A Travellerspoint blog

February 2008

A Week in the Eternal City

"Ancient Footsteps Are Everywhere"

sunny 15 °C

Feb 22


Somewhere in the heart of Rome, we began our sightseeing. The bus and subway route worked out easily, and we got out at the "Spagna" station, near the "Spanish Steps." They were underwhelming. Because of winter (no azaleas) and renovations (the obelisk was covered), it seemed like a pretty drab marble staircase.

So, onward. The Trevi Fountain made more of an impression of the three of us. We heard it before we saw it, coming around the corner at one side of this block-wide fountain. Its carving spills out of the wall and foundation of the building behind it, all one structure. The temperature was about 18 degrees by now, and we enjoyed some time in the sun sitting beside the edge of the fountain. We threw the first coin over our shoulders to ensure "a safe return trip to Rome" (perhaps after our day trip to Pompei") and then a second coin for a wish. Then, because we had all these Tunisian coins, we kept throwing them in, making silly and serious wishes. Twelve coins in the fountain: which wish will the fountain bless?

A few blocks away, we came to the Pantheon. This was the ancient building I was most looking forward to seeing in Rome. I was pleased that Anica gasped "Wow! Look at that!" as soon as we came into the square. It needed no context to be impressive. However, once I said that it's an ancient Roman building 2000 years old, Anica was just flabbergasted. She's seen Roman ruins in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Spain, but this is completely intact. Saved by becoming a Christian church in 600, the Pantheon was the largest dome in the world for over a millennium. Inside we saw Raphael's tomb, and those of the first two Savoy kings (Anica signed the "guestbook", apparently throwing our support to their claims. Whoops!)

Light entering the Pantheon through its "oculus"

After that we spent some time in the Piazza Navona, a famous square that's actually an oval because it was once a race-track. We enjoyed the artists, street performers, musicians, and, of course, more fabulous fountains. Down a side street, we got gelato. Huge portions of gelato! Good value, actually, and a place to sit and watch everyone else negotiate their way down the cobblestone laneway. Also today we'd confirmed our addiction to bookstores, by browsing in an Italian bookstore, then a Spanish bookstore, then a French bookstore. As long as they have books!

Once again, we had dinner back at the apartment. Partly by choice, partly because, when we start early on the sightseeing, we can't make it to 8:00 before wanting dinner!

Feb 23


It was dazzlingly sunny, and much warmer than I'd dared to hope for in Rome again today. We didn't need coats of any kind. The perfect day to see the ruins of ancient Rome. We started with the Colosseum, beating the lineups by getting there at 9 AM. Before you even get out of the Metro station, you see it looming. It is big. Even now. With 50,000 seats, it once held just as many people as where the Toronto Blue Jays play their major league baseball. We were glad, however, that we'd been to El Jem, and walked under the floor, and to other amphitheatres and walked up the aisles and sat in the seats. You can't do that in Rome. You can just do a circuit around the ground level and a circuit around an upper level. It's the views from the outside and the views looking out that are the real attraction. And also the fact that this is the ultimate place for gladiator games.

Here's one of their unofficial wedding photos. Outside the Colosseum

We examined the Arch of Constantine outside the Colosseum, and then began our walk down the Via Sacra through the area known as the "Roman Forum." Yesterday, we'd bought "Rick Steve's Rome," a guidebook with a lot of self-guided tours, full of light information and anecdotes. Today, Anica read aloud and followed the maps for the "self-guided tours" to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Capitoline Museums. Sometimes one of us would take a turn, but it was mostly her. On a good day, like today, she's probably got more endurance and interest than Jenn or me.

The Forum is an amazing stretch of real estate. Highlights include the arch of Titus, woefully depicting the defeated Israelites; the Basica of Constantine (with three enormous arches still intact); the place where Julius Caesar's body was burned (with many fresh flower bouquets laid on it); the palace and houses of the Vestal Virgins (almost completely gone, but it was an interesting story to tell Anica, who is the same age as the girls were when chosen for 30 years of chaste service); and the Rostrum, Curia, ....lots.

The remaining arches of the Basilica of Constantine

At the far end of the Forum, we walked up the stairs to Capitol Hill, and the square designed by Michaelangelo, to enter the Capitoline Museum. Here is a museum that opened its doors before Columbus made his first voyage to the new world. There were a few highlights that we really wanted to see, namely the pieces of the colossal statue of Constantine, the sculpture of Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf, and the statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. There were other items that caught our eye, too, like statues of centaurs, of Pan, and of Medusa. And it had a good cafeteria for lunch! We did that first.

Constantine is #1!

To finish a very full day of sightseeing, we went up to Palatine Hill, mainly because it's included in the ticket price for the Colosseum. This is where we ran out of steam, which was fine, because it's more of an adjunct to the main sights of the Forum. We did see the great view over the Forum and Colosseum, and, on the opposite side of the hill, a view over what was once the Circus Maximus. The oval shape of the long chariot track is still obvious, and a lone cypress tree marks the "turn." The cars, smaller than matchbox cars from our vantage point, parked all around the top of the hill, helped show how 250,000 people could gather to watch the chariot races. Yes, a quarter of a million people, on a regular basis.

Home for dinner again. Meatballs, risotto and a salad, all fresh from the supermercato down the street! We're all enjoying Jenn's cooking. We're tired, but happy. Tomorrow, Sunday, will be our "day of rest."

Feb 25


Well-rested, from a day where the most taxing activity was walking to the gelateria, we took on the sights of Vatican City. Talk about a full day! The lineup was huge for the Vatican Museum, stretching around the walls of Vatican City for more than two blocks. This was 9:30 in the morning, half an hour before it opened, and the same time we'd got to the Colosseum to find no lineup. But it moved quickly and we were inside in 40 minutes.

Right from the start, I confirmed my wildest imaginings about what treasures the Vatican has amassed. Just walking down any corridor and looking at the ceiling would be a world-class architectural and artistic experience.

We enjoyed seeing their Egyptian collection, especially Anica. They have an unwrapped mummy (not royal), some well-decorated sarcophaguses and many other well-chosen (plundered) items. Not to mention many of the lioness/goddess stations from the temple of Mut at Karnak. In a related area, there's wonderful examples of Sumerian cuneiform writing. The first writing! Here I am typing this on a computer keyboard and sending it around the world electronically, yet what the Sumerians invented would have seemed even more incredible in its time. They even had envelopes, we saw today.

The Greek area was a revelation. Incredible sculptures. One, entitled Laocoon, was used as the image on our ticket stub, and had been buried and lost for a thousand years until the Renaissance. It showed a Trojan trying to warn of the Greeks being attacked by snakes.

We laughed at the various sizes of fig leaves covering the male bits and pieces. Anica delighted in pointing out the statues that weren't covered by a fig leaf.

In the tapestries hall, where the tapestries themselves were epic, we were even more delighted by the ceilings, which seemed to be relief sculpting, but were "just" painted.

Then, the Raphael rooms: I was most looking forward to seeing "The School of Athens," because of how often I've used it to explain how the Renaissance was connected to antiquity. And, yes, this fresco is far better in person that it is in any reproduction. Really, you have to be in that particular room to understand its contours by seeing where the doors are.

