Monday, December 20, 2010

we've moved!

hi there! it's obviously been quite a while since i posted anything, but i'm very excited to tell you about my new blog, two{wandering}. i do hope you'll stop by for a visit sometime!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

welcome, baby jayden!

i officially have a beautiful healthy new neice!
jayden nicole was born (three weeks early!) at 1:12 pm today. she is 19-and-a-half inches long and she weighs 7 pounds, 7 ounces.
she has a full head of hair and she smells like heaven!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

may: spain!

the last few days of april were spent preparing for our anniversary-moon trip to spain!

our trip began on the 30th. we were so excited that we got to the airport four hours early. we ate breakfast, did a crossword, people-watched, bought magazines, anything we could to pass the time. the people-watching part was pretty entertaining, actually, since we happened to be at the airport at the height of the swine flu hysteria (those masks do nothing, people!). of course that's not to say that i didn't bring some air-borne and lots of hand sanitizer with me...

we ate lunch at pop-eyes (it's a weird travel tradition we have) before boarding the plane for our first flight to atlanta. we had a long enough layover there to grab a snack and let our loved ones know we'd made it safely to our next leg of the journey.

the eight-ish hour flight from atlanta to barcelona went smoothly as it could have possibly gone; we both got a little bit of sleep, and we had those little tv screens in the back of the seats in front of us that let you choose what you want to watch and when you want to watch it (they actually had some pretty good movies!). the food was gross, but what can you do? we had to fill out lots of paperwork - the usual stuff with some added bonus materials due to the swine flu - before they would let us off the plane, and then they bused us from the plane BCN...

spain: day one (arrival in barcelona)

when we arrived in barcelona, it was raining. after grabbing some cash from the atm, we took a cab to our hotel on the passieg de gracia...we were both a little sleep-deprived and foggy and i don't even think we had realized that we were actually in spain. we weren't able to check into the hotel when we got there, so we dropped off our bags, borrowed an umbrella, and set out to do a little exploring.

first stop: breakfast. we stopped in a little chain coffee shop for coffee and croissants (they made hearts out of our coffee foam!).
after breakfast we walked up the street past gaudi's famous casa mila (la pedrera) and wandered the streets of barcelona, marvelling at the beauty and history of nearly every building we saw. even the lamp posts were lovely! the rain cleared up and the sun came out, so the bright colors of the city could be seen the way they were meant to be seen. we made it all the way up to avinguda diagonal before we realized that (a) we really didn't have a clue where we were, and (b) we were pretty much delirious from fatigue and hunger. so we headed back more or less the way we had come, and found a quick bite to eat in a quiet cafe. we made our way back to the hotel just in time for a nice long siesta...

four-and-a-half hours later, we got cleaned up and went up to the rooftop of the hotel for the most magnificent view of the city you could possibly imagine -- la sagrada familia, against a mountain backdrop and surrounded by its perpetual cranes, was there to greet us when we got off of the elevator; we turned to the right to see the beautiful mediterranean sea, and one more turn to the right took us to a view of montjuic; in between was gaudi's casa battlo... i'm fairly certain i got a little teary-eyed (and i'm fairly certain also that this was not the only time i got a little teary-eyed) -- i was seeing these amazing things that i had read about, studied, wanted to see, in college but also in high school -- it was too much. i am so blessed.
once we had taken it all in, we headed down to the hotel lounge for a couple of before-dinner drinks (it was only 9:00 or so, and i'd heard that nobody ate dinner before 11). i had my first glass of cava (catalan champagne), and i fell in love. it was only cava for me after that!

