The Moon is Bright

Due to an unforeseen and unfortunate circumstance, I’m travelling alone this Easter. My vivacious housemate had a bad reaction to some medication and had to pull out, so here I am, alone in a edgy, noisy & interesting suburb of Athens.

It took me ages to find the hotel, I gave up trying to use a map and used my precious Internet data to try and figure out where I was. I had been walking in entirely the wrong direction, so I’m glad I did it.

And when I checked in and opened the curtains in my room, I was almost squealing – up on the hill is what looks to be ancient ruins… I thought it was the Acropolis for a few minutes until I actually located it on map.

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It’s Lycabetus Hill, where the Lycabetus Theatre was. You can go to the top and have magnificent views of Athens and the most famous hill of all, the Acropolis. The hotel has a roof top terrace, very well set out for sipping wine or coffee and looking at the hill.

After a bit of rest & contemplation, I went out for dinner. Tis is something that feels like a big deal – I’m not used to dining on my own. A cup of coffee here and there in a cafe, sure, but not a whole meal. Nothing to be scared of though, except I forgot a book or anything to occupy myself and the taverna was a bit empty so even people watching wasn’t that much fun.

I had roast lamb with fried potatoes (which looked just like fries) and a bottle of Mythos, the Hellenic beer I’d seen advertised at the airport. It was not bad lager, but tomorrow I’m trying ouzo!

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When I asked for the bill, I was also given a dessert, on the house, although I have no idea what it was. It was sliced with cinnamon & was sweetened with honey withs slightly grainy texture. And it all cost less than €12. I did leave a tip though.

So tomorrow it’s the Acropolis and maybe the National Archaeology Museum and more food. Will settle down now, and the legs are achy and the head is tired.

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History

Part of the Roman wall Barcelona, like lots of elder cities in Europe, has layers upon layers of living history. From first settlement scraps, paved Roman streets, medieval oddities, Renaissance flair to modern erm, flair?,  it’s own unique look has been tempered by over 2000 years of city building.

Mum, near a side entrance to La Catedral

Mum, near a side entrance to La Catedral

The architecture is mainly medieval and wander down little streets that have stonework put there centuries before hand. La Catedral, a masterpiece of Catalan Gothic, has a 19th century facade but the rest remains medieval. More on that later…

Barcino, a Roman town There were people living in Barcelona before the Romans, but little remains of that particular culture. Rome had a rather bad habit of chewing up and absorbing local culture, until the bits that were left were now ‘Roman’. The best way to really see  Roman Barcino and the subsequent layering is under the stones of the Catedral and nearby palace, which is now part of the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona. The museum is a definitely worth it and it’s free on the first Sunday of the month. It shows the evolution of Barcino from Roman to medieval to Renaissance. You start underground, walking around a Roman street, with fish shops, laundries and wine stores. I really liked the way that it was evident how much layering had gone on, bits of one building using the others as foundation – the Bishop’s palace in particular. Stones with Latin on them used as corner stones and to complete arches.

How to store the vino!

How to store the vino!

Tablet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceiling. Not enchanted thoughThe building that the museum is in is itself quite beautiful, once part of the Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace), a stronghold of power in medieval Barcelona.

 

LoomingThe faded grandeur of the rooms that are being used is lovely, Mum & I wandered into an exhibition on the textile history of Catalonia, on display in a magnificent hall with stained glass windows and gothic architecture.

Me...

Soaring columns On our final morning, we found the four remaining columns of the Temple of Augustus. tucked away in one of the narrow streets in the Barri Gotic area near the Catedral, it’s worth visiting for the scale & size of what the temple must have been like. A nice way to round off a visit that covered so many different aspects of Barcelona.

These statues were found near the cemetery, commemorating the deceased, perhaps in the hope that their faces would be remembered forever...

These heads were found near the cemetery, commemorating the deceased, perhaps in the hope that their faces would be remembered forever. I love the fact that after nearly 2000 years, they are still gazing into the future.

