Friday, February 20, 2015

Barcelona in February

Days 12-13

Thursday and Friday were vintage Barcelona. 

Day 12
Thursday was spent at the Segrada Familia where I marveled at the progress being made on (what is IMHO) the world's most amazing basilica. The towers are rising quickly, the completion elements of the passion facade are being added and the new glory facade is being constructed. The tours are remarkably crowded for mid-winter SO BUY YOUR TICKETS ON LINE and walk right in.

Segrada Familia 2015*

The rest of the day was spent touring the Bari Gotic with stops at the Palau of Catalan Music and a walk down La Ramblas. We realized we forgot to get a crepes dinner in Paris, so we remedied that in Barcelona with a crepe of emental cheese, Spanish ham and an egg! That came with a great spinach salad and a beer for 9 E. Stops were made at a traditional nougat shop (YUM!) and a shop where I could buy my own big fluffy neck hugging scarf like I saw everyone in Europe wearing the past two weeks.....    

Roadboy at Barcelona's 
"Circus" Store El Ingenio*

A Gargoyle in the Gotic*

A Human Sculpture On La Ramblas

Loving Barcelona Modernisme

Day 13
Today was a train trip to the Abbey of Montserrat. I love that trip. It was partly cloudy and a bit chilly but very nice. We returned in time to visit the fountains on Montjuic and Seek out somewhere for a big-ass American hamburger......

Montserrat Abbey

The National Gallery and its Fountains on Montjuic*

Gotta get up at 5:00 am to start our Saturday journey home.

JFK is calling for snow. Make way, I see real life comin at me.

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

* Photos Thanks to Scott

Thursday, February 19, 2015

London Calling!

Days 8-11

Day 8
Departure and travel from Paris to London St. Pancras on the Eurostar was really easy. Similarly the Southern rail connection to East Croydon where I'd booked a new Hampton Inn.

After checking in the hotel it was time to venture back into London to look around, have a dinner at one of my cheap-o favorites (Wok to Walk) and enjoy the first of three West End plays: The Commitments. The show was so much fun. 1960/70's soul music meets Dublin Ireland! For the entire last 30 minutes of the show the entire audience was on its feet clapping and rocking the rickety old Palace Theater.

Day 9
Monday morning was a bit grey and rainy (duh! its London in February!) 

A good day for indoor stuff. So the day was spent exploring Winchester Abbey. What a treasure trove of British history! Alas they do not allow photographs! We stopped into a pub near Covent Garden for a pub dinner of Cod and Chips and some English ale (i.e. not served cold), all was pretty darned good actually.  

Monday nights play was The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night. This play was originally produced by the National Theater where it won 7 Olivier Awards including Best New Play of 2013. It is now playing at the Gielgud Theater in London and is now on in NYC. This show had everyone on the edge of their seats for 2 hours and 40 minutes. It utilizes an absolutely amazing high tech set. I look forward to someone making this into a movie!

Day 10
Damn it was a really bright sunny day in London (am I in London in February?!) 

Figured this would be a great day to walk around. We began by visiting London's hot Southwark area and a visit to London's original jail (referred to as "The Clink"). That was followed by almost four hours at the Tower of London.

Views of The City From Southwark
Note Richard Roger's New 122 Leadenhall Building 
(Affectionately Known as The Cheesegrater)

Tower Bridge*

The White Tower*
(The Tower of London)

Home of The Queen's Armor Collection 
And The Crown Jewels

While touring the White Tower I finally stopped and asked a staffer about the bombing in the White Tower in 1974. I watched a video that only mentioned the White Tower as a modern bombing target in World War II. 

But for me its personal. When I was 18 and visiting the London for the first time in 1974 I toured the White Tower and just two days later when we'd moved on to Paris the White Tower was bombed. At the time it was generally attributed to the Irish Republican Army. But it took a heavy toll killing a teacher and seriously injuring 35 others. 

The building was closed for many months. 

The staffer quietly instructed me where to look to find a discretely placed plaque in the cannon room memorializing the sad event. It was not exactly easy to find and I realized I'd  walked right by it on two or three previous visits. 

Apparently the bomb was slipped in a cannon on display. Which I was told why all of the cannons on display at the Tower of London are now sealed.  

1974 Bombing of the Tower of London

After a hoi-sin duck pizza at Wildwood, we went on to Tuesdays's play. It was the newly opened London edition of Beautiful (The Carole King Musical). Although this was only the third or fourth performance it was spot on. It received well deserved standing ovations and a couple of curtain calls. If you have the chance to see this play in NYC or London - DO IT!