Finally, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. This was harder to enjoy. First of all, I didn't realize how plain (relatively) the room itself is. A long rectangle. Secondly, there were huge crowds, and guards shouted "silencio" every couple of minutes. We didn't take pictures because you weren't allowed, but many did (or tried) and then the guards dealt with that. Thirdly, it's near the end of the galleries, so you're already overwhelmed by hours of gallery-going. Finally, you had to crane your neck just to look at...okay, I guess that last criticism just goes to show how painful (you might say it was "agony") it was for Michelangelo to paint the ceiling. If it weren't for the "hype," there's no doubt I would be awestruck. It's beautiful, and the little square they left uncleaned in the corner shows how dark and drab it was before the restoration. I liked "The Last Judgement" on the end wall, in particular, with the one angel holding an entire human skin that's a Michelangelo self-portrait. I liked the "Creation" panel, of course, and also the one of Adam and Eve being banished from Eden.

After a visit to the "Pinoateca" gallery, and some pizza in the cafeteria, we walked over to St. Peter's Square. Anica said she'd like to come back at Christmas when she's 24 because that's the next time the "holy door" to the right of the main entrance will open. She also noticed the gold background of the letter running all the way around the church. She couldn't tell, from ground level, that each letter is seven feet tall! Nor could she tell, not being able to read Latin (as if I can!) that these are all the words Jesus spoke to Peter. Thank-you, tourist guidebook.

I didn't realize that the "Vatican II/good Pope," or Pope John XXIII, is on display under glass here in St. Peter's. Some people just stroll by, snap a picture (with flash, even) and then move on as if they haven't given a thought, or felt the need to show any respect to his body.

After seeing the rest of the highlights (Bernini's altar, the dome, Michelangelo's "Pieta" sculpture...), we plopped ourselves down in the sun, starting to set over St. Peter's Square. Again today, except when it rained briefly and conveniently when we were inside the gallery, it was warm enough to not even need a jacket.

Feb 26


Here's how today went: first we saw graves without bones and then we saw bones without graves. Let me explain about our "day of the dead." We headed off on foot from our apartment in the morning, because we're within walking distance of Via Appia Antica (or the ancient Appian way). This was the first of the great Roman roads, built in 312 B.C. and we walked along a stretch that still has the original pavement of cobblestones. Along the way we had a tour of St. Sebastian's Catabombs, part of the miles of eary Christian underground graveyards in what were then (and still are now) the suburbs of Rome. It was suitable creepy, although all the actual bones are gone so it's tunnel after tunnel of empty slots and coffins.

Then we hopped on the bus, after a harrowing walk down the busy, narrow, modern part of the Appian Way, and later in the day visited the Capuchin crypt. Here were bones without graves. The Capuchin monks, in the process of moving, began a morbid "art" project of arranging the bones of their brothers. There are a half dozen vaults, and each has a type of bone that dominates, such as the room of pelvic bones. Skulls are everywhere. The message at the end reads: "we once were what you are; you will be what we are." True, but I don't think my skeleton will be wired to the ceiling holding a sycthe made out of somebody else's bones!

Feb 27


Our only rainy day in Rome, and wouldn't you know it, we were hoping to go to Borghese Gardens, the central park of Rome. to But we didn't dare complain about the weather because we've been absolutely blessed this week. Even today, we got to the park, and had a good long time at a playground area before it started raining. It had unique climbing structures and a children's library/store, too.

So we went back to the Spanish Steps area and had a big, long lunch at a traditional (though touristy) Italian restaurant.

Rome has been magnificent and our apartment has been quite good. It was never as cold again as the first night, when the heat had been off for who knows how long. And we've been able to pick up (inconsistently) a weak wireless signal. Those are two mild culture shocks that we've overcome, then: laws about heating and wireless internet in Italy. By law, heating can only be on certain hours of the day. And unsecured wireless internet signals are supposed to be illegal (under anti-terrorist laws, always a convenient excuse). One we haven't found a way around is the system for mailing packages. It's rivalled only by India for bother. Jenn has also had her purse unzipped her more than anywhere else, although nothing's been stolen from it. The "crazy" traffic in Rome we've heard about is actually pretty tame. Using our experience from Asia, we're able to cross streets easily and safely. People actually follow us! We've also become quite used to the bus/subway routes, and get around those like locals. So long, Route 716 to Garbatella station!

Anica in our South Rome flat

Feb 28


An overnight sojurn to Pompei, on Anica's "must-see" list since she read the Magic Treehouse book about it over two years ago. It was nice to see her enthusiasm for the place undimmed. Jenn had found a charming hotel in Pompei over the internet, and haggled a discount, and we were delighted that Hotel Diana let us check in really, really early - 10:30 in the morning. We were able to enjoy a good long visit to the Pompei ruins. And then they recommended a local restaurant for us (that didn't break the bank), so we had a nice dinner afterwards. As for what we saw there, I'll leave that mainly to Anica's diary entry to describe. I've already read it, and she doe a great job. In fact, I suspect most of you reading our blog probably skip to Anica's entries! We did take a peek at the Pompei brothel with its famous frescoes. Since Anica's already seen the Sousse red light district and Pisa streetwalkers (or chair-sitters), we figured this was tamer. Pompei is massive, and once again, I'm glad we'd seen the ruins of Tunisia and Jordan first, where you have to use your imagination, and then Rome and Pompei, where the full effect is all the more appreciated.
Feb 22


"The First Sighseeing Day"

Today we went on our first Italian metro (not a very intresting annoucement). When we exited we saw the not-in-Spain "Spanish Steps." Dirty, wet (and I thought it was from the sewer!) Not as good as the in-Spain Spanish Steps. Ha ha. There was also a pretty fountain.

Trevi fountain: ok, this was the 5-star fountain. Huge and pretty, Trevi Fountain has images of Neptune and some slaves. Maybe someone else. Doing the "get money - wish you'd go back to Rome - throw it over your back" thing made me feel embareses. I don't know why?! We went to have lunch at McDonald's.

Pantheon: OH-My GOSH! 2000 years old and not in ruins - yikes! Relly not in ruins...2000 years...How? How? I noticed that the eye in the building was the building's only light (unless you count the doors open). I had lots of quistions about it.

Did you know? Jennifer had had 100 or more hawkers and she is still not used to them. See, she just said I want to KICK THEM! HAO-YAH.

Piazza Navona. We had Italian gelato!! Went home, had dinner, G.N.

[The Sweet Life. Italian gelato near the Trevi Fountain

Feb 23


"The Real 'Roman' Amphitheatre"

We got to the metro stop, climbed up the stairs: what did we find? The Colosseum. In ruins, but amazing, the colosseum was a in-Rome Roman amphitheatre. Everybody enjoyed the place in terms of not being disturbed. You would think you'd walk inside the Colosseum and find a big lineup, right? No. Sometimes you will, sometimes you won't. We got a short lineup. You couldn't climb it which made me upset, but it is in ruins! You can't build it back together with no pieces! We moved on the Arch of Constantine, after the Colosseum. The Arch of Constantine had many relifs of the long-lost Empror.

The Forum, Palentine Hill, and Capitol Hill...and the arch of Severus Snape (also known as Septimus Severus; kids, do you see why?) Now, most of the Forum hills and arches were in ruins, some only having 2 colums left, but still with a Rick Steves self guided tour it was enjoyable. 75 feet high arches ina basilaca, even though we didn't get to see the 130 feet hight roof, we still saw big (only thing left) arches! One temple there was only 3 or 5 coulems standing! We went up to the pace where Caesar was burned on the spot! There were still floweres there! When we got the arch of Septimus Severus, I all of a sudden shouted, "Dad! Look: the arch of Severus Snape!" I knew it wasen't but it only was a joke!

