Central Europe New Year’s 2017-18

I am spending 10 days in Europe over New Year’s, I know…. I just got back from Europe, but I got a super deal and it’s over the New Year holiday, which also happens to include my birthday.

Here’s some info on this trip:

  • CHA to ATL to CLT to JFK to ZRH on Delta. Flew from home to CLT instead of driving. I’m happy with that decision even though it added a night at a hotel.
  • Books: None. I’m reading a bunch of magazines that came in the mail during my last trip.
  • Music: To The Outside of Everything-A Story of UK Post-Punk 1977-81 (Just got that one in before Xmas), Slade B-Sides, and James Brown In The Jungle Groove.
  • TV: None, I’m going to read.
  • Guide Book: Lonely Switzerland, Lonely Planet Fast Talk German, Lonely Planet Pocket Vienna.
  • My Mother’s Biggest Fear: nothing this time.
  • My Biggest Fear: That my new larger suitcase will encourage me to buy too much stuff. Excess baggage fees.
  • Plans: Zürich for a few days over New Year’s, Lichtenstein for a day and a half, Vienna, maybe a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, back to Geneva. Probably too much rail travel, but it should be very scenic.

My one day in Geneva last month got my interest up in exploring more of Switzerland. I had a flight to Zürich booked in July and decided to use that to see a little of Central Europe by rail. I’m looking forward to eating Swiss food, sampling wines from the Prince of Lichtenstein’s vineyards, seeing Vienna, adding to my Euro coin collection, and just doing my usual nerdy museum visits. I found out they have an Esperanto museum in Vienna. I wish I spoke Esperanto, but that’s probably just me hoping it would be a cure for my lack of a second language. I do speak English, and that is probably as close to a world language as we have right now. I really lucked into being born in the time and place that I was.

Barcelona and Back

I had a harrowing cab ride through rush hour traffic to arrive at Barcelona El Prat Airport. People drive like they are insane and I almost had a front row seat for a motorcyclist becoming an organ donor. It was totally his fault and I would have testified to it under oath.

I arrived at the airport, found the mailbox to drop my postcards in and made it through security with no issues. When it was time to board the plane, the gate agent scanned my boarding pass and told me I needed to get int another line for additional screening. I’m not complaining about the extra screening, there were many who had to do it, but they could have done it before we got to the gate.

They were swiping for explosives, and guessing by when and where they were checking, explosives we must have picked up between security and the gate. They had to swipe every pocket of my backpack and my backpack has a lot of pockets. That’s its whole purpose. We all checked out OK and boarded last for the nonstop flight to JFK.

After JFK it was on to Charlotte and I got a first class upgrade as part of my recently obtained status. After a night in Charlotte it was back to the airport and home to plan my next trip to Europe which was in two weeks, with Xmas in the middle. I really should have planned that better.

Barcelona Day Sis

For my final full day in Barcelona I had only one thing planned, a guided tour of the Basilica Sagrada Familia. A guy I work with had been there before and told me to plan on spending a whole day there so that’s what I had planned. It was raining off and on around the time the tour was to start so there wasn’t much of a crowd. Only two other Americans and myself were on this English language tour.

Sagrada Familia is still under construction after more than 130 years, but the inside is mostly finished. The rain kept me from spending too much time outside which is were a lot of the details worth really looking over are. The inside is impressive but after looking it in awe for about 20 mins I felt it was time to move on.

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They had just installed this floor a few days before.

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You can go up in one of the towers, but with the low clouds that day I decided it was not worth risking a heart attack. The basilica is scheduled to be completed in the 2020s and I plan to come back when it is done. I will definitely go up then.

While this is newer and bigger than Barcelona Cathedral, Sagrada Familia will be a basilica since it is not the seat of a bishop. Barcelona Cathedral has been that for hundreds of years and I don’t think they plan on changing that because of some young whippersnapper coming along and building taller towers.

Having seen my one sight to see, I grabbed the last of the souveirs and made my way by metro and tram back to the hotel to do the saddest part of the trip: packing to leave.

 

Barcelona Day Cinc

After a full Saturday, I just had a few things planned for Sunday. The first thing on the list was a visit to Gaudi’s Park Güell which is nestled in the hills above the part of the city I was staying in. There was not a metro stop that was very close to the park’s entrance but Google Maps showed a bus route that ran from about a block from my hotel  right to the entrance. I know I should take more city buses when I travel, they can be a good way to see more of a place, but they also get stuck in traffic while subways glide underneath that very traffic. It being a Sunday morning, traffic wasn’t an issue and I enjoyed the ride though the streets of Barcelona.

The bus stop was up at the top of the park and you get to walk through the areas of the park that do not require an admission. Those parts are nice, but there is a reason they charge you for the monuments area, that’s what you really came to see.

Park Güell was intended to be an exclusive neighborhood and the guard houses and what was to be a place for parties and exhibitions were all that were built besides a few houses. It is these spaces that most people want to see so that’s what you have to pay to have access to. They were currently renovating part of the roof of the exhibition space so half of the famous bench on the roof was off-limits, but the view was still amazing.

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I’m beginning to think pigeons are misunderstood and are big fans of art.
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Hard to be angry at entrance fees. Upkeep ain’t free!

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I’m a sucker for mosaics.
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Still a sucker….
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still…….
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even more of a sucker for this one.

