Tenerife hiking – pick your climate

Tenerife hiking – pick your climate

As demanded…. umm… requested by my buddy Mike, here’s part 2 of our Tenerife island adventure. This installment will focus on the variety of hiking adventure we enjoyed.

Our last episode ended when we arrived at our apartment rental for the week and admired a gorgeous sunset. My memory gets a little hazy here, but I think we were pretty lazy for a good day, or so, as we got our bearings in our new town: Adeje. Conveniently located on the southwest coast of the island. We picked this town because it was near enough to the tourist areas to have (we thought) lots of restaurant options and such. But, far enough away from Los Americanos to be not so touristy. Apparently the tourism barrons have also located this town because directly across from our apartment a Hard Rock casino was under construction. At first I thought it would be loud and annoying, but actually it was pretty interesting since both my husband and I enjoy construction work. Besides, our apartment faced the sea and was in the direction away from the construction and overlooking a small black lava rock bay which we were told was sometimes visited by sea turtles! 


The first couple of days at the apartment the weather was stormy and this caused the water to be cloudy – not ideal for snorkeling. We followed natures lead and relaxed. Soon, the weather cycle broke and we were greeted by sunny days, perfect for hiking. In the morning and evening we often walked on the path shown in the picture above which was also popular for dog walkers and runners. One day we met a cute dog, and his owner, who happened to be German. I asked for recommendations on a good beach to visit, preferably with a fun beach bar and cafe. He said (in German -my translation skills were becoming increasingly more valuable every day) that the best secret beach was in nearby Puertito with a fabulous Bodegon called Pepe y Lola. 

We noted this down as a destination of choice and that evening I began to research securing a permit to go to the top of El Tiede. As it turns out these are not easy to come by. Something like 50 people are allowed to the top each day to decrease the environmental impact of all the tourists. Passes were booked up for at least a month. So, that was out. We figured, well, so, we can’t go to the top, but I bet we can have some spectacular hiking in the park, and that we did!

We drove slightly south and then headed east climbing up the mountain roads to the volcano. I noticed that on this side of the island appeared to have a dryer climate and in the place of banana plantations the roads were bordered by tiered vineyards.


 As we entered the strange landscape of the volcano another rainstorm rolled in revealing other-worldly landscapes shrouded in clouds. 



We stopped to take a picture at the viewing spot for Roques de Garcia. A friendly German tourist snapped a shot for us and unfortunately our heads are completely blocking the rocks… 🙂 We popped back into the car and headed toward the visitor center to grab a map and figure out a good hike for the afternoon. Along the way we saw some incredible green rocks!


The park ranger recommended that we hike a trail called “Arenas Negras” which looped around a small peak. As we started off I noticed a big cloud bank approaching from the south and I fully anticipated we might get socked in my the storm which could likely bring visibility to a minimum as it passed over. This gave some urgency to our hike and we completed the trail much quicker than anticipated. The scenery was spectacular and, expect for passing a couple other hikers, we had the entire trail to ourselves. Quite different than our experience in the touristy valley we had left behind. My kind of hiking! Here’s some of what we saw.


On our way back to the hotel, we looped up for a quick visit to the spectacular rock formation called Los Gigantes – the giants. And giants they are! The cliffs soar over the ocean forming a fierce and unforgiving fortress.


We went to bed craving more time at the volcano, but we clearly wanted to stay away from the crowds, so the next day we headed to a region called Samara. The scenery was incredible – like walking on the moon! It was super cold, probably in the thirties, but the sun shined above us and again we had the trails nearly exclusively to ourselves. A day I will never forget as we crossed the everchanging terrain of volcanic rocks. We saw no less than Six different types of formations. One thing I particular enjoyed was admiring the sharp contrast between the pine trees and the black rocks. As we hiked, El Tiede loomed above us showing off her snowy cap.


I’m off to the gym for my morning workout. Next installment will include our beach hikes and our quick adventure in the Anaga mountains cloud forest.

Here’s a preview…

The next morning we popped into the Dino market and bought a cooler backup, loaded it up with bier and hiked off to the secret beach. The path was surprisingly easy to follow and after about an hour we found ourselves at the beach. Along the way we passed through some small camps. Crumbling brick walls marked the perimeters of old plantations…

Land and Sea

Land and Sea

This post has been in progress for over a week. Apparently, I have a lot to say about our adventure in the Canary Islands. So this is part 1 of ???? Time will tell. It’s time to let this bird fly.

