A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Church of the Holy Family and Getting Settled in Barcelona

by Ben

sunny 19 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We woke up a bit short of sleep in our tiny "Medium Hotel" room. Muriel and I went out in search of breakfast and allowed the kids to sleep a bit longer. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed so I wasn't the best shopping companion for Muriel but with some patience and understanding from Muriel I came around. I eventually realized that a bad morning in Barcelona is still better than a good day back home. I think a morning coffee would really have helped me this morning but our neighbourhood didn't seem to wake up until midday so such a pick-me-up was not to be had--too bad for Muriel (Sorry dear--I am lucky you married me for better or worse).

Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

Our accommodation flip-flop did have a fringe benefit-we happen to be three blocks from Gaudi's cathedral, the Church of the Holy Family. After breakfast we went to view this amazing sight. The cathedral as a project is in the tradition of all great churches of Europe in that it is not an undertaking of years or even decades but rather centuries. The project began in the very late 1800s and is likely not to see completion for another 15 years. Gaudi's work is more like a sculpture than a building. The entire cathedral is inspired by structures and shapes found in nature giving the entire structure an organic look of some kind of forest on the inside and coral reef on the outside. It really is more interesting than beautiful in my eyes. Gaudi must have been a very charismatic figure to have inspired a city to buy into and follow through on such a Dr. Seusian structure. The people of Barcelona are to be admired for their audacity in seeing this project through.

Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

In front of the Church of the Holy Family is a large Christmas market where you can buy nativity figurines and scenes and Christmas decorations of all kinds. We decided we really couldn't have Christmas without a tree. We found a tiny tree, bought lights, decorations and a star for the top. It was really great fun to assemble these items and got us into the Christmas spirit. I bought figurines of the three wisemen so we could continue our tradition of hiding the wiseman around the house until epihany when the tradition states the wisemen visited Jesus. We take turns hiding them and whoever finds them gets to hide them again.

We managed to get off to our new apartment by the beach without a parking ticket (only 2 hour parking during the day) and got to our new place and experienced the usual treasure hunt of finding the exact location (numbering of buildings is really done randomly here) and then having to go to another location to find the office and needing to find a phone to call someone to meet you at the building. We were happy to discover that what we booked online did match what we found and maybe a bit better. Our apartment is straight out of an Ikea catalog. We will be very comfortable here. The supermarket which also has fresh fruit, cheese and meat market in the same building is half a block from our apartment-everything we need to celebrate Xmas seems at hand.

Posted by KZFamily 04:14 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona Comments (3)

Out of the Paella Pan and into the Fire: Barcelona

by Ben

sunny 18 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Paella Pan: Vente Size

Paella Pan: Vente Size

We really enjoyed Valencia in every way and were a bit sad to leave. In the morning we did a last tour around and treated ourselves to lunch at a street-side restaurant counter next to the Mercat. These kind of restaurants seem quite common in Iberia and also in Morocco. The restaurant is simply a lunch counter that opens on the sidewalk with a few stools next to the counter (if you are lucky). It is designed for a quick cheap meal or snack. It was nice to get a sampling of Valencia Paella which is different in style than that found in Madrid (I prefer the drier saffron rich Paella of the south).

Quick Lunch in Valencia

Quick Lunch in Valencia

We finally hopped in the car and paid our steep parking bill and headed out on the road. We thought we had done our research correctly and would avoid toll roads without too much of a time penalty. Alas this was not to be and we had a 5:00 pm deadline to meet our host's mother at our new digs in Barcelona. We took the toll road to cut our travel time from almost six hours down to three and paid nearly $50 Canadian for the privilege.

Our Barcelona apartment was the first, and one of the few places, we booked well in advance of our trip to Europe. We saw online, that Barcelona was fairly expensive even in the winter and it was not clear whether or not there was an influx of tourists over Christmas (there is a bit of a year-round flow of tourists into Barcelona) so we booked it right away. We did not want to economize too much on a place over Christmas since we wanted to battle any kind of home sickness or blues that may occur being away from family during this special time. We booked the place because it had Wifi, free parking, three bedrooms and a full kitchen for any kind of holiday cookingand baking we might want to do and it looked bright and new. What we found was an apartment in a sketchier neighbourhood. It took us an hour an half to find it with problems with odd numbering no parking and no one there when we showed up.

