dimanche 17 février 2013

The Louvre - Path of Beauty

I discovered this short video thanks to a contributor in Fodor's Forums. The women visits some of the most famous works in the Louvre totally alone. Her face reflects her emotional voyage as she connects with the works. When I visit the Louvre and other museums in France I am often overcome with emotion as I take in the beauty and the history of the works. I smile to myself as the tears well up. This video allows me to relive these feelings.

Path of Beauty from Florent Igla on Vimeo.

mardi 12 février 2013

Barcelona: Out and About (Part 2)

Rosemary from Aussie in France is currently enjoying her time in Barcelona. You can read more of her adventures at: aussieinfrance.com

Rather belatedly here are some of my favourite things from our visit to Barcelona in January.

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria
Plaza de la Boqueria | Ramblas08001 BarcelonaSpain (El Raval)
Some of the best presented market produce I have seen anywhere. The stall-holders have cleverly identified the tourist market and you can buy cheese, hams etc in paper cones to be able to eat as you wander. The fruit stalls have fresh juices and fruit salads in takeaway containers. Personally I prefer to sit and watch the world go buy as I eat. A very busy market but it is definitely worth the visit. For where to eat: Barcelona : Tapas and Casual Dining

Guell Park
Carrer OlotBarcelonaSpain
For much better photos I recommend Rosemary's post: First Impressions of Barcelona - Gaudi and Pintxos.  I am glad I finally got to visit the park although  I was slightly disappointed. I am still not quite sure why. Perhaps I was expecting something more elaborate.  After seeing the film 'L'auberge espagnole' I was determined to get there.

La Pedrera - Mila House (Casa Mila)
Carrer de Provenca 261 - 265 | L'Eixample, 08008 Barcelona, Spain (Eixample)
Visitors rave about the rooftop terrace and the house itself. Unfortunately the house was closed to visitors for the week we were there so se were only able to see the foyer area of the house and the exhibition area. The exhibition 'The other Pedreras. Architecture and design around the World in the early 20th century' exhibition is free and very interesting for those with even a passing interest in architecture. It looks at the works of Victor Horta, Hector Guimard, Charles R. Mackintosh, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos and Frank Lloyd WrightThe exhibition finishes on 24 February 2013.

Casa Batllo
Passeig de Gracia, 4308007 BarcelonaSpain (Eixample)
Not cheap to visit at 20€ - but worth every centime. The audioguide is included in the entry price. The explanations are fascinating as is the attention to details by this house designed by Gaudi. The solutions he found to problems of ventilation, lighting to lower levels etc were considered radical in their time.

Sagridia Familia
Placa Sagrada Familia08013 BarcelonaSpain (Eixample)
A visit to the interior is highly recommended for this partially completed church. Audioguides are available in a range of languages. I found that this greatly enhanced our self-guided visit to the church. We chose not to visit the towers as the queues were very long.

Eglesia de Santa Maria del Mar
Placa Santa Maria 1, La Ribera, Ciutat Vella | Placa Santa Maria08003 BarcelonaSpain (Sant Pere - Santa Caterina i la Ribera)
I found this church much more intimate than Gaudi's Sagrida Familia and equally fascinating with its 14th century architecture and interesting statues. At the altar the Catalan pride shone through with flowers arranged to represent the Catalan flag. The church in the gothic quarter is free to visit and definitely worth a detour.

San Sebastia
I ventured here to take the cable car to Montjuïc. I probably wouldn't have ventured here otherwise as I am not a huge beach fan. It was however a pleasant spot to wander showing a slightly different view of Barcelona.

Cable Car to Montjuïc
I was very eager to do this trip and to get an overall impression of Barcelona. The views were absolutely fantastic. They were however also extremely good views just by walking or taking the bus to Miramar on Montjuïc so I would recommend skipping the cable car part of the trip. I did not bother with the telerific to go to the top of Montjuïc as I felt that the view was already magnificent at Miramar. There is a small café where you can have a drink or snack and enjoy the view. The food didn't look fantastic, so I would just grab a coffee or cold drink.

La Rambla from the cable car

lundi 4 février 2013

Barcelona: Out and About (Part 1)

Rosemary, of Aussie in France, is off to Barcelona this week and this has prompted me to reflect on our recent trip.

