A Travellerspoint blog

Barthelona

I travel to the lively Catalan capital to start my tour of Europe

sunny 29 °C

The alarm woke me up at 6am, and I did the final bit of my packing, had some breakfast and then bid farewell to Tracey, while Rich gave me a lift to the station where we said our goodbyes. It has been great having a sensible (mostly) and knowledgeable (always) family to come home to and to bounce ideas off, and I’ll miss that when I get home!

Thankfully, unlike my Paris trip, all the trains were OK, and the bus from Bristol Temple Meads took me straight to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I spent most of it sitting around, and thankfully the razor blades that I’d accidentally left in my carry on weren’t picked up – I didn’t even realise they were there until I got off the plane.

The other thing I noticed when I got off the plane was the obvious change in climate. From cold, wet Britain came hot, sunny Barcelona, and the temperature hardly dropped below the mid 20s for the few days I was there.

I managed to work out the train, and then the underground metro system (the trains are air-conditioned!), and got to my room in one piece.

I settled in and then took the metro out again to the Sagrada Familia, architect Antoni Gaudi’s most famous creation and possibly the most amazing building in the world. Construction started in 1882, and isn’t expected to finish until 2050 – that’s just crazy!

I know you hear stories about castles or pyramids or other major buildings taking hundreds of years to build, but this is with the latest technology, including cranes and computers, so it’s ridiculous that anything could take that long to finish, but it’s clearly going to be freaking awesome when it finally is. Not that there’s a lack of awesomeness now. From a distance, the church looks like it’s growing out of the ground, and if you go up closer, you can see extremely intricate statues of Jesus’ life.

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And that’s before you go inside. Gaudi had wanted to integrate natural themes into the design, and it works – it feels as though you are walking into a forest, with huge pillars acting as concrete, sandstone or limestone trees, creating a canopy, through which only streams of light can get through. The stained-glass windows help to give the slightly darkened light of a forest while still looking incredible. It’s just a really, really amazing building.

2Stained_glass_windows.jpgInside_the..Famil_a.jpgIn_the_Sag..Famil_a.jpgConstructi.._church.jpgA wall of languages

A wall of languages

I wanted to see it under lights as well, so I picked a nearby restaurant, a buffet tapas joint, and tucked in. While the person on the next table only had five pieces, I helped myself to seventeen before calling it quits.

I then returned to the Sagrada Familia, or the park just outside, to take some evening snapshots, before taking the metro back to my bed.

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Posted by sammyhez 23:44 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona Comments (2)

Goodbye, goodbye, good friends goodbye

The Bear in the Big Blue House couldn't have put it any better

semi-overcast 18 °C

It was my last weekend in Cardiff, and unfortunately, there were no cricket games to be played. Actually, it was probably pretty fortunate, given that it was raining, and besides, it’s no fun bowling wides all day.

Anyway, I did have some cricket on, and that was a coaching session with Ben and Tom, the same kids as I gave some advice to last week. It was a bit of a lower-key lesson than the previous week, but we were in the Lisvane nets, thankfully. There was a club session going on at the ground next door, and so we had a few kids jump over and join us.

Liam, Ben’s dad, then very kindly treated us to lunch in the pub, and we talked about cricket, life, travel and cricket, and then some more cricket, before going back home.

The rest of the family was out visiting Tracey’s parents, so I took the opportunity to pack my bags in the afternoon and sort out a few things while I had a reliable internet connection.

In the evening we dressed up and headed to the city for a final big meal as a group. Italian restaurant 'Giovanni's' was the destination, and we had a lovely meal even if Richard’s risotto was a bit coarse.

I woke up early on Sunday morning to listen to Essendon’s elimination final against Carlton, but I shouldn’t have bothered. Luckily, the Australians were playing in Kandy against Sri Lanka and that was on Sky, so I watched that for a bit before everyone else got up.

And then when rain came and interrupted the cricket, the Wales vs. South Africa rugby world cup match was on, which Wales were unfortunate to lose by one point. A big morning of sport, but no desired results.

We had things to do, though, and we packed a picnic, rugged up and jumped in the car to go to Gwaelod-y-Garth, a hill in the Cardiff valleys that made for a great walk. We had views of the city itself, the Bristol Channel, and the scenic area around the valleys. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s all so green, and that’s what I’ll miss when I get home. Amongst many other things, of course.