We went up Capital hill to have lunch and look at the museum. The one thing me and Dad enjoyed apart from the big peices of body from Constantine was the arm that you could stick half of your arm under and make it look like you had a tiny arm and a huge other half! We went up Palentine Hill, went home, had dinner (at home), G.N! P.S. Mummy makes good dinners!
Feb 25


"The Vatican: a new country with no borders"

OK, I diden't really think this was a country, but it did have its own currency and post office. The museum had a really good Egyptian section with 2 mummies, poettery, sargophhagesis. Also one section by it had the world's first writing! We saw fig leaves over the (sorry) penis's :) ha ha! they were plaster though :( One statue had a man and two kids being atackked by snakes. Another, hunting. The hall of animels was neat, exept for having dog hunting scenes. The tapastries, paintings, stautes were pretty and my favrite 3 rooms were Egyptian, Animal and tapastries. I diden't like the Sistine Chapel as much as I thought I would - but the ceiling: pretty. Had lunch, and went to St. Peter's Basilaca, which was pretty and had a persons body. We sat on St.Peters square with its fountins and obilisk. Went home, had dinner (at home), G.N.!

Here's a descriptive story or essay by Anica that she wrote today. She thought it would fit in well with our travel blog. As usual, I'll type it exactly as she wrote it in terms of spelling and punctuation. This time, I added paragraphs. -Rob

"The World"

Sometimes, I think that the world is the brain of a guenis-world-record sized head. The smallest planet is his belly, and the biggest; his leg. The people who live in the brain have never found a way out. But once only, the World bumpted his head and cracked open a hole at the top. That was the day we invented rocketships.

Also, one day, there was a big storm in the worlds hometown. It knocked out t.v. He now dreams of it: that's why we have t.v. He sings, so we have music too.

The world has lived for over a thousand years. He is the oldest person in his hometown. The police are angels. Evreybody who cares (like poilce, nurses, docters) is a angel. Crimanals, there demons. The crimanals are only there because the world knows everybody will have hard times. Like the day we invented rockets.

The world dreams of a langue, some langue. It could be English, German, Italian, Spanish, French, any one. We have letters because he wants them.

The water is his hair. Little, circle shaped islands could be his eyes and nose, a crescent shaped island could be his mouth. Everything else: freckels.

Animals they come from the world's sister. One time she saw a animel. She is the god of animals. Grownups (and seniors) are the world's sisters and brothers, and us, kids, daughters or sons.

One day the world will die and everything will be deystored. The End.

Feb 26


"Death Day with artistic bones"

O.K., I know we've had days like this but this was the real death day. We went to the cattacombs (underground tombs hat Christins made outside Rome.) We had a guide that was o.k. but not perfect in English. Such as: "twenty tuh." "Excuse me" said a women. Twenty two?" "Yes. twenty tuh" (?) No bones though and only 2 (one practicly ruined) sarcohaguses. We walked down the Appian Way with its original chariot marks and stones. We took a look at the Trevi fountin (having gone on Metro from Palentine Hill to that) and went to lunch at a wood oven pizza place. After, we went to a crypt, which had full monks with crosses and bones for the walls, ceiling and lights. They also had a skelaton desinged to be the Grim Reeper. Went home, had dinner. G.N.

Feb 28


"Pompei: The Lava City"

We drove. Sounds like (so far), today might not be intresting. But, we did, though, see Pompei! I think that dying the way some people dyed was painfull. I do now that death (if you get killed) can always be painfull. But just looking at how they're trying to cover them selfs up, dog twisting and barking in pain...I feel...bad. We sw the amphathire which would of been covered with a roof in 79 AD. We also aw tombs of people who died before the volcano erupted. We got more into the main town which had houses you could peek into to guess wheter the family was rich or poor or mid-range and fast food outlets (kids and parents: not your usal McDonalds or Burger King), that you could go behind the counter and pretend you where baking something fresh from the oven.

Anica demonstrates use of the Pompei fast food corner counter

The crosswalks where fun too! They were oval rocks you jumped on to get to the other side. Pretending you where in a chariot on the chariot-wheel-marked roads and walking on the sidewalks was fun too.

Pompei crosswalk

We also went to a bakery which had flour things donkeys could push around, a oven, and it was not very ruined.

The largely-intact Pompei bakery

Went home,had dinner, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 11:53 Archived in Italy Comments (3)

All Roads Lead You-Know-Where

3 Day, 3 Countries on the Way to Rome

sunny 14 °C

Feb 19


A nice night in Nice? Nice enough to leave us wanting more. We're really just stopping here, en route to Italy, and we're certainly not doing it justice. Our usual lack of an accurate map or directions, however, ensured that we saw more of Nice than we really wanted to. We arrived at our hostel for the night, Villa St. Exupery. This is not an ordinary hostel. Sure, we have bunk beds, we helped washes our dishes, etc., but this place is brightly painted (with painted "Little Prince" murals), has a huge funky dining room, and serves good homemade food. It's in a former monastery, so I suspect it's named after the saint, not the French author. It was nice to hang out in the common room and talk with some of the other hostelers. Also, this place had the holy trinity of breakfast, parking and internet included.

Holy buffet. In Villa St. Exupery, a converted monastery

The drive here could have gone smoothly, but we were very thankful we got here safelly, having seen the afftermath of a huge, guardrail-crashing accident that backed up the highway for two hours. So, I guess we were in the car for about 10 hours today when we expecting 6 and a half.

Feb 20


With even less fanfare than when we entered France, we entered Italy today. Thus, our third country in three days. All in the name of getting Rome at an allegedly leisurely pace. We almost missed the little EU flag with the word "Italia" in the middle. First impressions? Snow-capped mountains in the distance, countless greenhouses on the terraced hillsides, and improbable villages perched on hilltops or plunked in valleys.

We did well with a place to stop tonight in choosing Lucca. First, we were able to grab a nice, cheap lunch at a local place. "Deli," we'd call it at home. This was my first attempt at communicating in Italy. I did well, except when I tried to mime "is it ok to park there?" and got handed the washroom key.

Anica shows the massive scale of Lucca's old-city walls

Then, we found a hotel, that, while over our budget, included breakfast, parking and internet. Once again, our holy trinity. And, it was just outside the old city walls of Lucca. What is it about walled cities? They're so neat to walk around in. The look of this one had more in common with Angkor Thom in Cambodia than it did Sousse in Tunisia, because of the grassy area that was once a moat, and the somewhat sloped wall of reddish bricks. We soon set out to explore within the red-brick ramparts. Anica took over, and guided us flawlessly through the Eye-Witness Guide's "street-by-street" walking tour. She insisted we go into both the cathedral (dedicated to St. Martin, who cut his garment to share with a pauper) and another church (famous for the "King of Lucca" cruxification figure of Jesus. Great story: this black wood carving is said to have been made by a disciple of Jesus, and arrived in Lucca during the 13th century, sailing by unmanned ship and then being carried by untamed bulls). We also saw a medieval tower with a rooftop garden, so you look up about ten stories and see huge oak trees sprouting out of the roof. Anyway, Anica was very enthused about the walk using the map.

A tree grows in Lucca...

Our energy never recovered, however, from the long walk after the long drive. We just ate tuna, olives, chips and snacks in our hotel room, because we couldn't be bothered to wander around the old town again, looking for a good place to have dinner.

Feb 21


On our way again early this morning. We made it to Pisa, and saw a sign for the "Field of Miracles" where The Leaning Tower is. In fact, we saw several signs for it, but not enough. There were always a few missing, and so we'd veer off-course. Finally we spotted the tower itself and got parked. If you're ever going to the Leaning Tower, and don't intend to stay too long, park in the "Pam's supermarket" parking lot one block away. We bought some groceries for lunch, and our 90 minute parking was then free!

