My last blog of these three months in the Netherlands. How do I even begin to sum up the last week?
Everyone has been asking about Barcelona and it has been so difficult for me to describe. All I can say is that it is more different in every way than any other place I have been. The architecture is unlike anything anywhere, the people have totally different attitudes about everything, the whole way of life is just … different. For example, the typical Spanish day begins with a light breakfast, followed by a light lunch of snacks. Then there is siesta a time when most people go home and rest. The shops and businesses close down (except in the tourist centres) until about 4pm. Around 6 people start heading to the bars for cervesas and tapas (snacks). This goes on until at least 8 or 9 pm. Then they start to think about supper. If supper is over and you want to party, you’d better hope you had your siesta because the clubs don’t even open until midnight or 1 am. That’s just life. Try getting supper at 6 and they look at you like you’re from Mars.
So my summery of events is probably a bit scattered since we did so much in such a short time, but here goes. We arrived Friday evening and checked in to our Hostel. It was nice enough for the price. Clean and nicely kept. The downsides being: no elevator and being on the fifth floor, paper thin walls and people who liked to come in late (revenge leaving early in the morning) and being beside a church bell that chimed every 15mins.
The first day was spent getting our bearings on a bus tour. It was quite long and didn’t leave time to actually see much afterwards but it was a great way to figure out where everything was and what we wanted to go see on our own. After tour we explored the Barri Gothic a bit. This is the oldest quarter in Barca. We went to the Cathedral. It wasn’t really on our to do list but when we walked by, it looked quite intriguing. In the centre of the Cathedral is an open courtyard with a pond and geese. The architecture is VERY gothic and quite beautiful. We also visited the old market and bought the biggest strawberries I’ve ever seen. They were very tasty and not at all bland like the big hot-house ones we sometimes get at home.
The following day we went to Montjuic park. This is on a hill above our hostel and a funicular will take you part way up. At this point there is a lovely park with gardens, an old Greek amphitheatre, a palace and lots and lots of cats. There are cats everywhere in Barca but we saw tones of them here. Most are wild (but can be bribed with bits of croissant) but some have taken up residence in local shops and info centres. At the top of this section of the hill is the site of the Olympic games. There is also an exhibit called Poble Espanyol which we visited. It was set up to showcase different styles of Spanish architecture and house local crafts people (and still more cats). It was quite nice also. At the other side of the park stands an old fortification (which is now a museum) which we reached by cable car.
After a brief stroll around we took another cable car down to the waterfront. The waterfront was completely re-done for the Olympics and has a boardwalk with many restaurants. I can only imagine how packed it is in the summer. We strolled the beach a bit and even though it was warm for March by our standards it certainly wasn’t swimming weather.
On Monday we did the Route del Modernism walk. This walk was created in 2002 to celebrate the works of Gaudi who had a huge influence on the architecture in Barca. All I can say is look at the pictures because his work is literally indescribable. He was very into organic forms and there is not an angle or straight line to be found in his buildings. We toured one inside and it was incredible. He also designed a park that we visited on Tuesday. You can see the pictures of the wavy bench and lizard fountain which are icons in Barca.
His crowning glory, however, is the Segrada Familla, an enormous church in the centre of the city. It was undertaken at the turn of the century and will not be finished until 2022. It must be seen to be believed. Some people this it is beautiful and some think it is horrible … whatever you think, you have to applaud the ambition. It is enormous and the most elaborately decorated building I have ever seen. What currently exists is not even the tallest part. Even more interesting is that as you go through the church, the work is on-going around you. It is a marvel of modern building technology, but more than that, you wonder how it could have been built prior to today’s technology. It is truly fantastic. The views are definitely something to be seen (many, many more stairs and a huge bout of claustrophobia mixed with vertigo… fun times).
Monday night Robert got in to town as well, which meant we got to switch to a nicer (company sponsored) hotel. What a difference… But still loud. It seems there was an all night furniture shifting conference directly above us… Anyway, we met up for supper and had a nice relaxing meal. The boys didn’t have too much planned for the following day so as I mentioned earlier, Andrew and I went to the Gaudi park. While there, we also visited his home and museum which housed furniture he had designed. The park was very nice and the bench was fantastic but the bus loads of tourists didn’t add to the serenity. Oh yes … and there were more stairs.
