Posted by: Jay & Christina | May 3, 2011

Reminiscing Laos

One thing good about being home is that I am able to develop my black and white film! I almost forgot what was on these rolls. Luckily they survived all the X-ray machines they went through. I had two other rolls that contained photographs from the Middle East and South America that were not so lucky. Next time I travel I’m taking a lead bag for sure. Wanted to share these photos from our time in Laos.

The Mekong river trip to Luang Prabang (read about it here)

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Father and Son

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Children resting from their swim, on the banks of the Mekong

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Another river boat in hot pursuit

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Early morning in a village by the Mekong

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Construction crew making emergency repairs on telephone lines

Luang Prabang (read about it here)

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Morning Alms

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I sometimes forget that I have black and white film when shooting sunsets. ūüôā

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This was the morning market where one could buy fresh fruits, vegetables and a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast.

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Some farmers would sell their produce on blankets laid on the floor

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The occasional vendor selling frogs

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And beetles

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Going to the market is a family affair

Si Phan Don (read about it here)

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The view from our boat when we left the peace and quiet of Don Khon

To be back on the road again…sigh.
Hope you enjoyed the pictures.

Jay

Posted by: Jay & Christina | April 22, 2011

Finishing What We Started

Back in late 2009, a few months before our trip, we decided to start training for the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January 2010. I’ve always enjoyed running, but never ran further than 3 miles. Serendipitously, I was surrounded by a group of veteran marathoner friends. With their words of encouragement and advice, I bought myself a proper pair of running shoes and began running for real.

I never thought I could get past the 3-mile mental block I had created for myself. When I realized I could run 5 miles, I was over the moon! Then my mentality became: Well, if I can run 5 miles, then I can run 6 miles. And if I can run 6 miles, then I can run 7 miles, etc. After each run, I felt a satisfied sense of accomplishment. It was a confidence booster as well as a great way to relieve stress. I felt calm.

Leaving everything we know with no job, no home, and definite uncertainty for the next 9+ months? No problem!

Except….

The race sold out. A January race selling out in October? We didn’t realize it was so popular. We soon found out that the Carlsbad Half Marathon is the first of three races for the Half Marathon Triple Crown. The second is La Jolla Half Marathon in April, and the third is America’s Finest City in August. If a runner completes all three races in one calendar year, you get a nifty medal and a big pat on the back.

We were a little bummed we couldn’t run the Carlsbad Half, but we continued training anyway. We peaked at around 10 miles, but inevitably, we started to focus more on preparing for our trip.

One of the things we really missed while we traveled was running. There were times and places where going for a run would have been really awesome. But we had to keep our packs as light as possible, and choosing between our hiking shoes and our running shoes, our hiking shoes won.

When we returned home 4 months ago, one of the first things we did was unpack our running shoes and go for a jog. We were curious where our fitness level was or wasn’t. We went for a 2-mile run. I was a little surprised that we I had the endurance for it, but the next day, and a few days after, our bodies felt like one giant muscle cramp. After that initial run, though, we were able to build up our miles again pretty quickly. Feeling encouraged, we decided to sign up for the La Jolla Half Marathon. I was a little intimidated to run this race since the course has quite a few hills, one of which is a monster climb at the entrance of Torrey Pines State Reserve. The trade-off is that most of the run is along some of the most scenic coastlines in San Diego.


View near the end of the course

Jay and I, being unemployed, and trying not to go stir-crazy, trained for this race like it was our jobs. We ran our long runs on the monster hill once a week for 6 weeks. Even though it was challenging, the vast ocean views and San Diego sun always left us feeling incredibly grateful.

Race day came and went. Our good friends were rooting for us at the finish line. Thankfully, the weather was cool and overcast. It didn’t make for the most beautiful day to enjoy the Pacific views, but it was good running weather. After it was all over, the sun came out.

We did it: 13.1 miles from Del Mar to La Jolla. We finished what we started.


Jay and I decided early on in our training that we’d run separately since I’m a slowpoke. And Jay rocked it! Pretty incredible for his first half!

As I crossed the finish line, I told myself that I’d never do anything like this again. I mean, why am I running 13 miles for FUN? My feet were burning, I was sweaty, and the last hill at mile 12 was demoralizing. But, here I am, a few days later, and already signed up for our next half marathon, America’s Finest City, in August.