Free, too, was our visit, because we had no interest in paying $25 each to go up the Leaning Tower. So we got to look at it, try out the silly "holding up the Leaning Tower" pose, and walk around the yard known as the "Field of Miracles." This is comprised of the tower, the Duomo (cathedral), the Santo Campo, and the bapistry pulpit. The latter is a gorgeous building, like a giant round jewel box.

Pisa's "Field of Miracles

On the way out of Pisa, we took a smaller highway. we soon noticed prostitutes, sitting in armchairs along a tree-lined service road running parallel to this highway. Sometimes, there'd be a chair, but no prostitute. Not on duty, or otherwise engaged, I suppose. Interesting system. Gives new meaning to the term "service" road, doesn't it?

Then, it was on to Rome. All roads lead there, but not anywhere specific in Rome. We still had to find our rental apartment. That meant the usual: missing our exit, going the wrong way, etc. Does this happen to everyone? Shouldn't signs be clearer? Will we get better with the driving/navigating act? Anica sure is patient with us.

But, we per served and found the place, met the woman who's renting it to us, and were pleased with how it looks. Cold, though! The heat is not on 24/7. Even though it was 18 degrees today and we ate lunch outside, now it's about 10 degrees, and it's a good thing heat is available from 6-9. We found out later

So far in Rome, then, we've just settled in and done errands. We bought transit passes and groceries, and had a nice dinner at "home."

Feb 19


"Our Roman Drive"

Today we got up early becuse we had to leave early. It took us a bit of time to get out of Barcelona and to get to are highway. When we finally got on the highway we stopped at a service station so we could use a washroom and maybe (can't remember) get gas. (Longest tunnel so far: 1990 m) Back o highway we went through a couple more tunnels (and by exicts) before going to another servaice staiton to get lunch. When we finaly got to one (enclding oneways and no entry streets) hostel we looked around the hostel, jumped up and down for bunk beds(!) and went to dinner with, orangina, pizza with salami and chesse, ham, and twix for me. G.N.

Feb 20


Today we went to Lucca, which had a pretty, old town behind monsterus red, high brick walls. That wasen't all of the town - the main town was sort of city-like. When we arrived we saw a bakery/shop looking restaurant, where we got a pasta/lasagna looking dish for Mum, a salami sandwich for me, and a Italian sandwich for Dad. We (luckily) found a 3-star hotel by the gates to the old town (pretty and with lions, big plus for me, my favourite animals are jungle cats), pretty rooms, and warm and cozy beds. When we went inside the old town we went on a street by street map in our book. We saw a church (2), a piazza, a statue of Mary and Jesus, Via Fillungo, a shopping street, and a tower with trees on top of it (?). The church had a pretty bell tower. Went home, had dinner, G.N!

Feb 21


"The Bragging Leaning Tower of Pisa and the snap-shot city. Lucca-Pisa-Rome"

Today we went to the worst tower on our trip so far: the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Not better than the Sagrada Famia towers. The Sagrada Famia towers were my favourite. The drive there was ong and we took a bit of time finding the tower. My reasons for not liking the LTOP: not as leaning as I thought it would be, and the Sagrada Familia towers were taller (I like tall towers). The building was neat - but you know...the Sagrada Famia was way better! We went on a higway to Rome, stopping for a lunch break. We got lost by going 20 km the wrong way. But found are (nice) apartment, went out, had dinner (at home). G.N.

Posted by jennrob 12:43 Archived in Italy Comments (7)

Frozen Music

Our "Rambla" Through Barcelona

semi-overcast 14 °C

Feb 14-15


Once you start driving, you never know. We ended up breaking the ten hour drive from Nerja to Barcelona into two very uneven days of 9 hours the first day and just 1 hour on the second day. Anica was very patient. We even let her sing long, annoying and repetitive songs and we didn't scream. It's better than having a kid whose whining about how much farther.It helped that we eventually decided Tarragona looked like a nice city in which to spend the night. Tarragona has turned out great for us. We found a hotel pretty easily, the Hotel Lauria (great location), which has its own postage-stamp size underground parking lot, and we were able to enjoy the wide pedestrian thoroughfare called the Rambla Nova.

Being Valentine's Day, we did try for a special dinner. We had a Catalan food buffet at a place called El Tiberi. At 8:15 we were the first diners to arrive. It didn't start to fill up until 9:00. They really do eat late in Spain. It wasn't great, though, and they charged full price for Anica.

Tarragona has been a city since the Roman era, and was once the capital of Catalonia. I noticed a lot of signs in Spanish and Catalan, and think I heard it spoken to me a few times tonight. English is way down the list of languages spoken here.

This is a statue, but people actually do this here!

We admired the statues along the Rambla Nova. One is in bronze of the "castellers," of people making human towers. I thought it was just a statue, but people actually do this here! They compete at festival times, and each town has a team.

In the morning, we took time to look out over the sea (our hotel was just a block from the end of the Rambla Nova where it overlooks the train tracks and the waterfront), and to walk past the Roman Amphitheatre. For those of you keeping count, is that eight Roman amphitheatres? We didn't go in, so Anica didn't get to climb this one, but we had good views of it from above. It's right by the sea as well.

As we were already only 100 km from Barcelona, was decided to take a detour to the monastery at Montserrat. I remember my parents saying what an incredible setting this is. Well, they were right! Especially on a beautiful sunny day like today. Montserrat is way up the side of a rocky mountain. And these are some pretty distinctive rocks, I must say. We drove all the way around and up the mountain, with gorgeous views opening up with every hairpin turn. At the "top," is a Basilica and a monastery, but it doesn't end there. The whole mountainside is well-marked with hiking trails, and there are shrines and crosses here and there. We took a funicular railway (Jenn gripping the handrail tightly) up to "Saint Joan's" mountaintop chapel. We dashed up a couple of peaks to see the views across valleys in differing directions, then got the funicular back down. When we went in the Basilica, we got to go up behind the altar and pass through an ornately-decorated cupola containing "the black virgin," the most important religious object at Montserrat.

Montserrat, with the distinctive rocks about it

Arriving in Barcelona, we've been pleased so far with our hotel. The location is east of the downtown, but in a very cool, modern, spacious area by the port. Barcelona must be the greatest city in the world for post-modern architecture, from what I've seen so far. And we drive all the way across "Diagonal" avenue to get here, one of Barcelona's grandest, longest streets.

We've made a lot of inquiries the past few days about upcoming rentals. There was one, however, in London, that we thought sounded "too good to be true." We wrote emails to them, asking for more information, and noticed that their spelling and punctuation was curiously poor for someone renting in posh Westminster. We phoned them, but couldn't get through. We decided to trust our instincts and not pursue this rental property, especially since they were asking for a bigger deposit than anyone else. Boy, has that ever proved to be the right move! In checking our email this morning, we were amused to find a message from a holiday rentals website warning us not to book there. The property's been removed from the site! Now, as some point we may get ripped off, but we dodged one there by trusting our instincts.

Feb 16


One of the entrances to the Sagrada Familia

When the gates opened today at the Sagrada Familia,at 9 AM, a Saturday, we were there. Gaudi's work still in progress cathedral, begun in 1898 and scheduled for completion a mere 50 years from now, was something all three of us had been looking forward to seeing. Despite the fact that the interior resembles a workshop or art studio more than a church, it didn't disappoint. It's huge, it's eccentric, it's naturalistic and modernistic and there's so much to look at. There's two elevators; we all went on the first (higher) one, and got great views over the towers (and over Barcelona) for that matter. Instead of taking the elevator back down, we walked down the nautilus shell-inspired staircase. Very tight spiral! I went up the second one too, over the Nativity entrance, and walked across a bridge right past the sculpted white doves sitting on the sculpted evergreen tree. Anica and Jenn soaked up more Gaudi information in the museum and film area while I was there. Anica's binocular came in handy as we interpreted the carvings above each entrance.

