Friday, May 4, 2012

The Long and Winding Road

After the soccer game in Barcelona, we began our journey homeward.  First was the drive back to Madrid.  Our final tapas run happened somewhere along that road, but it was a perfect representation of tapas all over the country.  From first thing in the morning until last thing at night, there were plates of food set out all over the city.  You order a little of this and a little of that, along with your beverage of choice.  For the Spaniards, it seemed like the beverage of choice was quite often an espresso.  They had incredibly complex looking espresso machines all over the country and my friend, Ruth, said that the coffee was fantastic over there.

It was a wonderful trip and I am so thankful that my mother and I got to explore the country.  Thanks to all of you for joining us on the journey!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's a Soccer Fan to Do?

If you are a soccer addict and find yourself in the city of Barcelona, what else are you going to do?  We got tickets to see FC Barcelona play a home game! We watched them play against Malaga and were thrilled with both our seats and the game. 

The club's motto is "Mes Que Un Club" which translates to "More than a Club".  Based on what we saw, FC Barcelona is a way of life!  The club has teams for several other sports (like basketball -- who has heard of the Barcelona basketball team?), they have a huge youth program, they have their own television channel, and a huge complex at the stadium with tours every day.

I didn't know it at the time (since I speak neither spanish or catalan), but we watched Messi set a record for the most goals in a season.  I shouldn't spoil the score line for you but it was fantastic to watch magic happening, even if I didn't know what the magic was.

Mom said before the game that "Messi is her guy".  I'm not sure how she can have a guy on a soccer team in Spain, but he lived up to her expectations and I became a Barcelona fan myself that day.

After the game, we joined the entire city in the line to the metro.  :)  It was amazing to see that many people trying to leave the stadium at once.

The FC Barcelona game was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  I had looked into it before we left and thought it was too expensive.  But, I'm so very thankful that we decided to splurge!

Exploring Barcelona

Because we couldn't miss out on Barcelona, we headed south again and back into Spain.  Barcelona is a city devoted to its arts, especially Gaudi.  You see his art EVERYWHERE around town, but in my tiny little bit of research about Spain I had decided that I wanted to see Park Guell.  Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to design a housing community for the affluent and began building it in 1900.  It was a fascinating concept and way ahead of his time, but Gaudi's habits of bringing the natural world and a whimsical spirit into his art is evident everywhere you look.

It was definitely a highlight to wander around the park and enjoy the afternoon sunshine (along with the rest of Barcelona).

On the way out of the park, we tripped across a lovely church and admired the art and the peace there.  I couldn't even decipher anything to tell us where we were, but just enjoyed the moments of tranquility.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

More France

The next morning we headed just outside of Narbonne to l'Abbaye de Fontfroide.  It was a functioning abbey up until about 1901, when it was abandoned by the monks and purchased by a local family.  When we arrived, they were closing for lunch so we wandered the grounds first.

It was incredibly windy, but so very beautiful around the abbey.

After the lunch break was over, we took a tour inside the abbey.  The tour was only offered in French, which I was hoping would be okay after taking French classes for a few months before the trip.  Unfortunately, I couldn't understand anything the tour guide was saying and ended up being very thankful that I had gotten the audio guide in English too.  I guess I need to head back to French class again soon!

The tour was very interesting.  There were both monks and lay people that lived inside the abbey when it was a functioning monastery.  I found it interesting to learn that the lay people had to take the same vows of celibacy, poverty, etc as the monks, but were not actually monks.

Another highlight of the abbey tour was that they actually let us take pictures of the stained glass windows.  Most cathedrals we visited had signs indicating that we shouldn't take photos, so we didn't get to share much of that glory with you.  But the colors were incredibly bright and vivid in all of the stained glass we saw there.  I had forgotten, but the stained glass is one of the things I really enjoyed about Europe! I'm pretty much an uneducated lout when it comes to most artwork, but the way they meld those colors together and the sheer beauty when the colors stream through amaze me.

We enjoyed more delightful french bread and cheese and various pastries.  Sigh...  It was good to eat food I know again!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Vive la France!

On Sunday morning, we were both up early and were anxious to hit the road.   This probably had nothing to do with the fact that we were about to cross the border into France.

Just before the border, there was an incredibly busy town advertising duty free stuff of every possible variety.  There were swarms of people EVERYWHERE, and cars pulling into or out of parking spots seemed to bog everything down further.  Just after the town we crossed the border without even being sure that we had.  We didn't even have to slow down as we passed the border patrol folks, let alone stop and show our passports.

As soon as we figured out that we had indeed crossed the border, I suggested to mom that we should find a boulangerie as soon as possible because I wanted some REAL French bread.  We found one and added on a quiche and a vegetable filled pastry too.  We were both in heaven!

We continued north into Narbonne, a mid sized town for this area and found a place to stay.  I think this was the earliest in the day that we have found a room!  After unloading our luggage, we headed out to the archbishop's palace.  It has been converted into two museums, one with art and one with archeology.  We toured the archeological museum, but were very thankful that we both speak French.  A few of the signs had English on them, but the majority of the information was in French.  My brain started to hurt from having to focus so intently on reading the signs, but I think I got the majority of what I read.  Narbonne was very closely tied to the Roman Empire, so the museum talked a lot about the Roman influences on architecture and home door.

After the museum, we also visited the cathedral of Catherine-St Just.  I find cathedrals to be one of my favorite sights.  When you step inside and look up at this amazing vaulted ceiling or admire the intricately detailed stained glass windows or feel the devotion present in the various small chapels around the edges, you can't help but be awestruck at what they were able to accomplish. This particular cathedral was never finished as they built it too close to the city wall.

We wanted to sit down to a nice dinner, but almost everything that wasn't touristy was closed because it was Sunday.  So instead we opened a bottle of wine and had ourselves a little picnic for dinner. We will go out for dinner tonight instead.