Crashing surf, banana plantations, volcanic rocks, hiking trails, flowing beer, fresh fish – layered over a soundtrack of Spanish, German and English language. This was our experience in Tenerife. We chose this particular Canary island because it is billed as an adventurers paradise and it didn’t disappoint. 
If you’re looking for a place where you can hike next to the sea at a temperature around 70 F and then later explore a deserted trail at the foot of a volcano at 30 F – then this is the place for you. 

Last October, I waited anxiously in Madrid airport at the gate for our connection to Tenerife. People lined up to board and my husband hadn’t yet arrived. I studied our itinerary and thought maybe the connection time had been too tight… boarding began and I searching the terminal awaiting his arrival. Finally, a fourth of the way through boarding, he ran up – Harley ball-cap on his head, unlaced hiking boots on his feet, wearing an old racing shirt from Louisiana and hiking shorts, a bit out of breathe, and I was so happy! We were together again after about 2 months apart. 

We boarded the flight for our island adventure. Our first views of the island were quite impressive as we approached from the north east corner. Tenerife is a Spanish Canary Island which contains the Tiede volcano – the highest elevation in Europe. It also contains miles and miles of hiking trails, rocky beaches and winding mountain roads. We love to hike, snorkel and take road trips which is why we chose this destination. 

When I started to plan our vacation I was often reminded of a trip we took to the big island of Hawaii about 8 years ago. In many ways the islands are similar. Tenerife is a bit smaller. Instead of the macadamia plantations, Tenerife has many banana plantations. Both have spactacular volcanoes and lots of rustic places to explore. Both have touristy areas that I deliberately avoided. Hawaii has Kona and Tenerife has Playa de Las Americas. Our trip to Hawaii included stays at many small hotels as we traveled counterclockwise around the island. On this trip we spent the first night in a small town of Tenerife on the north west coast called “San Vicente”. We stayed at the Hotel Rural Bentor, a place I would recommend. The hotel offered a modest modern room with spectacular views of a ravine and the ocean. But, the charm of this place was the old house and courtyard which included a breakfast area. Broad beams and typical Canary island decorations enhanced the charm. 

We checked in and then began to explore the town. I was happy that I had recently picked up the habit of spending a half hour on the stairclimber every day as we labored up steeply pitched roads. So steep that many of the sidewalks were steps! We found a cafe in the city center and enjoyed our first Dorada bier in the shadow of a towering church. Dorada quickly became our drink of choice. Fortified by bier, we continued our climb to the top of the city and found a beautiful Drago (dragon) tree. I snapped a few photos and around this time we noticed that the locals began to look at us suspiciously. This is the downside of not being in a tourist town. We didn’t feel particularly welcomed. That was ok, it was nearing sunset and we headed back toward the hotel for the evening. Along the way we stopped at a cafe and had our first, unfortunately disappointing, meal. I have to admit, I was not very impressed with the food, which was a bit sad, but on the other hand I didn’t gain any kilos on my waistline on this vacation!

That night we slept 12 hours! My husband was adjusting to the time change and I do believe I was wiped out from work. After a quick swim and a lovely breakfast on the terrace overlooking the sea we decided to take off for a hike on the coast. We decided to make it spontaneous. A quick check of google maps indicated that if we drove about 10 minutes to a nearby point surrounded by a banana plantation, we could strike out on a path in the sea cliffs. Driving through the banana plantations was very interesting. The design of the plantations was uniform across the island. The plantations were bordered by concrete brick walls or fencing and typically relatively small in size. I can only guess there might have been a threat of theft. 
We passed through a tunnel decorated with a crab motif and were greeted by a spectacular view of the ocean. 

Fisherman, standing tenuously on the rocks below, cast their lines. One cried with joy as he landed a fish. Another washed an altar with great deliberation and care. I wondered if he had lost a friend on this rough coastline. A small dog scurried about searching for scraps. The fishermens’ base camp was built up around a small cave with a rusty metal door. My curiosity beckoned me to enter the cave, but we respected their space and, after an exchange of friendly greetings, continued along the trail. 


As the elevation gently climbed, we re-entered the banana plantation. The plantation walls were made of volcanic rocks and we were delighted to discovery black and green lizards peaking out between the rocks. Later in the day we saw people feeding them bananas!