If things keep going this way, who knows what’s in store for us in the next few years. Triple Crown? A full marathon (meh, I’m not so convinced with that one)? All I know is that running has kept us sane before our trip, and it is keeping us sane upon our return. Thanks endorphins.

Christina

Posted by: Jay & Christina | March 29, 2011

Classic Paris in Black & White

Gare du Nord

Before arriving in Paris, I knew that this was one place I had to shoot with black and white film. Paris is one of those cities that exudes feelings of wonder, nostalgia, and romance. My goal was to capture these emotions with the classic medium of photography, black and white film. I figured I owed it to some of the pioneers of street photography like Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson, greats who used to wander the city’s streets and capture some of the most iconic images ever to be recorded on silver. My photographs don’t even compare, but I hope I was able to convey the energy and life I found in the beautiful city.

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Arc de Triomphe

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Gare du Nord

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Concorde Station

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Pont Neuf

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Running away from mom

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Cat in a store window

They do carry baguettes everywhere
Baguettes in one hand becomes a microphone to someone else

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Man carries palette into home

On the amusement ride
It must be great to grow up in a city like this. One of the many amusement rides that can be found all around the city.

Market
There were wonderful street markets throughout the city

Looking down
Crossing the canal

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Playing hoops in the city

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Paris has some of the sexiest billboards

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Santa’s Elves on patrol

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A street vendor along the Seine River allowed me to take his photograph

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Everyone in Paris seems to be so well-dressed. This statement comes from a backpacker wearing the same clothes for the past nine months.

Man in hat and heavy coat

Parisien taxi

Crepe man
I could eat crepes and baguettes all day

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School children crossing the street

As Christina said in our previous post, the streets of Paris provided great inspiration to me. There is a feeling that is hard to describe when walking around the streets with a camera in a place as so iconic as Paris. It opened my eyes and mind in trying to see the beauty in the everyday, even now here at home, three months later in California. I hope the feeling does not fade.

‘Til next time,

Jay

Posted by: Jay & Christina | March 21, 2011

Paris, I Love You

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Our first full day in Paris. Oh my.

This is the weather we experienced on our first day in Paris. The morning started out okay. We wanted to take advantage of our centrally-located rented apartment and venture out in the city. We made it out to our first stop of the day, the Notre Dame cathedral. It was cold and cloudy, but as we got further away from the apartment, the snow started. At first, it was just a gentle snow fall. When we reached Notre Dame, the snow was coming down a little harder, but nothing too crazy. We had a look inside and warmed up a bit.

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Mass was in progress, so we made it a quick visit. On the way out, we lit a candle.

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Outside, we were greeted by whipping snow and wind. Snow started to blanket the ground which we heard was very unusual for Paris.

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Wind and snow! What are wimpy Southern Californians like us to do? Eek!

We charged on but the weather kept getting rougher. We decided to hightail it to a museum for the rest of the afternoon. We chose to go to the Mus√©e d’Orsay. It’s a gorgeous museum inside an old train station. It highlights many works of impressionist artists that called Paris home.

While we walked along the Seine River, the snow was whipping like sharp icy darts into our faces. The wind was blasting the hoods off our heads, and our scarves had turned to scarf-sicles. We decided to turn into a small side-street for shelter against the wind. Down the street, we saw the foggy windows of a small crepe restaurant packed with people, and we went in to have lunch. We managed to get the last two open chairs, sipped on hot alcoholic cider, and feasted on savory crepes and delicious sweet crepes for dessert.

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Buckwheat crepe with ham and cheese topped with a sunny-side egg and side salad. Yummm…

We were feeling warm and cozy from lunch so we were reluctant to step outside again. But, we bundled up, headed out, and walked the last few snow-blasting minutes to the museum. Once inside, we spent many hours meandering around appreciating the art (and the heaters) with a boat-load of fellow patrons who had the same idea.

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Snow-covered statutes outside Mus√©e d’Orsay

By the time we were ready to leave, the weather hadn’t let up, but we were able to find a subway station (eventually), and make it back to our dry, warm apartment for a home-made dinner and a bottle of wine. Perfection.

Thankfully, that was as bad as it got during our stay.

Like Barcelona, Jay and I have been to Paris in previous trips, so we wanted to spend our last week of our entire round-the-world trip relaxed. We didn’t want to stress out if we didn’t see or re-see everything we planned to. We did what we wanted at our own pace.