Once again, Anica's endurance outstripped our own. As we sat on a park bench across from the Sagrada Familia, Anica played on the playground equipment. We made good use of our three-day transit pass from there, taking the metro just two stations to go directly to the Gaudi apartment building, "La Predrera" (a.k.a. Casa Mila). Another costly admission, but worth it (though we drew the line at Casa Batlo down the street, which charged the most of all. Enough of our Euros had gone to Gaudi sites by then). Anyway, La Predrera was neat because we got to go on the roof (a "garden" of chimneys that look anything but chimneys), and tour an apartment restored to a typical 1905 style, complete with a child's room with toys. Anica liked their dollhouse! In the "attic" of the building there's an exhibition about Gaudi''s methods and materials. The attic itself is intriguing: over 100 brick archways help lighten the load on the building but give it the look of a medieval church basement.

Boba Fett's family reunion: the rooftop of Gaudi's "La Predrera"

Despite all this, we were still fairly fresh after lunch for our walk down "La Rambla." It might be the greatest pedestrian street thoroughfare in the world Anica really enjoyed the street performers, especially the people in costumes who pose like statues. We all enjoyed our detour into the market. La Rambla ends at a 60 metre high statue of Columbus. Across the street is the marina. We sat down, at last, and realized we didn't have much energy or creativity left, so we just took the metro back one stop and ate at the Hard Rock cafe. Ever since Hong Kong, Anica's kept her eye out for more Hard Rock cafes. We've skipped a couple, but the timing was right tonight. Even at an unfashionably early hour (especially for Spain), we had to wait a few minutes for a table.

Fairytale of the street. La Rambla, Barcelona

The coolest thing about today, though, happened in a metro station, where we noticed a young woman was singing with a trio of musicians who were busking in the corridor. She was really belting out the song, with a good voice, and knew most of the words. All of us in the crowd were cheering her on. The musicians were beaming at her, too. When she finished, she blushed, picked up all her shopping bags, and went off in search of the right subway line. This was not the frozen music of architecture. Just music. And Barcelona at its best.

Feb 17

Sunday in the park, and what a park! We spent most of the day in Park Guell today, Gaudi's failed housing development that eventually became the world-famous park that it is now. It was warm enough again that we were able to have a picnic. We threw the leftovers to the birds, cheering for the brightly-coloured parakeets over the usual pigeons.

Park Guell is set up on a hill, and has two areas: the "monumental" area, which Gaudi designed, and the more wooded, walking trail area. It was also nice, because it goes steadily farther uphill, providing more and more panoramic views of Barcelona right down to the sea. One such viewpoint overlooked a house inhabited by would-be anarchists, who had hung a banner reading "Why call it tourist season if we can't shoot them?" Ironically, dozens of tourists gathered to take a picture of this banner.

The monumental area is like stepping through the looking glass. Mushroom houses, the famous bench shaped like a serpent, and a covered walkway with rough stone arches modelled after waves. Under the big public area (which the serpentine bench encloses like a horseshoe) is an area held up 89 ribbed columns. Some of the outer columns are angled like buttresses would be, creating the effect that they've fallen over slightly.

Anica at the entrance to Park Guell

It was no trouble spending hours in Park Guell, although with all the walking (it's ten minuted uphill from the nearest metro station even), we didn't feel like doing much more today. That fit in well with our theme of "cheap day," where we able to recoup some of the amount we went over budget the last two days. Europe, always expensive, has become even more expensive since we last estimated costs (about a year ago). Hotels Jenn had earmarked have gone up 10-20 Euros since then. Gas has gone up. Toll routes and admission costs have gone up. We will do the trip as it needs to be done, but try to be smart. Our self-catering accommodation choices will be a big help. I mention the costs in case someone out there is planning a trip to Europe. Add 5% to even the most up-to-date guidebook's prices.



Somewhat more rain in Spain today, mainly, in Barcelona, and perhaps on the plain. We made our way through light drizzle, doing errand like banking and finding an Internet cafe with a printer, to an amazing travel book store. It was huge and comfortable, and the travel books were so colourful that it didn't matter only a fraction were in English. Anica happily looked through a National Geographic book on India, identifying places we've been. Our walk gave us a chance to see the "block of discord" again, and La Rambla. We also detoured through the medieval hospital grounds, which now form an elegant courtyard. The lobby still has the 600 year old tile murals dedicated to St. John. Then we crossed La Rambla again, for a dash, somewhat dispiritedly, through the Barri Gothic. It's obviously a great area to explore, too, but we didn't have the zest today. We did browse in an amazing collectibles store, though, where Anica was dazzled by the high-quality reproductions of Harry Potter characers' wands. And I haven't seen so many Star Wars figures since I was ten!

Eventually we got out of the rain and took in a matinee, in English, of "Sweeney Todd," at a theatre near the Olympic village. A little bloody for an eight-year-old, but she's seen Tim Burton before, and seemed to "get" this movie. We just like seeing a movie every couple of months.

So that's it from Barcelona. We're getting ready to hit the road tomorrow!

Feb 14


O.K! all admit it, this wasen't my favrite Valentines Day, except for beeing with Mummy and Daddy, because we did 9 hours driving, so we would only have to go 1 hour to Barcelona the nest day (only 97 km), which would be easy. Going to Tarragona was a "you diden't need to go on a scenic road" type drive, which was good, becuse the scenic roads are so slow! The mountins here are so pretty! Blue skys, trees - whatever!

Having a good lunch at a gas, bed and food place was o.k. exept for the fact I had a loose tooth so the bread (crusty) and ham (chewy) sandwiches did not help! But I ended up having a yougert and a bit of the bread. The Repsols are big with stores - oh, Repsol a gas type to, with lots of stuff, candy, needs, eveything, well, sort of :) After getting back on the highway, not having streched out very much, wasen't exciting, but it was okay, I guess. But Tarragona was still a couple kilometers away and getting to Tarragona was a relif! We parked "close" to the hotel we were looking at and guess what? We saw a statue with people climbing over each other to get to the top! Also, a fountin with people with animals! The hotel worked out and we went to a really expenisive restraunt for dinner. The driving tomorrow was...

P.S. Happy Valentines Day Everybody!

Feb 15-16


...great. Going to Barcelona meant city, but who cares? Why: we are going to see Gaudi stuff! Such as the Sagrada Famila (Holy Family in English), houses and the park. Beacuse the Sagrda Famila is supposed to be tall with complacatied looking towers (true), the houses with neat styles and the park with dragons (fake). Did you know: Gaudi made a man sit down on a still-wet plaster bench barenaked? (!) Arriving just at the outskirts of Barcelona made it look like a city! Also we went on such a long-looking road called "Diagonal Avenue" which looked really diagonal, compared to the other streets. Finsing our hotel was a relif, even though it was hours less driving, but still you know, it felt good. Are hotel was like a 3ish-4ish star hotel, but it's supposed to be a 4 tar. Sort of I guees it was one. After we went to a mall which had everything! had dinner, went home, G.N!