We continued along the trail and came across a view of an eerie old building, I believe it was called the Hamilton House. A local guy, originally from England, was also nearby snapping photos and he shared with us the story of the building. The building was a water pump built to pull water from the sea, desalinate it, and then pump it to the cities. The cost of desalinization was prohibitive and eventually abandoned. The water on the island is now rainwater collected in tanks, or drawn from underground aquifers filled by rain water and filtered through the volcanic rock. Droughts are a common threat and as we drove around the island we noticed elaborate pipe and covered canals criss-crossing the hillsides running water from aquifers to terraced- fields andwater tanks.
Another turn on the trail brought us on a brief stretch through town. We heard German words pouring out of a small bar and realized we were a bit hungry and thirsty. A bier and a snack, ordered in German, was just the cure to restore our strength for the return hike. This was the first time my German came in handy, and it continued to be for the rest of the trip. The common languages on the island are Spanish and German, and some people spoke English. 

The next day we checked out of our hotel and took a drive up into the mountains en route to our home-away apartment rental where we would spend the next week. Along the way, we paused to admire the statue of Bentor, the namesake of our hotel. Bentor was a local native who stood up in one of the last great fights against the Spanish invaders. I imagine that when he fought he wore clothing, but apparently the naked version of him is what people want to remember. His feet were huge! Seemed a bit like a Rodin sculpture style.

We hiked from the banana plantations and north along the coast.

We quickly entered the countryside and saw terraced fields, horses, cattle and many people walking alongside the road. 

It started to rain and we abandoned our plan to walk out to the Faro lighthouse on the northwest corner of the island. Instead we turned inland toward Masca for what would become a white-kuckled drive along a narrow road, dodging tour buses and occasionally socked in by clouds.
After surviving the road to Masca, we were happy to relax on the balcony of our rental apartment and soak up a spectacular sunset.
More to come in part 2 of our Tenerife island adventure…

Art or Adventure? Which shall I choose?

Art or Adventure? Which shall I choose?

Sometimes things don’t play out the way you imagine. Take, for instance, my life in Europe. Soon after I accepted my expat assignment in Germany, I started to think about how I would live in Europe, I assumed I would go to A LOT of museums. The Louvre was on the top of my list.

A few months later, I landed in Germany, got settled into my apartment and began to plan weekend trips. My first big trip was to Paris in November. I had all intentions to spend a day in the Louvre. But, the weather was lovely, the trees were a thousands shades of orange and yellow. The city itself was a work of art. How could I choose being inside looking at art on canvas when I was walking through a living canvas. The winter weather continued to be mild and thus began my pattern of choosing adventure over art. I began to feel like spending a beautiful day inside admiring art would be a shame.

Months passed in this way and soon I’d been in Europe for 9 months without ever entering a museum! One day I began to realize that my time in Europe would come to an end and I wondered if I would miss visiting museums. I decided that yes, I would look back and regret it if I never made it to the Louvre. So, I decided to go, and it was amazing.

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A few months before I entered the hallowed halls of the Louvre, crowded with tourists as they are, I made my first step into a museum in a place I never would have predicted… I hosted a US colleague who is originally from China. When we planned a trip to Trier he expressed strong interest to visit the home of Karl Marx. Fortunately, it was raining, so I decided to spend a few hours in the museum with no reservations. I found it to be extremely educational. In a few short hours I glimpsed the beginnings of his life, progressed through his first writings and ultimately observed the devastating impact of his ideologies being adopted in countries around the world. I left the museum a bit stunned by the power of a single individual to change the trajectory of millions of human lives.

My next stop was at the Picasso museum in Barcelona. I found this place tremendously interesting when I admired Picasso’s earliest works which were traditional and rendered with such skill at the tender age of 13! The museum progressed through his career and demonstrated the sudden shift into Impressionism and ultimately Cubanism. I also made some wonderful discoveries such as his love of pottery and a beautiful painting collection on the theme of a dove cove. A deep part of me was satisfied to know that a renowned artist could, and did, evolve through his career.every gallery held a new surprise. The pieces at the end of his life were decidedly different and disturbing. I walked away in awe at the breadth of his work.

