Sunday, January 28, 2018

120 hours in Barcelona - Part 1

Why 120 hours?  That's how long I was there - and I have the well used 120 hour transit ticket to prove it! 

So here I am back in London and ready to talk about beautiful Barcelona.  I didn't take my laptop with me on this trip as I only carried a day pack and a purse.  And due to Easy Jet's rules on one carry on only, the purse had to fit into the day pack when boarding!  I have never traveled so light but it was such a feeling of freedom even if I did have to wash out my unmentionables and socks most nights!  Actually what I took is half the wardrobe I brought over with me so I don't have much believe me.  

On Monday morning I headed off to Gatwick airport which is less than 40 minutes by train from where I am staying in South London. 

The flight left on time and we arrived into Barcelona early.  I got the Aero bus to the Universitat area where I then went to the metro station.  I punched in my reference numbers (I had booked my transit pass online) and bingo..out came my transit ticket.  Got the train and was so easy to figure out and the airbnb was easy to find.  Pressed the buzzer for my airbnb host's neighbour and bang she answered.  This was all too easy - surely something had to go wrong!  Monica showed me around the apartment where I had rented a room.  My room was...uh...pretty bright and complete with a basketball hoop! I had seen the picture of it of course so knew what I was getting into...but yeah it was bright...  I found out later it is Ezequal's ten year old daughter's room and he had rented it out for a few months so he could afford to take her to Uruguay as that is where he is from originally. 


This wouldn't be to everyone's taste I know but this is how I roll.  Once again..another bonus of traveling on my own.  And believe me the price was right!  Airfare and 5 nights accommodation costs came just under the $250 Cdn mark - important when you are doing long term travel.

Once I had unpacked my meagre belongings I decided to head out and see the famous Sagrada Familia..it was only four stops away on the metro so I could not resist. 

All I can say is wow.  The beauty and detail was staggering. 


I had booked a ticket to see it the next morning. Yes, for the Sagrada Familia it is highly recommended to book your ticket ahead or you will probably be very disappointed. 

Headed back to the St Marti area where I was staying and walked around trying to find something to eat. I was having one of those days when I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat.  Finally popped into a tapas bar and had chicken, chips and salad. 


Not the best meal I have had in a long shot but it filled the gap.  The area was full of tapas bars and cafes. 

Back to the room and then it all went to hell.  I was the only one in the apartment that night (and the next) and noticed not one but three locks on the door.  "Hmmmm..." I thought "must be a dangerous area, maybe I better use one of them just in case".  Mistake!  I used the chain lock but decided to test it to make sure it worked...and I couldn't get it open again.  Eek! It didn't pull over the way I was used to and for ten minutes I tried to release it getting more frantic all the time.  I phoned the next door neighbour with no luck - although what she could have done on the other side of the door is beyond me but you know..panic and all...I contacted Ezequel on What's App and he patiently told me what to do but it still didn't work and then I noticed a tiny button in the middle of the lock.  Pushed it and it released.  Whew!  I had visions of spending my five days in Barcelona in the flat - well it would be the world's best diet! Needless to say I did not use that or any of the locks again!  I found out later the locks came with the apartment and the building is secure so there was no threat - and I am not one of those scaredy cats.  One of those times you wonder why the hell you did something.  Not one of my proudest moments.  I felt like a right idiot. 

It took a long time to get to sleep that night - the adrenaline was still pumping!

The next morning I went to a nearby cafe where I spent the next three mornings...breakfast was usually a pastry and always cafe con leche. (coffee with milk)  The place was clean, had wifi and a toilet - all important!!


Then on to Sagrada Familia!  I was there early so walked over to the park across from it and got some great views. 



The construction on Sagrada Familia ("Holy Family") started in 1882 drawn up by plans by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar who resigned a year later.  Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to take over in 1883. For the next 31 years he combined work on the cathedral with other projects.  In 1914 he dedicated his life to it until his sudden death in a tram accident in 1926.  Work still goes on with the construction slated to be complete in 2026 - the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death. 

At 10 a.m. I picked up my audio guide and for the next 90 minutes I was in absolute awe.  This man was a genius!!!




