A Travellerspoint blog

Tapas time!

while I'm sipping a catalan wine

sunny 24 °C
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Part of the reason these entries are so colorful is that I write them during 'happy hour', something of a daily routine whence we drink a bottle of wine procured in our daily explorations, prior to dinner. We're about 2/3 through tonight's bottle, and counting. Today was another day of walking tours of Barcelona's points of interest, having discovered that we spend alot less on petrol that way, albeit more on gelato. Actually, we began the day navigating Barcelona's metro system, en route to Parc Guell, another of Gaudi's masterpieces. We thought we were early enough to beat the crowds, not the mention the pickpockets, but the place was a zoo even at 10am. Worthwile though for the city views, whimsical mosaics, and sunshine. We observed the Spanish siesta, returning to our room to rest our feet over lunch before emarking on the second half of the day's explorations, taking us to the beaches of Barcelona in hopes of finding topless sunbathers, but instead encountering scads of spring breakers. Not so much our style. We made our way back through the barrios of Barcelona, not so much different than the French villages after all. We're just starting to get comfortable in BCN, just in time to leave tomorrow. I'm always sad at the end of a vacation, but Nathan is definitely ready to get home, having been here nearly 3 weeks now. We'll drown our sorrows in Cava and Tapas tonight. Probably won't write again, as we're on the road back to France, via Andorra, tomorrow. Adios!

Posted by nat-ali 09:56 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hola again!

This time from Spain...

sunny 22 °C
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Our impression of Spain is much different than France. We took the scenic route along the Mediterranean Costa Brava and hardly realized we were crossing the border, marked only by an abandoned, grafittied block building and a sign saying "Espana". Needless to say, no new stamps in our passports. The difference in appearance of the villages was immediately apparent. More run down, none of the Disney-esque perfection of the French villages. We apparently were on the hooker highway to Barcelona. There was a girl sitting by the road every few kilometers, and every once in awhile an empty folding chair. We stopped for lunch in Girona, and happened to land in the middle of a huge Catalan celebration of their patron Saint Jordi. We also wandered around the ancient bishopric and took a tour of the Arab Baths before hitting the road again. I must say, we were a bit paranoid about Spain, and were relieved to find our car was not broken into. Upon arriving in Barcelona we promptly parked in a secured garage and put the key in the hotel safe, along with our other valuables. Regrettably, the #1 advisory about visiting Barcelona is keep you hand on your wallet! Luckily we've had no problems as we've explored the city, having been here now for 24 hours. The first difference, of course, is in the size of the city relative to the provincial villages we stayed in
in France. Also, the timeline of activity is very different. In France, everything closes down promptly at 5:00. In Barcelona we arrived at 5, and found a bar for tapas near the hotel, then wandered along La Rambla until 10:30, and it was still packed shoulder to shoulder when we gave up and went to bed. What a difference this morning when we practically had La Rambla to ourselves, with the exception of the human statues who were just getting in costume and smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk prior to entertaining tourists all day. We made another big walking tour of the city, stopping at buildings designed by the architect Antonin Gaudi and his most famous project and museum, La Sagrada Familia cathedral, begun in 1882 and still under construction, slated for completion in 2038. It was definitely different than all the cathedrals we saw in France. We were able to take the lift to the top of one of the spires for a magnificent city view. We got plenty more city views at street level as we made our (long) way back to the hotel for a siesta before dinner tonight, when we will find a tapas bar in the gothic quarter and relieve our aching feet with Cava!

Posted by nat-ali 09:49 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Au Revoir France!

Back on the grid

storm 12 °C
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  • * To view pictures, go to the right hand column and select Authors: nat-ali; once there, you can click on Photo Gallery **