we were feeling adventurous, so we decided to try out a restaurant that i'd read about in my guidebook, taverna basca irati. it was hard to find, and we had to some scary turns down some dark and narrow streets, but eventually we found it. the place was long, narrow, and crow. ded. as soon as we walked in the door we got yelled at in catalan (of which i understand nothing), but we figured out that they were warning us to keep our belongings close to us in the crowded place. waiters were continually bringing out serving platters of pinchos (bite-sized servings of different foods on top of bread held together by toothpicks) and setting them down on the long bar. a not-so-nice barmaid gave us a plate and explained to us that we would eat what we wanted and then pay at the end of the night based on how many toothpicks were left on our plate. (honor system? what??) so we pushed our way through the crowd of locals to get a sampling of pinchos -- we didn't always know what it was that we were eating, but more often than not it was pretty delicious. it was loud, hot, and more or less insane in there, but it was the most fun!

after dinner we made our way to las ramblas, the super-touristy main drag of barcelona. we watched all the different people doing their different things; tourists and locals, street performers and vendors. we walked all the way down to the port, and saw the christopher columbus statue all lit up in the center of the plaza. on our way back to the hotel, we got some yummy ice cream for dessert. we wanted to go back to the rooftop, but it was closed, so, exhausted, we climbed into bed for some much-needed slumber!

spain: day two (la rambla to the port)

apparently, we needed lots of slumber, because we slept till 11 a.m. on day two of our anniversary-moon (oops!).

once we got up and running, we walked down towards placa catalunya for a breakfast (brunch?) of coffee and pastries. we stepped into el corte ingles (a popular department store chain with everything you could possibly imagine) and were immediately overwhelmed and overstimulated. the number of people and the number of things to look at was staggering. we made a mental note for later of where the grocery store was, and then we made a hasty retreat.

from the corte ingles we wandered down to la rambla, which is a completely different scene during the day than it is at night. one entire section of the rambla is lined with vendors selling the most beautiful and colorful flowers, of every imaginable variety, big and small. the colors and smells were so powerful and just absolutely enchanting. the next section of the rambla was filled with vendors selling all sorts of apartment-sized pets: birds, ferrets, bunnies, turtles, ducks, hamsters, etc. lots of them were babies, and they were so adorable and so much fun to watch.

a little farther down, we came to the mercat de sant josep de la boqueria, an open-air market with endless aisles of booths where you could buy just about any type of food you could ever even think of - fresh fruits and veggies, fresh fish and meats, nuts and candies and chocolates - and they were all arranged so artfully and thoughtfully. i could see why this place was packed with people - it was such a treat to just admire the displays, and to be surrounded by all of the different colors and smells. we paid a euro for a cup of fresh blended fruit juice (strawberry and some other fruit we'd never heard of) and it was delicious, of course.

we continued down the rambla, past our friend christopher columbus, to the port. we crossed the rambla del mar (a fancy pedestrian bridge that looks like waves) to get to the maremagnum mall. lunch was fish and chips (and cava and cerveza) out on the boardwalk, where we could sit in the sun and watch the boats out in the harbor for a little while. after we did a little shopping in the mall, we went to the aquarium, because we can never resist an aquarium. i have to say that the aquarium was a little...disappointing. there was not even one otter there! we did see a fish that we'd never seen or heard of before, but aside from that, i wasn't impressed (plus, the photo booth ate our euros!).

as we were leaving the aquarium, we saw a poster for an imax film that we had seen on our very first trip together (to new orleans)! guess they don't make new movies too often. we indulged in a little chocolate waffle action before heading back up the rambla towards placa catalunya. on the way, i stopped to take a drink from the fontana de canaletes - the legend says that he who drinks from this fountain will fall in love with the city and will one day return (i think it worked...).

once we'd made it back to placa catalunya, we braved the pandemonium that was el corte ingles. we needed groceries. snacks. provisions. it was beyond crowded in the supermarket, seeing as it was an hour to closing on a saturday night and the store was closed on sundays. and it was impossible to find anything. by the end of it i was sure we were going to kill somebody (or each other), but somehow we made it out alive, and with our groceries no less!
after that little adventure (and all of the day's adventures), we had no energy to speak of. we stopped at a tapas place close to our hotel and ordered some yummies to go. we spent a quiet evening in the hotel room - a delicious tapas dinner in bed, accompanied by some delightful bbc programming - and then we drifted off to dreamland...

