Tuesday, March 29, 2011

El Banco - Dia Tres

El Banco - Dia Tres - Barcelona

Sabado febrero 26th

Gaudi's first work for the city
and his last.
This morning we missed breakfast, again, but we grabbed a little something to go because we barely made it in time for the tour pick up at the hostel.

Weather vane on Palau Guell

The tour of the day was the Gaudi Tour. I was really excited for this one. After seeing the Sagrada Familia yesterday, I could not wait to see what else he had in store for us.

Top half of Palau Guell

Half of the bottom half of
Palau Guell

The first stop on our tour was Palau Guell, which we had already unknowingly walked by every time we left the hostel, yes, it is on our street. Eusebi Guell was a dear friend of Antoni Gaudi and over the years had him build many things for him. They both had this idea that this mansion of a home, being all lavish, would attract a richer crowd to live in the neighbourhood. Considering that this is the area where all the ‘naughty going ons’ are now, that did not really happen. And just our luck, the inside was closed for work, so if we wanted to come back and see the inside after the tour, we could not.

not counting the one under construction,
this shoes 3/4 of the pieces of the
Apple of Discord
Final quarter of the Apple:
Casa Batllo

Can you see the sword and the dragon?

if you have a good eye
you can find the nose
On the front, just above the main doors, there is some metal work. It is kind of hard to tell what it is, but once you really look, within the wrought iron there is an “E” and a “G” for Eusebi Guell as well as the Catalan coat of arms. On the flat roof top, there are twenty sculptured chimneys surrounding a skylight. Gaudi is known for his eccentric chimneys as well as how he plays with light.

Storm Troopers?

Casa Mila

The next stop was the very odd block on the Passieg de Gracia. This block is called the Apple of Discord or in Spanish; Manzana de la Discordia. It actually has nothing to do with apples. It just so happens that in Spanish, the word ‘manzana’ means both ‘city block’ as well as ‘apple’. On this block, a discord of architecture occurs due to the presence of the works of four of Barcelona’s most important modernista architects from the early 20th century.

Definitely my favorite photo I took of Casa Mila

So much stone

Gaudi even did some of the iron
work himself

random photo
One of these buildings is the Casa Batllo by none other than Gaudi. Looking at the bottom half of the building it is easy to understand how it got the nickname “House of Bones”. The upper part of the façade seems to represent festivities: the balconies look like Venice masks and the circular ceramic tiles could be confetti. Not to mention the array of color from the broken tiles (that, just like the rest of the house, never seem to make a straight line). The roof tiles resemble scales and from the shape of the roof, it very well could be the back of a dragon. The rounded feature on the left side with a bulbous cross (excellent wording if I do say so myself) is said to possibly represent the sword of Saint George plunging into the back of the dragon. The enlarged stairwell plays the light from the skylight brilliantly as the color of the tiles descends from a dark cobalt to sky blue, pearl grey and finally white. It is possible to go inside the house and tour around, but we were already on a tour and the entrance price is abnormally high, but also goes to the up keep of the house.

Rock collumns in
Park Guell
yah! we're in the park!!

one of the many stone women
After Casa Batllo, and just up the street, was the Casa Mila. I really have no idea how to explain this one so if you don’t understand, just look at the photos. The whole façade, which covers two estates, is made of iron and stone, and is just incredible. I can not think of any one way to describe it. Some how Gaudi made stone look like it was flowing. He was also very innovative when it came to using recycled materials. All of the iron on the façade is recycled. Legend has it, that when George Lucas was seeking inspiration for Star Wars, he was in Barcelona. Is it just me, or do the chimneys look like Storm Troopers?

winding benches, fairy tale buildings, all overlooking barcelona
This is me.

The next and final stop on the tour was the Sagrada Familia, but seeing as we had already been, Sara and I opted out and went straight to Park Guell.

Tourist Trap.
one of the many places you chould
chill if you wanted to

Park Guell was another project for Eusebi Guell that Gaudi worked on. It was originally planned like a British ‘garden city’, and not a park. Over the 15 hectares of rocky sloping terrain, there are gardens, building viaducts, porters’ lodges, closure walls, squares and streets, and a covered market. In all of Gaudi’s work, there is an obvious effort to integrate nature. This is especially present in the park. The buildings in the park have a fairy tale feel to them thanks to their mushroom chimneys, symbolically connecting them to the magical world of gnomes, fairies and druids. All around the main square there is a bench, curving in and out, and fully decorated with mosaics. In this square you can look out over Barcelona.