Bonjour! Day 6 and we’re still getting along! An update just as we’re about to leave France for Spain. We’ve been off the grid as there aren’t many internet cafes, this doesn’t seem to be a backpacker route, mostly French and Britons on holiday. I like it that way, it feels like the villages offer a more authentic French experience than would Paris. Although I can see that in the summertime this area will be full of tour buses, and some of the villages are distinctly touristy, in the springtime we have the place to ourselves.
Since leaving Toulouse, it has felt like we’re on the Amazing Race. First, trying to explain to the taxi driver that we needed to go to the airport, but for a car, not a flight. Then, trying to cram all our luggage into a European compact car, then trying to navigate the French highways and tolls. Our first stop was Albi, a tiny town high in the mountains with a magnificent fortress/cathedral and river panoramas, not to mention our first day of sunshine. Then we wound our way down through the mountains to the agricultural Provence valley, not unlike Eastern Washington or the Skagit Valley. We arrived in the town of Arles just as the shops were closing up, but in time to see the Roman coliseum and amphitheatre before dusk.
The next day we explored Provence intimately, by way of spending the first hour lost and disoriented, but at least it was scenic! The driver blaming the navigator, and the navigator blaming the driver, but eventually we found our way, but not before Nathan decreed that I must use the English phonetic pronunciation of town names rather than my interpretive French accent.  The reward was worth the trouble, as we found our first destination, L’Isle Sur La Sorgue (“L Eel Soor La Sor-geew”), arguably the best market in Provence. Our first impression was the Peruvian flute band playing Abba’s greatest hits. The market is huge, along the canals and narrow alleys, selling produce, meats, olive oil, and other Provencal specialties. Luckily the weather cooperated: blustery, but intermittently sunny. We had a nice market lunch of quiche before heading for our next destination, but unfortunately the storm caught up with us by the time we made it to St. Remy. We wanted to watch a bullfight in the town arena, but it was cancelled due to the weather. So for consolation we had a café & chocolat in town. Everything was closed anyway since it was a Sunday. At least the next town was open, albeit a tourist trap, the mountain fortress village of Les Baux. The rain and wind intensified, putting a damper on our sightseeing there. I get the impression that there’s not much going on in Provence until the lavender blooms in late summer, so it was a bit of a disappointment.
Monday morning the weather was decent, so we left Provence early to stay ahead of the storm. We began the day with the customary seeking of the boulangerie (pastry shop) for breakfast on our way to a plaza rendered by Van Gogh, then we checked out of the monks cloister and headed along the Cotes du Rhone wine road where we found 3 very different wineries. The first, a small place where the vintner himself tried to communicate in Franglish and we bought two bottles of his excellent “chataneuf de pape” wine. The second, a tourist trap in a castle that ignored us because we didn’t come in a bus, and the third a very professional one in town with a British kid who gave us a tour and tasting lesson. Afterward, we drove out to Le Pont du Gard, a magnificent Roman aqueduct where we did a little nature hike to the viewpoint. Yet again the storm pursued us, and most of the drive threatened rain, which didn’t materialize until we were unloading the car at the Mediterranean cliffside hotel. Luckily it passed in time for sunset and a walk to town for dinner.
Which brings us to today, Tuesday. Nathan’s narrative: “It was hot. The day started with Alisa trying to wash my underwear in the sink, until Nathan convinced her to go to the Laundromat. We then walked to the ‘crap-town’ next door, because Alisa wasn’t sure if the town we were in was the ‘good one’ or not. Turns out it was. The only saving grace of the hour-long walk was that we got to go to the Wal-mart of France and buy our signal flare for driving in Spain.” Well, that pretty much covers it for today.  We see why Nathan doesn’t blog. Until Barcelona, Au Revoir!

Posted by nat-ali 13:38 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A little rain won't stop us...

We're from Seattle!

storm 12 °C
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Another day of rain, but we're from Seattle, that won't stop us! Luckily we brought our coats and umbrella, but they make us stick out like a sore thumb since they're not black - Nathan's coat is bright green, mine is purple, and the umbrella is rainbow. :) Nathan introduced me to his business traveler lifestyle: up bright and early (6:00), breakfast in the hotel (7:00), and train to work (8:00) (while I window shop and wander around the city) then back to the hotel (5:00) for a couple hours to relax and refresh before free drinks in the "Boeing lounge" (7:00), and a very late dinner (9:00), coming home to bed (11:00) on a full belly and a fuzzy head, to do it all again tomorrow. But, being Friday, and being France, he got off at noon today and we went to a market for a really neat lunch, ordered in French, no less! He had boeuf (beef) and I had poissons (fish), on a typical prix fixe menu complete with entree (appetizer), plat (entree), and dessert (dessert). I got the assiete de fromages (assortment of cheeses) which included 3 selections: a brie, another creamy cheese, and one absolutely awful bitter cheese! All this was 13 euro per person ($20). Last night's dinner, also prix fixe, was 35 euro per, ($52) and a 35e bottle of wine. Worth it though, it was a very nice restaurant requiring reservations, with only 8 tables, serving the regional specialties, foie gras and cassoulet canard (duck). So as you may tell, most of our day revolves around mealtimes, but we have had time for some sightseeing in the city, of which I'll attach pictures. Today's highlights were the Jardin des Plantes, Cathedral St. Etienne, Le Capitole, and of course the Victor Hugo Place market where we had lunch. We're excited to get going tomorrow, but uncertain when we'll have internet access again, as our next hotel is a 12th century monks' cloister. :) I'll write when I can. Au Revoir!

Posted by nat-ali 09:27 Archived in France Tagged business_travel Comments (1)

Bonjour!

Greetings from Toulouse

rain 12 °C
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I made it! My sweet husband met me at the airport and expertly got us a cab back to the city center, where the hotel is located. Despite the late hour (11pm) there were still lots of people about, probably the university crowd at the pubs. I stayed awake long enough to use the bidet and the douche then gratefully went to sleep in a horizontal position, an improvement over last night on the plane! Wake up call came early and we went down to breakfast (chocolate croissants!) in the hotel with a Boeing colleague, then I went back up to the room and napped for a couple hours while they went to work. The weather here is exactly as I left Seattle, 55' and raining, unseasonable but not uncomfortable. I can see a sea of umbrellas from my hotel window overlooking the Capitol Plaza as I write. I got in a couple hours exploration of the city, but didn't find any markets today. I'm saving my Euros for Provence and Barcelona anyway. Nathan's taking me to a nice French restaurant tonight, but it doesn't open until 8:30, so we're in the room watching weightlifting on EuroSport - more entertaining than the English channels, which are CNN and MSNBC. It will get more entertaining from here on out when Nathan's not working. I fare okay on my own, with the little French I learned on the plane. The usual pleasantries, as well as "how much does it cost?" and "too expensive!", my favorite phrases in any language! It's certainly more expensive here than my previous travels, but as Nathan points out, we didn't have to get any shots to come here, and it's nice to be able to use the tap water to brush our teeth! Hopefully I'll have more entertaining content to relate tomorrow. Au Revoir!

Posted by nat-ali 07:38 Archived in France Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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