The one thing I always remembered about Paris was its beauty, but I don’t remember really loving it. This visit changed my mind. I LOVE Paris. Now I understand why people get all ga-ga goo-goo over it. The city is gorgeous, sophisticated, the food is fabulous, and everyone we interacted with was absolutely lovely, but there is something more than that. It’s a feeling. I can’t explain it, but it really lives up to all the romantic notions that are conjured up in your mind when someone says “Paris”.

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Does this picture even need a caption? One of the most iconic landmarks ever.

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Arc de Triomphe

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One day, we spent a few hours up in the neighborhood of Montmartre, former stomping grounds to a plethora of legendary artists. Montmartre sits high up on a hill that requires lots of stair-climbing. We thought about finding all the places filmed in the movie, “Amelie”, but we forgot to bring a map so we just wandered around instead.

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View of Paris from Montmartre

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Basilica of the Sacr√© CŇďur

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We were also able to meet with the two fabulous gals we met while trekking in Thailand, Isabelle and Céline! We met for dinner and drinks at a small restaurant.

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Us and the lovely ladies

We ate a very comforting bowl of beef bourguignon and enjoyed catching up! It was just for a short few hours but it was great to see familiar faces and get great recommendations around the city.

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Tasty beef bourguignon

One of our last days, we made it to the Mus√©e Rodin. I’m not a big fan of sculpture art and I was hesitant of going to a museum of only sculptures. But, this museum dedicated to the works of Auguste Rodin was really fantastic. I have a newfound appreciation of sculptors and their craft. I highly recommend a visit to anyone.

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The Thinker


A thinker and Jay

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One of my favorites. This one was made by Camille Claudel, a close associate of Rodin’s.

For Jay and his cameras, Paris was a visual playground:

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Smiling in Motion

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Lovely Afternoon Sunlight

Paris had some beautiful storefronts.

Through a Cafe Window

Patisserie = Yummy Macaroons

Storefront

What would be a visit to Paris without a stroll along the Seine?

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Scene on the Seine

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Our last sunset in Paris.

Merci
Merci beaucoup!

We were having such a great time in Paris, but the reality of going home loomed over our heads. We felt a resistance to going back to “normal” life, but we were tired, crusty, dried-up backpackers. We admitted that we felt ready to go home.

We didn’t do everything we wanted to while we were here. We didn’t go to the catacombs, we didn’t re-visit the Louvre, we didn’t venture out to Versailles, we didn’t climb the Eiffel Tower, the list goes on and on. Maybe subconsciously we didn’t do these things because we truly believe that this was not our last visit.

We woke up our final morning in Paris feeling almost as we did the morning 9 months ago when we left for our round the world adventure. It was a whirlwind of emotions from excitement to nervousness and anticipation for what lies ahead in our future. The only difference was we had answered the one question we had asked ourselves the day we stepped onto our first flight: Are we crazy for doing this? The answer: Of course we are! And it was the best thing we have ever done! But, for now, it was time to bid Paris adieu. With our wanderlust temporarily satiated, Jay and I strapped on our backpacks for the last time, and made our bittersweet journey home.

Au revoir,
Christina

Posted by: Jay & Christina | March 15, 2011

Dear Japan

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Our stomachs are in knots by the disaster in Japan. Thankfully, our friends there are safe and unharmed, but our hearts ache at the lives lost and the horrendous damage created by the devastating earthquake.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Japan.

Posted by: Jay & Christina | March 9, 2011

Inside Dal√≠’s World

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Salvador Dal√≠ – wouldn’t you love to pick his brain?

During our stay in Barcelona, Jay and I took a day trip out to Dal√≠’s hometown, Figueres, to visit his former home/museum. The trip was about 2 hours by train. Problem was, it took us a long time to find the train! We had to take the subway to Passeig de Gracia and find our way to the Renfe railway. The map just showed that the Renfe trains were within the same station of the subway. Easy, right? Turns out, from the subway station, you have to walk through a series of long underground tunnels to reach the Renfe station. But without clear signage, we ended up walking around the neighborhood for a good hour. We also got wrong directions from someone on the street which added to our confusion. Eventually, we found the right station and made our way to Figueres where their good signage made it a breeze to find the museum.

Let’s start the tour, shall we?

This is the outside of the museum. It’s lined with giant eggs and golden statues along the top, and the walls are pegged with what looks like roasted chickens. Oh, the fun begins!

