galway we parked the car and tried to find a place to stay.  We ended up at a small youth hostel were the manager agreed to do our laundry!!!! So with our clothes taken car of we headed out for the evening in pursuit of some live Irish music.  With a steak and Guinness

Music and a Beer
pie in our belly we headed to the oldest live music pub.  Where a bango player, a fiddler and a accordion player had just sat down to play.  Several people brought their instruments to the pub in hopes to join in on a jam session with them.  We bellied up to the bar for some pints of Guinness (or Murphy’s pick your poison) and enjoyed a listen.  An older gentleman grabbed our hands and we danced a jig or two.  The place began to fill up with listeners, another band member came late to join and the leader of the band urged him to make his way through the “foreigners” to get to the band.  Laura asked me how he knew that we were foreigners, I really didn’t know but I guess we don’t look Irish.

The next morning we went on a quest to find Cory and Maureen Irish sweaters, we combed the shops for the perfect hand knit Irish sweater.  After many shops and fashion shows we found the ideal fit and style and headed off down the coast to the Cliffs of Morh.  Wow want a magnificent sight, it wasn’t as deep as the Grand Canyon but with the blue ocean swirling below it was amazing.  After a long walk along the coast and a token ice cream cone we continued even further south. 
The View of the Cliffs
We had read about a Glamp ground (glamour camp ground, yea it’s real look it up) on the world wide web and wanted to check it out.  When we arrived  about five dogs and cats greeted us (there were not people)  they followed us around like the pide piper as we gave ourselves a self guided tour.  There was a peaceful wood heated yoga studio, pre erected tents with wood burning stoves and fancy beds, a wood heated sauna and an outdoor kitchen.  It was pretty cold outside and we were pretty far away from the “Ring of Kerry” we decided to continue further south.  An hour later we arrived at the car ferry and were alerted that the last sailing had occurred.  We drove back to the Glampground, stopping along the way to try and find closer accommodations to no avail. When we arrived back at the Glampground, Kevin the owner gave us a tour and even showed us where the fairies lived!!! We made dinner outside and visited with the other guests (who were super excited about Glamping arriving in Ireland).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Yeats, Giants, and Bloody Sundy

After spending a great weekend in Chicago celebrating my friend Dr. Bartos' graduation at the Lederman's house.  I set out on Euro trip 2013.  Recieving an  email the day of my departure that I should pick up our rental car at the airport in Dublin and meet my friends at the hostel they were staying in, in downtown Dublin.  I quickly looked their hostel on the world wide web and took at screen shot of how to get there. 
After a flight to Paris and a prop plane trip to Dublin, on the bumpy trip I scribbled the directions on the plane's barf bag and scoured the map from the LP.  After the plane landed I lined up for immigration.  After several questions I headed for the rental car line.  An hour and a half later I was in my VW right hand drive left hand shift headed to Dublin.  Of course right out of the car park there was a freaking roundabout, as if it isn't bad enough to be on the wrong side of the road driving stick!!!!!  I survived and didn't even stall.  As I exited the freeway I scoured for street signs (chanting in my head STAY LEFT)  that several minutes later I found were tiny small signs located up on the buildings.  After a hour search  I abandoned the car in an area that I knew was close to the hostel and headed out on foot.  I quickly found the hostel and meet my friends Laura and Cory who had been traveling the world for the past 10 months.  I had missed her soooooo much so it was great to see her.
Car Feery
After we reunited we packed up the car and headed up north to a former priest's bachelor pad.  Four hours later after a grocery store stop to grab a chocolate bar to bribe the neighbor to give us the keys.  We headed into a cute cottage with a view of the ocean and the sound of the cows mooing.  First on the order was a visit to the local pub where of course our barkeep

 knew our host. We talked about life in Ireland and then retired back to the cottage.
Signage near Bloody Sunday Memorial

Murder of young adults standing up for their counties rights.  We then walked around the walled city and retired to a pub to listen to some Irish tunes.  We headed back to our cottage (STAY LEFT) and went to sleep. 

Beverage of Bushmills
The next morning we headed to the west coast where the road ended on the beach we drove across the beach to the connecting road and drove along the cliffs in the shadows of abandoned castles and churches while sheep scampered across the road.  We had lunch at Yeats Memorial Building and then headed out to the largest rock grave (which is really a 1.5 km uphill that is an inspiration for some Yeats poem).
We are now at an old mansion on the island of Acell that has a full pub and tons of working wood fire places.