"P.S. Monserrat and the Finaclur"

The mountins here are one of the omigosh-ha-ha ones, because they look like people!! Kids or adults who like rollercoasters: ok, the finacular was slow but you know when the roller-coaster comes straight for a bit and then go's down so steep. We did that but really slower. :) We got great viewpoints from the top and (not that I'm bragging) we got to stand on the moutins with great views! Going down to the Basica was exicting again because it was the same great views! we saw a huge cathedral with a black and gold staue of Mary and Jesus.

Feb 16

"Sagrada Familia! One of those snap sights!"


Wow. We've been to some ok churces but this one....wow! We got up pretty early beacuse we knew there'd be a huge lineup later in the day. Walking a next-door road to Salva Del Mar to the metro staion to go to are transfer place and it was so not busy! It was also cold! When we got to Sagrada Famia station we walked up the stairs and we could aready see the church! Did you know in English, Sagrada Famia means Holy Family! As we entered all of a sudden i was sculptere world even on the outside! Images of Mary, Jesus and Joseph! The cruifiction of Jesus was visable to. As we walked inside we saw stained---oh! yey, the towers! They are so huge---glass!

They were still working on the building so we coulen't see almost all of the big building but we could see most of it! And 1 out of 4 towers were available to go up, but you coulden't go up by stairs. You had to go by lift. When we got to the top we saw magnifacent views over Barcealona! The stair case going down (you could go up by lift and go down by stairs or lift) was countining. When you looked down the circle-shaped hole you could see down and down and down below to the bootem but it looks sprile. When we got to the bottom we walked over to a museum and saw models and lots more! Did you know: that these things are supposed to look like waves? Dad went up in a tower, well we watched a movie about Gaudi! Had lunch and went to a street down a long avenue with...street performers! Such as: fairys, Death, clowns, flowers, hide-behind-a-box-jump outers, and that's all, I guees! Went to dinner, went home, G.N.

Feb 17


"Guell Park, and the scary (giggles*not) dragons!"

I was so looking forward to this park! Dragons, neat mouments, what else? Well...we started of the good day by going on the 3rd favourtie metro! Not usuly busy. I'm not saying that it was when we got on. This was a good metro. And (a story from India) there was no sign saying "no riding on the roof of the train." When we got to Lesseps station, we folloed the signs to the Park. When you turn the corner to the Guell Park, you see a ginger-bread house looking building with a cross on top of it! Arriving at the park ment seeing a street performer! When you got inside and up the steps you saw a dragon! Up a couple steps again and to another dragon...but a BENCH! Then we went on a long sort of walk which included magnicent views over Barcelona (some including the Sagrada Famila), a sign saying "why call it tourist seson if you can't shoot them," playgrounds, a tower, the thing that looked like waves, feeing pigones with last of bread and cheese crusts, a museum, and small enough balls that you could jump over.

Went home (if you think its the end) found this 3X bigger then normal tobbagon slides (made of metal), had dinner, G.N!

Feb 18


"Back to La Rambla and the usual street performers"

This day was are last day in Barcelona. I was sad. Maybe it was because it was raining and I couldn't show Mum one of the tobbagen slides that I really liked, or the neat Gaudi stuff. We took the metro (very sad beacuse I liked pressing the buttons) down to a street with a internet place, Pans (a fast food Spanish place), a bank (a specific one) and a travel (only) book store. First we went to a bank but couldn't do what we wanted to do unless we had a account in Barclays, so moved on. Travel store: huge bookstore with books to Europe, Asia, India, Africa, America, anywhere (p.s. we had gone to internet earlier). We got a travel with kids by footprint guides which was beter then a take your kids to Europe book! Lunch at Pans and company was good before going down La Ramblas and seeing (some) street performers. After going down a twisty street neborhood we saw a playground, went in there, and a old hospetil. Went down another one and got 1 euro choclet for free! Went to a movie called Sweeney Todd - played by: Jhonny Depp, Alan Rickman (Snape in Harry Potter), Timothy Spall (Wormtail/Peter Pettigrew) and Helena Bonham Carter and thats all. Went home had dinner. G.N!

Posted by jennrob 00:33 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

Costa del Sol Revisited

A Casa in Nerja

sunny 21 °C

Front of our house for a week; we had the "first" floor

Feb 7-8


Getting to Nerja, we were thrilled with how "Casa Charlotte," and our first-floor apartment in it, looked. It's probably the nicest self-caterng accomodation we've stayed in, even nicer than Goa. The welcome from Frans and Nuttee, the owners, was very warm. It included Frans taking us across the street for a welcome drink and some tapas! We ate on the patio. It's been between 17 and 23, and non-stop sun, since we left Madrid. Costa de Sol!

View from a bedroom balcony

Nerja is a pretty little city perched above the Mediterranean, with streets that slope down to its beaches. The streets have a variety of cobblestone patterns. The squares and traffic circles all have either fountains or sculptures. Parking is free, and the idea seems to be: find a spot anywhere, then get out and walk. It's all about pedestrians. We're about four blocks from the water, with a view (from the rooftop patio) of both the mountains and the sea. The first evening we watched the sun go down from what's called "The Balcony of Europe," not too far from our "casa."

Another view from our balcony. Just kidding! Looking east from the Balcony of Europe

There's lots of choices for eating, but we started with Joanny's, which was recommended to us. It's a little Spanish/English place, with great Shrimps Pil-Pil, we discovered. I mention the English because, after all, this part of Spain is to retired English what Florida is to retired Canadians. So we're running with a wild crowd here!

Feb 9


A day trip along the coast today, as far as Mijas. We wanted to check out this town again, because it's where we stayed ten years ago with Jenn's parents and sister. We'd heard it had changed a lot, and it had, but not all for the worse, despite signs of overdevelopment. Mijas is busier now, but the panoramic views from the mountainside are still preserved. They've also made some great pedestrian walkways, and, by the bullring, a children's playground. Anica's been enjoying the many playgrounds so far in Spain! At lunch, Anica entertained us by reading a magazine's trivia questions and giving us mixed-up answers using the answer key. "How many children did Queen Victoria have?" "---96." "What do Italians call Milan?" "---Beatrix Potter."

Later, we even drove up past the exact house Jenn's parents rented at Christmas/New Year's of 19996. Still looks nice!

Feb 10


Another sunny day in the coast of sun! Perversely, we decided to go inside a cave. The Nerja cave is quite famous, and quite huge. It was well worth the visit. We haven't been in a cavern as big as the largest single chamber is here. Exploring it was pretty tame and touristry, with its paved pathways and handrails, but it's still an impressive place. It was discovered by five local boys in 1961. Although humans lived in it for thousands of years, it had been empty since at least 4000 BCE.

Anica seems really happy that people aren't trying to touch her or get her picture taken here in Spain. And, in every city we've been in, even in the most touristry parts, there haven't been touts and hawkers all over us, spoiling our browsing. Jenn and Anica really like that change. Yet another nice playground, too, at the Nerja caves site, so Anica got to swing and slide around for a while.

Then we went down to the beach for the famous "paella" at Ayo's. The owner there, oddly enough, is one of the five who discovered the caves. Ayo's is right on the beach, and although there were some people in swimsuits, when the wind blew it was pretty chilly. We gobbled our paella, and got out of there pretty quickly.

Feb 11


Today we took a day-trip to Granada to visit the Alhambra, the famous Moorish/Spanish palace/fort complex. It's been described as a heaven on earth, and was on the short-list of nominations for the new wonders of the world. The weather's usually a little colder in Granada, which is at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas. Today, however, is as beautiful: about 14 degrees, with brilliant sunshine. I appreciated the Alhambra even more than I did when I saw it ten years ago, thanks to better weather, and Ancia's enthusiasm. She rarely makes us feel like we're dragging her to these places, and sometimes she is so interested that it's incrediblly infectious. She was like that today with the Alhambra.