Moll on the Garth

Moll on the Garth

Benson can smell a sheep

Benson can smell a sheep

What I won’t miss much is the weather. Near the peak of the hill, we were suddenly surrounded by cloud, and the wind was making walking very unpleasant. With the cloud came the rain, and with the wind and the rain it was as if we were walking in to a giant hose, perhaps on the spray setting.

We managed to find a less hostile spot on the side of a hill, and that was where we sat down and unpacked our lunch, eating it while trying to keep Benson from chasing the cows and sheep that were scattered over the hilltop.

We walked back down and jumped in the car to go to Llandaff, the suburb of Cardiff with the city’s biggest cathedral, and the associated school was the primary school of Roald Dahl. It’s a very nice area, with cafés, pubs and shops, and the cathedral itself. The graveyard was very interesting, too; behind the main, well-manicured cemetery is a smaller site with overgrown weeds, trees, vines and flowers, obscuring most of the graves. It’s quite strange, but very exciting in a sense – it feels as though you are discovering it for the first time in hundreds of years, even if some of the graves are only sixty or so years old.

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It was late afternoon by this stage, and I finished my packing once we got home. In the evening was the US Open final between Sam Stosur and Serena Williams, and Sam became the first Australian to win anything in tennis for what seems like a fair while.

We had dinner and a good chat, and then I said goodbye to Molly, who would still be asleep when I left the next morning.

I’ve had a brilliant time in Cardiff, and my host family have been incredible, putting up with all my faults (if I have any, that is), providing me with work, a bed, and even more importantly, food and company – I certainly wouldn’t have made it through the year without them.

Posted by sammyhez 20:28 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged cardiff Comments (0)

The Da Vinci Code

This doesn't have anything to do with The Da Vinci Code, but I am in Paris, and I thought the title could get some extra traffic to the site

semi-overcast 20 °C

After Wednesday’s marathon effort, I had a bit of a rest on Thursday morning. I think I actually strained a muscle from all that walking, or, more likely, I just need to harden up.

I walked first to Montmartre, Paris’s most romantic district apparently, with steep, spiralling, narrow streets and monuments such as the Moulin Rouge and the Sacré Coeur. There are bustling squares like the Place du Tertre, and quiet churches like the St-Pierre-de-Montmartre. It was just a pity that it was raining.

The Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge

The narrow streets of Montmartre

The narrow streets of Montmartre

0A_Montmartre_street.jpgStained glass at the St-Pierre-de-Montmartre

Stained glass at the St-Pierre-de-Montmartre

I sheltered in the aforementioned church for a bit, looking up at the stained glass windows and planning my route.

I went to the Sacré Coeur first, looking up at the giant Jesus on the roof and marvelling at the domes. There are also great views from the outside, with the Montmartre hill providing great views over the city.

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My next stop was the Cimetiére de Montmartre, a cemetery that houses many of the Paris elite and richer families. It’s a great place to wander, with hundreds of huge or incredibly ornate graves lining the avenues.

A cat wanders around the Cimetiére de Montmartre

A cat wanders around the Cimetiére de Montmartre

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Time to move on, though, and I headed further north of the city centre, to Monceau, where I dropped in on the house (and now museum) of Nissim de Camondo. Moïses, Nisim’s father, who lived in the late 19th Century, was an avid art collector, particularly of 18th Century works, and had bought this mansion partly to have a house fitting of his works.

However, Nissim was shot down and killed in the First World War, and as Jews, his sister’s family were all killed in the Holocaust, leaving Moïses without an heir. He donated the house to the French people in memory of his son.

There certainly were some incredibly impressive works, and they were well presented.

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I dropped in on the neighbouring Parc Monceau and had a look around, then walked straight up the road towards the Arc de Triomphe, which I was now going to climb.

9Looking_up..riomphe.jpgSome of the names of battles

Some of the names of battles

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Up the 284 spiralling steps to the top, and we were greeted by an incredible view of eleven roads converging on a giant roundabout – we were in the middle of this chaos, almost floating above, able to observe it all unfolding.

5Looking_so..riomphe.jpg5Looking_ou..the_Arc.jpgLooking down the Champs-Elysées

Looking down the Champs-Elysées

Traffic around the massive roundabout

Traffic around the massive roundabout

Towards the Paris office blocks

Towards the Paris office blocks

The view of Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur

The view of Montmartre and the Sacré Coeur

The Eiffel Tower from the Arc

The Eiffel Tower from the Arc

There was the Sacré Coeur dominating the skyline to the north, and the Eiffel Tower to the south, and then to the west spread the suburbs and commercial districts, with shining office blocks overlooking century-old houses. Very impressive.