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We entered into a spiraling hallway that goes from lobby to top floor. The walls are adorned with Dal√≠ art left and right. Since the museum was designed inside a former theater, there is a large open area opposite the entrance. In the center of the “spiral” was an outdoor space with a pretty crazy installation. Every window-ledge housed a golden figure, and in the middle stood a dripping boat with a buxom lady on the hood of an old Caddy. Rick Steve’s describes it on his website like this:

“You know how you can never get a cab when it’s raining? Pop a coin into Dal√≠’s personal 1941 Cadillac, and it rains inside the car. Look above, atop the tire tower: That’s the boat enjoyed by Dal√≠ and his soulmate, Gala ‚ÄĒ his emotional life-preserver, who kept him from going overboard. When she died…so did he (for his last seven years). Below the boat drip blue tears made of condoms.”

Since Jay’s zoom lens broke, it was difficult to get wider shots of this area. (By the way, the museum allows photography without flash, so that’s how we got so many pictures)

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The dripping boat on the left (looking out from inside the theater area)

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Buxom lady with dripping boat (looking in towards the theater)


Old Cadillac

I have to say that this was one of the most memorable, quirky, and fun museums I’ve been to. The large body of work came mostly from Dal√≠’s personal collection. It truly felt like we were inside his head ala “Being John Malkovich”. It was pretty surreal like that.

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Ants crawl on her face as she dons a corn-on-the-cob scarf and balances a baguette on her head. Huh????

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Hi!

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Abe Lincoln


The images that make up Lincoln’s face.

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Portrait of Pablo Picasso

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Hologram with a play on Las Meninas

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This was a giant ceiling mural with Dalí and his wife reaching toward heaven. I love how you can see his mustache flapping in the wind.

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Dal√≠’s wife/obsession/muse

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And another favorite was this room called, “Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment”.

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For this view, we had to climb a short staircase and look through a giant optical lens.

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From the ground, it looked like this:

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A lip couch, nostril fireplace, what’s not to love?

Oh, but that’s not all! Our admission ticket also included entrance to a smaller museum down the street that displayed some of Dal√≠-designed jewelry. And it was equally ca-ray-zay.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos. But, ta-da! I took a video of a pulsating Sacred Heart pendant!

Posted by: Jay & Christina | March 7, 2011

Lightening Strikes Twice…

I woke up this morning and as I blearily logged into our blog, I noticed a lot of new comments on my Barcelona post. Woah, I thought, that’s unusual. I told Jay about it and he asked if we had made Freshly Pressed. Come on, there’s no way. We made Freshly Pressed back in August on our post in Japan.

So, imagine our HUGE surprise to find that we had made it on there again!

This. Is. Weird. We promise we aren’t paying anyone off at WordPress!

To be honest, we’ve been slacking off on our posts. We’ve been home for some months now, and we found that writing about our last couple destinations kept getting pushed further down on our things-to-do list. But this past weekend, we saw a cousin who reminded us that just because WE finished our trip doesn’t mean HE was finished with it too. Sheepishly, we promised him a post and voil√°! Our Barcelona post written mostly with our cousin in mind is slapped on the front page of Freshly Pressed.

We definitely feel unworthy, not only the first time around but also the second time!

Thank you so much for all the comments, to everyone who ever visited our blog (even if it was only once!), who followed along with us, who encouraged us, supported us, and shared their own experiences with us. We are completely overwhelmed with all the great people out there passing on their positive mojo. We appreciate all your kind words!

Grateful,
Christina & Jay

P.S. Curious about where our big adventure started? You can read from the beginning here.

Posted by: Jay & Christina | March 6, 2011

Beautiful Barcelona

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Our plan was to spend a few days in Barcelona, work our way up through Southern France to our final trip destination, Paris. But, as I mentioned in the previous post, we were experiencing travelers’ burnout. And the best way to combat it was to quit moving around so often. We decided it was time to start winding down and enjoy the last bit of our travels rather than run around like lunatics. We ended up splitting our last two weeks of our trip between Barcelona and Paris. And we are so glad we did. Barcelona is fun. There is so much to see and eat and do. We loved it!

We made the long bus ride from Cuenca starting at 9am and arrived in Barcelona around 7pm. By the time we hit the steps of our rented room for the week, we were knackered. But instead of feeling stressed for lost time, we had a whole week to explore. Woohoo! We spent the rest of the week exploring the city, seeing some of the usual tourist spots, and even making it out to the town of Figueres, about a two-hour train ride, to visit Salvador Dal√≠’s former home now called the Dal√≠ Theatre and Museum.

