Friday, October 31, 2008

We're Going on a Gaudi Hunt!

We're going on a Gaudi hunt - are you scared? Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish (Catalan) architect famous for his fantastical, organic-looking buildings and awesome mosaics. His buildings are some of the "must-see's" of Barcelona. (Apologies that this is such a huge post!)

Since many of these buildings required an expensive ticket to get in, we decided to simply focus on the ones we were most interested in.

Casa Mila ('The quarry)
We decided not to go in, based on the ticket price and that the roof (which contains some of the best features) was closed due to the rain. (Spot the line of tourists waiting to get in.)

Here is the cool front door:

Casa Batllo
("Baat-yo", based on a skeleton - can you see the "ribs"?) Casa Batllo is covered in amazing mosaics, like much of Gaudi's work.

Parc Guell
A 20-hectare park designed by Gaudi, it also features two gatehouses which look like gingerbread houses! I love them. They even have lollipop glass windows.

This is the opposite side, taken from the bottom of the steps in front of the gatehouses.

Pavillion - I can't tell where the ground starts or ends, and the buildings begin!

Huge butterfly gate of wrought iron, built by Gaudi.

The inside, right behind the gate in the above photo... I seriously wonder how he built this?

And the outside....

Gaudi designed this marketplace (the white top is the plaza, the bottom with the columns is the covered marketplace).

One of the gargoyles/ drainpipes from the pavilion:

The ceiling of the marketplace is made up of a series of mosaic domes.

This is the dragon "guardian" of the park. Everyone wanted its photo!

Gaudi's apartment in Parc Guell
This pink candy-floss coloured apartment was Gaudi's home,and is now a not-too-informative museum. It features furniture designed by him.

Cute furniture!!

I've saved the best for last: La Sagrada Familia (Atonement Cathedral of the Sacred Family)

This cathedral is has been under construction for the past hundred years, and still has 30-80 years of construction left. It defies belief. Some people love it, some hate it. We're in the first camp. Amazingly, the cost of construction is funded entirely by tourist ticket sales and patrons.

Here is what the cathedral is intended to look like once completed. It's almost like a giant cross in layout, with the nave being the long arm(leg?) of the cross.

Here is the Nave, looking towards the back of the church. It's still under quite a lot of construction. It's still open at the back, and water can come in. In this picture, you can see that Gaudi intended the pillars to be like trees - can you see the branches and leaves/ flowers at the top?

Only a few of the stained glass windows have been installed. This one is the first in the series near the Passion Facade.

Gaudi devoted the last 40 years of his life to the Cathedral's construction. He died in hospital three days after being hit by a tram in Barcelona. For the first few days, no-one recognised him, as his clothes were held together by pins and he was sleeping in the workshop on-site. (He was probably a bit wild and woolly!)

Unfortunately in the 1935 Spanish Civil War, his plans, models and a lot of the cathedral were smashed, so people are still debating about how to solve the complex engineering issues faced in construction. Other sculptors have created new sculptures and artworks in a different style.

The Nativity Facade is the one which most bears Gaudi's influence - it's a riot of animals and people looking at the Christ Child. Stone turtles are carved in the base of the pillars at the front.

If you look carefully, you can see the Christmas tree-like cypress tree in the centre of the towers, with doves on it.

Here is Brendan in front of the Passion Facade, which depicts the last few days before Christ's death and resurrection. You can see the style of the sculptures here is different because they were done by a different sculptor, although the anchoring pillars are Gaudi's.

After waiting in line for an hour and a half, we paid 2.50 Euros for the lift (in addition to the entry ticket), to take us up the 350 stairs inside the towers. From there we wandered around, enjoying the amazing views of Barcelona and the tiny stairs!

The towers are covered in gauze wire at the top to avoid birds nesting in them.

The towers are so narrow, they barely fit one person in! Not for the claustrophobic.

Looking down inside the bottom of the towers. When they're all completed, huge bells will hang in them.

Here is the central dome - an even-larger tower is planned for behind it!

Gaudi used nature as inspiration - here are some mosaic fruits by the Nave.

The views of Barcelona are fantastic!