i liked this spot
Still a happy tourist
still in the park

Here Sara and I took a bit of a breather for lunch and strolled around, taking all of this magnificence in. We had planned on going to the Picasso Museum, but we found out that tomorrow it is going to be free, so hopefully we can fit it in. Plus, neither of us was feeling overly energized and it was nearly raining, definitely spitting on us, so we went back to the hostel for some low key chill time.

back of the benches

Eventually our energy returned, as did our hunger. We took our sweet time trying to decide what to eat. Finally, I went up to the desk and grabbed all the food coupons/flyers I could and we slowly decided what to get. It came down to a pasta place. Odd, I know, but we had had our tapas and paella, and needed something, well, comforting, or as comforting as pasta can be.

I believe this is the Covered Market area
roof of the market

It was a pretty cool place. We did a ‘build your own’ kind of deal they had and each got delicious results. Even if the guy did forget Sara’s broccoli at first, I would still recommend it, if you ever go to Barcelona and are feeling like pasta.

looking out to the entrance of the park from the covered market area
do you get the fairy tale feel from the hansel and gretel houses?

We were eating really slowly and the guy came over to us very concerned that were did not like it or that something was wrong. Nothing was wrong at all, but his genuine worry for our taste buds was amusing.
La Rambla in the evening

Once again, we had eaten really early. The Spanish are even later eaters than the French, or at least I find. People seem to go out to eat around 9 PM, and then only go to the clubs/bars really not until 1 AM or 2 AM. But I am not really all that sure. Apparently there are even places that do not open until 3 AM and stay open until 6 or 7 in the morning. The girl at the desk at our hostel told us that this is ‘very Spanish’.

To be fair, most businesses do open later in the morning and close for a couple hours in the afternoon for their siesta but then remain open until 8 or 9PM. It is all just relative.

Also, the main meal here is also lunch. You can usually get a good lunch from the Menu del dia for eight Euros, and will come with a number of courses.

Mmmm (with a mouth full of) Pasta!!

Monday, March 28, 2011


Time : 9:30pm

Location : my desk again. I really like it here, I don’t know why I don’t sit here more often

Weather : Verging on rain all day

Three things happened today that made my day eventful:

1. I tried to go to the gym, but it was like walking into a sardine can. I usually go around 9am when all the retired people go, mainly just to chat, but today I went later because I was trying out a new class. I got there a couple minutes after the class started (which is normally not a problem) and the place was over flowing with people!! The parking lot a full of cars, the class’ room was so full I had no room to join and then my option of working out instead was shot out the window because there were too many people! There were more people there than in the evenings! It was insanity in a sardine can at the gym today.

2. Evelin and I tried to go shopping at this place, that I think is a town, but I’m not sure, because all it is are big box stores (Which is oddly un-French), those American restaurants I like, and traffic circles. 90% of the stores were closed today. We forgot it was Monday and that since everyone worked for like, five hours on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday, that they have to have Monday off too. I guess all the people who would normally be at work were at the gym? I have no idea how these people get anything done.

3. I received a care package in the mail today. It was decorated so well right from the crayon (?) to the gratuitous amounts of Valentine’s stickers. It was beautiful and brought me a very large amount of giggles. Thank you.

4. And the Honorary 4th: I discovered some frozen chicken wings in the freezer today.

While driving here, it really is hard to tell when you leave one town and are in the next. Along every road there are houses or businesses. People are everywhere. You can not escape civilisation. I still find this odd after all these months. And it got me thinking: Where do people go camping? The answer: they don’t. This is where you gasp. I did whn I found out. The one option people have for camping are pitifully small camp grounds mainly found in the northern regions. Yes, there are national parks here (I still don’t know where though, but apparently they do exist), but you can’t just pack up for a weekend and go off hiking or paddling into the boonies. “Wilderness camping” is illegal. Can you imagine not being able to go camping? REAL CAMPING? I don’t know how these people get away.

Another thing, on the topic of buying (when the shops are open), sales are special here. They have very strict laws on when you can have sales. There are two times a year for sales: Winter (6 weeks at during January and February) and Summer (sometime during the summer months). These are the only times when shops can have sales. However, they can have promotions and liquidation prices whenever, which kind of defeats the purpose of the restrictions on sales, don’t you think? Anyway, this is how it is, even if does not make a lot of sense.

France seems very weird today, doesn’t it?


Sunday, March 27, 2011

CEST = GMT +2.

Time: 10:00pm on the dot.

Location : sitting at my desk (ooh big change!!)

Weather : rainy as ever.

