Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Europe Day 30 of 59, Barcelona to Dublin

Ah, another airport day. I wonder how we would design airports if we started from scratch, know the silly rules we'd arbitrarily enforce in the name of safety and the need to get people on and off large chunks of metal in a fast and organized manner. I do know one thing.

If you built a new airport from scratch, you would avoid this.

As luck would have it, our plane was filled with two large groups of Spanish students. (It seems quite common in Barcelona for students to spend a semester in Ireland, perfecting their English.) This benefited us tremendously. When we checked in, the woman behind the counter was relieved that we were native English speakers and gave us exit-row seats, which on this plane meant twice the leg room. We were flying Aer Lingus, which has an English only crew, and they had to have people who could definitely understand the flight attendants ready to open those emergency exit doors.

Did I mention Aer Lingus? I could not have asked for a better way to enter Ireland.

Aer Lingus plane, green.

Aer Lingus flight attendant jacket, green.

Aer lingus safety card, green. And why would I forget to mention all the clovers?

And then, as I looked out the window, I saw Ireland for the first time.

Yep, green.

No pictures of this, but I noticed as we waited in passport control that on occasion the officer would have a person pose for an extra picture that was taken by a webcam attached to their computer. They did this against a section of wall that had a ruler showing how tall the person is. First, I saw this happen to a Nigerian looking guy. Then, a while later, they asked a Pakistani looking woman to step to the side to have her picture taken. Then... nobody else. We both noticed this and I said, "You know what that means." She said, "What?" "In Ireland they can't get busted for racial profiling."

When we got up to the window, the gentleman asked Barbie how long she would be in Ireland and she told him, "Six days." Then he looked up from my passport and I gave him the "dude nod," a slight lift of the chin with steady eye contact, and he looked back down and stamped our passports. As we walked away, I pointed out the power of the dude nod. Never doubt it.

Finally, a car. Sure, we'd ridden in taxis, but that doesn't count. We got into our rental Volvo, with the steering wheel to the right, and completed the set; we have now traveled by Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. (And Boats.)

The usual, "Every highway in every city looks the same," pic that Jeff takes in every new country.

We drove 45 minutes South of Dublin to Enniskerry, where you find the Ritz Carlton Powerscourt.

Let me speak briefly about hate. You shouldn't hate someone for something they have, or something they do, or somewhere they stay. That's jealousy. That's small. That only hurts you. So you shouldn't hate us for staying here.

We got to the hotel and they gave us the spiel about the place. We learned it is the newest Ritz Carlton, and you can eat at these places, and relax at those places...

And if you see peasants on the lawn all you have to do is shout, "Release the hounds," and the eyesore soon disappears.

Then they walked us to our room.

I had to take this one. Full-on "The Shining" moment, no?

This is the view of our room as you enter the door. The powder room is that door to the left.

This is the living room, with the desk in the distance.

The desk and dining table, with the bedroom door.

The bedroom, bathroom on the left.

Bedroom and bathroom, and I totally blew it because you cannot see the TV in the bathroom mirror. The guy who showed us our suite grinned when he said they're the first and only Ritz Carlton to have that. It even comes with a waterproof remote.

The tub, where I shall be holding the waterproof remote.

The walk in closet, where Barbie has to sleep. I need my space and her birthday is so two weeks ago.

Okay, so that's the room. I then walked out on our balcony and got this pic.

Yes, that's what you think it is. A large metal statue representing a huge paper airplane. I think my nephew Charlie will love this. Tomorrow we'll walk the grounds for a closer look, and I'll try to pose with it for the boy.

Hunger overtook us, and it was the time of day when the restaurant and pub were closed, so we had to slum it here at the lounge.

I always order the local faire, and this is the, "Irish Tipperary Beef Sandwich." There is blue cheese in there, and I will eat most anything that involves cow meet and blue cheese.

Barbie got the Club Sandwich.

We didn't get much sleep, and immediately after lunch I leaped into bed and grabbed the TV remote.

Barbie felt the need to grab my iPhone and take a pic, "for the blog."