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My next museum adventure was during a trip to Prague with my aunt and uncle. A friend recommended that we visit the Mucha museum. I’ll admit that although I’d admired Mucha’s art my entire life I had no idea who had created the beautiful Art Deco paintings of women. One rainy day, we made our way to the Mucha museum, a nice little place that walks you through the life of Mucha. I was enchanted to learn about his ability to balance the creation of art with making a living in advertising. Further, I was moved by his expression of patriotism when he dedicated the last part of his life to creating a series of huge masterpieces that share the story of the Czech people. Overall I liked the size of the museum and the way his life and interests were brought into intimate focus.

 

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After a few successful museum visits, I started to see that it could be time well-spent. I also notice me that a behavioral pattern had begun to emerge. Outside of the Louvre, nearly all my museum visits were to museums dedicated to a single artist: Picasso, Mucha, Rodin. In particular, if it was rainy outside I had discovered that a museum was a fantastic way to pass a few hours and learn about an artist. Further, in the beginning I thought a few hours in a museum was cheaper than popping into boutique shops, until I discovered the ubiquitous museum store! So much for that theory…

Now, I find that when I begin to plan a weekend adventure I like to identify one museum to visit. It definitely helps if the weather is forecasted to be crummy for a few hours. The “museum forecast”: rainy and cold (as I’ve now begun to think about it) was favorable for a trip to Amsterdam last weekend. I asked a friend from the Netherlands for a recommendation on a neighborhood in Amsterdam, booked a hotel in Ouid Pijp and started to plan the weekend.

The Van Gogh was a must do. Depending on the forecast, we also considered a visit to the Rijksmuseum which displays many of the Dutch masters. Van Gogh was incredible, but I found my head was frankly spinning after a few hours. As a counter-balancing contrast, the next day we walked through the Rijksmuseum and admired Vermeer and Rembrandt pieces. I felt transported into the scene as I gazed at “the milk maid”. After a few hours roaming the galleries, I was surprised to find myself calm and refreshed. A totally different feeling than after studying Van Gogh’s work. I pondered what caused this difference in reaction. Perhaps the brain power required to decipher what was happening in the Van Gogh paintings was a bit tiring? Who knows, it was an interesting to experience.

Our final stop was an exhibit I saw advertised as we strolled along a canal at sunrise. The Moco had a Banksy and Dali exhibit on display. How often would I have a chance to see that combination?! Fortunately, my travel buddy, Tilghman, was up for it and we went from admiring Vermeer to political street art and fantastical renderings of a self-diagnosed manic genius. The small museum, housed in a craftsman style house, was full of young people with a few token folks closer to our age roaming the rooms. I found the exhibit to be timely in the midst of the political unrest and protests in America. While I don’t agree with most of Banksy’s political sentiments (especially his opinion of police), I find his images to be startling, stark and fresh. The ability to render an emotion with a stenciled image in one, or, at most, two shades of color is a remarkable gift.

The basement level contained a collection of Dali images that were equal parts inspiring and disturbing. Although the best part of this exhibit was the incredible collection of Dali quotes on the wall. Such a big thinker and bold individual.

Now we return to the question of the day: art or adventure? I would say that in good weather, my inclination is to chose outdoor adventure. Although, if the museum forecast is favorable, I’ve come to realize that a peaceful few hours in a museum can be a refreshing and thoughtful (occasionally a bit exhausting) way to spend a weekend. As I begin to plan my next adventure, I find myself wishing, just a teensy little bit, for a few hours of rain. But, just a few hours ok, because more than that I cannot handle!

Of Stained Glass and Snails

 

 

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Parc Guell was my first glimpse into the genius of Gaudi and his remarkable ability to blend art, nature and engineering. I learned more about this when I explored Sagrada Familia. This building (to call it a building feels so inadequate) moved me in a way that has rarely happened in my life when I’m in a city. Usually these emotions of calm and peace only descend upon me in the countryside. Gaudis’ goal was to recreate the feeling of being in a forest, and this is how it felt to me. I can only imagine how incredible it would be to explore this place in solitude. As it was, I was surprisingly undisturbed by the crowds.

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I had bought my tickets in advance for a 16:45 entry into the basilica and then a climb up the passion side at 17:15. I thought this would provide ample time to explore the church, then go to the top and leave. I wound up spending more than two hours basically walking around in a dazzled amazement with my jaw often dropping in awe of what I was absorbing.