In the afternoon, the boys had a meeting so it was up to me to entertain myself and I did so with a fantastic nap (the furniture moving classes for the day weren’t scheduled until after supper). Again we had a nice supper and a fairly early night.
The boys were off to the conference all day on Wed. so I planned some retail therapy. Someone should have told me nothing opens in Spain until 10 … anyway I did a lot of walking and looking but very little buying. I did find a great pair of pants for only 4.49 euro … am I a bargain shopper or what? That evening we decided to do the Spanish thing and spend all night eating and drinking. The first bar was a bust (Mmmmm….wine in a box, bad in any language) but apparently the cervesas were fine. Bar # 2 wasn’t that great either and didn’t have a very appealing tapas selection (the wine was marginally better). Bar #3 was a hit and we ordered some food at last. There was one minor hitch though …. GREEN, WHITE, GREEN, WHITE, GREEN, WHITE! Seems there was an important football game the following night between BARCA, BARCA, BARCA and the Scottish team (Celtic) … also seems the Scottish fans enjoyed the bar we were in. They were enjoying the cervesa a great deal … so much so that it made them burst into song … continuously and to the detriment of the other patrons. The waiters tried to calm them down, but who was going to argue with 20 drunken Scots who were no doubt spending more money than the rest of the patrons combined. We found the whole thing quite funny (not to mention fodder for the rest of the night’s conversation) and they were deemed more fun than the previous night’s fodder; a group of Asian tourists who didn’t quite get what made the black rice black (squid ink) and took at least half an hour to correctly divide their bill by 6 people, using pens, paper, PDAs and global positioning systems (ok, I made that last one up … but come on … do you really need to work it out to the last cent?).
Anyway, when we had had about all we could take of our Scottish friends we decided to head to the waterfront to find a club that had been recommended to us called Carpe Diem. Well, you’d think since we had the address it would be pretty easy… An hour of wandering and two sets of vague directions later we found it (after walking by it four times … well over it really). It was interesting. There was a live DJ and the place was packed. We had no reservado so we weren’t sure they were even going to let us in. In the end they found us a table (not one of the funky couch/bed things along the side). We had a good meal and a few more drinks, a wicked dessert and lots of laughs over the green, white crew. We grabbed a cab home and called it a late night.
The next morning we were back on the plane and back to an empty fridge in A’dam. Drew had to work on Friday but Saturday was one of the best days yet… Keukenhof. I can’t really describe Keukenhof in words. My only hope is that I managed to capture it on slide film. I have never seen so many Tulips in my life. The garden itself is huge and is in the heart of the bulb growing district. Inside there are several huge showrooms. One was full of tulips … more varieties than I new existed. Another building had hundreds of orchids. There was another building with hyacinths, freesias and amaryllis and one that had flower arranging displays. Not to mention the huge grounds outside with many different themed gardens. Being the first weekend open, only about a third of the plants outside were in bloom. I can only imagine the riot of colour at its height. It was phenomenal. I have to return to see it again at its peek. What a fantastic place.
So here we are in our last week in A’dam. Currently I feel like an emotional, stressed-out wreck. This week will be packing (what I should be doing now…). Looking at my already full suitcases I’m just not sure how that’s going to happen. But most of all it’s the leaving. I’ve never had a problem going home after a vacation before. In fact, by the end I’m usually glad to see my own bed. This time though, it feels like we’re leaving home all over again. The excitement of going home and seeing everyone again is definitely tempered by the thought of leaving the Netherlands behind. I wish somehow I could bring you all here and show you all of the wonderful things we’ve discovered over the past three months, or better yet, box it up and tie it with a big bow to bring home and unwrap. We will always have photos and memories and I believe that The Netherlands has affected us in ways we will only realize when we return to Canada. I also know that we will return.