Erin Virginia

Name:
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Barcelona

Chris was able to join me on my recent work trip to Barcelona. I flew in a day earlier than Chris to visit a hospital in Girona (Lina took pictures which I will post). I had an uneventful flight through Amsterdam, but Chris took a flight that connected through and had a 5 hour layover in Madrid. He planned in advance and took a bus from the airport so he could walk around Madrid for a couple hours.
Palace in Madrid

Museum of Jamon

I worked through Thursday and then Chris and I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Barcelona together. We started out most mornings in the Boqueria, an open air market right across the street from our hotel in the historic, gothic part of Barcelona. The main tourist street in the old town is called La Rambla and is where street performers pose and vendors sell everything from postcards to pet rabbits. At night, prostitutes gather at the water's edge of the avenue. At the Boqueria, we ate big bowls of fruit, fresh squeezed juice, fried balls of salt cod and strips of Spain's famous Jamon (aged ham). Other than Jamon, we ate lots of tapas. The restaurants line up small pieces of foods on glassed counters, which anyone can grab via the toothpicks stabbed through them. In many places, when you want to pay the bill, you simply count the toothpicks.
We spent most of Friday touring the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, who died in 1926. We didn't take a tour of his houses or apartment buildings (the first picture below), but we did go inside and up the spires of his famous church, Sagrada Familia. The church was partially constructed before Gaudi's death, construction ceased and was re-started several years ago. The builders estimate that the church will not be complete for 25-30 years since funding depends on private contributions and tourist fees. The exterior of Sagrada Familia. When complete, another huge spire will emerge from the middle of the church topped by a giant cross.
We paid the extra 2.50 Euros to take the elevator up the spires and walked the bridge between two. The views up close and out to the sea were incredible. I admit that my legs got a little shaky going down the stairs.

Sketch of the finished church The last location on the list was Park Guell, which Gaudi originally intended to be an upscale, gated housing development. As a housing development, the design failed, but today the acreage is open to the public and includes a couple fanciful houses, a structure intended to be an open-air market and shaded walkways that resemble the interior of a wave, among other constructions.

Saturday, we explored the Gothic part of town again, visited the Picasso Museum and walked along the beach. The weather was crisp and sunny. Chris and I didn't think the Picasso Museum was a great investment of time, since most of his major works are housed in other museums. I cannot emphasize how much the Jamon is part of the culinary culture in Barcelona. It appears on every menu and the animal legs hang from the restaurant ceilings as though a prop in a horror movie. Except these are real flesh and bone, with an entire leg often priced over 100 Euros.
Crossing the street Sunday morning to hit the Boqueria, we encountered processions for Palm Sunday. People paraded to the beat of drums and trumpet carrying sheafs of palm leaves while above their heads a statue of Jesus was carried.
After breakfast, we rented a scooter and drove to Montjuic, a hill high above the city. We didn't tour the museum or castle at the top (involves taking a tram or hiking the mountain), but instead drove as far up as we could. Afterwards, we drove into the business district and back along the water and later took a last walk through the Gothic Quarter.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Work Trip to Toronto

Earlier this week, I had a quick, overnight trip to Toronto. Lina, a girl I work with, and I flew to Toronto Monday night and flew back to Boston late Tuesday evening. We had a few hours to walk around the city and along Yonge Street - I also had a great view from my hotel room. The last time I was in Toronto, Chris and I were driving back to MN from a friend's wedding in New York, and it was right in the middle of the SARS outbreak. There were definitely a lot more people on the streets this time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekend of Rain

It has been pouring non-stop for the last two days. We have at least a half inch of water in the basement (or cellar as they say out here), and I've been wearing my rainboots when I walk downstairs. I didn't bother to move some now soggy boxes of books - I'm going to use this as an excuse to purge our old textbooks. The rest of March will be a busy travel month for me, with a trip each week through the end of the month. I will be in Spain at the end of next week, and I am really excited that Chris is going to meet with in Barcelona for a long weekend. He'll be on his own for a day and then we'll have three full days together to explore the city.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Caribbean Cruise

Chris and I met most of my family in Miami last week to set sail on a Western Caribbean cruise. It turned out that Chris and I were booked on the same connecting flight into Miami as Sean and Bonny, so we all took a cab to our hotel in South Beach. My parents and Jamie and the girls didn't arrive until late Saturday night. The weather was COLD and rainy, but we still wandered down to the beach and along the streets.

Rainbow in South Beach
We all met on the ship, the Norwegian Jewel, early Sunday afternoon and unpacked into our tiny staterooms. This was the first cruise for my dad, Jamie and the girls and Chris and me.

On the ship in Miami
Monday was a day at sea and still ridiculously chilly, but we scrounged lounge chairs on the upper decks and sat out reading for a while. Braver members of the family tested the pool, but not me.

Miss Pina Colada
Tuesday, we pulled into port in Roatan, Honduras. Chris and I rented a scooter for the day and covered about half the island, while stopping for a bit at the beach. For some reason, I thought cruise ships only pulled into well-developed ports, but past the dock, Roatan quickly shifted into third-world shacks, bony dogs and kids in blue trousers/skirts and white shirts trudging to school. Nice houses rimmed a few beaches, but along other inlets, trash mixed so heavily with seaweed that the waves couldn't make it ashore without touching aluminum cans, plastic or other litter.

Varsana's $1 Picture
Walking on the Beach
After we got back to the ship Tuesday evening, Chris came down with either food poisoning or a virus that kept him up all night sick, so he wasn't at his full sight-seeing sparkle when we anchored near Belize City Wednesday. My mom and Jamie and the girls took a boat/bus tour of the area, but my dad, Sean and Bonny and I just walked around another surprisingly rural city. Belize City was formerly a British colony, so we did see old government buildings and a church. My mom told me later that her bus toured some extremely affluent neighborhoods where the wealthy landowners onced lived (and still do). Another interesting fact is that in the 1960's a group of Mennonites re-located to Belize, began farming the land successfully and now produce a large percentage of the countries crops.
Viewing the Old Church
Thursday, we ported in Costa Maya, Mexico. Bonny's birthday! Sean, Bonny and my mom took a two hour bus ride to to see the Mayan ruins, while the rest of us hit the beach. We actually ended up doing more walking than swimming. Late afternoon, I ended up feeling sick and went back to the ship. It turned out that Sean got sick at the ruins and had to endure a two hour bus ride back. I felt badly for Bonny who didn't really get to fully celebrate her birthday since we all bailed on dinner.

From Jamie's Balcony
Stopping for a Cold Drink
Jamie works on his tan
Friday was another day at sea and was my mom's birthday! We all lounged around the ship, not doing much and met at a teppanyaki restaurant for dinner to celebrate Bonny and my mom's birthdays. Afterwards, we all went to an acrobatic show, a la Cirque de Soleil. And you guessed it, Bonny got sick that night.
Near the "Sapphire Pool"
Happy Birthday from the Staff
Saturday turned into one of the best days of the cruise. Norwegian owns its own island in the Bahamas, and Sean and Bonny (who felt somewhat better), Chris and I boarded the first tender to the island and explored the coastline away from many of the other passengers. The beach was covered with drying groups of man-of-war. It was still cool and windy, but as we circled the island, the waves stilled into pale blue pools. It was too much for Chris, who jumped into the water. Sean and Bonny and Jamie and Varsana went parasailing later in the day, and the rest of us spent the afternoon swimming, sitting on the beach or collecting shells. (One damp sand-dollar later, you can imagine how my back-pack smells.)

Man-of-War
Back home now and back to work.