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Surprise random guy! You are now in my blog.

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I spent perhaps an hour and a half here, it was a Sunday morning during December so I imagine it might take longer in the high season with larger crowds. I also skipped the tour of the Gaudi house and much of the park area outside of the monument core. If I go back, I may spend some more time seeing those.

I exited by the guardhouse and walked downhill to find a bus stop instead of walking back uphill to the one arrived at. No shame in taking the easy route when you have more stuff to see that day that will require more walking. My next goal for the day was to ride to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea that I could walk back to my hotel from. I had flown over the sea on my flight in, but wanted to get a little closer look. After one transfer and about 45 mins I was there.

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I had planned on trying to see the sea, but did not pack a pair of sandals. Since I had to walk back to the hotel and didn’t want to spend a whole day of travel soon in sandy shoes, I kept to the promenade and didn’t venture into the sand. I kind of wished I had, so I’ll have to plan for that the next trip to Barcelona.

I walked back to the hotel via Rambla del Poblenou. A rambla is a kind of promenade that runs down the middle of a main street that has one way streets for cars on either side. Being a main thoroughfare it is lined by shops, restaurants, and apartments. My cab driver from the airport when I arrived told me that on Sundays after church, it was the place to stroll and be seen. He was right. This Sunday afternoon it was full of families strolling along or having lunch at places along the way that set up outdoor seating.

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With the Catalan elections a few weeks away, political parties had booths set up to campaign.

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After checking out the scene on the way back, I hit the local shop to grab that night’s dinner and then went back to the hotel to work on postcards. The last day in Barcelona would be for Sagrada Familia and I was planning on it taking all day.

Barcelona Day Quatre

I slept in a bit after getting in late from Andorra the night before, but still got less than my usual amount of sleep. I had read that there was an antique market down by the port each Saturday and I wanted to check it out before all the good stuff was gone. I hopped the metro to get down there and immediately got stuck checking out all the cool old buildings. One of them really caught my eye and as I walked up to it I saw that it used to be a post office, wait….it still is a post office! I needed some stamps to mail postcards back home, so I stepped inside.

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It was a grand old structure from either the late 19th or early 20th Centuries. Great paintings were on the ceilings. It was big enough to be the main hall of a train station. They don’t build them like that anymore. It makes your local post office look like a dump.

I love to send postcards. Friends and family seem to enjoy getting them.I send them to myself too. I week or two after my trip they arrive and give me a great reminder of what awesome stuff I just did.

After the stop at Correos, I headed in the direction of the Antique Market. While walking along looking at the old buildings, I found a small park with a fountain in it. I ducked in to see what it was all about (I almost always look to see who the monuments are erected to, if they put up a statue, the least I could do is read the inscription), but heard some birds in the trees that sounded unusual.

I looked up to see what appeared to be small parrots nesting in a palm tree. The Internet told me that they were monk parakeets. They are not native to Spain, but have established themselves in the area over the past forty years. It was a pleasant surprise.

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“What are you looking at?”

No more distractions! To the Port Antic Market! I found it where it was supposed to be near the port right by the Columbus monument at the end of La Rambla. There was a nice mix at about 10 stalls that were set up. As is always the case, some of it was overpriced, but I did find some cool advertising / trading cards that were one euro each. I grabbed a nice mix. They reminded me of cigarette cards from the UK but bigger and from Barcelona chocolate brands. My guess is they used to come in candy bars. They were all very cool, but some had chocolate stains on them. The original owners can’t be blamed. They appeared date from WWI or a few years after.

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Z is for Zeppelin in three languages

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Scenes from the Great War
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Both flags here are out of date
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Mmmm…..olives

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I decided to try and head back up La Rambla towards the Jamón Experience and see if it was open for a tour. I was in luck. I was told for an extra 10 € you got to a tasting at the end that included a glass of red or white wine or cava (dry sparkling wine). That was a no brainer. The tour was interesting but was mostly the process of how they make pigs into jamón with a little jamón-is-good-for-you propaganda. It may not be as full of antioxidants as they claim, but it is good for your soul.

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Try not to let the hooves turn you off, it is worth it

 

The Jamón Experience also has a museum devoted to Spanish wine where you can taste and purchase many varieties. Before going to Spain, all I knew of were cava and Rioja. I got schooled by the helpful bartender and was able to bring back a great bottle of Rioja at an insane price along with a bottle produced in a very small region in Catalonia. Iberian ham and wine after an antique market is just about the perfect day, but I still had one last thing to try and get done this Saturday.

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Since I was close enough I decided to stroll back to the Xmas market I went to the other day to see if it would be less crowded. I was in luck again, despite the narrow lanes of the Gothic Quarter being much more crowded on a Saturday evening; people seemed to have more places to go to than the Xmas market. I was able to look a little bit better and chat with some merchants. I also bought a few things as gifts for some people back home. Since some of then read this blog, I won’t go into too much detail on post any pictures yet. I’ll hopefully get more into that after Christmas.

I took the subway back to the hotel with a quick stop at the corner grocery store to get some snacks for the night. I also purchased and consumed, after a few days of internal debate, a bottle of wine there that cost 0.99 €. Yes, that’s right, a 750ml bottle of wine for less than one euro. I’m not proud I did it, but I feel less shame having done so than I would have felt had I passed on the chance. How was it? I’ve spent one euro on worse things!