We also made the obligatory tourist visit to La Rambla, a boulevard in the heart of Barcelona’s old city. It’s a bustling street full of vendors, street performers, shops and restaurants (read: tourist trap!). Just off this boulevard lies the Mercat de Sant Josep/ La Boqueria, a neighborhood market full of colorful fruit, fresh seafood, and ham legs dangling above the butcher stalls.

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It’s a rainbow of colors

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Giant gamba

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Neck-deep in ham legs. I don’t think I was disturbed when I saw this in person, but this photo changes my mind.

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Right next to the ham stalls was a vegetarian stall where “organic is orgasmic”. Pretty bold statement, I’d say.

From La Rambla, we were able to end up at the waterfront and we strolled around admiring the blue waters and imagining how nice it’d be in warmer weather.

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There were these strange “arty” looking buoys in the water. From far away, it looks like a boy peeing into the sea. Up close, we realized it’s a boy holding a star behind his back as he gazes at the sky.

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I like the boy peeing in the water better, like a Spanish version of Belgium’s Manneken Pis.

One of our main goals in Barcelona was to find a bar/restaurant that served a type of tapas called pintxos (pronounced “pinchos”). They consist of tasty morsels of various fresh ingredients (i.e. tomatoes, manchego cheese, anchovy, shrimp, iberico ham, olive oil, etc) topped on a slice of bread and held together in place by a toothpick. They are displayed in large plates on top of the bar. Pintxos are typical of the Basque region of Spain (more northwest of Barcelona. Barcelona is in the Catalonia region). But since we weren’t going to be making it to the Basque region this time around, we figured eating the pintxos in Barcelona would be close enough. Lo and behold, as we wandered around, we found a pintxos bar, and gorged ourselves silly on some deliciousness.

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The normal course of action goes like this: order a drink, eat as many pintxos that your heart desires, count the number of toothpicks, pay the bill.

We also spent some time checking out the museums of some of Spain’s most famous artists, Pablo Picasso and Joan Mir√≥.

The Mir√≥ museum was really great except that I wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked. The collection of his work is vast and varied, so it kept things interesting. The museum is high up on a hill in the Parc de Montju√Įc neighborhood. It was a great walk from our rented room to the museum. They also had an outdoor space with great views of Barcelona.

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View from the Joan Miró Foundation

The Picasso Museum is in the neighborhood of Montcada and the museum is in an old medieval building along a narrow cobblestone pedestrian-only street. Of course with the popularity of the Picasso Museum, there are plenty of tourist traps along the way in forms of restaurants, shops, and street vendors. But, it’s a cool place to just wander about and get lost.

Picasso Museum

A pretty interesting tidbit about the museum:

In 1957, Picasso had become completely obsessed with a 1656 painting by Diego Vel√°zquez called Las Meninas. It’s a very famous painting, and it hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid (sidenote: Picasso’s very famous painting called Guernica is also in Madrid at the Museo Reina Sof√≠a). The painting IS really fascinating. It looks like a snapshot from a moment in time. Picasso proceeded to paint 58 interpretations of this painting in a period of 4 months. A whole giant room in the museum is dedicated to Picasso’s renditions.


Las Meninas by Vel√°zquez

There was also a special exhibit about the influence of Edgar Degas on Picasso, especially all the ballet paintings and bronze sculptures Degas is famous for. Picasso also created paintings and bronze sculptures with his interpretations of Degas’ works. So, the take away message for me was: Picasso really liked interpreting other artists’ works.

The rest of the museum was okay. It contained a really large collection of Picasso’s earlier works, and personal collections from Picasso’s close friends. It was really interesting to see his artistic development and experimentation through the years, but for me, I left feeling a little underwhelmed. I think mostly, I didn’t feel like the chronological setup of the museum flowed very well. Or I don’t know, maybe I had museum burnout as well…

Okay, enough whining about burnout and let’s move onto some other good stuff.

Jay and I had both been to Barcelona separately when we were in college and there was one place that had made a big impression on both of us, and we were really excited to see it again: La Sagrada Familia. It’s a gigantic Catholic cathedral designed by the revered Catalan architect, Antonio Gaud√≠.

Gaudí also designed some notable landmarks in Barcelona, each becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The two most popular buildings are in the neighborhood of Eixample along the very shi-shi Passeig de Gràcia.