But that was just the start. I then wandered across to the Eiffel Tower, and joined the queue for the lift, which looked a few hours long. The queue for the stairs, however, was non-existent, so I jumped across the square and started climbing. Up to the first level, take in the view, and then keep climbing, past the other breathless tourists, to the second, where the views are even better.

9The_Eiifel_Tower.jpg8The_inside..e_Tower.jpg2Looking_up..onument.jpgThe_view_f..l_Tower.jpg5Eiffel_Tower_view_2.jpg7Eiffel_Tower_view_3.jpg0Eiffel_Tower_view_4.jpg2Eiffel_Tower_view_5.jpg6Eiffel_Tower_view_6.jpgThe huge line to go up to the top

The huge line to go up to the top

At that stage, though, having eaten nothing all day but a baguette, I was pretty hungry. I climbed down the Tower, a little reluctantly, and caught the Métro to the restaurant I’d picked out for my last evening meal in Paris. But upon arrival I decided my shorts and holey trainers wouldn’t really go down well in such a classy French establishment.

I walked back to the hotel, changed, and went back to the restaurant, only to find it full. They managed to squeeze me in, on a table with three other diners, all French, and all apparently unwilling to converse.

My coq au vin wasn’t available, I was told fifteen minutes after ordering, so I ordered another traditional French meal in Steak Tartare (raw beef, essentially). Not particularly recommended. It was an experience, though.

I packed my bags on Friday morning, checked out and headed one last time to the city centre. I wanted to climb the tower at Notre-Dame, but I didn’t want to spend my last hour and a half in the city waiting in the queue, so I just had a wander. I had a look at the Memorial de la Deportation, dedicated to the French who were, as the word suggests, deported during World War II.

The Memorial de la Deportation

The Memorial de la Deportation

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I wanted to buy a few souvenirs as well, and I managed to do so at the stalls along the Seine. My final stop was Deyrolle, an incredible store with an amazing array of dead, stuffed animals, including a selection of fish, crustaceans, and mammals, with a zebra, giraffe, lion, tiger and grizzly bear taking pride of place, with prices up to €25,000!

2The_back_o..re-Dame.jpgThe Notre-Dame from across the Seine

The Notre-Dame from across the Seine

The Métro took me back to the hotel, where I picked up my bag and walked to the Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar back to London. From there to Cardiff Central, to Heath High Level, and finally home.

I met Tracey and Richard at the Three Arches pub for a drink, before we returned home for a delicious curry dinner.

Posted by sammyhez 22:15 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (1)

Artistry

I worked four galleries and two museums into a few short hours - now that's a work of art

sunny 20 °C

Wednesday was even bigger than Tuesday. I was up early to get to the Louvre before the queues built up, and it was only twenty minutes before I was free to explore what must be the world’s biggest art collection. And when I say free to explore, yes, I did get in free.

You need a map to navigate the museums’s four floors, each of which would take you hours and hours to fully explore. In fact, you could probably stay there for a week and not see everything.

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I headed for a few recommended works. I loved the Venus de Milo, and her surroundings were brilliant, too – they’ve really made a huge effort to make the rooms complement the art – the Greek sculpture was in a grand room with classic Parthenon-like columns.

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My favourite painting was probably the self-portrait below, by Spaniard Luis Meléndez.

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I liked the Mona Lisa, sure, but it’s a bit overrated. How could it not be? It’s actually bigger than I expected, given that I’ve heard so much of ‘it’s actually quite small, you’ll be surprised’. I took this picture to give you an indication of the crowd, rather than of the painting itself, which of course can be found anywhere on the net.

The crowd around the Mona Lisa

The crowd around the Mona Lisa

Michaelagelo's masterpieces

Michaelagelo's masterpieces

The winged horses of Marly

The winged horses of Marly

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Winged Victory of Samothrace

The views on to the square below were very impressive, too. All in all, a brilliant experience – no wonder people will queue for hours to get in.

The pyramid

The pyramid

View from the Louvre, notice the couple in the square

View from the Louvre, notice the couple in the square

The_famous_pyramid.jpgThe_Louvre..rrousel.jpgNapoleon III's living arrangements

Napoleon III's living arrangements

I finished up, and walked through the Jardin du Carrousel and the Jardin des Tuileries, picking up a crepe on the way to satisfy my hunger.