My plan of stock piling my ideas and saving them for small quantities of entries but with a higher level of quality is proving to be a success.

Ebba (Sweden), me, Evelin (Estonia), Shelly
(Korea), Jara (Iceland), Megan (USA)
just finishing lunch

Before I get to my interesting ‘did you know’ points, I will give you a very quick recap of my excellent week and weekend, maybe while throwing in the ‘did you know’s as I go. I still have to decide my execution on that one.

Hangin out on the beach

Thursday I had a very comforting supper out with Evelin, Megan (she also goes to IS) and her friends/family. We went to a tex mex place called El Rancho Grill and had the most delicious fajitas ever!! Megan and I both liked how the restaurant was the size of a normal north American restaurant where you actually had some elbow room instead of being crammed like sardines. Small restaurants like that are very French one of the girls, ViVi told us, and for some reason they love them. It had been so long since I’ve had any serious sized suppers with more than enough flavour. Their guacamole was amazing.

The Beach
we dont know where.

An interesting comment was made about me once we got in to our conversation. ViVi said that I had a very strong accent (we were speaking in English). This was something I had never heard before. I find my English to be rather accent-less. I’m not British, or Australian, or Irish, or some kind of American. I just have a neutral (or so I thought) English. You see, ViVi’s work has her speaking English with people who have a Chinese accent to their English and Megan, being from Tennessee, has a southern accent. Now it is understandable how I might sound like the one with an accent. Funny isn’t it?

taken on the steps
Friday’s bus ride home was eventful. First of all I was late leaving the school so I had to book it all the way to the bus terminal so I did not miss my bus, only to arrive early and have the bus leave late. Oh the irony. Friday was an absolutely gorgeous day and everyone was out and about Aix, resulting in horrible traffic. Obviously the bus will be moving slower, this is to be expected. The guy sitting in front of me was not tolerating this well. I could tell from all his huffing and puffing of impatience. The bus got caught behind another bus and had to wait for it to leave so we could continue. We had been stopped maybe a couple of minutes, and this guy starts bothering the bus driver about how long until we get going, how long are we going to wait here, blah, blah, blah. The bus driver took it rather lightly and tried to chuckle the guy off. This guy has now moved from impatient to mad. He starts harassing the bus driver. The bus driver decides he does not have to take such abuse, and really, he doesn’t, and asks this angry guy to get off the bus. Angry Guy will not get off the bus and continues harassing. Now the bus driver, who is fed up and also angry, turns off the bus and says he will not continue until Angry Guy gets off. Stand still. People are getting off the bus to walk, asking this angry guy to just get off, to apologize, take one for the team, anything to get the bus going. Rest of the story in a nutshell: the driver calls the head honcho guy to come and kick Angry Guy off the bus, we waited for ten more minutes for him to arrive and five minutes later Angry Guy still gets to ride the bus, being rude the whole way until he gets off and the driver, well, I hope he still has his job.

But that is not all.

Chapter 2 of the Bus Chronicles.

A.G. is blabbing away obnoxiously loud on his cell phone to his friend. Turns out he is just going to get off at a stop and his friend is coming to pick him up. I saw his friend following the bus with his car until A.G. gets off, all the while STILL harassing the driver. This guy has no limits. So A.G. gets off and him and his friend start yelling through the window to the driver, challenging him to a fight once the bus gets to the end of the line in Luynes, and the driver definitely was not backing down. I could not believe this was happening. When on earth does this happen? For real. Coincidently, everyone left on the bus got off right before the last stop (myself included). I felt bad for the driver because now any witnesses or back up he may have had were gone. And that car was very much following him, aggressively. How this story ends, nobody knows.

Crazy eh?

Saturday was another gorgeous day and thank goodness too because Saturday was Beach Day! I went to the beach with Evelin, Ebba, Jara, Megan and Shelly and had a wonderful time. Once we finally got there, and nobody really knows where exactly we were, we had a delicious lunch au soleil on one of the many terraces. Then we played some “childish games” on the beach and of course got some sun. Sadly due to the wind we were not full out getting our tans on, but still; going to the beach in March. Living the Life.

On the way back we made another detour, this time to IKEA. I do not have much to report other than did you know that it is actually pronounced “ick-yah”? It helps having Swedish friends. Also on that note, “Lilja” means Lily in both Icelandic and Swedish. So from now on, when people call me Anna-Lily, instead of thinking “Oh, you said my name wrong…”, I’ll think “Oh, you must be Swedish... Or Icelandic…”. And I can also use it as an excellent icebreaker, not that I don’t already have that down to a Q.