spain: day three (sunday in the barri gotic)

the thing about spain is that it didn't seem to understand my need for coffee first thing in the morning. there was no coffee maker in our hotel room, and as far as we could tell, no room service in our hotel. there was some sort of breakfast situation downstairs from six to seven a.m., but i was never awake early enough for that. so the morning of day three, alan was extra amazing and ran out for coffee from a nearby cafe. after we got dressed and ready, we picked up a light breakfast and headed back down toward the placa catalunya.

from the placa, we walked down avinguda portal d'angel, past lots of fancy shops and not-so-fancy stands selling little trinkets. we heard some music coming from one of the tiny side streets and decided to explore further, following the sounds down the narrow cobbled lane until we discovered some sort of procession... all sorts of people, young and old, were emerging from a gate in the stone wall, some playing music, some carrying a big shrine-type thing (it reminded me of a mardi-gras float with jesus on top), others were carrying banners or nothing at all. tiny older women wore black mantillas, and the musicians all wore green. they were all very serious-faced, and as they passed we followed some other onlookers through the gate into a lovely little hidden courtyard. there was a little flower shop on our left, and directly in front of us was a beautiful 15th century church. the cloister was charming and quiet, and we just couldn't believe our luck, that we had found this incredible little church, tucked away where we would never have expected to find such a thing.

we could still hear the music as we left the courtyard, although we could no longer see the procession. continuing down our original path, we came to a fork in the road. before we made our decision, we took a moment to admire a 17th-century fountain that once served as the last watering stop for horses on the way out of barcino (ancient barcelona). past the fountain, we came to a square where there were two towers, left over from the walls that surrounded the city in roman times.

eventually we came to the cathedral of barcelona, a 14th-century gothic cathedral dedicated to one of the patron saints of barcelona, santa eulalia. we toured the cloister, where thirteen geese are kept at all times, in honor of eulalia. i don't have good history with geese (they're mean!), but these ones were behind a gate, so i felt pretty safe. we left the cloister and made our way to the front of the cathedral, which sadly was under construction and hidden behind a giant picture of what it was supposed to look like. a large crowd had gathered out in the square in front of the church, and there was a group of musicians seated on the cathedral steps. it was time for the sardana dances! every sunday at noon, locals of all ages come together to celebrate catalan pride with this traditional circle dance - dancers put their belongings in the center of the circle and join hands, moving to the music made by the cobla band on the steps. we watched in awe as up to seven circles formed during each song. everyone seemed to know the dance, young and old, and anyone could join any circle at any time.

we ate a small lunch at a lovely little cafe (margherita focaccia) and wandered around the narrow cobbled streets of the gothic quarter for a bit. everywhere we turned, there were hidden plazas and sunday concerts - there was always soft music coming from somewhere. we found and toured the picasso museum, which housed an amazing collection of picasso's works from every stage in his artistic journey. it was fascinating to see it all laid out like that. and there was an entire room dedicated to his fifty-ish interpretations of velazques' famous las meninas. after the picasso museum, we ate a tortilla espanola (more like an omelet than a tortilla) at the museum's textil cafe, tucked away in a sweet little courtyard nearby.

we did a little more wandering and found ourselves in barcelona's ribera (el born) neighborhood. behind the church was a long narrow square that we learned was once used for jousting. there was also a monument with an eternal flame, dedicated to catalonia's own september 11th tragedy, a massacre of catalan patriots that happened almost three hundred years ago.

it was getting to be siesta time, so we looked for the metro (actually, got lost looking for the metro) and took it back to our hotel. after our nap, we took our cava and cerveza and hopped on the metro again, bound for the magic fountains! as it happened, our arrival at the national palace coincided with the end of a futbol game... celebrating fans were out in droves, cheering and making mischief. kids were playing in the mountain of foamy bubbles they had created in one of the small fountains. the magic fountain itself was pretty impressive - every twenty minutes or so there was a fantastic light and water show set to music. we sipped our bebidas and watched two or three different shows, and a few of the people too. this woman in particular was absolutely...mesmerized.