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Sagrada Familia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first day in Barcelona was so warm, so full of sunshine it was magical. The weather was like a lovely winter day in Sydney and totally unlike anything you get in England during winter – in fact it would top almost any spring or early summer day!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStarting, after a confusing moment when we tried to get breakfast in a bar and got strong but fantastic coffee but no food, by walking down La Ramblas, admiring the architecture and facades of the buildings and revelling in the sunshine. We decided to go and see the Sagrada Familia, the unfinished and truly wonderful masterpiece that Gaudi devoted much of his time to before his death in 1926. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was started in 1882 and is still not completed, with work ongoing on the exterior – almost every postcard and picture you will see has the cranes digitally removed, as you can see by the picture on the right, they are everywhere! It’s facade is quite unusual, from a distance it kind of looks like a sand castle, like someone has dribbled very wet sand over finely constructed spires. Once you get closer you can see the detailed sculptures and decoration – Gaudi didn’t like straight lines as he said that they didn’t occur in nature, so he made everything bend, sway or curve. Each main portal inside has a specific theme, the Nativity and the Crucifixion or Passion. Gaudi was very faithful to his religion and his work is littered with references to Christianity. When asked about the amount of time it was taking to finish Sagrada Familia, he said the client ‘wasn’t in a rush’, and when you reflect on the amount of time taken to finish those medieval cathedrals, I think he has a point.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter walking almost right around the cathedral, we finally found the ticket office and the entrance. We elected to get the Tower Lift ticket too – you get a specific time for your lift up into the ether and the attendant was very strict on the exact time. Since we had about 1/2 hour to wait for our lift, we walked around the interior and marvelled. It’s like walking in a forest – the soaring columns are swayed and almost seem to bend in the wind. The stained glass (unfinished in parts) lets the sunlight pour in with a dappled effect. There were a lot of people but it felt peaceful, with lots of space. Maybe Gaudi was going for the feeling of spirituality that you can get by being in a natural space, like a forest. Who hears the trees?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASagrada Familia interior columns

There are so many features of the Sagrada Familia, like the four different stones used to make the columns, the messages of the stained glass, the soaring ceiling and the seating for a 1000 strong choir. The many different chapels around the nave that are singled out for silent reflection and prayer, which are mostly honoured by the heaving mass of people come to see the building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrane!

Once we’d waited in line for the lift, it takes about 6 people in a ride to the top of a spire and the city of Barcelona is before you. Look out for the crane, it’s very hard to spot (ha ha!). If you’re okay with heights and being in an elevator with glass windows, this is well worth the extra money. The stairs down... There is an option to go back down the stairs, which made me suspicious that you could probably climb the stairs up – although it’s a very long way, so it’s possible that would only be for the very fit or the very broke. From these heights, you can also see some of the detail that is surely lost on the people on the ground, like the bunches of fruit that decorate the spires and the fine mosaic work. Which does make it likely that Gaudi had the foresight that such viewings would be taking place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce down on the lowly ground again, we had another trek through the forest floor before heading outside into the sun. The small school that Gaudi had built for the cathedral workers and their families is still there, with a waved roof and a drinking fountain on the side. Fancy bubbler? We went into the small museum/shrine to Gaudi in the crypt, hundreds of scale models of different aspects of the building and a few personal artefacts of Gaudi. His body lay in state in a chapel in the crypt when he was killed crossing the road in 1926. I don’t think he is buried here, and you can’t access the chapel.

Betrayal The place where you enter and exit the Cathedral is the Passion Gate, the sculptures here are not Gaudi, they belong to a colleague and were completed after his death. There is a man that resembles Gaudi in the crowd surrounding Jesus in one of the sculptures I can’t find the photo of that one though, think Mum has it.

I would say, if you had one day in Barcelona, this should be The thing that you see that day. Be a part of history and visit while it is still being completed! In days such as these, how many can say that they’ve been to a cathedral that is still being built? Unless, of course, you time travel. Then you might go to the planet Barcelona and not the city!

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Barcelona!

View over Barcelona from Park GuellHola!

When I first started out travelling, almost 3 years ago, my interest in Spanish cities was small. They sure looked interesting, but the glamour & the glory and cultural lures of Italy and it’s ancient past eclipsed much of my interest. Of course, that has changed! Sure, the Roman roots are there and the weird cross of Christianity and a colourful pagan past, but everything is different – texture, smell, sound, taste, feeling.