There really is not much to report for Sunday, and this is long enough. Believe it or not, but I did not get all of my ‘did you know’s in. Don’t worry, I have them written down so I don’t forget, but I will save them for a time when they will come in handy for content aka a rainy day (like today).


PS. I took maybe five photos at the beach, so I will just have to wait until we share photos. And, my computer is running abnormally slow so it is a little discouraging to post photos, but I will do it!!

PPS. !!!! DID YOU KNOW: that European Daylight Saving Time starts a week later than U.S.A and Canada’s? Did you know that FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE I am actively participating in DAY LIGHT SAVING TIME BEGINS TODAY Day? I still have to figure out why we do it though. It does not seem to make much sense, but I’m sure science can explain it for me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

chances are...

Time : 11:38 pm

Location : snuggled in mah bed

Weather : I was so scared it was going to rain all day, then the sun came out

I would quickly like to point out that yesterday was awesome.

And today was as well.

I am on an awesome day roll. Speaking of roll. Or should I say Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrroll?! This morning when I walked into the kitchen to begin my day, as I do everyday, there was something there that is not normally there, quite so early in the morning; a rectangular package. Still in my (slight) morning stupor (for lack of a better word) my first reaction was “Who sent me a bottle of wine?”. Odd I know. Think of how odd it was when this package weighed next to nothing at all.

how beautiful is this?
I’ll cut to the chase and tell you what was in the package: six Large Tim Horton’s cups and a note. Chances this year are 1 in 6. I Rrrrrrrrrrrrrolled up all six and I won on #2. Free coffee!! I’ve never been so happy to win a coffee in my life! Thank you my mysterious coffee cup sender, you know who you are (as do I).

Quickly before I explain the logic behind the bottle of wine idea, I’ll note that I went to my Body Balance class this morning and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Body Balance class is a mix of Tai Chi, yoga and Pilates. I never thought that I would be the kind of person who could get into Tai Chi, but today I really zoned into that part and carried the energy with me for the rest of the day.

So the bottle idea.

While at the post office today, I noticed something about the boxes you can buy with the prepaid shipping on them: for each size, S to L, the size is explained by how many bottles of wine you can fit both within the space and by the weight limit. I find this very French. Normally you would think saying X number of kilos would suffice. I rather enjoyed this.

Although we did not learn anything new today, I really enjoyed class. We had a lively about us today and laughter was all around.
after this round I am 1-7

After school time was so-so and my evening just ended up playing out as normal. I had planned on going to Aix to go see a movie, but then Evelin called. We watched Memoires of a Geisha. It was really good. Like really good. We both liked it.

I would like to take this time to let you know that all the videos I have so far, from France, Germany and Spain are loaded onto a youtube account so now you can see them!! I’ll post the link here and also find somewhere in my profile to put it so you can access it. The videos are not all that great, but hey, at least they’re something.
VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE. You should add me to favorites!!
My goal of the night, yes I am going to miss out on a bit of sleep here, is to get the photos from Avignon put up. As well as the other ones I missed in the last week or so. If you noticed some oddly bare entries, and you have some time, take a look back and you will (hopefully) find some photos!!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

sur le pont.

Palais des Papes

RIght near the Palace
So, yesterday I went to Avignon with some other girls from IS. Evelin, Ebba, Jara and I made our group of four and a good mini road trip team.

Front of the Palace

Avignon is a little more than an hour north-west of Aix. It is a really small city, being only a fifth or so of the size of Saskatoon. I was amazed at how small it was. When we were looking at our map I was astonished how much of the city we had seen even though we walked so little. It was a cozy place.

inside the palace

This city has a very rich history dating back over five thousand years. Through out these years, culture, trading and religion have been crossing. Avignon was once a capital of the Cavare tribe and a trading post. Avignon is situated right on the River Rhone, which boosted the trading business. The city was glorified with the arrival of the Romans. By installing tolls on the very busy bridges, the city soon became even wealthier.

looking out over Avignon

The old part of the city is fortified with ramparts. I am not completely certain on this point, but I think you can walk all around the outside of the walls in about an hour. This is just how small the city is, granted the city has expanded beyond those walls and is now larger, but not by much.

really windy, but absolutely gorgeous out
Found a way up

Also being rich in culture, Avignon has a number of year round theatres. There is also the Performing Arts festival which takes place in July and also takes over the city. Apparently it is quite a big deal.


