Not much going on. I had a pretty good week with the kids and thought I would share these. We’ve been studying Europe so for their cooking class we prepared a British tea for Mother’s Day. Kiki brought a ton of flowers so the kids could arrange flowers with their moms too.
The air has been nice since we had the OBOR (One Belt One Road) conference in town over the weekend. The traffic has sucked though, and the police have been raiding bars and restaurants all over the city checking people’s passports and checking for drugs. They occasionally crack down but eventually it eases up. Jess and I took a bus a little ways out to Shunyi Saturday to try to escape Beijing for a little while and do some exploring.
Monday, one of my kid’s moms decided to take the whole class out to lunch. She booked a limo van to take us out to this fancy room at a really upscale restaurant with course after course. We had about half a dozen people waiting on us and a private patio with a waterfall and swinging chairs. The kids really got a kick out of it. I enjoyed it to but on the other hand this is the kind of thing that frustrates me about China. People do things like this, partly as a nice gesture, and I give her credit for that, but most of the time it’s also about mianzi, or the Chinese concept of “face”-anything to make themselves look good and gain face. As evidenced by the hundred or so photos posted on WeChat for all the other parents to see. But I’ll get more into that another time. It was still a nice day.
Beijing back in Beijing is taking some serious readjustment. It’s cold, smoggy, and I’ve been fighting the jet lag all week. So I cheered myself up by booking a couple more trips for this spring. Taiwan in March and Shanghai with Jess in April to see Wicked. I couldn’t get tickets in Beijing because the only ones not already sold out were crazy expensive. Shanghai had way more performances. Plus, I finally get to see Shanghai!
My kids were loopy this week after their break. I was so happy to see Friday. Kiki invited all CEC teachers to her house for dinner after work and we enjoyed Japanese hotpot and wine. Lots of wine.
Actually I’m posting this from the airport in Rome, where I have a 5 hour layover, but all the pictures are from yesterday, my last day in Spain (for now). I will definitely come back someday though. I think Barcelona is my favorite of the three cities I’ve been so far. I wish I’d been more organized; I was trying to find something to do Tuesday night when I got back there but all the things I wanted had to be booked in advance, like the monasteries, winery tours, Dali’s house. So Wednesday I decided to go see Park Guell:
After that I went back and wandered around La Ramba area for a while. This area is so much bigger than I thought, especially once you get off the main road. I found La Boqueria market, a gourmet paradise. I probably could have filled another suitcase with cooking supplies. They had stalls with spice, all kinds of flavored salts and olive oils, fresh fruit, dried fruits and nuts, candies, marzipan, vegetables, dates, honey, seafood, meats, even whole rabbits and pheasants and quail still covered in fur and feathers (I’ll spare you a photo of those). Basically, everything.
For now I’m actually looking forward to getting back to a normal routine for a while. The last couple months have been crazy!
So I’m in Granada now but I wanted to post a bit from my last day in Barcelona. I took a bus to the National Art Museum on Montjuic, way up in the hills. The museum has a rooftop patio where you can up to look out over the city and it was beautiful. I had the place all to myself. They had a really nice collection of medieval pieces too.
Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya
View from museum rooftop
Auditorium of art museum
From the museum I walked down to Placa Espanya and looked around, then took the metro back to Port Vell to walk around a bit. Oh, and here’s some pictures of the place I stayed:
Trapdoor into the old stone cellar
Crank to open the window way up in the wall
I got up early to Wednesday to catch my train to Granada. I love traveling by trains-so much more relaxing than flying. You can just show up 20 minutes before the train leaves, for one. And the security check is much simpler. I was supposed to change trains in Antequera but misread the ticket I guess, because instead of a train we transferred to a bus for the rest of the way to Granada. Only for an hour or so though. These pictures aren’t great since I took them from the moving bus/train, but driving through Andalusia was so pretty and quiet.
I got a cab from the bus station to my Airbnb apartment in the Albayzín of Granada. Way up in the hills and very close to the Alhambra. There’s so much Middle Eastern influence here, and so much history. It’s also more traditional than Barcelona; they take their siestas very seriously here. So many restaurants and shops were closed when I go her in the afternoon. But I met my host and love this colorful apartment. Then I got dinner at a small outdoor restaurant next door. It was a little chilly but it’s still nice to be able to be outside so much this time of year.
I was a bit worn out from Barcelona so I just took it easy today. I slept in then walked down into the center of town. These pictures are so-so since I just had my phone and it was cloudy and drizzly most of the afternoon. Still a nice walk though. Down. Coming back up the narrow, ancient, twisty cobblestone street in the rain though was work.