Justica Gate, an entrance to the Alhambra

Even before we entered, Anica was taking pictures of every detail that caught her eye in Granada. We parked at the Alhambra site, which is practically a garden or park even before you go in, then walked down the long slope to the town. We had lunch in a piazza, then walked down the Gran Via and all the way around the cathedral. Anica was bouncing along, taking pictures of everything from gargoyles to graffiti. When she ran around an empty piazza, I said " you should save your energy; we have to walk up the hill again to the Alhambra." She said, "Dad, I did Petra for two days; I have lots of energy!" Good point.

Good place to find lunch. Plaza Nueva, Granada

We picked up a book about the Alhambra, done like an eyewitness book with lots of labelled photos and drawings. Good move, for just 8 Euros, because Anica was able to act like our tour guide and read from it as we visited the different parts. We loved the Charles V fountain, and the Justice Gate, which we used to enter the site. The views from the Alcazar today were crystal clear: in one direction, the modern town, in another the gardens and an abbey, in another the snow-capped mountains, in another a hillside dotted with modernized cave-homes and topped with a small church.

From the Alhambra's Keep, looking toward the Sierra Nevadas

At 3:30, we used our "timed tickets" to enter the Nasrid Palaces. A word about tickets: ten years ago, everyone just crowded around a ricketedy old tour booth and bought their tickets. This time, we bought in advance on the internet and used a machine at the site to print them.

The trio of palaces is great, but we did have a major disappointment in the "Courtyard of the Lions." The lions themselves, probably the most famous image of the Alhambra were gone! Taken away for restoration, leaving just the bare fountain, not even running. Anica had already read ahead and was looking forward to seeing them. All we could do is say, whenever you travel, there's always some part of historical sites undergoing restoration. Otherwise it will all crumble eventually.

Wondering Where The Lions Are? Gone away from the famous courtyard for restoration

We sped back down the freeway, not much more than an hour, to Nerja, in order to enjoy a dinner where we could simply walk back to Casa Charlotte. We ate at "Langham's," fancier than we'd usually choose (based on what we would have paid in Granada), and very delicious after a busy day.

Nasrid Palace Detail, of tiles, archways, carved surfaces

Feb 13


For the record, we visited another little pretty hillside town today, Frigiliana, quite close to Nerja. Very hilly! Jenn bought a stylized "gecko" decoration. I think geckos have been a constant in this trip, so that seems appropriate. Yesterday was a quiet day, wandering around Nerja, enjoying the playground and view over the sea, having more shrimps pil-pil at Joanny's. All three of agree that Casa Charlotte and Nerja in general has been one of the absolute nicest places we've ever stayed.

Frigiliana street/staircase

Also for the record, Nerja is where Jenn did a ton of planning for the Europe part of the trip, choosing week-long rental accomodations. Not that we're here, we realize even more how few hotel/hostel choices there are in our budget, so we're going mainly for the self-catering flat options. Also, we've booked several more in advance in the past week because so many of our preferred choices are filling up. Now, that said, we don't have a clue where we're staying tomorrow night!

Feb 7


"Going to Nerja"

Today we got up and went on a highway and scenic road to Nerja. When we got on the scenic road we saw mountins, also coulered rocks (naturel) and really high peakes over the clouds! First we stopped at Malaga where we looked in a department store, had Dunkin coffe, and go to Imaganarium. When we got to Nerja we saw are place. clean, nice and best of all (plus two bedrooms, 1 bathroom and kitchen) Bunk beds! Had tapas, rested, had dinner, g.n.

Feb 8


"Mijas up on the hill"

Today we went to Mijas. It was a town up on a hill so it was very pretty up there over looking the houses, with pools and lawns, a city and the Meditrainian. When we got up we saw a good place to have lunch and there we got: mushroom and chicken pie for Mum, sausage roll for Dad, and x2 cheese on toast for me. Then we went to a pretty rock/cave church with magnifcent views!

"Ermita de la Virgen de Pena, Mijas

After we went to a playground with a amusment park sort of ride. Went home with the usal magnifcent view (me, exicted to get back beacuse I had got a "Flaminco" dance Barbie dress), rested, had dinner, G.N!

Feb 10


"Nerja Caves"

Today when we got up we went on and off between the Sunday Flea Market and the Nerja caves. I know that I probaly would of liked the Flea Market, but at the end of the day, I was really glad that we went to the Nerja caves. The drive to the Nerja caves, was short and easy. When we arrived there, it was busy from tour groups to couples to famalies from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, England and the U.S.A.! Everywhere! It was so busy! When we got into the caves we saw an archaeological site with sruff like brushs and stuff. Neat stuff! When we got deeper you had to get your picture taken! Boo-hoo! Then we saw a cracked skull! N-E-A-T! After we saw stalagmites in a h-u-g-e cavern! After the caves we went back, rested, had dinner. G.N!

Feb 11


"Granada and the Alhambra"

When we got to this day I was so exicted! A Muslim (past) place! Taken over by the Christans! :( When we got there we had booked tickets so we would'ent have to stand in a Prado-like lineup. So we got our tickets from a aready-booked machine before going to get lunch at a lovely place. Then we went to a pretty Cathedral. After we went to the Alhambra! History: "The Charles V Fountain reflects a desire of conquerors of Islam to Christianize--blah blah blah...Here's some good/interesting stuff about the masks on it: "It is not certain whether the mysterious are meant to repransant Granadas 3 rivers or the three sesons: ears of wheat for summer, flowers for spring and grapes for autumn."

Detail from Charles V fountain. Can you tell which season he is?

I really enjoyed the Alhambra and the Alcazabra, seeing the Nasrid Palaces (even, without the lions) and Towers. SO NEAT! We had ice cream to! I did-not-want-to-leave. O my gosh! I forgot to tell you: SNOW CAPPED MOUNTIN in 17c weather! And you could see them! Lucikly I bought binoculers a couple days ago so I could see the cave homes and them. Went home, had dinner, G.N.

Even better with binoculars! View of Granada's cathedral from above

Posted by jennrob 23:48 Archived in Spain Comments (3)

Art and the Art of Driving

Madrid and the road south

all seasons in one day

Windmills and olives? Must be Spain!

Jan 4


We landed in Madrid, effortlessly contacted our car rental company, immediately were picked up and taken to our brand new, sleek Peugot 207 (ours for five months!), which we drove directly to a lovely budget hotel around the corner, and then....went out again....and got completely...and spectacuarly...lost. Well, we had to push our luck. We had no map, no Spanish, and no directions. Well, we thought we had directions. The trio at the reception desk argued for a while about how to direct us to the big shopping centre. Then the one who spoke English gave us the directions, while the other two shook their heads. Then he said "good luck." So how lost were we? We went through a 1,760 metre tunnel that we didn't want to, we took a round trip on a toll highway that we didn't want to, we passed by the shopping centre several times without being able to get it, and...our crowning glory...we ended up back at the airport. All this with the gas light on. But, after much effort, and asking for directions, we got all our errands done (ATM, gas, dinner, buying that i-pod thing that connects to your car radio), and didn't get half as lost on the way back. I used that "amazing race" trick of asking a taxi driver if we could follow him, but he refused. Speaking English, he said, "look you're only two kilometres away, you can do this! I'll give you directions." And we did it!