The place was in very poor condition with the oven taped shut in the kitchen, water damaged wood flooring in the living room, a balcony jammed with propane tanks and an old washer, only two bedrooms available (the other was padlocked) a bathroom with peeling paint and very gritty looking tile work, no working WiFi and no parking available for love or money. The landlord's mother didn't speak English and may have only spoken very little Spanish--Chinese was her first language. We finally got our landlord on the phone but didn't get very far. We decided to cut our losses as it was getting late, we would take it up with the booking agency later--we didn't want to be indebited for any kind of service so thought it better not even to stay the night.

Walking a few streets over we found a better neighbourhood with a modern cafe where we had dinner so we could take advantage of their WiFi to search for a place for the night. We saw that our neighbourhood was not one for hotels so we needed to drive a few kilometers further which meant finding parking again. The first place we arrived at had no room for us even though the Internet showed well-priced rooms for the asking. Amazingly I found a parking spot which I just managed to wedge into. If the paintjob on the car was any thicker we would not have fit. I needed to move the car ever so slightly just to get the trunk open and not touch the car in front of me. Across the street we found the "Medium Hotel" and got a quad room that was as tight as our parking spot but it was clean and had WiFi. After a couple of hours of difficult searching we managed to secure a modern apartment a block and a half from the beach in a nicer neighbourhood with underground parking for a little less than the slum we abandoned. We had a lot to be thankful for.

We realize that we all are getting our travel legs since the whole situation didn't undo us or stress us out. It was more adventure then angst. Hannah and Abby did a lot in terms of navigating and legwork-they are no longer just helpers but rather equal contributers to the whole enterprise. The only thing bothering us is the prospect that we may have just kissed a week's rent goodbye.

Posted by KZFamily 03:11 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona apartment Comments (3)

Biking and Fishing in Valencia

By Abby

sunny 18 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia

City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia

Today was a fun day, which I had been looking forward to ever since I heard about the wonders of Valencia. Today we got to rent bikes and go to Europe's largest aquarium. We left our apartment a little after nine this morning, and walked down to the bike rental shop and picked up a 9€ bike for each of us. They were pretty scuffed up, but they served their purpose, even though they didn't have any gears. We rode on small one-way streets and hopped on and off our bikes as we avoided pedestrians and cars. But finally we made it to the park and had a nice quick ride through it. When we came to the area of town where the aquarium was, we were surprised to see how large and modern it looked. There were many shallow, and very blue, pools of water by the buildings, which were all very oddly shaped and most of which were bright white. The walkways around the pools were made of grey, square stones and white mosaic tile. My dad said that he was surprised at how little people think about the durability and upkeep of a building and its surroundings when they build it. To this I replied that if people kept that in mind all buildings would be boring and old... he agreed. After slowly biking around the area we stopped for a little picnic of crackers, cheese and granola bars. We finished off our lunch with some chocolate, and for a couple of us some oranges. After packing up we locked our bikes at a bike rack and bought ourselves some outrageously expensive tickets to the aquarium.

Valencia Aquarium

Valencia Aquarium

The first couple exhibits we went to consisted of some small, but unusual, fish, as well as some odd and brightly coloured birds. I enjoyed seeing the different types of fish, especially a 70 metre long tunnel you could walk through while watching the fish that swam around you. The birds were also interesting, as most were species I hadn't even heard of before. In their enclosure they had ponds which had very large fish and some small turtles as well. After this we sat down for a little to enjoy the sun that had finally revealed itself. Some of the exhibits were outside, making the weather an important aspect of our day. We had planned to go see the giant turtles after this, but were disappointed to find that they had left until spring, to avoid the cold weather. But we quickly revised our schedule and went off to see the sharks. In the indoor parts of the aquarium there was always music playing, and it changed depending on what kinds of animals you were looking at. The music at the shark tank was very mysterious and a little disturbing, which I found suited the scene quite well. This part of the aquarium was one of my favourites, as there was another tunnel. Though not as long as the last one, I found that I liked it better. This was because the water was higher around the tunnel, so when a fish swam overtop, it looked as though it had gone through the glass and was just floating above us, out of water. It was a very cool effect, and we spend while admiring the underbellies of sharks, rays and other sea creatures. My favourite animals in this area were the sawfish and the sunfish, both of which are extremely odd looking creatures.

After the shark tank we went to see the belugas, which for me was a little underwhelming. Although I loved seeing their cute little faces, they never once came up to the glass and half of their tank you were unable to see. Plus, there were only two, and even though one had recently given birth they had taken the baby away and he/she was nowhere to be found. Also seals kept swimming in from the other half of their enclosure which made it very hard to concentrate on the belugas. But nevertheless, I enjoyed seeing them again.

