Sunday, August 22, 2010

Block of Discord (Barcelona)

I mentioned the Block of Discord in an earlier post from Barcelona. Here are a three photographs of the houses on this block. 
Casa Amatller (L) & Casa Batllo (R)

Casa Batllo

Casa Lleó-Morera

I will not be posting this week as I will be at Moffitt for some inpatient treatment. I expect to post the remaining photographs from Barcelona the following week.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I try not to dwell on my health situation in this blog, but since I opened a can of worms with my post from Wednesday, I thought I should bring that incident to a conclusion. Long story short, I passed out while visiting Casa Mila, probably the result of a combination of factors including dehydration, low blood pressure, fatigue, and time differences, and pushing harder that this ol' body should be. I still didn't feel up to par the next morning as we started touring the Joan Miro Museum, so we decided to err on the side of caution and return home. I went to my primary care physician yesterday, and I am fine. 
End of that story.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Travel Update

For my regular readers who are expecting future posts from Madrid, I wanted to let you know that we had to cut the trip short. I had a medical situation on Monday and the beginning of similar symptoms on Tuesday that was of sufficient concern to schedule an early return home. We are at the Philadelphia airport now, waiting on our Tampa flight. I feel fine and don't expect a recurrence but didn't want to push our luck.

Modernisme Monday

We spent most of Monday exploring the Eixample district of Barcelona where a large number of Antoni Gaudi designed structures are located. Gaudi was the most famous of the Modernisme (Catalan Art Nouveau) artists, although other Modernisme architects are also well represented in Barcelona.
We began at the Block of Discord, a one block long stretch of houses designed by these architects in a type of architectural competition. Included in this block is Gaudi's Casa Batllo which is open to the public. We opted to visit the larger Casa Mila (also by Gaudi) a few blocks away. Here we saw the lovely entrance courtyard, the rooftop with the Modernisme chimneys, and the attic formed by a series of arches used to support the roof.
Next we boarded the Bus Turistic for a short ride to our next stop, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's most famous work. Construction on this very massive, ornate, and over the top church began in 1883 and remains unfinished today. Since my last visit in 1992, I have noticed a lot of progress.  Gaudi was killed when he was run over by a tram on his way home from the construction site in 1926, and many of his drawings and plans were destroyed by bombs during the Second World War.  New architects and craftsmen are adding their own mark to this amazing structure while keeping Gaudi's original concept in mind.
Returning to our hop-on hop-off bus, we toured more of L'Eixample and some of the surrounding neighborhoods including the University district, the Royal Palace, and the 100,000 person capacity FC (football club) Barcelona stadium (soccer to us).
For dinner we ate at Qu Qu, a close to the hotel tapas bar and restaurant recommended by Paul and Libby. The tapas were very good, but the main courses less so. Go for the tapas.
This was a busy day filled with some of the most unusual architecture we have ever seen.

Travel tip: When visiting Barcelona and if you have any interest in art, purchase the Articket, which gives you admission to 6 museums, including the Picasso, Casa Mila, and the Joan Miro museum. All three had long lines to buy tickets, but the Articket allows you to skip the lines. Nice, I say.    

Casa Mila and Sagrada Familia

From the rooftop of Casa Mila with Sagrada Familia in the distance

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cava on the Balcony

We are enjoying a glass of cava (Spanish sparkling wine) on our private balcony for our late afternoon break. Yesterday, after dropping our luggage at the hotel, we headed down La Rambla, a main pedestrian area of Barcelona. Being Sunday it wasn't too crowded. This is a must do walk when you are here, but once done, it doesn't need to be repeated. It is lined with souvenir stands, flower stalls, and on weekdays, bird sellers. Apparently birds are a favorite pet in Barcelona.
We next headed to the Picasso Museum, avoiding the long ticket lines by purchasing our Articket at the hotel. This multi-museum pass allows you to skip the ticket lines. The museum focused on his earlier work from the age of 14. While there were a number of his cubist works, the majority of the work was unlike those we usually associate with Picasso.
We also visited the old cathedral in Bari Gotic, the oldest section of Barcelona, and the City History Museum. The latter was surprisingly interesting as you walked through Roman ruins from 11 BCE. As we descended in the elevator to the Roman section, well below the level of the current city, the elevator display counted back from 2010 to -11.
Dinner last night was at a Basque steakhouse not far from the cathedral, Sagardi Euskal Taberna. The anchovies cooked in olive oil and herbs were very good. It is the first time we have had fresh anchovies. (See photo from yesterday's post). We also shared a large grilled T-Bone for 2 and a side of grilled pimenton (red peppers). You better like your steak rare, as that is how it will be prepared. They don't ask how you like it cooked. That was perfect for us.
Our activities for today, Monday, will follow in another post.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Our dinner appetizer.

Fresh Anchovies in olive oil and herbs.
Very good.

It Was Oh So Civilized

We arrived in Barcelona this morning at 8AM, after a 7+ hour flight from Philadelphia. If you read my post from last Thursday you will remember my comments about being in the back of the bus. While we did not get a Paul & Libby style free upgrade, we did purchase an upgrade to Envoy, or business class when we were checking in on-line for the flight. It wasn't cheap, but less costly than if we had purchased Envoy class tickets at the time of booking. And it was much more civilized than coach. The seat fully reclined, almost flat, which made for better sleeping, such as it was. Meals are served in courses on plates, not plastic, and wine (free) was served in real glasses. Service was polite and attentive. Call me a snob... (you're a snob, Simpson), but it was a much better flying experience than being in the back of the bus. Oh, and there was plenty of overhead space. We also got to hang out in the Envoy Club while we waited on out flight to board, with free drinks and snacks. Yes, I know, nothing is really free, but let me pretend for now.