Then I spent the evening fighting with multiple websites but finally managed to book the rest of my trip. Leaving Sunday for Madrid for a couple days, then back to Barcelona. That’s where I fly out of so I thought I’d spend my last couple nights there since I loved it. Tomorrow I’m going to try to see the Alhambra so there will definitely be pics of that!
Note: experimenting with layout. If you click the smaller photos it will pull up a slideshow with larger photos and captions.
Finally got to tour the Sagrada Familia today! A little history, for those who don’t know: Construction began by public subscription in 1882 and the artist Antoni Gaudí took over as director about a year later. He dedicated the rest of his life to it but the church still isn’t completed; in 2010 it was finally considered half done and there doesn’t seem to be a projected completion date as the work depends on donations and ticket sales. Eighteen towers were planned but only eight have been finished so far. The central tower (that doesn’t exist yet) will make it the tallest building in Barcelona (and the tallest church in the world), but 1 meter shorter than the highest hill-Montjuíc-, as Gaudí believed that he shouldn’t build anything higher than God did. There really aren’t words to describe this place, so:
I paid the extra fee to go up the lift into the towers and it was well worth it. The lift takes you up 50 meters to a narrow open air walkway where you cross from one tower to another, and get to take in the view of the city. Then you walk down a spiral staircase in the opposite tower. The stairs are maybe 18 inches wide all the way down, steep, and, oh, spiral. For 50 meters it’s down and around, and down and around, and around, and did I mention I get vertigo? Oh yeah, it was bad. My legs were still shaking about an hour after I got to the bottom. I’d do it again though. It was breathtaking at the top. I doubt it will be completed in my lifetime but I wish I could see it finished.
I am not Christian, and more spiritual than religious, if that makes sense, but I have always wanted to see some of these European cathedrals. Most of what I do know of religion comes from studying art history extensively. For so long the two were very closely entwined. The Catholic Church in particular commissioned some of the greatest masterpieces and employed some of the greatest artists of all time. You can’t help but feel something here, surrounded by the beauty and the history.
After I left La Sagrada, I packed up and headed to my next destination: another Airbnb apartment in the Gothic quarter. I wanted to see different areas of Barcelona so when I booked my trip I decided to split my time here in a couple locations. I will try to post a video of this place tomorrow because it’s awesome-built on the ground floor of a 14th century stone building in La Rambla, that used to house a mint for making coins.
After I checked in here I took the metro a couple stops to Passeig de Gràcia. I’d heard good things about the area and the tour bus drove past yesterday but I didn’t get off there. I wanted to see Casa Batlló and Casa Milá, or La Pedrera, more Gaudí masterpieces, just a few blocks from each other.
I forget what the building next to Casa Batlló is but it’s beautiful too
Casa Batlló windows
I love the design of these benches/streetlamps
Casa Batlló windows
Casa Milá, or La Pedrera
I’m pretty sure I could stay here forever, drinking cava and sangria and eating tapas and taking pictures of amazing places (or until I run out of money). It’s a wonder I haven’t been hit by a car yet, I’ve spent so much time wandering around gaping up at these buildings. (Kidding, Mom.)
And now, let’s talk food. Or rhapsodize, more like. Also, the drinks. For lunch, I stopped at TapaFina, a small tapas bar by the Jaune 1 station on my way to my new apartment. They had display of various snacks set up on the bar, buffet style, and a “pick 6” deal, so I tried that. Tapas are just a wide variety of snacks/appetizers, so actually this place had pinchos, aka pintxos. “Pincho” is Spanish for “pierce”, and these are usually appetizers pierced to a piece of bread with a cocktail stick. Whatever you call them though, they’re amazing. Especially with cava; made like French champagne but called cava when it’s produced in Spain. For dinner, I found another tapas bar-Txapela’s-across from Casa Batlló. Highly recommend that one too. Here they have a menu and you order piece by piece, about €1-3 each. Word to the wise though-watch out for their sangria! Delicious, but I couldn’t quite see straight after only half a glass. Yeah. But it was a nice evening, a little chilly outside on the patio, but they were blasting the heaters and I ordered a cappuccino to keep warm (and sober up) while I waited for the sun to go down. I wanted to see Casa Batlló lit up at night.
Crab salad with cheese and olive
Toast with red pepper, hard boiled egg stuffed with tuna and covered with cheese. I don’t even like tuna, but somehow this was still delicious.
Pinapple, brie, and strawberry sauce
Cream cheese with nuts and strawberry drizzle
Sundried tomato, brie, and red pepper
Hamburguesa with carmelized onions and whole-grain mustard.
Traditional potato omelet on tomato bread
Shrimp, mushroom, bacon on toast with pesto.
For dessert: mint chocolate ball drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. It sounded so weird I naturally had to try it, and it was amazing. Also, help, I think I’m running out of adjectives for this country.