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Casa Batlló

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Casa Milà

Gaud√≠ also designed an outdoor space called Park G√ľell. We took Barcelona’s awesome subway system to reach Park G√ľell. Outside the subway entrance, we ended up following a load of tourists in the direction of the park. We ended up at a very steep neighborhood street that had escalators to the top. Phew!

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If you can peel your eyes away from this super-flattering photo of me, look behind me to see how steep the street was. Hurray for escalators!

The view at the top was awesome! We got lucky with the weather.

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This street performer serenaded us with Elvis songs as we climbed our way to the top.
I'm All Shook Up

There was a nice winding trail that led us to the entrance of the park which was surrounded by footpaths, bridges, fountains, mosaics, and a terrace to look over the city.

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A footpath underneath a bridge.

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The terrace is great for people-watching and soaking in the sun. That is, if you can find a space to sit.

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On the terrace looking out

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Staircase up to the terrace

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People were waiting in line to take pictures with this mosaic lizard.

Finally, we saved the best visit for last, Gaud√≠’s magnum opus, La Sagrada Familia. The building of the church began in 1882 and it’s expected to be completed in 2026. It will have taken 144 years to build this church, and exactly 100 years after Gaud√≠’s death. A lot of the reason that it’s taking so long is that the whole construction is funded by donations, and revenue from admissions’ tickets into the church. Also, at the time that Gaud√≠ envisioned his masterpiece, the technology to actually build it was simply not there. Talk about someone ahead of his time!

We went there 3 days in a row trying to get inside the gates of the church and have a chance to climb one of its towering spires. First day, we arrived too late to climb the towers. Second day, the line was really, really long. The third day, the line was even longer than the day before, but we decided to wait the 2 hours in a line that circled the entire block.

I found this picture online of a scale model of what the completed structure will look like:

Come on, that’s pretty nuts, right?

And, here are some pictures that Jay took:

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The towers

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The Passion Facade

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The door at the entrance of the cathedral

The inside was more magnificent than I could have imagined. It was incredible. Gaud√≠’s concept was for the columns to resemble trees. Gaud√≠’s vision allows the visitor’s imaginations to run wild. I felt like I was in a magic forest.

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We were able to go up one side of the spires by elevator. We reached the top and was able to walk across at a vertigo-inducing height to see the city below us.

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We decided to walk down instead of taking the elevator back. We ended up in a dizzying spiral staircase that took us down to the main floor.

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It was pretty exciting to see how much had progressed since our last visits. I really hope one day we get to see the completed structure 15 years from now.

That pretty much sums up our time in Barcelona. We had such a fantastic time in the city. Here’s looking forward to 2026!

By the way, if you think some of the stuff we saw in Barcelona was out of this world, wait until our next post on the Dalí Museum in Figueres!

Hasta luego,
Christina

Posted by: Jay & Christina | February 11, 2011

Sojourning Through Toledo + Cuenca

Our next two Spanish destinations, Toledo and Cuenca, led us into the region of Castilla-La Mancha. They are both medieval cities perched high up on a hill which meant we added in some cardio fitness into our travels with steep uphill walking.

First up was the city of Toledo. There was no direct way there from Córdoba, and we had to make our way via Madrid. We took a bus to Madrid, managed our way to another bus station by subway, and waited for the next bus to Toledo. The whole trip took over 5 hours. We arrived at the Toledo station and immediately had a view of the old Toledo where the Tagus River snakes around the walled city, and the cobblestone streets climb its way up around the hill. Slowly but steadily, we hiked up to our room for the next couple nights.

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Hmmm…Where should we go in this town called Toledo?

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One of the many portals to enter Toledo’s old city

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A view of the city

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Taking Divine Inspiration to a whole new level

There is no doubt that Toledo is beautiful. It was home to the artist, El Greco, and many of his works, including one of his most famous pieces called The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. There are also many museums, churches, restaurants, and medieval architecture galore.

But….

I wasn’t that into it. Travelers’ burn-out hit me like a ton of bricks by this time. After all, too much of a good thing can be just that-too much. The past 8 months had been CRAZY, and it blew my mind what we had experienced. We had set a date to return home, and it was creeping closer everyday. Seeing the end of the road should have given us a new vigor for traveling and we should of been carpe diem-ing like no other, but in reality, we were tired. And, I was having medieval city overload. So, in that sense, Toledo didn’t stand out to me. Just your standard, everyday, run-of-the-mill medieval city. Sorry Toledo. I’m sure you are way more interesting than I gave you credit for.