When my Mum suggested that we go somewhere sunnier for a weekend while she was visiting, and I thought immediately of Barcelona. And it was exactly the right choice. We had 4 days of sunshine, enough to slightly burn my neck, although since my skin is a thoroughly pasty English white now so I shouldn’t be too surprised!

I’m going to split my blog posts up, as there is heaps I want to write about and keeping them smaller will be easier for me to work on them (no internet at home at the moment, this is an ‘inbetween’ work thing!)

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The Austrian Imperial Capital, Vienna

Western Europe at Christmas is a special place to be, the incredibly popular markets, the darkness closing in and the lights that sparkle in the gloom. It’s now my 4th year in a cool climate for Christmas (only 3 consecutive) and I knew I needed to shake it up a little and did not want to spend it in London, so off we went to Vienna, the beautiful Baroque Imperial capital of Austria. There were several Christkindmarhts, the biggest was in Rathausplatz, the impressive spire of the Rathaus (Town Hall)  giving the market a nostalgic feel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVienna is a elegantly beautiful city, the older parts still have cobbled streets and beautifully kept buildings, but with almost an aggressive nod to antiquity, a statue of Athena is prominent out the front of Parliament, classical looking statues are lined up on the top of buildings and Caryatids adorn the entry ways to some buildings. This was to emphasis the democratic nature of Austria after the dissolution of the monarchy.  London is definitely a city that grows, ugly things next to beauty, antiquity squashed in with shiny, graceful architecture and grey concrete. According to the audio tour on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus, ( if it rains the whole day and is -1C, the best way to see a city is on a cosy bus!) the Viennese are quite nostalgic and a lot of the Old City reflects this, horse and carriages are everywhere and the hawkers for the opera are dressed in 18thC costumes. Cobbled streets and a feeling that you could bump into Mozart, running down the streets near the Stephenplatz.

Franz Joseph on his noble steed

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Of the many museums and galleries, we went to one that boasted a fine collection of Arms & Armoury, antique musical instruments and stuff pillaged from Ephesus. It was housed in a beautiful building, all marble & chandeliers and grand staircases. The building was part of the Imperial Palace, an enormous place that now has several museums and some Royal apartments that you can visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur second morning, we woke up to a light snow shower that soon changed to a freezing drizzle, drizzle that continued all day. A good day for a little bus sight-seeing. Apart from waiting for over 1/2 hour, cold and a bit wet, for the bus to turn up, it was a good idea. The bus was warm, the audio commentary informative and it gave a good view of the city. We drove past several residential streets that featured new and old buildings, courtesy of heavy bombing in WW2. We drove past Schonnbrun Palace, where Franz Josef I lived with his wife Sisi – who is somewhat of a bohemian figure these days. An Empress who went around with bare feet and frustrated the ritual bound servants, she looked on with much affection these days, although it seems that she didn’t really show much affection for Vienna or Austria at all. We hopped off the bus at Belevedere Palace, and after searching first for a ticket office and then some shelter & a ‘cup of warm’ we found our way inside the building via the bistro. This also happens to be the way to get in without paying for a ticket (wink!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Belvedere was once a grand Baroque palace, lavishly decorated with beautiful manicured gardens. The entrance has these impressive columns of Hercules and statues of some of the previous occupants, such as Empress Marie Therese (mother of Marie Antoinette). These days it holds a fabulous art collection, including Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’. After seeing the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at the Tate Britain earlier in the year, I could see where Klimt had some inspiration, with his own flair. Stunning and with a different style and flair than the British PreRaphaelite crowd. Quite a few rooms still retained their elegance & glamour from the Imperial days, with painted ceilings, gilt and chandeliers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce we’d done a tour of the collection, we went outside to the Christmas market for a bite to eat, sheltering under a small awning around the food stall. It would have been lovely to walk around the garden, even in the depths of winter, but it was just too wet & miserable. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack on the bus, we got off at the Opera House and found the famed Figlmuller, where we had a an early dinner, composed almost entirely of a schnitzel larger than the plate and completely delicious.