Every element of Sagrada Familia is an intentional design meant to evoke an emotion or a thought. The eastern portion is called the Nativity. This portion illustrates the beginning of Christ’s life with scenes of nature eliciting the feeling of abundance and hope. As my friend Jessica accurately described the pictures I sent her, the stone work looks a little like it was inspired by a mud dauber wasp. The work is highly textured and complex. Many portions are seemingly impossible to build – curvy dimensions coated in mosaic tiles.

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The western (Passion) side is a stark contrast with sharp, angular lines and dramatic shadows. This side depicts the Passion, or the death, of Christ. I found these carvings to be striking and bold with many faces completely blank.

I was nervous to miss my appointed entry time so I arrived about an hour before. This gave me time to try the famous churros and choco while admiring a view of the church. I found a cafe across the street and placed my order. I have enjoyed many fantastic foods in my travels and this ranks up there in the top 10, such a wonderful, simple food. Delicious and fulfilling is how I would describe this Barcelona speciality. Another friend named Jessica (yes I have a couple…) had recommended I must try this during my visit to the city.

I walked around a little while and still had some time to spare and spied one of my favorite beers on offer at another cafe near the church also with a great view, so I enjoyed a “Punk IPA”.

Hey – I had walked nearly 30 K already and I was a little calorie deficient… I shared a table with a lady who looked about 5 years younger than me. The habit of table-sharing is a wonderful tradition in Europe. It’s pretty common that if you only one or two chairs at a 2 or 4 person table that you’ll share the table with someone else, even, GASP, a stranger! Sometimes I don’t talk with the people at the table, but after walking around all day on my own and in silence, I was curious to meet this lady. She was from Wales. A former fashion designer in London who quit the corporate world and moved back to her home-town to become a baker. She was learning the trade from scratch. We had a flowing discussion about life, goals, career ambition and what truly brings happiness. I was impressed by her boldness in taking a completely different path in life. She had entered fashion for the passion of drawing and creating and when she began to work at a big fashion house all the work went to computer designs and, as she described it, selecting 20 different shades of color for a shirt design was not what she had imagined in school. When she described the act of baking, physically making something with her hands every day, she appeared supremely happy. I had the impression that baking was but one chapter in what would be a fulfilling life. We pleasantly parted ways when it was time for her to head off to watch a Eurocup game with some friends. It’s interesting the conversations that pop up when you meet someone for a bit and know you’ll probably never see them again. I find these can be the most instructive as I’m exposed to a whole new way of thinking and living.

Inside the church, my eyes were first drawn to tops of the columns and a netted area in the top of the northern corner of the church. The filtered light coming through the nets gave a smokey appearance. It reminded me of my visit to Notre Dame and the magic of a plume of incense wafting across the pews. I had a pass that included the audio tour, which was very nice by the way, informative and without too much detail. I learned that the columns were designed to recreate the form of tall trees, which they really did! The stained glass was also purposely designed to be more gentle in color on the sunrise side and more brilliant on the sunset side.

I was drawn, literally I felt magnetically pulled, to the stained glass on the southern edge of the western wall. It glowed like a fire. I have only ever seen such colors in the hot embers of a bonfire in our backyard in North Carolina. Within the stained-glass panels, the blocks of color were simple, filled with very little symbolism, drawing instead the focus to the pure element of light. After this I ascended to the top of passion tower.

The ride up is via elevator, there’s no option to walk, which made me a little sad. I really enjoy walking to the top of church towers in Europe. I learned we would have the chance to walk down the stairs, which turned out to be my favorite part. The views from the top were nice, although you’re not really very high above the city. The most interesting views came on the descent when I could get closer to the intricate towers topped with a bunch of strawberries or oranges, or whatever magical fancy was in Gaudis’ mind. Finally, we excited the main tower and began the final descendant to the bottom.

 

This section of stairway was the most incredible architecture I have experienced in all my travels. I felt that I was inside the swirl of a snail shell. Delightedly I learned that it was the intention of Gaudi to recreate the pattern of a snail she’ll in these stairs. He did it! As I stepped out of the stairs back into the main church I wandered back to the stained glass and watched the light glow on the walls for a few more moments before leaving the church to continue exploring the city. But before I left I stopped in to the gift store to select a souvenir. I was surprised to find a silver pendant that recreated the spiral of the snail staircase. This had to come home with me, and it did.