If Tuesday was the day for churches, then Wednesday was art gallery time. My second was the Musée de l’Orangérie, the home of Monet’s water lilies, brilliantly exhibited by stretching the canvas around the circumference of a couple of oval-shaped rooms.

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There were also plenty of other works by French artists, including Renoir, Rousseau, Matisse and Cezanne. I especially liked the following:
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On my way to my next attraction I passed a couple of very impressive buildings – the Grand Palais, where I believe they have operas and so on, and the Esplanade des Invalides, a wide street with tall, gold statues overlooking the river.

Petit Palais

Petit Palais

Grand Palais

Grand Palais

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I reached the Musée Rodin, dedicated to sculptor Auguste Rodin, whose figures were considered so lifelike that he was thought to have made them from human casts. The museum was nice, but I preferred the gardens, a great place to relax while statues stand around you, not doing much.

Musée Rodin

Musée Rodin

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I took the Métro (brilliant system – very cheap, fast, covers a huge area, and trains run every two to five minutes, so you’re never waiting for long) to Le Marais, traditionally the Jewish part of town. I indeed saw many Chassidic Jews roaming the streets, and one street particularly was packed with falafel shops vying for your money. I got mine from the shop considered to be the best, which often has queues well down the street (queuing is traditionally British, I know, but it seems the French are on to it in a big way), and while it wasn’t as good as some in Israel, it was very good indeed.

Rue des Rosiers in Le Marais

Rue des Rosiers in Le Marais

H_tel_de_S.._Marais.jpgThe_Marais.jpgThe best falafels in Paris

The best falafels in Paris

I plonked myself down in a square to eat it, and then followed the signs to Le Memorial de la Shoah, the Holocaust Memorial. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was one of the most informative and interesting museums I’ve been to. It outlined the history of anti-Semitism in Europe from before 500BC, with crusade after expulsion after forced conversion, all the way until the French government willingly sent French Jews to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps after the German invasion.

This history complemented mountains of primary evidence, which seemed to bring the terror to life. Luckily they had English translations, or I would have been totally lost.

Conscious of time, I hurried through the last bit to get to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme before it closed. It wasn’t bad, I suppose, for someone without any knowledge of Judaism, and it certainly had some brilliant artefacts, such as old Chanukkiot and Torot (Torahs), but to me, the text seemed to be a bit simplistic, grouping all levels of observance under one banner.

I did learn, though, that Hebrew was first printed around a decade before Latin text was first printed. And there was this nice model sukkah.

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I was almost dead on my feet at this point, but I forced my legs to go to the Pompidou Centre, Paris’s major modern art gallery and my fourth gallery for the day (fifth if you include the Jewish one). It was pretty impressive, with all the big names from the last hundred years, and a great view of the city from the top floor.

Paris skyline from the Pompidou

Paris skyline from the Pompidou

The Pompidou Centre

The Pompidou Centre

The square beneath the Pompidou

The square beneath the Pompidou

I’ve included a few of my favourite works – the room with the piano had rolls of wool along the walls, which shut the viewer out from the rest of the gallery, and blocked most noise from coming in, which I thought was quite interesting.

Picasso in the Pompidou

Picasso in the Pompidou

Mario in his old age

Mario in his old age

Barbed artwork

Barbed artwork

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Finally, it was time to head back, and my legs just managed to carry me to the curry restaurant around the corner from the hotel, which had a brilliant mango lassie even if the food wasn’t top notch. And at that point, I would have eaten anything – I had been on my feet for twelve hours.

If you still possess the will to live, there's a few amusingly captioned sport-related works from today's proceedings to finish us off: The room where Sheedy plans to hold his GWS press conferences in 2012

The room where Sheedy plans to hold his GWS press conferences in 2012

Running back with the flight

Running back with the flight

Proof that the Italians invented baseball in the 16th Century

Proof that the Italians invented baseball in the 16th Century

Ponting strides out to the middle, but he's got a nagging feeling that he might have forgotten something...

Ponting strides out to the middle, but he's got a nagging feeling that he might have forgotten something...

Achilles (12 to 16 weeks)

Achilles (12 to 16 weeks)

'For the fourth and final time, the autograph session closed at midday. No exceptions.'

'For the fourth and final time, the autograph session closed at midday. No exceptions.'

'3...2...1... GO TEAM.'

'3...2...1... GO TEAM.'

Posted by sammyhez 21:53 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

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