Our first stop was the Palace of the Popes. In the 14th century, Avignon was chosen by the papacy, making it the capital of the Christian world. This importance brought architects and artists to the city, who all left their mark.

found this grand old door to be
old and grand

To me, the Palace looked just like any other large medieval building. I kept thinking of it as a castle and not a palace. We definitely did not go into all of the rooms, and it took us well over an hour to do a walk through, without audio guides. I always marvel at how large the rooms are. I also thought about how cold these palaces and castles must have been way back when. Huge rooms made of stone, there is no way you could heat that sufficiently. I would never want to leave my bed, which would obviously be a huge pile of legitimate woollen blankets and animal skins, in the morning and put my feet on the icy cold floor. Which brought me to my final ponder: people must have been sick all the time. With cold floors like that, and there is no way that they could have had nice slippers like we do, there is no way their health could stay up to par.


Seeing as this was a palace for the pope(s), it was lavishly decorated. Now some 700 years later, which is completely mind blowing to me, some of the frescos are still visible in the walls. That is to say, the ones that are still left. Sometime in those 700 years, most likely in the later history than the early, people started removing the frescos from the walls and selling them to people. Even though the tiles did not survive the centuries, many rooms had been re-done and the tiling work was incredible. I realized that each tile was hand painted and did not just pop out of a machine along with a thousand other ones. So much effort and detail is put into making these huge buildings, it is almost incomprehensible.

also, there was breeze and incase you
were wondering...

Ebba and I were lucky enough to discover some stairs leading up to a tower where we got a spectacular view of Avignon. Sadly, other than being able to point out the famous bridge, there really was not much to see, landmark wise. But the sky was gorgeous!!

Evelin, Ebba, Jara and I
but not from the macheins...

After grabbing a quick lunch and lazing on some steps in the hot sun, we headed to our next destination, which at the time was extremely unknown. We winded up looking at the cathedral, which was very beautiful on the inside, but also like one of the many cathedrals I now have under my belt. We saw some break dancers while we lazed some more in the sun in a square.

the River Rhone
so nice out!!
these are views from the gardens

We made our way to the Dom Gardens and took in some more spectacular views. I guess I should mention that the Palace and the immediate surrounding area within the ramparts is on top of a huge rock/hill so once you get above the street level, you really do have a good view of Avignon and area. The gardens had a human sun dial, which we some how figured out how to read as well as a rather interesting rock outcropping lookout kind of thing that we enjoyed right to the top.

The bridge from a far

As we got closer to the main attraction of the city, we browsed the shops that started popping up everywhere. I got a free sample of some delicious nougat. Popular items of the area were those involving lavender. There were lavender soaps, candies, nougat, candles, you name it, it’s been lavender-ed.

Pont d'Avignon

If you are familiar with a French (and Canadian) folk song, then Avignon may mean a little something to you. “Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse” Should ring a bell, although if it does not, don’t sweat it.

looking back to shore

Le Pont Saint-Bénezet (aka Pont d’Avignon) is the famous half bridge. At the time that the bridge was built, the late 12th century, bridges were built for Saints. Legend has it that a man, Bénezet, had some kind of vision that he was to build a bridge crossing the River Rhone. It was supposed to be about a mile long from shore to shore of the river, even spanning over the Barthelasse Island. Legend has it that by some miracle Bénezet placed the founding stones for the bridge himself, helped by the power of God, or something along those lines (one story had him shrugging them into place). Through out the audio tour I listened and listened to see if the bridge was ever fully completed, and I do not think that it was. However, it was a lot longer than it is now. At the time the bridge made travelling easier as well as added some attraction to the city. Nearly a millennium later (crazy isn’t it?), the bridge is a World Heritage site (just as the ramparts are) and is simply a historical tourist attraction.

clutching an audio guide i am
about to have some serious
wind problems

Back to the song.

“ Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, on y danse. Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse, tout en ronde.”

curls with stood the windy day.


“On the bridge of Avignon, we are dancing, we are dancing. On the bridge of Avignon, we are dancing, all around.”

potentially riding
The Drop of Doom, etc.

The bridge is actually too narrow to dance on, and the people never did dance on it. But, they used to dance under it. Avignon was full of crime and debauchery, which ended up kind of driving the popes away, and the island was a popular place for all these naughty going ons, which is how the people could be found dancing under the bridge.

wind in my favor

Evelin and I did have a short dance on the bridge, it is kind of necessary.

Pont d'Avignon

That concludes the day in Avignon.
it doesnt actually lead to the
palace, but it looks like
it does

I did take photos, but well, I can barely get this thing typed up. Tomorrow I might be able to get the photos posted, but not tonight.