The spirals spoke to me in a unique way. Since I’ve moved to Germany I’ve taken up drawing again. A passion of mine when I was a child. My drawings often begin with a spiral and then are built into more elaborate patterns that I fill in with bold colors. Why the spiral? I can’t answer that question, but I have found that I continue to encounter these spiral patterns in my life now. The spiral staircase, a lovely pair of earrings, this meme I found on Paulo Coehlo’s Instagram… The spirals that I draw often go out, branching into interesting new patterns. Is this my life now, circular paths which slowly deviate and then come back to the same ultimate pattern? Time will tell as the pattern unfolds and I find myself again at the end which looks very similar to the beginning.

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Of Gaudi and Gothica

Of Gaudi and Gothica

My first glimpse of Gaudis’ influence on Barcelona came as I strolled down the Carerr Gran de Garcia – labeled with markers on the ground as the “Ruta Del Modernisme”. 

Quick travelers tip – you’ll notice I’m wearing Nike Flyknit shoes. I love these shoes! They pack small enough to take up the space of a pair of flip flops, provide good support and look nice with most outfits, frequent travelers who like long walks should check them out.

I noticed that the light gray tiles paving the broad pedestrian path was stamped with intricate patterns. The street lamps were supported by intriguing curvaceous poles with mosaic benches to rest and intricate wrought-iron held the lamps. 

I soon was standing in front of the Casa Amatlier. I snapped a photo with my iPhone (I left my digital camera behind on this trip so I could more easily blend in with the city) and considered paying the fee to go inside. Instead I decided to save my first real taste of Gaudi for Park Guell.


I continued to journey north and saw a fascinating curvaceous building to the right – the Casa Mila “La Pedrera” also designed by Gaudi.

Soon after this I was drawn toward an interesting building tucked behind the Palau Robert and I ventured down a narrow side street that ran parallel to the main road. I was pleasantly confined between 4 to 5 story buildings with charming doorways and shops with metal doors rolled down and every one decorated with interesting artwork. It was early in the morning and the city was slowly awakening.


As the sun creeped overhead the temperature began to climb and so did I as the elevation became steeper toward the park entry. A glorious thing happened – I began to sweat! It’s a funny thing, I rarely sweat in Germany and it feels very odd to me after having lived in so many warm and humid climates. Sweating gives me a feeling of being alive, accomplishing something, working hard. I was wearing a sleeveless dress I’d picked up at Desigual and became concerned my shoulders would burn, so I slipped in to a store to buy a blouse. The shop keeper was tucked in between shelves bursting with yarn, knitting an item. She rapidly spoke in Spanish and I spoke little as we selected a beautiful flowing blouse with embroidery features. My first souvenir. I love buying practical souvenirs. It’s less and less often that I buy a trinket that says the name of a city, but I will buy a towel, or a mouse pad, some jewelry, perhaps a pencil pouch. Basically whatever I might have bought at a store back home, as a remembrance of the adventure.

As I continued strolling through the neighborhood, I found a home brew store. I popped in to snap some photos for my dad who is a home brewer in Oregon. 

The streets became steeper and eventually I found a series of stairs with signage leading to the park. Also, suddenly I was in a crowd of people. I had reached my destination and I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to stay.


The main map of the park was painted over with spray paint asking the tourists to leave. It seems the local Barcelonians are not so fond of tourists. Of course, at this moment, I also was craving a quiet place, but that was not to be found until I discovered a tranquil man-made grotto. But before I found my haven I followed the crowds to the top of the peak when a beautiful cross is mounted. It was challenging to get a photo of the cross because all the other tourists were standing at the base of it to take pictures of the city. This vantage point was prime for photographing nearly all of Barcelona. I watched as one lady posing seductively for her husband nearly toppled backward over the edge of the hill.  A Darwin moment was narrowly avoided! There was no railing, for an American traveling abroad it’s interesting because you notice how risk averse our society is. Here in Europe you’ve got to watch out for yourself, the government ain’t gonna protect you! I waited a few minutes for the crowd to clear and finally gave up and carefully made my way down the hill. 


As I entered the heart of the park I noticed queues for tickets and discovered that the park had an entry fee. It seemed I could see enough from the outside, so I strolled about and snapped some photos of the interesting architecture encrusted in intricate tile mosaic patterns. 