The little balconies are a bit disconcerting, though.

Here is a secret view of the church, not usually seen by tourists, who are behind the blue barrier on the right.

The coolest part of the stairs is the end, where they wound around in a tight spiral with a gap straight to the bottom. Lots of people got a bit nauseous and wobbly at this part.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One OysterCard, two uses

Part of the fun of low-cost travelling is organising food. Last weekend, Geoff, Brendan and I were in Spain for five days. Rather than visit restaurants all the time, we opted to browse the local markets and supermarkets (aka "La supermercat"), for bread, cheese, pepperoni and fruit.

Boqueria Markets, Barcelona

Which is all well and good, of course, except when you're missing a knife. Supermercats don't stock disposable knives, and all pocketknives have been left behind to avoid confiscation at the airport. What are a group of hungry travellers to do?

Enter the humble OysterCard: your versatile travel companion. Not only for intra-London transport!

(Geoff assures us it's been in his wallet, and is therefore clean. We wash it anyway.)

It slices toughened salami, cake, three different cheeses of varying density, and the fragile sensibilities of the locals.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The car saga: Or, how we gained and lost a car on the same day

"The car's broken down and I'm just standing here on the M3."

Geoff sounded a bit lost. The night before, he'd been out to East London to check out a car for us, and had decided to buy it. We needed a car because we now live in the country, 5 miles from civilisation. We also needed a car because we were flying out of Luton Airport to Barcelona on Thursday, along with Geoff, and arriving back home around midnight on Tuesday. Luton Airport is 3.5 hours away by various trains, and buses to our place from Romsey are sporadic, at best.

So, Geoff was helping us buy a car. He'd already test-driven it the day before without incident. But after 30 miles, it died completely at the start of the M3 (motorway), leaving him stranded! Geoff was still around 100 miles away from our house, and it was rush hour. Picking him up with our flatmates' car was not an option.

After careful scrutiny of our car insurance policy (bought at 11pm the night before!), I realised that it included free breakdown insurance. I relayed the news to a very relieved Geoff, who was still stranded on the M3 watching the cars whizz by.

Unfortunately, the tow company would only tow for 20 miles. Dumping the car back on the seller's doorstep wasn't an option, as much as we wanted to! I found a garage 20 miles towards London, gave the address to the tow company, and the car was there for the night. It also happened to be the closest to the Tube Station.

The next morning, Geoff arrived early at the garage. It refused to repair the car, saying it would only break again. Also, the cost to repair would be more than the cost of the car. We were leaving for Barcelona about 8 hours later, and the car would almost certainly be towed if we left it on the street. Geoff managed to sell it for scrap about 3 hours before we were due to be at the airport, just to get rid of it.

To summarise: we bought, and lost a car in one day. We never actually saw it, only a photo from Geoff. And now we don't have the money to buy another car, since we spent it on train tickets to Luton Airport.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Here is a gratuitous photo from our day.

Actually, several photos. This is the little park behind our house. We've never been in it before. Usually the man-screams of basketball or soccer games are broadcast from here.

The park mostly consists of a half-basketball court, and an obstacle course. I've just been for a run here (4 miles) so you can see my workout gear and my brand new running shoes. I always wear this little shrug (grey jacket) when I run, since my arms get cold.

Out of nowhere a blurry grey shape with bright blue eyes jumped all over me and then onto Brendan. It looked like a wolf. Here they are playing. (My white t-shirt wasn't happy with the muddy claw marks.)

The dog was ecstatic, running around the small park and playfighting with Brendan. The owner came along, and explained the dog was a teenage puppy, and it had escaped. Dog and owner left at a run as the dog pulled on the leash.

Oh no, not Waitrose!

It's horrific. The only supermarket in Romsey is Waitrose.

Not that there's anything particularly wrong with Waitrose. However, supermarkets in Britain tend to be either expensive (Marks & Spencers, Waitrose), or cheap (Tesco, Sainsburys, Aldis). If you buy the supermarket brand products, it's way cheaper. E.g. I found most packets of 500g penne pasta in Sainsburys were around 1.56 pounds. Similar penne pasta labelled "Sainsburys Basics" cost 18p. Pasta, after all, is just duram wheat flour, water and egg white made into pretty shapes. Now, if only they could make wholemeal pasta at that price....