The tiled roof was unlike anything I’d seen before. The other side has an eagle with two heads.

Christmas Eve in Vienna was fabulously foggy and atmospheric. The Stephansdom, the beautiful cathedral in the heart of the Innerplatz, was full of tourists, who were barred from gawking at most of the cathedral due to a service that was about to start. Sadly, this meant we didn’t get a look at the Crypt or the altar, which I’m sure would have been stunning.

Jacinta’s friend, whom we had met up with outside the Dom, took us to a traditional Viennese coffee house, where we all had a piece of chocolate cake and a warm drink. We found the Mozart House, which was a bit disappointing. A wordy audio tour did nothing to enhance the experience of standing in largely empty rooms starring blankly at the ceiling. There were a few pictures and artefacts, but nothing very remarkable. The best was a light & shadow style theatre of the Magic Flute in one room. In the actual quarters where Wolfgang and Costance lived, there was a half-hearted attempt at period style decoration, but it was almost like they were trying hard not to make any assumptions – which was weird when they had a small excerpt from the movie Amadeus playing on a small screen! So, in the gathering gloom, we spent a few hours in the market outside the Rathaus, marvelling at the pretties and eating chocolate covered strawberries & banana. Incidentally, strawberries in German are ‘earth berries’.

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And for Christmas Day, we had long chats with family, presents, a walk in a eerie park and a lovely feast – with lots of left over food.

A neat and ordered pathway, but spooky with the fog and bleak midwinter

Anti-aircraft towers, a WW2 addition. Scorch marks and gouges from Russian bombs

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Things to Resolve: Blog More

ImageHappy New Year! The miserable drizzle of New Year’s Eve turned New Year’s Day into a wonderful, sunny, muddy and mild day, perfect for walking around the Common in my wellies and not thinking too much. Of course, I could have been thinking about some resolutions, what the year is going to involve, where do I see my life going, but nope. Mostly I jumped stomped in puddles and slid around happily in large amounts of mud. Image

So, rather than making sweeping statements about writing more, keeping up with blogging, blah blah, here are some things that I’m looking forward to, just in the next month: 

My Mum is coming for a visit, in just 2 weeks time! Quite a good Christmas gift and very successful at keeping my doldrum, post-holiday blues from settling. We’re planning a little trip to Spain (most likely Barcelona) and some London stuff and she’ll be zipping around the country visiting relatives & friends. Yay! 

Tonight’s adventure involves Queen and a giant statue of Freddie Mercury… And hopefully some Chinese food. Last night was a panto at the New Wimbledon theatre, Snow White. Priscilla Presley (the wife, not the daughter) was the Evil Queen, hilariously flubbing her lines and letting her old woman face move more than her real one. Warwick Davis, (Harry Potter, Willow and that Ricky Gervais show) was the head dwarf and then there was dwarves dancing Gangnam Style. Yes, they did. My housemate tells me that it was a requirement of every panto she went to this season, but little people dancing like they’re riding imaginary ponies was fabulous. 

It seems I have 5 more annual leave days instead of the 1 I thought I had! Hurrah! 

It’s getting lighter, a little bit each day. It’s my third winter in England, and it’s funny how much I notice the little changes in light & mood at this time of year. I celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, but I know that this time of year would be celebrated regardless  – halfway through the dark, we’ve made it! Hallelujah, the sun is going to come up again! Hooray, a saviour was born! Of course, southern hemispherites, it’s a slightly different issue for you, but in this cold, damp & miserable place, it does make a lot more sense. 

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Quick Catch

Walked around river Cam & Cambridge, good friends settled in Balham (near me), walked from Chilham to Canterbury, got promoted, the Jubilee & Jubilee concert, Blitz party in tunnels, Ms Green visits, Henry V (twice), back to Australia, most handsome & perfect baby in the world born, caught up with lots of people, back to London in summer, Olympics, inflatable Stonehenge, Olympic swimming & I forget my camera & my phone(!),  Ms Taryn visits & we carve up a storm of epic sightseeing, show seeing & general good times, Paralympics, I lose a shoe at Clapham Junction Railway station, life.

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