once we were back in the eixample, we ate a delicious tapas dinner at a table outside - seafood croquettes, patatas bravas, a bikini sandwich, and paella. they kicked us out at midnight because they were closing the outside seating area, so, satisfied with our meal and our day, we went home for some sleep!

spain: day four (gaudi and the beach)

we attempted to get up early on day four of our trip in order to avoid the crazy lines at gaudi's casa mila.
we got some strong coffee to go and drank it as fast as we could while we stood in the short line. the atrium of casa mila was an exciting taste of what was to come on our tour of the building, which was gaudi's last major work before he began working on la sagrada familia. it's nicknamed la pedrera (the quarry) because, well, it looks like a quarry. it's a little hard to describe gaudi's style - it's like he took art nouveau and ran with it all the way to crazy town (in a good way). he was inspired by nature in everything he did. the inside of the building was interesting, with its parabolic archways and its complete lack of pointed corners, but the rooftop was the best part - it felt like a disney world ride, with undulating walkways, fairytale windows, and 30 chimneys that looked like menacing knights and/or white mosaic ice cream sundaes. we sat on the roof for a little while and recorded our adventures in our travel journal, all the while soaking up the incredible city views and the strange fantasy atmosphere.

it was time for lunch. we were both craving something light and green after four days of cheese, pastries, ham, pasta, fish, salt, butter, and rice. the only place we knew for sure that would have salad was macdonald's... we were pretty ashamed of ourselves, but i will say that that was the best salad i ever had in my whole life! i'm pretty sure my body threw a party at the introduction of leafy greens filled with fiber and nutrients. we sat on a bench in the shade and did a little people watching while we thoroughly enjoyed our macdonald's salads (btw, barcelonian pedestrians have some interesting habits).

after lunch, we began the hike to parc guell. we ended up getting there the back way, which required a scary climb through an area where the walls were covered with anti-tourist graffiti... we were slightly terrified, but we made it safely to our destination. and what a destination it was! it was ten times the fantasy wonderland that la pedrera was - perhaps because it was an entire park, and gaudi's creative expressions had not been limited to the space of just one building. parc guell had been designed as a sort of high end housing development, which was an idea a hundred years or so ahead of its time. apparently, people weren't ready for that particular idea, so it became a public park for the people of barcelona to enjoy. the front gates of the park are spectacular - two gingerbread houses mark the entryway, and walking through them brings you to the most magnificent stairway and the famous multicolored mosaic dragon fountain. as you go up the stairs you come to a hall of columns with a mosaic ceiling. the columns serve to support the main terrace above, an open space surrounded by a long winding bench that resembles a serpent. the bench is ergonomically designed to fit the natural curves of your back, and like nearly everything else in the park, its entire surface is covered in beautiful mosaic tile. the wall behind the terrace has lots of little "bird's nest" alcoves - we picked one to hide out in while we ate some ice cream and listened to a band play some happy music. the entire place was just... magical.
when we were exhausted from the park, we made our way to the closest metro station and went back to our hotel room. for whatever reason, we just couldn't fall asleep for siesta-time, so we finally gave up and got ready for the evening. we took the metro again, this time out towards the water, and walked the rest of the way to the beach. we drank our grocery store cava and cerveza as the sun was setting. we took our shoes off, drew a heart in the sand, and put our feet into the mediterranean sea. then we ate tapas at an open-air restaurant on the beach - classic catalonian paella and pa amb tomaquet. it was dark as we walked back to the metro station, past the gypsies building their intricate sand castle creations. having had no siesta, we passed out almost immediately when we got back to the hotel room. i think it was the first before-midnight bedtime we'd had for the whole trip (if you know me, you know i usually go to bed before 10pm at home)!

spain: day five (last day in barcelona)

day five of our trip was our last full day in barcelona, and there was lots to do! we grabbed some coffee and breakfast pastries to go and hopped on the metro to go to la sagrada familia.