For Kiwis, this is a bit like the only supermarket in town being Woolworths or New World. Or even the Organic Shop. Bummer, it's expensive, small and mostly stocks organic goat cheese and twelve different kinds of Belgium hot chocolate powder. (I counted. The one in Milton Keynes.)

However, for Brits, it's not just about price and access to twelve different kinds of hot chocolate powder. Marks & Spencers is more like a department store with a grocery tacked on the side. It sells things like organic, (presumably happy) chicken meat for NZ$40/kg. It also has Simply M&S, a standalone shop in the rail stations and chemists/drugstores (seriously) offering gourmet packaged meals at equally gourmet prices.

As our friend Becky once observed about British life, where you shop for your groceries apparently defines you. How else to explain how keen everyone is to lug around a cloth shopping bag emblazoned with 'M&S' and a suitably arty black and white image of a woman's head or green stenciled leaves? Marks & Spencers: the only supermarket for the hipster. It's hip to be green.

Luckily for us, we just care if it's nutritious and cheap. Being new to a country has its advantages. Now we definitely need a car! Winchester's only 11 miles away, and I hear Sainsburys calling.

The village of Romsey

... is apparently our next housing destination. We've had no luck finding something in Winchester itself, or even Eastleigh for that matter. We confirmed the details with the landlord today, and we're moving in on Sunday! Thanks to everyone for thoughts, prayers and general sympathy. (I was going to show you all where Romsey is on the map, but you'll have to look it up yourself. Google Maps and Blogger are both non-cooperative today.)

We're also looking into getting a car. I'm in two minds about this: on the one hand, I'd prefer to support public transport for the environmental aspect. I'd also prefer not to deal with the hassles of a car, and car insurance and ownership is far more expensive than the US. We'd pay the same amount in insurance per month here as we did in the US per six months!

On the other hand, it's hard to get around without a car, especially since we'll be living in a village, and public transport is extremely expensive. (E.g. travelling by train from here to Winchester is 64 pounds each!) So if we want to do any travelling, a car will pay for itself in train tickets over a year. Also, I may still end up working in London, although I'd prefer to work closer to home to avoid a two hour commute.

G, our ex-flatmate currently living in London, and used-car mogul par excellence, is helping us search. It would be great to find something by the weekend, so we can move all our stuff. G's also graciously agreed to teach us "the ways of the Force", as he calls it: driving "stick" shift. Last time he tried to teach me, the story became a Wellington urban legend amongst certain New World Thorndon (supermarket) workers .... F

Thoughts? Car? No car?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

... as soon as we find a house

It's a little harder than we expected to find a new place in Winchester - we really need one by this week so Brendan can start work down there. Either there aren't many rooms available, or we're just looking in the wrong places. I'm sure we'll sort something out soon.

For the past month, I've been training for a half-marathon (exact one TBA). Today I'm about to do seven miles, the longest run this week. It's cold and raining - should be 'interesting'. Hopefully Brendan will be brave enough to come with me on his bike!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

We're moving!

Brendan has been offered a job in Hursley, a little village down near Southampton at the bottom of the country. So we're leaving Milton Keynes and our obsessively tidy Sri Lankhan flatmates* behind and moving to Winchester.

Winchester has apparently been voted "Best Place to Live", and was the ancient capital of England. I'm particularly interested in Winchester Cathedral. It's the longest cathedral in Europe. Building started in 1027 AD, and by 1100 the monks had moved in.

Winchester Cathedral is also famous because Jane Austin, writer of "Pride and Predjudice" is buried there. Plus, it has ice-skating! (Brendan jokes that it combines two of my favourite things.) Unfortunately I won't be able to sing in the choir there, but oh well. The Girls choir is limited to age 17 and under.

So this weekend we hope to do some intensive searching for a new room, and collect our many boxes where they have languished for the past week on a London dock somewhere. Wish us luck!

*Only one is obsessively tidy, but it affects everyone. "Tee - na! Never, never [put dirty pot in sink, etc. etc.]."