Brand new ride

I also found out that maybe I do speak French fairly well, because I couldn't unuderstand the Spanish spoken today at all! To read it, I can pick out words, but listening or speaking I'm lost. There's that word again: lost.

Jan 5


Our one full day in Madrid, before we head farther south in Spain. So went to the Prado, one of the world's greatest art galleries. What a difference a day makes: we got directions and a map, and we flawlessly exeecuted the drive into the heart of the city. The catch? The parking lot was already full. And the next one. And the next one. Not having a car until now meant never having to look for a parking spot. Even in Amman, we learned from Rusha that you "park where you want." Not so in Madrid. But, eventually we fouund one that was really close to the Prado. Still feeling good about our skills, we were stunned to see a huge line-up to buy tickets. An hour later, at noon, we were inside. So much for a morning at the Prado, but no matter.

The Prado, including statue of Velasquez

What a beautiful place, with wonderful art. I was most interested in seeing Goya's dark pictures, and Anica, too, enjoyed the grotesque monsters, portraits of dwarves, and masterful royal portraits. And the Velasquez and El Greco paintings, also very extensively collected here.

One room had Brueghel's "Triumph of Death," which Anica and I spent a long time examining. Violence! Skeletons! Also, a man at work "copying" it had subtly changed all the symbols to re-cast it as the Nazis killing Jews. Meanwhile, Jenn was drawn to Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" tritypch. That's another gruesome artwork we all found new things in by seeing it in person. Have you ever noticed the ice-skating duckbilled platypus before? Check it out.

Anyway, I won't go on any more about the great paintings. But I could!

Madrid itself, where we walked today, reminded me of just why "culture" and "civilization" are often synonmous with Europe. We've seen some marvellous places on this trip, but we've seen urban avenues so impressive and clean, lined by buildings of such sumptous architecture. There's also a "finished" quality to the buildings here, that was especially lacking in the Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia.

Jan 6


A big driving day. Sometimes it's like you're learning to travel all over again! But more about that later.

We started out from Madrid at -1 degrees celsius, which involved scraping frost off our windshield with my Ontario health card (less important right now than a credit card). By the time we'd reached Cordoba, about 400 km south, it was 23 degrees! In between was fog. Four seasons in one day, indeed!

Fog was the big feature of our whistle stop tour of Toledo. Parking was nerve-racking, because we had to hand over the keys and let them squeeze our brand-new car into a "space" that existed in their vivid imaginations.

You can't go wrong just walking around Toledo. Unesco just gave up and blanketed it all with the World Heritage label. It's one of those old-world mazes, and mostly pedestrian streets. Fog ruined some of the views from the hilltops, but before we left it lifted enough to for us to see how the rivers surround it on three sides. Anica had her first "churros and chocolate" snack, a Spanish favourite of ours.

Twists and turns in Toleo

Back in the car, we made good time in getting to Cordoba. Then it got interesting. We had the name of one "hostal" in the old quarter, and that we'd visit the "Mesquita" of Cordoba in the morning, and then move on to Nerja, where a rental flat awaits. Well, even with signs pointing the way to this hotel's parking lot, we never caught sight of either the parking or the hotel! In and out, round and round we went, looking for any hotel, really. Cordoba's ancient streets are not made for automobiles, as we knew. We've actually been here before! As in: should have known better. Eventually we looked at two hotels; one was full and the other had no option for three to sleep comfortably. So, after two or three hours, we gave up on Cordoba, and headed south, looking for the next hotel in the next town. Anica was pretty upset, thinking we would never find a place to sleep. It was only eight o'clock, but to her the search must have seen endless. Add that to the 400 km we already drove today, and we were over eight hours in the car. The "stress" of travelling is self-imposed, and anyone reading this is probably thinking "hey, it beats working," or some such sentiment. Still, there's something elemental about not being able to find shelter for the night. It is pretty stressful.

About fifty kilometres south of Cordoba, we found a pretty nicely-maintained roadside hotel/restaurant, and checked in there. The kitchen was just getting going at nine o'clock, this being Spain, so we were able to have dinner. A surprisingly good dinner, and not just because we were so hungry either. Anica bounced back immediately, and didn't even want to go to sleep until she'd written and drawn in her diary. All's well that...

Jan 7


Even closer to Nerja now, we decided to take the slower, more scenic route to Nerja. Would this, too, be pushing our luck? Our driving experiences in the last three days have involved getting lost, nearly running out of gas, and not having a place to stop for the night. Now we were looking at taking a winding, mountainous route to Malaga.

Part of the road between Antequerra and Malaga

But we found our way easily, and loved the drive from Antequerra down to Malaga. If this is what the mapmakers mean when they designate a "scenic route", then we'll have to look for these again. The rest of the day we spent in Nerja, but that's another story!

Feb 4


"We are in Spain! Got our own car! Most of all: Europe!"

Today we got on a lovely little flight on a nice little airline called "Tunis Air." It was only two hours so I reread the 7th Harry Potter book (I had finished a 607 page and 36 chatper book in less then 7 days!) When we arrived at Madrid International Airport we saw are Peugeot guy and went to our car! It was so nice! Found a nice 3-star hotel called "Express by Holiday Inn" and had dinner G.N. The Worst of the Day: why, why does Madrid have almost no signs? Why? because they expect all the people to be from Spain? Yes? That's right. At least in this neberhoughd. We were just driving along and were totally close to empty of gas, on a big highway (no worries there) and arrived at a toll! We could-not-turn-around! And then all of a sudden we were in a 2km long tunnel. When we got to a parking garage we asked directions to this hotel? They gave us some pretty good ones, and we got a mall that we wanted to go to, but on the way back (and having gas less then a cm from zero) we did mess up...by going to another town! But lucikly Dad got instructions from a taxi driver and getting gas (big thumbs up for me) and getting...back to our hotel! (me doing a yay-yay dance and song), me really tired, getting home at 10:33, so really tired. Mum said it might be a big laugh tomorow or later, going "One day my parents took me out all over the place." We semmed so glad to get back. G.N.

Feb 5


"Prado Museum"

Today we went to a pretty famous and nice art museum also with carvings and statues. The drive there was o.k., but also...we-did-NOT-get-lost! Hip-hip horray! But we did go on a serch for parking. Not to hard but we did see a very nice station, but not as good as London's Kings Cross! When we got to the Prado we got in a h-u-g-e (!) lineup to buy tickets! My favourties where: this one with a king and queen looking in a mirror, ladys in waiting, princess, and the artist himself! One with still life of shallots, carrots, apples, ducks, lemons, and herbs. Also a neat monster eating a barenaked person! And a camera-taken photo you would have thought, but no! drawed! It was a pic of a cardinal. And most of all...The Triumph of Death!!! It was the best. So tricky to explain. Had lunch, looked around some more, went home, had dinner, G.N!

Feb 6


Today we got in our Pegout 207 and drove to Cordoba. We going to Toledo we saw a big Christian church. Dad said "it was built only for Al Grecos painting to go inside." Not the opposite! Then we walked over to a place with many minature nun dolls inside. There we got have churros and chocolate. Then we went to Cordoba where we runned around looking for a hotel! (starting worst of the day) Then we got out of Cordoba, but before we saw a big Michelin place with a huge fire! Smoke everywhere! It was so black! And I mean everywhere! We looked at one hotel in Cordoba, "Boston Hotel" (Blah) Then when we got out of Cordoba we looked at a place/Hostal but to cold! Then we looked at a place across a sreet: too expensive. Then we went to another place and we went there. G.N

Posted by jennrob 01:35 Archived in Spain Comments (5)

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