Barcelona / Figueres

Travel

So we’ve been back for over a week and I am finally feeling re-acclimated. (Thanks in part to Daylight Savings Time.) Here are some photos from Barcelona and a day trip to Figueres. I’ll link to some of the places in case you’re planning a trip of your own.

I think what makes Barcelona so special is that art is built into the city, at every level. Picasso, Gaudi, Dali, Joan Miro, and others all have ties to Barcelona. You have the ancient alongside the modern, street art, space-age sculptures, monuments, cathedrals, centuries’ worth of architectural styles. And it’s all in this sun-drenched Mediterranean paradise. It makes for a heady experience.

Barcelona

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This is me in the extremely tiny staircase of our apartment building in Barcelona.

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Barceloneta beach. (Photo by Joshua Mauldin.) I think the hotel pictured looks like a spaceship that just landed on the beach.

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Barcelona is utterly enchanting. (Photo by Joshua Mauldin.) We stayed in a neighborhood called El Born, and never wanted to leave.

I shot this video in hopes of capturing some of the ambient sound of this great space. I must add a correction: the Santa Maria del Mar is a basilica, not a cathedral.

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We had a lovely bartender at a little dive called Lupara. Her name is Ivana and she took great care of us, recommending a gin we’d never tried and serving us a lunch of cheese, bread, and olives. Spaniards seem to be having a love affair with gin. Madrid and Barcelona are dotted with gin bars and cocktail menus dedicated to the G&T.

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La Sagrada Familia is a cathedral designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. Its construction has spanned over one hundred years and still has fifty years until completion. It is truly one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen. It feels alien and celestial, while other parts seem to be carved out of natural rock formations or dripping wax. It is both earthly and otherworldly.

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My camera can’t do it justice. This panorama is a little wonky, but it gives you a sense of the scale. We were there in late afternoon and the sun was blazing through the stained glass.

Figueres

Figueres is a little town north of Barcelona, known for being the birthplace of Salvador Dalí. My principle reason for visiting Figueres was to go to the Dalí museum, but the town had a lot more to offer.

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The Dali Theatre-Museum, topped with giant eggs. (Apparently there is another Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and it also looks like a worthy destination.)

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Another fun attraction in Figueres is the toy museum. Old toys are terrifying!

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If you’re up for some walking the Castell de Sant Ferran is a fun trek. You tour an old military fortress and take in beautiful views of Catalonia.

Thank you for reading!

A cow, a cow.

Travel

Yesterday we met a lovely Israeli couple who are here on their honeymoon; Shira and Asaf. In the course of conversation, each of us told what we do for a living. I said that I work in a kitchen store but I am looking for another job.

My face must have betrayed my frustration because Shira said something in Hebrew, para para. They laughed, saying that in English the expression was “a cow, a cow.” It basically means “all in good time.”

It was a funny moment, and a good reminder to be patient. Once we get home though, I will renew my search for the next cow.

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Trains

Travel

I am confident that if more Americans had traveled the European rail system there would be an unprecedented grassroots movement to create one of our own. The people would demand it.

Yes, we already have a passenger rail system of our own. But have you ever looked at trips on Amtrak? Most of the time it’s faster to drive, and sometimes cheaper.

I did a little research to compare the U.S. Rail system with Europe’s.

• A link to the helpful map pictured below.
Amtrak’s Wikipedia entry with map of stations.
Interesting article comparing costs.

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Look at all those stations!

So, as a newly initiated fan of train travel, here is a list of some things I feel make it a superior mode of transportation.

Reasons to love European train travel:

• At security, you don’t have to take your shoes off or spread your legs and arms like a criminal.
• Bathrooms that are roomier than airplane bathrooms and include an air dryer and an electrical outlet, and a full length mirror.
• The food car!
• Large windows with views of the passing countryside.
• High speeds. I don’t know the averages, but one of our trains posted its speed on a digital display and clocked in at 292 km per hour, which is equivalent to 181 miles per hour.
• Coat hooks at your seat.
• Foot rests.
• Very punctual, though I understand the workers sometimes strike, causing disruptions in service. I don’t know how frequently this happens.
• Since your brain and hands are not occupied with driving, you can read, play games, watch movies, or write blog posts while en route to your destination.

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The aforementioned food car.

Madrid / Toledo

Travel

I’m writing this blog post on a train from Madrid to Barcelona. I plan to extol the benefits of train travel in another post. For now, here are some highlights of the first leg of our trip.

Madrid

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Plaza de España

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Beautifully gnarled olive trees in Plaza de España

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El Prado—this is a bucket list museum. We spent a half day here. That’s not enough time to see everything but it was enough for us. If you are a super art nerd, you may want to allow a full day for your visit.

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After the hyper-stimulation of the museum, the nearby Parque del Retiro is a really cool way to clear your head. While there we visited the Palacio de Cristal, a large glass structure that would probably be best enjoyed at sunset.

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It’s fun to see how people in other countries shop. The above photo was from a store called Lefties. I couldn’t resist the cool hanging fluorescent lights. We saw a lot of “fast fashion” retailers in the same vein as H&M. I guess that’s how Spaniards stay so stylish.

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We accidentally stumbled upon this view of Madrid after an astounding escalator ride through eight floors of the largest department store I’ve ever seen. It’s called Corte Inglés, and feels like a weird hybrid of Target, IKEA, and Macy’s. It also has a post office, a travel agency, a spa, a grocery, and several restaurants. The top floor has a deck overlooking the city. It’s a spectacular view, free of charge!

Toledo

We took a day trip to Toledo. If I could do it again, I would either plan more things to do, or make it a shorter visit. Everything went much faster than I anticipated, leaving us with extra time on our hands.

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The Catedral Primada was spectacular. Of course, no photo can do it justice.

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Toledo is known for marzipan (marzapan). This shop was recommended to us by our bartender at lunch, and the proprietor was completely charming. The marzipan treats are so sweet and rich that one small pastry will satisfy your sweet tooth. (I ate two of course.)

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This is a beautiful little museum, very inexpensive, and has a lovely rest area that’s perfect for weary travelers.

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Toledo’s stunning Río Tajo.

Until next time…

¡Ciao, bonitos!
<br /

Spain

Travel

You’ll never guess where I am.

Madrid!

I’m writing to let you know I’ll be blogging while here in Spain, and would love for you to follow my posts, because half the fun of documenting something is sharing it with people you like. (Maybe more than half.)

You can get links to new posts on Facebook if you’re my friend, or on Twitter if you’re not. (@AlisonRMauldin) You can subscribe to my blog by scrolling to the bottom (desktop browsers only) and clicking the “follow” button.

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Photos in this post by Joshua Mauldin.

AirBnB Neighborhoods

Travel, Web

My husband and I love using AirBnB when we travel. For the uninitiated, AirBnB is a vacation rental site where you can stay in private rooms, homes, and apartments, instead of hotels or hostels. One of their website’s best features is the Neighborhoods page. Currently this service is only offered for some of the most popular destinations. But what’s so great about it is that you tell it what characteristics you’re looking for in a neighborhood and the website suggests which ones would be right for you.

 

 

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For instance, when we travelled to Rome last year, I chose the descriptors “artsy,” “loved by Romans,” and “dining.” AirBnB recommended we stay in Trastevere, a stunning neighborhood across the Tiber river and away from obnoxious tourist traps, but walking distance to everything we wanted to see. Trastevere was my favorite part of the whole trip. 

So who needs a travel companion?