That's all I'm saying.

Sent from my iPad

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Travel Tip #1 - Money

DO NOT exchange money at the airport cambio, currency exchange booth. I know this but I still fell into their trap today before departing Tampa. I paid dearly for the "convenience". Their rate was 1.47 dollars to a Euro while the going bank rate is currently 1.27. Ouch, I say. Lesson (re)learned.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Is It Time Yet?

Have I mentioned that I am ready to go to Spain, oh, so ready. I know, it isn't like I never get to travel, but every journey generates some level of excitement for me. I have started the packing process, i.e. made my list and started laying out items to be packed. This is a very scientific process, as we both only take a carry-on size bag, hence we must pick our items very carefully. Next, the artistic part begins. Folding everything like origami, so it fits. 
And since we pack for carry-on, I have booked seats in the back of the bus. We don't have the luxury of first or business class, nor a preferred level of frequent flier membership, so I fly toward the back so we board in one of the earlier coach groups, and we can be assured of overhead space.  Now that the airlines are charging for checked luggage, carry-on space is in higher demand. (That's my rant for the day, not that it is much of a rant).
US Airways (aka Useless Airways) is our airline of choice for this trip. While we could have save a little money by flying American, that would have required longer layovers in JFK on the outbound, and Miami on the return. Now, that is a rant waiting to happen. Even travel writer, Peter Greenberg, feels that Miami is one of the worst airports.  Amen, Peter. We try to avoid it whenever possible. Our travel takes us through Philadelphia with acceptable layover times in both directions. (Deirdre, we will wave at you from the airport).
Can we leave now?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Countdown to Espana

OMG,  I cannot wait. Time to travel again and this time, another trip across the pond. Frank and I are heading to Spain for a week, and I am ready. I have only been to Spain once in 1992 with my friend Mitch. We are going to Barcelona and Madrid. The journey between the two cities is much easier now that the AVE high-speed train serves both cities. When Mitch and I flew from Madrid to Barcelona, the first boarding announcement resulted in everyone rushing to the gate en mass. Can you say "stampede?" We had no seat assignments and the flight was FULL. Ah, it will be much more civilized this time, with reserved first class seats on the AVE.
When I return I start a 5 to 6 day inpatient treatment at Moffitt, followed by a week at home, then another 5 to 6 day inpatient stay. So this trip will help me cope with a couple of weeks at the Moffitt Marriott (jk).
That's all I'm saying :-)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

To the Valley

I am in Maggie Valley, NC this week visiting my brother and get a touch of cooler weather. While cooler than St. Petersburg, the afternoon highs here are in the mid 80's, which is unusually warm for this area. At least it cools off nicely in the evening, night, and morning. And I am enjoying spending time with my brother Charles and his friend, Peg. 
I love to travel, and this is a nice change. Although I experienced a first on my flight from St. Petersburg to Greenville, SC. We pushed back from the gate on time, sat on the tarmac for five to ten minutes, then pulled back to the gate. Everyone thought it was a mechanical problem, but once back at the gate, the flight attendant announced that a passenger was being removed for a minor infraction. Oh, wow! So we were looking around for the offending passenger. It happened to be the last person to board, via a wheelchair, seated in the first row. When he was helped to his seat he had a lot of difficulty walking. While he may have been handicapped, he was also "severely intoxicated" according the a later announcement by the pilot. It took three large security gentlemen to physically carry him off the plane.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Saturday Trio

Wow, this past Saturday was BUSY ! But really good busy. 
     To start, Frank and I met our friend Andrea, Pat (a co-worker of Frank's), and Bill (Pat's husband) at The Chihuly Collection, the new gallery on Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg, devoted to works by Dale Chihuly. It is a small gallery specifically designed to showcase the individual works, which are all amazing. 
     Next stop was Cassis, a relatively new French-style brasserie on Beach Drive where we were joined by Frank's sister, Mary Ann. We all enjoyed our food, but some of the items seems a little "heavy". Frank and Bill ordered the BLT which had a basil cream sauce. Both felt they could have cut back on the sauce. I ordered the Croque Madame, a "grilled" ham and cheese with bechamel sauce and topped with a fried egg. It was crusted with cheese, and almost seemed deep fried. Tasty, but not quite what I expected. I want to try the dinner menu sometime. And we had a celebrity sighting... Emeril Lagasse was having lunch at Cassis. (Whoopee) He was  probably in town pushing his products on Home Shopping Network. 
     More food... that evening, Paul and Libby, of Paul & Libby's World of Travel fame, traveled from the far reaches of Pasco County to St. Petersburg. We dined at another new restaurant, The Hanger, at Albert Whitted Airport. The early reviews have been good, and the owner also has Parkshore Grill and 400 Beach. When this opened, I thought it was a strange location, since the airport only has private planes, and it is not in the "heart" of the downtown action. I felt he was taking a chance on opening a new restaurant at this location in difficult economic times. But, hey, what do I know... it was busy all evening Saturday. Libby ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffle, served with maple syrup AND gravy. Paul, Frank, and I each ordered the Hanger Steak with Smashed Potatoes. How can you eat at The Hanger, and not order hanger steak, eh? At least they were bright enough to include this cut on the menu. My steak was perfect, properly cooked, with a nice flavor. We were all pleased with our meals.
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