Tomorrow we head into, "Dubh Linn," which means, "Black Pool." Tonight, chilling at the Ritz.

Europe Day 29 of 59, Barcelona

Day 29, or as I know it the official midpoint of our European odyssey, began simple enough. We had a few places we wanted to visit and all the time to do it. Our plan, taxi straight to Sagrada Famlia, then walk over to the city center and the Barri Gòtic -- Catalan for the Spanish "Barrio Gothic," which in English would be "Gothic Quarter," or in plain English, "the part of town with the really, really old buildings -- then we could walk La Rambla or shop or whatever we pleased before heading back to the hotel. The hotel pool, to be exact.

But the day officially began when the button to open the shade was pushed and the black out curtain raised, and I saw the Torre Agbar and, yet again, took a picture of this elusive creature.

Lipstick, bullet, suppository... will I ever see it close-up? This Torre Agbar, she taunts me.

We headed straight up Calle Marina to Sagrada Familia, the rather unique cathedral of Barcelona. In fact, I'm willing to share my own judgment that this is the most unique cathedral on our planet. First, its construction has been entirely funded by anonymous donations. Not a dime from the church. Not a dime from anyone taking credit for their charity. I find this amazing. Second, its construction began in 1882 and continues today. Designed by architect Antoni Gaudí as his personal masterpiece, he oversaw construction until his death in 1926. They hope to complete it by the 100th anniversary of his death in 2026. I find this amazing. Third, for a 130+ year old design, this cathedral will always be the most modern, weird, creative... just insane looking son of a building you are ever going to see. Triple amazing.

Sagrada Familia from the rear, which is the Nativity facade. Completely before Gaudi's death, the reason it is dark on the right and light on the left is because the stone on the right has been exposed to the elements for more than 100 years.

A thousand apologies for this being sideways. Oddly, it cannot be fixed. But I wanted to show you a closeup of the wild design of this Nativity facade. (And don't go thinking you know how to fix the pic. Believe me, I tried everything. It happens at upload, and when I upload it rotated all 4 ways, two of them turn out like this. Same with the next pic.)

At the front entrance, you enter through the Passion facade. Again, the artistry is out of this world. I would also like to point out the dude sitting up there on the bridge between those spires. It is part of the design. The savior is not afraid of heights. (Look for a later pic with a finger point.)

This close-up gives you a feel for the design of the sculptures that make up the Passion facade. I do not think that these will ever look antiquated, and the expressiveness is undeniable.

We walked inside next. Now, some people are disappointed with the interior. It is a construction site, and it will be years before it is complete enough for religious services. But if you're curious to see a 170 m (560 ft) stone building under construction, then you will like it as much as I did.

More design elements will be added, but the size and scope of the interior is, once again, amazing. When it is completed, I cannot imagine how overwhelming the space inside is going to be.

You might look at this picture an think that an open window is allowing sunlight to hit the closer column and not the further. Nope. Age. Based on some pictures inside the cathedral's basement museum, I would estimate the one on the left as being from the 1950's and the one on the right from the 1880's.

I was amazed to look at the foot of this tower. In the front of the cathedral, where you find the four Evangelists' towers, the towers stretch down to that point, which looks to me incredibly like a bird's foot. Gaudi did a great many works where he incorporated the look of nature into his designs, and I think I see it right there. Can you not imagine this giant stone creature lifting that foot?

Walking away from Sagrada Familia, you do your best to get a great photo. But you would need a helicopter, or access to a neighboring roof, to do so. But in this one you can see the four towers that represent the Evangelists and how each tower becomes a foot.

I had no choice but to point out what I am pretty sure is the savior way up THERE.

Seriously. Many USA cities did not exist when this sucker began.

I like that these show this area of Barcelona when no building were taller than a story or two.

An artists' rendering of a completed Sargada Familia. Barbie and I have already agreed to return when it is done. I think this was covered the other day, but there will be 18 towers when it is done each set taller as they gain importance; 12 for the Apostles, four for the Evangelists, one for the Virgin Mary, and the tallest for Jesus Christ. I am happy that when we come back I will know that the €22 we spent on taking the tour went toward the construction of this wildly odd masterpiece.