gaudi's famous church was breathtaking, to say the very least. nothing could have prepared me for it - not my high school spanish class, not my college art appreciation class or art history class - seeing it in person, right before my very eyes, was absolutely indescribable. we entered at the passion facade, a stunning portrayal of the last days of christ's life made to look stark and white and pointy, like bones and pain and sadness. we got the audio guide and learned about the symbolism and meaning that had been carefully built in to every single part of gaudi's church. the nave, a nonstop construction zone, was created to look like a forest. the supporting columns twist subtly and then branch out as they make their way up to the cieling, which looks like the forest canopy, and spaces between the leaves let the perfect amount of natural light in.
we took the elevator up to the top of the passion facade, which was an accomplishment for me, as i have an irrational and sometimes paralyzing fear of elevators, but how many times are you at the sagrada familia, right? so i took my chances, and it was more than worth it. incredible views of the city and of the rooftop details of the church were my rewards when we got to the top... and so as was a crazy winding staircase adventure to get back down. the first crazy winding staircase involved a narrow passageway and walls on either side of me, but the second one had only an outside wall and nothing to hold on to in the center; in fact you could see all the way down to the ground floor if you looked through the center (which alan told me not to do but i did anyway and immediately regretted afterward). i didn't have the guts to take a picture of that situation until i had my feet planted firmly on the bottom.

we continued our tour of the church, which took us around the nave and out to the nativity facade - if you've ever seen a picture of the sagrada familia, this is probably what you saw. it was the first and only part of the church that was finished before gaudi's death, in hopes of inspiring funding for its completion. the facade was designed to appear swollen and alive with the joy and love of christ's birth - again it was rife with religious symbolism and images from nature, and just absolutely awe-inspiring beyond words.

from the sagrada familia, we hopped on a tourist bus and headed towards montjuic (literally, "mountain of the jews"), a mountain that overlooks the port of barcelona. it is home to a joan miro museum, the '92 olympic stadium and an olympic sports museum, the catalan art museum, and an 18th-century castle. our destination was the castle at the top of montjuic. we accidentally got off at the wrong stop, so we to hike a bit to get to it. our mistake took us through a lovely botanical garden area, up an ivy-covered staircase and through secret garden pathways.

when we got to the castle, there was some sort of commotion, and we realized that a parks officer and a small group of people were trying to help a scared baby seagull who must have gotten separated from his mother. the officer finally caught the terrified little guy, and we all got to pet him! he was awkward and squawky, still in the fuzzy-baby stages, and so cute!

after that little adventure, we ate lunch in the cobble stoned inner courtyard of the castle, and then headed up to the roof to admire the view of the port below. it was a beautiful sunny day, a little windy up at the top of the mountain, but it was clear and perfect for looking out at theboats on the blue mediterranean. we were looking down at a garden on one side of the castle when we noticed a man with a few plastic shopping bags walking towards a big bush next to the garden wall. he banged something against the wall and then probably a dozen cats appeared from inside a few different bushes and ran over to him! he reached into his plastic bags and retrieved dry and wet cat food, which he then set out for the cats. i, of course, was really jealous (and missing my own cats) and decided that i wanted to go down and be loved by the kitties. when we got down there, we watched as another lady came bearing cat food and did the same thing. we got quite a show, although we learned that these were not the kind of cats that like to be petted so much.
on our way back down the mountain, we went through more garden areas and past a pretty fountain. since we didn't really know where we were going anyway, we took our chances and went exploring. we ended up finding a zip-line type swing in the garden and spent a few minutes swinging between platforms and acting like kids (who can resist a zip-line swing??).

we took the funicular from the middle of the mountain back to the metro station, and when we got back to the hotel we gathered up our dirty smelly clothes for a trip to the laundromat. the wash'n'dry was located off of the rambla, down the street from palau guell. of course, we had no clue what we were doing once we got there - you would have thought we'd never done a load of laundry in our entire lives (we have, i promise!). the man who worked there was very friendly and helpful, though, and fourteen euros later we had clean clothes!