 Above is the nativity facade which is the only facade that was completed in Gaudi's lifetime.  The detail is amazing.  You could spend hours just looking at the outside of the building 



The stained glass was so beautiful.  Gaudi envisioned a forest - a lot of his work was inspired by the beauty of nature.




Even without the master Gaudi work goes on - he had the foresight to realize he would not live long enough to complete the cathedral so created models for future generations to work from - and they continue to do so.  I am so happy I got to see it for myself. 

And that was the first 24 hours!!!





Sunday, January 21, 2018

The adventure so far...

Well I am sitting here in my room in Streatham listening to the rain and drinking my second cup of coffee.  Time to get a blog post done.  It is going to be a "stay at home day" today me thinks.  I have to keep reminding myself that I have over four months of travel and can savour it - just like I remind myself when I am walking around Marks and Spencers foodhall and I want ALL THE THINGS and have to remind myself I have plenty of time to sample them all.  (what a great feeling!)

So let's start in Toronto.  As my niece is currently traveling she let my sister (who lives in Hamilton, an hour south of Toronto) and I stay at her apartment.  It was so handy especially with a subway station close by.  Unfortunately the weather was fairly cold so we didn't get out and do a whole lot but it was nice to just visit and also have a more relaxed start to my holiday.  We did have a couple of nice meals out and also went to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the Vikings exhibit.



Even the Museum subway station is impressive!


Replica of a Viking boat

The exhibit was so interesting - I have always been fascinated with Vikings.

Then it was time to head to London.  My trip was made much simpler by simply taking the subway and train out to the airport.  The flight with Westjet was a bit late but due to head winds or whatever they are our flight was only five and a half hours.   There was a bit of a wait at passport control - one poor lady collapsed and the medics had to be called.  A scary way to begin your holiday for sure.

Before I knew it I was back in Streatham having coffee with Claudia.  I was so tired though.  I have never been that tired from an overseas flight - except maybe when I flew to Australia many moons ago.

The first two days I gently eased myself into my London life...getting a new SIM card for my phone.  I am now with Vodafone instead of EE and so far so good.  I eagerly went to the Balham library only to find out it is closed on Tuesdays and Sundays.  However I did get a casual year long seniors membership to the Streatham leisure centre - for a princely fee of five pounds!  This enables me to get a discount on classes and public swimming.  I went in on Wednesday only to find myself in the way of the lane swimmers and then got kicked out of the pool in the class area.  I headed over to the learners pool where I was most welcome to join the toddlers learning how to swim.  So in about two feet of water I sat and watched tiny rubber duckies float by.  Ah well, it was an experience.  The next day I attended my first aquasize class.  Hmmm...the music pounded while the instructor stood on the outside of the pool and showed us what to do.  Nothing could be heard over that racket. I kept getting in the way there too.  The lifeguard who had kicked me out of the pool the day before was giving me looks...yeah, I know I am not coordinated.  By the time I figured out what was going on it was on to the next thing.  I lasted half an hour and I was done in.  Will I try it again?  Not sure on that one. It's not what I would call my idea of a good time and listening to blasting music with women singing...more like shrieking...well some of us would call that torture.  I just may stick to the public swimming times and do my stretches there.

Wednesday evening Claudia, Ale and I went for Japanese food in Central London. I stuffed myself full of tempura prawns, avocado sushi and terriyaki chicken.  Then Thursday I headed into town to see the Lumiere London lights festival and see a play.

First up was the aquarium in the Seven Dials area...


Yes those are little fish...swimming in a red telephone booth...


And a bigger guy too...



Flamingos "flying" around in Chinatown.


All sorts of critters were lurking around Leicester Square!



Then I wandered into Piccadilly Circus and there was a spectacular multimedia display on a building.  Actually I didn't know what to look at first - the wonderful new digital advertising billboard that replaced the older one earlier this year, the light show or the crowd standing all over the place because the normally frantic circus was closed to traffic!