I thought it might be nice to sit for a bit and saw a sign for a picnic area and headed in this direction. This is when I found the magic. I entered a sacred space and the notes of one of my favorite piano pieces (I don’t know the name but I recognized the melody) filled the air. Above me was a re-creation of a cave interior with rocks hanging in the pattern of stalagtites, arched openings lined the edges as I walked along a dirt floor in the direction of the music. This area was off the beaten path and blessedly empty of people with the exception of a talented musician playing this hauntingly beautiful music on an electric piano. I dropped some euros in his collection dish and propped myself up against a column to savor the moment. This is one I will never forget. The music rose and bounced off the walls providing incredible acoustics. When I felt like it, I pushed off and headed back in to the city, refreshed and excited for what the day would hold.


I began my quest for lunch…next installment – food, Sagrada Familia and Picasso which will finally bring us to the Gothic district.


Now I’m going to attempt to beat the rain for a bike ride on the Rhein.

48 hours in Barcelona

imageThe smoke of a hand-rolled cigarette tinged the air as I sat and clumsily ordered my final espresso before catching the metro to the Barcelona airport. “Yo quero uno espresso…bitte”. I knew my mistake as soon as the words left my mouth. Now that German is my second language I found it required all my concentration to recall the Spanish which used to be my (albeit rudimentary) second language. It’s funny how that goes with languages, whichever one I’m currently studying is always the first second word I think of when I run through the vocabulary Rolodex in my brain.

I’m at the airport waiting to catch my flight to Dusseldorf, which is delayed (as it was on the way here)… from Barcelona back to my German home. This trip was spontaneously planned and just as spontaneously executed and that is just what I needed. It’s summer in Germany but the German version of summer is not quite what I’m used to experiencing… Preferences in life are often influenced by our upbringing, and mine was in the sun-kissed San Joaquin Valley of California. A land of perpetual sun in the summertime and warm, sometimes scalding days. I loved every minute. When it was 110F my sister and I would station ourselves in front of the air conditioner and watch cartoons – Garfield was a favorite. We’d suck on flavored ice sticks (what were they called???) and then every once in a while run outside to jump through a sprinkler or slide down our metal slide that was slightly cooled by the water pumped from our well and through the water hose that I snaked through the monkey bars to keep in position. As you can tell, I love a nice hot summer.

My love for summer only grew when I moved to Texas, where the climate was similar, although with the added benefit of cooling down at night in our hill country home. In Louisiana I reveled in the heat and humidity that many find oppressive and unbearable. I was happy to be drenched in sweat from head to toe after walking a rice field or getting in a good hard run. North Carolina is more mild than Louisiana and also lovely with the summer thunderstorms that put on quite a show.

Now, Germany enters the scene and I’m having a hard time considering that what I’ve experienced in the month of June should be called summer? Frankly, most of the days feel like Louisiana wintertime it with lower humidity. One chilly day a couple of weeks ago, I pulled out my blizzard parka because the Mercury made such a quick drop. I’m a big advocate for change, but I learned a long time ago to accept the things I cannot change and weather (unfortunately) is one of those things.

One thing I can change is where I spend my weekend. So, one night I pulled out my iPad and booked a trip to Barcelona. My life needed a little Latin flair, spicy food, architecture (I heard the city had some cool stuff) and sun, Sun, SUN!!!!! And sweat, if I could work up a sweat I’d be in seventh heaven. My 48 hour ramble through Barcelona met these expectations and then more.

When I landed in Barcelona, I caught the metro (L9) to my hotel. This required one transfer on the way, but it’s no trouble on the metro, it’s a great system and the longest time I ever waited for a train was 5 minutes. My first day I walked 30 K! A new record for me. Around 20 K my leg started to bother me (I’m still recovering from my flying kick mishap – 2 months into recovery and one to go until I’m good as new), so I started to ride the metro. I bought a ten pack of tickets for 10 euros, not a bad deal and similar to what I found in Paris.

On the first night my flight was delayed (I learned from a fellow expat traveler who spends his weekends in Barcelona and his weeks in Dusseldorf that this is the norm). This isn’t a big deal because the Barcelonians don’t begin dinner until about 8. I checked in and then inquired in the lobby about a good place to find tapas. The desk clerk recommended two places – one nearby and one that was one of the best places in the city. You can imagine where I landed – of course – I found myself on the not so famous version of a smaller more quaint Le Rambla, which was perfect in every way. I tried to get a table on the main square and was informed the wait was an hour so I should inquire inside. I started to wait in line and then I spied one lone bar stool and I thought, that’s my spot. I asked the fellow perched on the neighboring bar stool and he confirmed that I could claim the bar stool as my own.