on the way back to the hotel, we stopped at barcelona's h&m flagship store... it was incredible - ginormous and beautiful and full of fantastic clothes that i was really too tired to shop for.

in the end we were too tired for most anything. we grabbed salads to go and ate them in the hotel room while packing our bags for our next adventure: madrid!

spain: day five-and-a-half (drip...drip...drip...)

we had been in bed for maybe an hour when the dripping started.
at first we tried to ignore it. maybe we could sleep through it. i took a pill to help me sleep.
but the drips got louder. and they came faster.
and finally, at midnight-thirty, we called the front desk.
maybe there was another room that we could just sleep in for a few hours?
nope. fully booked.
so the maintenance man came up to take a look.
there was something wrong with the air conditioner.
he fixed it, kind of.
we got three hours of sleep, kind of.

spain: day six (off to madrid)

the cab came for us at 5am, when it was still dark outside. we ate a light breakfast at barcelona el prat and watched the sun come up as we waited for our plane. the flight was short - when we arrived in madrid an hour or so later we hopped on the metro and took it to the puerta del sol stop, which put us in the heart of madrid's central square. our first moments in this city were pretty overwhelming: the square was bustling with people and construction, it was noisy and disorienting, and we were running on three hours of sleep. we got our bearings fairly quickly, though, and started walking down calle mayor in the direction of our hotel.

naturally, we couldn't check in yet, so we left our bags with the friendly and energetic front desk guy and went exploring. the day was sunny and warm. we headed away from puerta del sol, towards the royal palace. we admired it from the outside, though, because (a) we were just too tired and (b) it was packed with locals that day (wednesdays are free for locals).

it was close to 9:30, and our tummies were growling, so we started looking around for some food... but to our surprise, there was almost nothing open (we were quickly learning that life in spain just doesn't start until 10am)! we happened upon a restaurant that was just opening for the day, and we went in. the menu posted outside listed 20 or so scrambled egg dishes, but when we tried to order one, the waitress looked at us like we were absolutely insane (scrambled eggs for breakfast?! preposterous!!!). apparently, those were lunch or dinner meals - i don't know. regardless of how offended spain might be, however, we ate our scrambled egg dish and went on our happy way.
on the way back, we stopped at a supermarket for a few little snacks. there was a room ready for us when we got back to our strange little hotel. it was a really cute room, and a good size... but it had... an interesting smell. it wasn't awful, but it wasn't pleasant, either. luckily we had open-able windows and a nice view of the city. we took a few hours to just relax, check our email, watch a little bit of tv, and take a siesta.

after siesta, we showered and headed over towards the prado. still a little groggy, we stopped at a starbucks (i know! i am disappointed in us too!) for some caffeine and a sandwich. we got to the museum at 6:00 (it's free from 6-8pm), and hit the highlights - goya, velazquez, rubens, titian... of course, las meninas stole the show, and it was everything i'd imagined it would be (even though i'd never really imagined i'd ever see it!).

we left the museum as it was closing and roamed around a bit until we found a lovely little tapas place nearby where we enjoyed a lovely little dinner and a lovely little drink. from there we took a little while finding our way back to calle mayor, wandering along little side streets and just looking at everything. i wanted to look at each and every street sign - they're all made of ceramic tile and painted with the street name and an illustration (from the days when most people couldn't read).
our hotel was right across the street from plaza mayor, so instead of going straight to our room, we stopped at the charming 17th-century square. it was getting dark outside, that perfect time of day when the sky is still just barely lit up by the last little bit of the day's sun. a lively combination of musicians and entertainers and tourists and locals gave the cobblestoned plaza a certain care-free energy. the statue in the center of the square and the buildings around it were lit beautifully... we got some gelato for dessert and soaked up the romantic atmosphere for a little while before heading up to our hotel room for some much-needed sleep.