City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia

City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia

From belugas we went to dolphins which were in an outside arena because of the show that was happening soon. Hannah and my dad went to sit near the front, while my mom and I chose the farthest and highest corner, which was the only place that got sun. But when the show started we made our way down to the seats they had graciously saved for us, and sat down right next to the world's cutest baby, who was sleeping away in his snowsuit. The show went on for about 20 minutes, and tied (if not beat) the sharks for my favourite part of the day. It was a spectacular performance that included synchronized flips from the dolphins, as well as their trainers being moved through the water by the dolphins pushing their feet. One time during the show two of the dolphins jumped very high in the air and, by keeping their noses on the trainer's feet, brought the trainer into a spectacular jump and dive with them. But the show unfortunately had to end, and as we had nothing else to see in the aquarium, our day there had to end as well. But since we had the bikes until 7:30, we decided to ride around the park for a little while before riding home, which went very smoothly. Along the way we picked up some dinner (pizza and a salad) and went home to enjoy a simple, tasty and warm meal. After dinner Hannah and my mom went out shopping together, and my dad was forced to go alone as I opted to stay in and relax, as I had done some shopping the previous evening.

We all hope that you are enjoying beginning of the holiday season, and we wish you good luck and success in Christmas shopping as well.

Posted by KZFamily 02:13 Archived in Spain Tagged valencia biking aquarium Comments (3)

Valencia

by Ben

sunny 20 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

It appears Valencia is the forgotten little sister of Barcelona. Being overlooked makes it less touristy but it is perhaps far more beautiful, far safer and cleaner than Barcelona if you can overlook the ridiculous traffic. We are enjoying our exploration of European cities with the only caveat that it takes nerves of steel to drive in them. I have learned a great deal about how small a space you can park in and how close cars can drive side by side and still have motorcycles pass in between. There have been numerous times that I have had to fold my mirrors in to make us fit in a parking spot and on one occassion just to drive. Valencia takes traffic congestion to a whole other level. The amazing part is they are more courteous and efficient than in Paris or Madrid (frenetic cities), there is less honking and they stop for pedestrians. All that said my knuckles were pretty white by the time I found a parking spot after 45 minutes in the middle of it all.

Valencia:  Mercat

Valencia: Mercat

We started our day visiting the Mercat, which is a very famous and popular food market in an impressive greenhouse type building. We decided to leave the supermarket behind and do all our food shopping for the day in the Mercat. We didn't buy the eels (you choose them alive and then the are killed and gutted as you watch) and decided to be fairly conventional and buy some Atlantic Salmon as our protein. Hannah made a study of all the different kinds of meats and took pictures so she could look them up on the Internet later. I think Hannah is toying with cooking a rabbit. Abby has bought a can of baked beans to have at the ready if ever rabbit shows up on our menu. Abby said she thinks Europe will confirm her resolve to return to a vegetarian diet when she gets back to Canada.

In the afternoon we went to explore the main city park which is located in the old riverbed of a river that was diverted around the city in the 1950s. The park is a wonderful green corridor that stretches at least seven kilometers throught the city. Since the river was quite large the unique legacy is numerous bridges crossings over green space which makes for some unique park features. It makes for great biking and walking and some water features remain. At the end of the park is a complex of five buildings that includes a science centre, aquarium, iMax and Arts Museum that is perhaps the most outrageous architectural wonder around. The Spanairds are not afraid to spend money on public buildings that stretch the imagination. If you are ever in Spain Valencia should be on your must see list. Tomorrow we will rent bikes to get to the Aquarium and explore these wonderful structures.

Valencia: Hannah with her Chef Instructor

Valencia: Hannah with her Chef Instructor

In the afternoon and evening Abby, Muriel and I did a little Christmas shopping and looking at the lights at night. However, Hannah had something quite different to do from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, she took a cooking class. A half a block away from our apartment was a cooking school that was offering an evening session on how to make Spanish croquettes. Auntie Helen had given Hannah a generous monetary gift to develop her chef skills when in Europe so Hannah jumped at the opportunity even though the class was going to be in Spanish. Hannah went on her own and had a great time--apparently food really is an international language. Hannah gives a big hug and a kiss to Auntie Helen for making this possible (and she still has money left to do it again). We can really see that Hannah having lived in France for three months has made her very brave when it comes to overcoming language barriers. She really impressed us with her gumption.

Posted by KZFamily 01:37 Archived in Spain Tagged valencia Comments (3)

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