Interesting architecture everywhere
Getting There:
We booked only a few weeks prior to travelling and managed to get flights for about 49€ each way from Paris with EasyJet travelling with cabin baggage only. Twice I have flown EasyJet from Paris to Spain and each time in Paris they have been very strict about applying the one bag rule in the cabin. They forced people to put their handbags in their cabin bags when they boarded the plane (even though passengers then removed them). Spanish Easyjet staff did not apply this rule however. EasyJet now thankfully provides allocated seating. The only problem we had with the flights was our return flight. Due to snow in Paris our plane was late arriving in Barcelona for our return trip. When we finally landed at Charles de Gaulle airport the airbridge could not come close enough to the plane. It appeared that the Aéroport de Paris ground staff had swept up the snow into a pile where the wheels of the airbridge needed to go. We then had to wait for the snow plough to arrive to re-arrange it. The tarmac is marked with the areas that need to remain clear so I really don't understand why this happened.

Sculpture at Sant Sebastià 

With EasyJet, you land at Terminal 2 at Barcelona Airport. We travelled by Aerobús A2 to the centre of Barcelona. There is a stop at Pl. Espanya and then in the city centre at Pl. Catalunya which is essentially located at one end of Las Ramblas. Tickets can be bought from either the driver or staff at the bus stop. One way 5,75€ or return 9,95€ (with 9 day limit to use the return trip). With buses leaving every 10 minutes for each terminal we found this a clean, economical and efficient way to travel to our accommodation. 
Pl  Espanya and former bullring - now shopping centre with great free view from roof top cafés and bars
We chose the Hotel Bagués which is located on La Rambla. The building is old on the outside but very much a modern, boutique hotel on the inside. The service is particularly impressive. I have never come across such pleasant, welcoming and knowledgable staff at any hotel. Every one of their recommendations for dinner and activities were spot on. The hotel has a bar on the roof with a lap pool and wonderful views of La Rambla and the Barcelona skyline. Staff kindly opened it up for us one evening so we could enjoy a drink there. They thought it was too cold for us but we still enjoyed it. There is a hotel in the restaurant but we chose to eat out including for breakfast. With the markets only a one minute walk there are so many options on top of all the other nearby locations. I can highly recommend this hotel for its wonderful staff, location and comfort. The welcome bottle of water and strawberries may only be a little thing, as is the turn down service in the evenings, but it does make you feel special.

Granja Viader - operating  for 125 years makes great place for a quiet breakfast or coffee
Getting Around:
After spending time in Paris I was most impressed by the cleanliness and moderness of the metro service. I often saw people cleaning the stations. The floor, seats, entrances were all very clean. There were escalators that worked! The ticketing machine was multilingual and very easy to use. I bought a T-10 pass (9,80€) for 10 trips in zone 1 which covers most of the sights in Barcelona. The pass can be used by multiple people travelling together. You just pass it back for others to swipe. The pass can be used on buses as well. While the hop-on, hop-off bus makes it easy for tourists who are perhaps a little unsure about navigating public transport, it does come at a significant cost (26€ for 1 day).

Random Observations:
The weather in mid-January was relatively mild with lots of sun. The maximum was 12-15°C. Young women wore shorts with boots and stockings. I must be getting old as I did not find this a very good look. Shorts with bare legs - sure. But boots and stockings - no.

The streets were nealy empty around midday but were full around 5.00pm. It was sales time in the shops but unlike Paris, the shops were not packed. No doubt a reflection of the financial difficulties being experienced in Spain. It was easy to look at things and get into a change room to try items on. Regretfully, service was pretty well non-existent in most shops although there were some exceptions.
Pl. Espagna from the shopping centre roof in former bull-fighting ring

When visiting tourist sites such as Parc Güell there were many hawkers. Unlike those in Paris, such as around the Louvre, they did not approach people to make purchases. I also noticed many amputees who were on the streets with signs requesting money. Again they did not ask for money. I was only approached once for money during the 4 day period. 

Beautiful façade
Online travel forums are full of questions about personal safety when visiting Barcelona. Our hotel provided an information leaflet about safe practices which really are those that you would expect wherever you are travelling as well as at home. At all times I felt safe with the standard precautions.
La Rambla
I saw this sign in a bank window. Even using Google translator for Catalan I am not much wiser. Are they offering a set of knives when opening a bank account? 

A set of knives with that account??

Have you visited Barcelona or other parts of Spain? What were your observations?


Hotel Bagués
La Rambla 105, 08002 Barcelona

Granja Viader 
Xucla, 4 - 6, 08001 Barcelona

Transports Metropolitains de Barcelone
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