As we walked to the city center, and crossed Avinguda Diagonal, look at who appeared to taunt me yet again. Torre Agbar!!!

By the way, if you look at a map of Barcelona, you see a city with of Roman-like grid of streets, and then slashing through the entire city is the bold Avinguda Diagonal. Coolness.

On our stroll from Sagrada Familia to the city center we came across the Arc de Triomf. It was built for the 1888 World's Fair, and overlooks the Passeig de Lluís Companys, which is essentially a huge, open plaza. Wait, this is Barcelona, so it is a Plaça.

By the way, moments after I took that pic, I looked up from my iPhone to see a stunningly beautiful young woman walking towards me, holding out her camera and asking me in Spanish if I would take a picture of her in front of the arch. I agreed to do it. Barbie, sitting in the shade 20 meters away, took a picture of the event but it has not been downloaded as of yet. I felt terribly foolish as we walked away, because I should have asked, "Con mi camera también?" She was very nice and would have said yes, and all my straight friends would have gone ga-ga over her.

There was something about the size of this brick structure that I fell in love with. Maybe because the brick differentiates it from all the Roman arches and the Parisian arch of the same name.

Just on the other side of the arch! Dios mio! Leave me alone, Torre Agbar.

In the Barri Gòtic, next to the cathedral that is under renovation and therefore not picturesque at all, is this. The only remains of the Roman wall which once surrounded the military camp Colonia Faventia Julia Augusta Pia Barcino. This Roman name Barcino is the origin of the name Barcelona, by the way. The Roman part is only the lower section of unevenly sized stones. They have built above it.

Here you see the Roman wall with a little bit of aqueduct coming out of it. And you see my wife standing in front of it.

Plaça de Sant Jaume, which is today used as city hall. I had no idea when I took this pic that four LDS missionaries were directly in front of me. But I point them out for any members of Barbie's family who read this.

We walked around a bit more, had lunch, considered all sorts of things we could do next and decided to hop in a cab.

Funny thing to see in a taxi.

We headed up to the Club Lounge for a snack, before hitting the pool.


From the Club Lounge... damn suppository.

As I waited for the Missus to get ready for the pool, I thought I would share this view of our room. The cool looking silver oval is a DVD/CD player that is integrated with the TV and speakers. BAOFTW. (For people over 19 years of age, that meant, "Bang & Olufsen For The Win.")

The pool shot again, taken because I took a pic from this same exact spot last night. Check it, it is on the blog. Should I put them side-by-side?


Honestly, we never got tired of this pool. By the pool, Barbie sat in the chair to my left. To her left was a couple from Arizona, Seth & Jody, who were born and raised in NYC. They met in 4th grade, around 7th grade he would hold her down at the school bus stop and stuff snow down her shirt, and sometime after that they got married and had three kids. I love stories like that. Turns out Jody's 50th Birthday was 2 days after Barbie's 50th Birthday, as in two weeks ago. Bonding occurred and we later shared food and a walk in the warm, midnight air.

I had taken pics of the Marina Olimpic from our room. This is the reverse, you see.

Barbie with our new friends Seth & Jody. While we bonded Barbie brought up the blog and they asked if they would make the blog. See, you made the blog!

Our midnight walk took us past restaurants, hooka pipe joints, and even bars with pole dancers. These are not strip joints, they are dance clubs which happen to have pole dancers.

Pole dancers during their break. Personally, I am horrified and disgusted that the men around them are not buying them drinks and asking stupid questions in an attempt to appear interested in more than just the whole pole dancing thing. Kids these days.

Opium Mar, which was referred to when Carlota took us to Opium Cinema. This place was packed, the only packed club along the beachfront. To my shame, it took me until this pic to realize that the lights are supposed to be opium poppies.

Above the boardwalk, the elevator to Opium Mar features poppy lights with our hotel in the background. Was I going to not take this pic?

Finally, as we entered the hotel driveway, I noticed this sign/placard/stone/whatever for the first time. This hotel was so very good to us, I might as well share their logo.