Our next stop was Cuenca. By the time we arrived in Cuenca, it was late, dark, cold, and raining. Hurray!

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We passed a snowstorm on the bus ride to Cuenca. Brrrr!

What we read of Cuenca was that the new town was a sprawling city on the base of the hill. The old medieval city is situated high on a hill with steep cliffs on either side of it. We decided to stay in new town at Torremangana Hotel which was within a reasonable walking distance to the old city, but a bit of a walk from the bus station. We had some shoddy directions, but we eventually made it to the hotel, and rested up for the evening.

In the morning, we stocked up on tasty pastries at a corner bakery, and winded our way up the steep climb to Cuenca’s old town.

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Buns-of-steel in the making

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More stairs and uphill walking will justify that pastry I’ll scarf down later

We reached the top to the main square and it was nearly empty and really quiet. Hmmm, not much going on here.

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The main square. Where is everyone?

We walked to the end of the city streets and walked beyond the city walls to see this view:

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What the? So gorgeous!

Woohoo! I was excited again!

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There was a short hiking trail that led down to the new town. Mid-trail, we came upon a deserted shell of a house and let our imaginations run free as we explored it.

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This house had fantastic views

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The view of old town from near the bottom. Ominous clouds loom over us.

We ended our mini-hike at St. Paul Convent, which is now some government offices and a small museum (we didn’t bother going in).

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St. Paul Convent to the left

To get to St. Paul Convent required us to cross a long and very high footbridge. As we approached the bridge, I started getting jittery from my fear of heights.

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I gotta do what now? Eeek!

It’s hard to see it in the pictures, but this bridge was very, very high. Jay wouldn’t let me chicken out, so I walked directly in the middle of the bridge. I kept walking and walking and walking. I was doing okay until I hit the mid-way. Wait, did this bridge ever end? Of course, at that point, I psyched myself out, and the cold sweat started running down my forehead. Then, Jay comes running across from behind me, shaking the bridge like an earthquake, and a smile on his face like woohoo, isn’t this fun??

On the endless walk back across the scary bridge, we were able to admire Cuenca’s most famous houses called Las Casas Colgadas, or the Hanging Houses.

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Fine examples of Cuenca houses that were built into the rock. And just like that, the sky is blue and the sun shines.

We walked down a little further and noticed these residential buildings 10 stories high smashed up against each other.

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We are guessing that on the other side of these buildings, the ground floor starts on what we see as the 6th or 7th floor

What a cool city. Cuenca wasn’t very touristy (I’m sure tourists don’t typically come here in December). The new town and old town were stark contrasts of one another. There wasn’t a whole lot to do besides marvel at the dramatic cliffs with Cuenca’s old town built confidently on top of it. But, it definitely impressed me enough to snap me out of my medieval ho-hum doldrum.

Next city, Barcelona!

Hasta luego,

Christina

Posted by: Jay & Christina | February 2, 2011

Our Andalusian Adventure Continues!

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Our next Spanish destination took us to the city of Córdoba, a medieval town in the region of Andalusia. A lot of people take a day trip from Sevilla, but we were continuing northward toward Barcelona, and made a two-day pit stop.

C√≥rdoba 001 Not really sure what’s going on in C√≥rdoba in 2016, but they are definitely ready for it.

C√≥rdoba is most famous for its Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque-Cathedral). The original structure switched hands between the Christians and the Moors a couple times. The building and construction was mostly completed by the Moors, but now it’s a Catholic cathedral.

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The outer walls of the Mezquita-Catedral Córdoba 065

The huge interior of the Mesquita-Catedral is simply breathtaking. There are so many small intricate details on the walls, rows and rows of pillars, and symmetrical red and white archways.

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And smack-dab in the middle of this building is a cathedral, complete with alter, domes, and religious figures.

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It felt like we were in a church and a mosque mashed-up in one building.

We also spent a couple hours wandering around the Alc√°zar de los Reyes Cristianos (The Palace of Christian Monarchs). It was one of the primary residences of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. So, it explains why there was a statue of them with Christopher Columbus.

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The palace was not really that interesting, just a place to walk around. But, the nicely manicured garden was okay enough to make the visit pleasant.

