Sunday, February 1, 2009

January 2009


In mid-January we took our first super cheap flight with Ryanair - our roundtrip tix to Spain were only 35 euro each, including all taxes and surcharges. We flew right next to the snow-capped Pyrenees - the view alone was worth the cost of the flight. Ryanair flies all over Europe so we're hoping this is just the first of many low-cost explorations. We left our dog Sonya in the care of a couple of friends who stayed at our cottage. It worked out really well, so now we feel like we have the freedom to travel around Europe. This was one of our reasons for moving to Ireland.

La Rambla

We went to Barcelona for two reasons. First, family and friends on both sides of the Atlantic have been to Barcelona and rave about what a wonderful city it is. Second, our friend Josep grew up in Barcelona and we have always wanted to visit him. We met Josep in 2005 when we were wwoofing for some horrible people in West Cork -the ones who worked us to the bone then fed us seaweed from the beach. We bonded with Josep during those few tortuous weeks and have kept in touch ever since.

On our first day in the city we met up with Josep and walked down La Rambla, a very long pedestrian mall that ends at the sea, and Josep gave us a guided tour of the old Roman part of the city. Here we are under a cool footbridge connecting two buildings.

And on a not-so-scenic street.

"Living statues" are very popular on La Rambla, even at this time of year. There was one every 20 feet or so! I read that there is even a school in France where people learn how to do this.

He made me do this.

Parc Guell

One of the things that makes Barcelona so special is the architecture, in particular the works of Antoni Gaudi, a 19th century architect who was a whimsical, crazy genius. He was somehow able to turn Willy Wonka-esque fantasies into reality.These two buildings stand at the entrance to Parc Guell, designed by Gaudi for a wealthy patron but now a public park.

The grand entrance to Parc Guell

St. George and the.......salamander?

Josep explained that Saint George is the patron saint of Barcelona, and dragon imagery is seen everywhere. Somehow Gaudi's version doesn't look very threatening.

These stone walkways, like something out of the Jungle Book, snake all around the 50 acre park.

Cool planters made of stone.

Gaudi's house in the middle of the park - it was surprisingly plain on the interior.

Casa Battlo

Another of Gaudi's confections, created for a wealthy family. The roof symbolizes St. George (the cross) and the dragon (curved roofline textured with scales).

Windows in living area - no straight lines anywhere. Gaudi was very much inspired by natural forms, and the lower levels of the house had an underwater feel.

There were two of these gorgeous light wells in the middle of the building, bringing natural light to every room in the house. The second and third levels are now private apartments - I can only imagine what they pay to live in a Gaudi!

In the attic, rafters like the ribs of a whale.

On the roof - whimsical chimneys and a tiny room beneath the dragon scales.

Details of the dragon scales

La Sagrada Familia

This is Gaudi's great masterpiece - a huge cathedral started in the late 1800's and still not completed. It's supposed to be finished around 2025. The cathedral is so big that it was hard to get a photo of the whole thing from close up. This is taken from the top of Parc Guell - the cathedral spires rise above all the surrounding buildings on the right side of the photo. (Our hostel was very close to the silver bullet on the left side - a great landmark that made it easy to find our way back each evening!)

One entrance to the cathedral celebrates the birth of Jesus. It's very ornate an no surface is left uncarved.

Inside - the tall columns supporting the roof branch out like trees.

Construction workers inside the cathedral - talk about job security!

the other entrance depicts the crucifixion and is much more stark and sombre.

These huge columns slant at a crazy angle - architects and engineers say this is not stable, but Gaudi believed in nature.

Miscellaneous Architecture

Another Gaudi building, La Pedrera.

In Barcelona I finally understood how architecture can be an enduring form of art in a city. I guess I prefer this over-the-top style to the minimalist straight lines of most American cities. This is an ornate music hall.

Another fancy one - the dude might be St. George? Columbus?

A beautiful apartment building.

Scary dragon.

Barcelona has its own Arc d'Triumph

We flew in and out of Girona, about an hour outside of Barcelona. This is one of the ways Ryanair keeps its airfares cheap, by flying to secondary airports. We didn't mind, because it gave us a chance to see a little bit of the countryside outside the city, and somebody tipped us off that Girona is also well worth visiting. We stayed there on our last night before flying back to Shannon the next morning.

With only a few hours of light to explore, we headed right for the medieval quarter of Girona. The old city wall is amazingly intact around half of the old city, with a walkway along the top and beautiful views over the city. Girona is surrounded by the Pyrenees mountains on three sides.

On top of the old city wall. No visigoths here!

Secret little gardens have been created in the ruins of buildings that used to stand next to the wall.

St. George fighting the dragon.....

...and after the fight, friends again.

Ballycorick* Blues

Now before you go gettin' all jealous about our travels, I'll tell you the truth and say that after our trip, which was immediately followed by an awesome old-time/bluegrass music festival nearby, the reality of our financial situation coupled with bad weather and homesickness gave me the blues. I had 'em bad, bad enough to write my first song ever. Here it is so you can feel a tiny bit of sympathy for us, living here so far away from all our great friends and family whom we miss greatly.
(*Ballycorick is the name of our townland.)

Sing to any classic blues riff.......

The kerosene heaters broke
The antique toilet won't flush
Down to our last 10 euro
Living on spuds and corn mush

I got the Ballycorick Blues
I got the Ballycorick Blues
I got the Ballycorick Blues
On this snowy January day

I was married to Americay
Then Ireland stole my heart
Moved here to have a fling with her
And now my life is torn apart


We live in old stone cottage
Moved in a year ago
Saw the thatch on the roof
And we just couldn't let it go


First we drowned in the wettest summer
Then our pipes froze at 6 below* (*celsius)
I thought the grass was greener here
But now it's covered up with snow!


I left a good job
I left a good home
I left all my friends and my family
Oh why did I have to roam


So take my advice
If you're living your dream
Don't think the grass is greener
Don't change horses in mid-stream!

Or you'll get those Ballycorick Blues
The Ballycorick Blues
The Ballycorick Blues
On a cold, snowy, sleety, rainy, haily
Pissing down January day!

PS. I'm feeling a lot better. Signs of spring here!