I grabbed the stool and began to take in my surroundings. The top of the bar was lined with plates loaded with tapas – toasted bread loaded with grilled meals, meat salads, cold meats with peppers, cheese creations – you name it, if it’s delicioiso it’s probably on a tapas. Below the bar was an area that looked a lot like a sushi bar. It was a place reserved for raw prawns, trays of olives, sardines, and never-ending variations on seafood salads.

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I ordered my usual which is whatever the waiter recommends. It hasn’t led me astray yet, except for that one time in Altenberg when I was persuaded to try a special cured ham which was basically SPAM (I’m convinced that the GI’s stole this concept from Germany and I’ll need some hard evidence to convince me otherwise). This time I was pleased with the offering – grilled beef for the first round and grilled shrimp for the second – both served on a nice piece of toasted baguette.

Slowly, over time, I started to chat with my fellow patrons at the tapas bar – it turned out they were from Mexico City and friendly folk. They provided some recommendations, which I halfway followed up on. It was nice to start the trip with some friendly exchanges.

On my second day in Barcelona I was feeling a little slow in the morning, yeah, that’s what eating at 10 pm will cause… I finally rolled out around 9 am. With so much to see I started out feeling a little behind. Also, when I checked in on Friday night I overhead a couple asking the desk clerk if they could print out their ticket for Sagrada Familia, which caused me to think I better get a ticket too! I started to worry it might be like the Eifel Tour which can be booked up for weeks in advance. Fortunately this is not the case and I had no trouble booking an entry to the Basilica at 17:45 and a tour to the top at 18:15. This gave me a very scary thing, a concrete schedule! I couldn’t miss my date with the family…

I looked at the map and took my usual strategy which is to go to the farthest point first and the work my way back. I threw on a dress, lightened up my bag to just the essentials, laced up my new pair of Nike Free shoes (my favorite travel accessory, pulled on some sunglasses, set my sights for Park Guelph and began walking.

One of my primary goals this trip was to avoid looking like a tourist. I had heard that pick-pocketing is terrible in Barcelona, the local economy is quit depressed so it’s not very surprising. While I do have some self defense skills, I didn’t want to need to use them, so I decided to avoid attention. I left my Nikon SLR at home and packed light. It worked for me, the only strange encounter I had was accidentally running full on into a kid when I was walking by a cool tapas bar. My breath was knocked out of me, but nothing was stolen!

Overall this city was great and I never felt unsafe. I also had many moments that I consider gems. As I walked toward Park Guelph I walked through a great old neighborhood and encountered a worker starting his day. He looked at me, paused, and then his face lit up with the most authentic, genuine grin. By reflex I grinned back and then I remembered where I was! Such a great feeling! This was book- ended about 24 hours later as I walked along La Playa and a guy rolling by on his skate board offered his hand for a slap. These moments of random human connection cannot be measured.

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My trip was interesting timing. As I departed I heard the results of Brexit – the UK is out of the EU. I honestly don’t know what to think of the conclusion. Is it good, is it bad? As an American, I can understand the desire to be free. To create your own rules and decide the structure of your society. But, another part of me, I guess this is the new European side, is concerned this will lead to more dissent, separation and emphasis of the differences between cultures, economies and societies. Are societies different than cultures? I need to do some research on this point.

When I entered Sagrada Familia, these thoughts were in my mind. This church is being built (it will be finished in 2026) by the people and for the people. This is for all people (as long as you can pay the admission I suppose). As I entered the Basilica I was mesmerized by the glowing red and orange stained glass on the western walls. I looked up and admired the towering columns that were designed to replicate trees in a forest, even down to the filtered light. Gaudi really hit it this time. I have never been so moved by a building.

I rode the elevator to the top of the passion tower and then made my way down the spiral staircase. This staircase is the singular most impressive piece of architecture I have experienced. Gaudi’s ambitious was to recreate the shape of a snail shell and he did it! I took my time descending the stairs, admiring the architecture out the window on the way.

To be continued… Now I gotta grab dinner with some expats who are heading back stateside and then take the cat for a walk in the courtyard.