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We loved C√≥rdoba. Sure, the city is nice. Sure, the Mezquita-Catedral is impressive. Sure, the little side streets and medieval feel is cool. But, mostly, we fell in love with C√≥rdoba for the food. Mmmmm, foooood…I should warn you now that the rest of this post will be rambling on and on about food.

We ate a few meals/snacks at a little tapas bar right next to the Mezquita-Catedral called Bar Santos. They are famous for their Tortilla Espa√Īola, a Spanish omelet (not the Mexican flatbread us Californians usually think of). Jay and I frequently ate Tortilla Espa√Īola at home. Jay learned to make it from a cooking show, and it was a staple in our diet. It’s easy, quick, and it required only a short list of ingredients: eggs, potatoes, onion, and Jay liked to throw in some green olives for saltiness. We’ve never had a true Tortilla Espa√Īola before, and this was the perfect introduction to it.

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At first bite, I wasn’t too impressed but I soon realized how my fork kept going back for a piece of the huge slice sitting in front of me. The potatoes were velvety and smooth, the egg was fluffy, and each bite was filled with the perfect amount of saltiness. We were fans. We also tried other dishes, which we really liked. It was the perfect place for a small meal.

Since we were spending Thanksgiving in Córdoba, we wanted to splash out a little bit from our usual budget-conscious fares. A quick search on tripadvisor turned up a restaurant called Ziryab Taberna Gastronomica. We decided to take a stab at it, and showed up at 8pm.

Oh yeah, that reminds me to mention meal times in Spain. It’s pretty similar to that of what we experienced in Argentina- large lunches, a long siesta, and late dinners. However, for us, being frequently on the move (sight-seeing, transiting to a different city, what have you), we sometimes missed our window of opportunity for lunch. If we wanted to eat a late lunch, say around 2pm, we were going hungry. Restaurants and most eating establishments closed for siesta between 2pm and re-open at 8pm. So, thankfully, places like Bar Santos, which didn’t close for siesta, kept our bellies full.

Back to our Thanksgiving feast: We showed up at Ziryab Taberna Gastronomica at 8pm, and they were just opening their doors, so we were the first patrons in. Faux pas? Who cares, we were hungry!

Once we seated, we looked over the menu as we enjoyed a glass of red wine. The menu was in Spanish, and we did an okay job of navigating through it and picking out our dishes. We started out with a typical Andalusian dish called Salmorejo. It’s a thick, almost pasty, gazpacho-type soup made of tomatoes, and topped with Iberian ham and croutons. Yum!

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Then, we had their oh-so-delectable fried eggplant drizzled with honey. It was so good, we were too busy gobbling it up to bother with a photo. Then, came the main course, the grilled squid risotto. It was divine! The squid was cooked perfectly, and the risotto was creamy and perfectly seasoned.

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And we finished off our meal with a shared dessert of frozen yogurt with fresh berries. The meal was perfection for a very reasonable price of about 35 Euros. We easily would’ve paid more for this meal. The quality, the clean flavors, and the service made us feel all fancy-schmancy, which was pretty difficult to do at this stage in the game. We were feeling scrubby despite having tried our best to clean up with our very limited clothing options. The waiter could have fooled us with his impeccable service and his perfect English. I felt like I was dripping in diamonds, and sashayed out of that place in my hoodie with dignity! We loved it so much, we went back for another meal the following night, tried other items on their menu, and were equally impressed and satisfied.

Unfortunately, we had a couple misses too. For example, how can anyone do churros con chocolate wrong? Apparently, this one place advertising churros con chocolate in their window can.

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Greasy microwaved churros with thick nasty hot chocolate. Boo. And I was so looking forward to it too.

Our final lunch excursion in C√≥rdoba took us to a restaurant called Casa El Pisto/Taberna San Miguel. It was a charming family-run establishment filled with sophisticated locals and tourists. The decor was fantastic with walls adorned with paintings by Julio Romero de Torres. I’m not sure that they were originals, but they were really beautiful to look at.

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We ate a few different tapas, pretty forgettable, a bit on the salty side, but the service was great, and the house wine was pretty tasty. The only dish we bothered to photograph was the first: a ceviche-type salad of sliced white onions, marinated white fish, orange chunks, olive oil, and lots of salt. Some bites were too salty for me, but some bites that weren’t had a nice balance of sweet and salty.

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So, that was it. We came to Córdoba, we ate, and we left. We made our next move to the cities of Toledo and Cuenca in the region of Castilla La Mancha.

Adios!
Christina

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