The play I attended, "Mischief at the Movies" was put on by the Mischief company and I have seen all of their plays (thanks Loraine for telling me about them!).  It was held in a rather dilapitated old theatre.  When the fellow ahead of me sat down I realized I could stretch my legs out but I learned the hard way when he stood up to let someone past that maybe that wasn't such a good idea.  The back of the chair crashed down on my feet and the weight of it was unbelievable.  I sat there gritting my teeth, trying not to scream and slowly pulled my feet out.  Did I learn my lesson?  Noooo...as soon as the play began I stuck them under again anticipating he wouldn't be standing up again until the end. I  Okay now for the play itself...it was improvisation at its best.  Now I am really not a fan of improv - I appreciate the concept and the talent but it's not really my "thing".  We, the audience decided what type of movie it would be and the concensus was a "mafia" movie that started on a bouncy castle. Hilarious!  The performance was just over an hour which worked out perfectly for Thelma (my replaced knee) as she doesn't like sitting for too long.  As I had only paid ten pounds for my ticket I felt it was money well spent.

The next day (Friday) I decided to have breakfast at a small local cafe called the Deli Lama.  The barista/cook was friendly and it helped that I was the only customer.  We had a great discussion about Mexico, travel and music.  Not only is it a cafe but it is a music venue AND a record store! (vinyl)  My egg and bacon wrap was delish as was the flat white coffee.


With tummy full I headed off on the train to Farringdon where a short bus ride away, the Mail Museum was located.

First of all I wandered through the exhibition which took me about an hour - I could have dawdled longer.


This is a copy of the original Penny Black stamp with Queen Victoria on.  Yes it cost a penny.  Before this only the very rich could afford to send mail.


During the Second World War some red pillar boxes were painted with white bands to avoid accidents during Black outs.


Then it was time to go on the Mail Rail across the street.  The train we went on has been updated for we tourists to an extent but of course very small.  I whacked my head a good one getting into the tiny carriage.   Between 1927 and 2003 (carriages were updated in 1987) there was a network of trains that ran underneath London distributing mail to the sorting centres.  Off we went to see some of the route with a wonderful multimedia presentation about half way through.  Spoiler:  they even pretend to shut the power down at one point so we could experience that. We had a driver but the actual mail trains were controlled remotely.  I thoroughly enjoyed both the museum and the train - highly recommended.  But book ahead...way ahead! 

I looked on my long "must do in London 2018" list to find something in the general area and found St Pancras Church yard which I discovered was just a five minute bus ride away (yay for google maps on my phone) so off I went.


There has been a religious site in this location since the 4th century.  The interior of the church was simple but beautiful. 


That is one weird looking tree - any guesses what it is? 


Above is a beautiful elaborate sundial unveiled in 1879 by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, a Victorian philanthropist who heavily donated to the poor and whose aim was to eradicate the slums in London.  She was known as "Queen to the Poor".  The dog is said to be a replica of her collie. 



Pictured above is the famous "Hardy tree" - named after Thomas Hardy, the author.  In the 1860's the Midland railway expanded in the St Pancras area to go right through the old churchyard. Hardy, who was studying architecture in London at the time got assigned the grisly task by his instructor to remove the corpses and dismantle the headstones.  The headstones were placed here and the tree has grown around them.   

I was growing weary from all that walking so made my way towards Mornington Crescent tube station.  This area of London was all new to me.  


I was on the prowl for an independent coffee shop with a "loo" (toilet).  And I found it!  I had my tea and worked on my journal.  I now enjoy writing in my journal - the secret (for me anyway) is to buy pretty ones.  For years I bought cheapos from the dollar store but my friend June gave me a set of pretty ones and now she has created a monster.  I have a whole stack of journals at home waiting to tell my stories.  I still can't get over the fact that for those six months over here in 2015 I did not keep up a journal - I have my blog of course but there are still things I write about in these journals that I would never put on the blog. 


Then it was time to get back to Lumiere London.  Unfortunately by the time I got my bus a lot of central London had been closed to traffic so the bus was on a diversion route.  I got off near Piccadilly Circus and made my way to Carnaby St - the lights were sadly disappointing.  




Then there was a huge ball in the middle of Oxford Circus that changed colours.  The area was heaving with people and it all got to be too much so I headed back "home".  I missed seeing Westminster Abbey lit up but with the public transit so limited I knew I could not walk there.  It has been raining pretty much ever since.  

Ah well, next time!!  

This weekend is seeing me doing errands like laundry (coming up next), a bit of shopping and going to the Balham library where my card was updated.  So of course I had to take out a book (Nicci French's latest) and spent a few hours yesterday curled up in bed reading it.  

My energy is still not totally back so I need more downtime than usual.  Thelma?  Well she is pretty stiff.  Something I haven't shared on here yet...I had a fall about six weeks ago.  I tripped over a shoe in my apartment.  I know, I know.....I went to the surgeon just before leaving on my trip, he did an x-ray and I have a dent on my new knee cap!  Nothing to worry about but I need to get it checked out again when I am home.  It has made me a bit paranoid and cautious because if I can dent it on carpet what could I do to it on pavement?  

Two rest days in a row for me is unheard of but I want to be ready to explore my new destination tomorrow....Barcelona!  


Saturday, January 6, 2018

One great big long adventure coming right up! The where, when and why of it all

While 2017 was a pretty sedate year for me travel wise, 2018 (or the first half at least) looks like one of the best ones yet.  It could rival or even surpass 2015 when I traveled for six months - or temporarily relocated as I like to call it.

If you've been reading this blog you know my travels last year were curtailed because of having a knee replacement.  I was at home for seven months which hasn't happened since....oh, sometime in the 70's.  Let's just say I am making up for it this year.

Speaking of Thelma...."she" still feels stiff most of the time but my flexion has improved greatly and it is wonderful to have no more pain in that knee.  I am happy to get back to my Y warm water gentle aquasize class this week - I have been going pretty faithfully three times a week and it has helped me so much.  I still dream of the day I go a day without being reminded that I have had a knee replacement.  Or am I just being naive?

My trip this past autumn boosted my confidence and convinced me that I could do a long trip and I started finalizing plans, most of which had just been a dream up to that point.

So...here's how it is going to play out for (most of) the first half of the year.

Where....

First stop! Toronto:   My niece is currently visiting Australia, New Zealand and Fiji and is graciously letting my sister and I use her apartment close to downtown.  I will spend the first four nights of my trip there and it will be fun to spend time in Toronto hanging out with my sister. And what a treat to simply take the subway and train out to the airport and not have to worry about connecting flights on my flight to......

London!:  well you knew I'd be going to my favourite place in the world right?  London will once again be my base and I will be staying at my friend Claudia's airbnb in Streatham on and off during my time away.  When I'm  not there my carry on (or "holder of all the crap" as it will be known) will be taking up residence under her stairs. Some of the activities I have planned in London for January?  Taking in a couple of plays.  I purchased tickets through the Get Into London Theatre initiative that offers discounted theatre tickets in January and February.  I also have booked to go and see the new Mail Museum which includes a ride on the mail train - that should be fun.  I also purchased a discounted rail ticket on the crazy Virgin East Coast website (let's not go there) so the end of January will see me attempting to finally get up to Durham on a day trip - last year I had to cancel due to the weather and being ill.  Fingers crossed I can finally get there. I also have tickets for the Destinations travel show again which is always fun.  I have lots of ideas for day trips. I can't wait to see the changes London will go through from the (no doubt) rain and cold of winter to the beautiful gardens of late Spring.  I will love every bit of it!

Barcelona:  While in London this month I will be flitting off to this beautiful city for five nights - someplace new for me.  I was able to get a cheap return flight on Easy Jet and an airbnb in a residential area that is very reasonable and has great reviews.  I'm excited to explore but will be extra cautious as Barcelona is known for its light fingered pick pockets.  My ticket to the Sagra Familia is already booked as well as a five day transit pass!

Dubai:  Enroute to Asia  I will be stopping off in Dubai for five nights.  I am flying Emirates airlines which I am really excited to experience - I've heard it's a wonderful airline.  I am splurging and staying in an actual hotel at the marina. Truth be told I couldn't find an airbnb that excites me, worked out for me or was in an area I wanted to be in so I decided to splurge and have a "soft landing" after the 7 hour flight.  Although landing at 7:30 a.m. will no doubt see me wandering the Marina until my room is ready! I am planning to get out into the desert as well as exploring the old part of Dubai and learning its history.

Sri Lanka:  Then it will be on to Sri Lanka where I pick up a 15 day tour with G Adventures.  I had thought about exploring on my own but chickened out and took the safe route of a tour.  I have been wanting to visit Sri Lanka for so long and I just can't wait. Elephants, temples, lush tea plantations, the sea!  The tour ends at a beach town on the south coast and I will stay on for a couple of days to relax. (and do some blogging hopefully) I have booked a  room in a small villa with a garden that has monkeys and peacocks wandering around.  Oh yes, and there is also a resident golden labrador!

Kerala:  On to South India!  It is only an hour flight away from Sri Lanka so I just could not resist.  I have been wanting to visit Southern India for such a long time.  I couldn't afford another tour nor did I want another one so soon after Sri Lanka.  I decided to base myself in one place to make life simple - well as simple as it gets in India.... Kerala sounded more relaxed and interesting than the beach resort area of Goa I was considering. (although part of me wishes I had opted to fly there for another week...ah well, next time!) For just over a week  I am booked into a small guest house in Fort Kochi.   I am going to India on my own.   Those are words I never thought I would say.  I have been to India and it's not an easy country - I opted to take a tour last time.  However I have heard the south of India is much more laid back than the north.  All I can say is HERE'S HOPING!!  I hope to take a two night tour to the tea growing area of Munnar (guaranteed between Sri Lanka and India I will be bringing back lots of tea!) as well as a short cruise on the back waters that Kerala is known for.  I can't wait!  (and if I fall in love with the area I will definitely be going back)

Back to London in early March where hopefully I will start back on the Thames Path. My original goal was Windsor but I realize I am "almost there" so guess I will aim for further along. I know I will never finish it but it's sure fun trying! All I know is I won't be anywhere near Windsor on May 19th! My trusty well worn Thames Path guide has already gone into my carry on.  The rest of March will see me being a "London tour guide" to a friend and a couple of her family members for a couple of days, going to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibition in Liverpool (and finally seeing the Beatles statue which was erected after my last visit to the 'Pool in 2015) and from then until late April is an open book.  So far nothing is planned but I think it will involve discovering some new places in Europe.  I don't want to book too much and miss any opportunities that may come up.  One never knows!  I have booked a week on the Isle of Wight (I did a day trip back in the 80's but that is a blur so another new place for me) as well as a week in England's Lake District. 

When

The trip starts in mid January and I come home in late May - yes four and a half months.  I thoroughly enjoyed my six months away in 2015 but I found at approximately the four and a half month point I was day dreaming of being at home once in a while.  (before that I really didn't give it much of a thought...is that bad or good?) Not homesick really but just being a bit nostalgic.  So four and a half months it is! 

Why?

Why am I doing this?  Because I can. At this stage of my life I am as free as I will ever be.  I live in a small apartment in a highrise building (good security) with a fantastic neighbour who is going to watch my place.  I am retired. I don't have elderly or ill relatives to worry about.   My health is pretty good.  I have the financial resources to do this if I don't go too crazy - which is why airbnb works so well for me.  I realize it's something not everyone does nor wants to do.  It's not for everyone. And I laugh out loud when people say to me "you are doing this on your own. Won't you be lonely"?  As far as a travel companion for four and a half months...are you kidding me?  Either they would be dead way before the end of the trip or even more likely I would.  I can't even imagine.  Four and a half days can be too long most of the time!  Between meeting up with friends and skype chats I wasn't lonely for those six months in 2015 so I will be very surprised if I am this time.

This blog should be a pretty busy place for the next four and a half months.  Hope you will tune in!




A picnic in Peter Rabbit country

When I was visiting England two and a half years ago I stayed with friends Janette and Martyn who I got to know through my German friend Cl...