Day 11 
Got up very early for a flight from Gatwick to lovely sunny Barcelona. Although the hotel advertised being close to the airport (train said 15 minutes) they advised we use a taxi. WHAT A MISTAKE. Uber cabbie hotel arranged drove us to hell and gone making a 30 minute drive take almost an hour. I'll just stick to the train next time.

Still caught the flight on time and checked into the Hilton Barcelona. It is still served(?) by the typically crappy Swisscom hotel Internet services. Swisscom severely limits uploads on data. So I'll limit photos on these last few blog posts.

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

* (Photos Thanks to Scott!)

P.S. Did I say how lousy Swisscom hotel internet service is? It occurred to me that Swisscom's awful service (which if I weren't Diamond at Hilton I'd be charge 20E a day for - No I am not making that up!) is exactly what we'll get in the US if we lose net neutrality.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sacre Coeur and Montmarte

DayS 6-7

Short little post on the last full day in Paris. It was a Saturday so families were out enjoying the partly cloudy day as well. Paris is a very family oriented city with lots of open space for kids to kick balls and just hang out.

Part of the day was spent walking the tallest hill in Paris looking for some souvenirs and just joining the crowds visiting the beautiful Basilica of Sacre Coeur.

Montmarte Weekends 

By Parisian standards this monumental church is relatively new being completed after WWI. It is very well cared for. In fact its windows were removed during WWII to assure the stained glass would not be damaged.

Sacre Coeur*

Got one photo from inside as well......not supposed to do that as they like to sell you postcards.

With the sun running and hiding behind clouds the cityscape views were even a bit more interesting  than usual.  

View from Sacre Coeur 

That night was spent packing and preparing for the Eurostar chunnel train trip to London St. Pancras on Sunday.

Awaiting Boarding Time for the EuroStar

My last on the Eurostar was probably about 15 years ago. Back then the trains embarked from Waterloo station and were all new. This trip the trains were fast, timely and showing a lot of wear and tear etc.

Next post will be from London.

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

* Photo thanks to Scott

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Catacombs Below Paris

Day 5 

During the 12th century much of what is Paris' Left bank was filled with limestone mining operations. The (often illegal) mines were conducted by digging a vertical shaft and then digging horizontally pretty much wherever the veins of limestone went until they ran out. 

As Paris grew in the 18th century, it grew directly over the top of these long abandoned mines. After a series of cave-ins beginning in 1774 Louis XVI created a commission to investigate and survey the Paris underground.

Coincidentally cemeteries in Paris were overflowing. The worst overcrowding was at Paris' principal cemetery (Saints Innocents church) which had been used since 1130 and now by the 19th century was a two meter high mound of bones.

As cavern stabilization was being achieved, the logic of relocating the bones from Paris' overflowing above ground cemeteries into its abandoned mines seemed a perfect fit. Initially the bones were just exhumed and dumped in the caverns. The Louis-Etienne Hericart de Thury (head of Paris' mine inspections services) began turning the caverns into formal mausoleums by stacking skulls and femurs in various patterns.

Over the years the catacombs and ossuaries have been available for touring. Various sections are filled with graffiti dating back to 1871. During World War II Paris members of the French Resistance used the tunnels as did German soldiers.

Today a section of the Catacombs are operated as Paris' creepiest city run museum. The unassuming entrance is across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau Metro stop. The Admission price is 10E. Only 200 visitors may be in the catacombs at any time, so there are frequently lines waiting to enter. 

There is no elevator in or out of the catacombs. There are no restrooms. There are 130 spiral steps descending into the catacombs and 83 to exit. The floors are uneven, gravelly in parts and frequently wet and slippery. Travel is one-way. You enter one end set of stairs walk 2 KM then exit via another set of stairs.

So, herewith is Roadboy's welcome to the world's largest necropolis, Paris' empire of the dead. 

The Entrance Passages*

Stop! Here is The Empire of the Dead!
Home of more than 6,000,000 Skeletons

A Grotto*

A Barrel Column Composed of Human Bones*

A Heart*

Other Patterns*

One of Various Sculptures*

The Stairs At the End Leading Back to "Everyday" Paris*

All in all a fascinating place to visit. Not a suitable place to visit with small children or for anyone suffering from claustrophobia.

Roadboy's Travel © 2015

(*Thanks to Scott for his photos!)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Winter Day at Versailles

Day 5

Versailles has always been more than a royal palace. It began as a hunting lodge and was continuously expanded until Louis XIV finally abandoned the Palace of the Louvre and moved to Versailles. Along with him he brought the government of France. The Palace was expanded continuously and today contains 721,206 Square Feet including offices, residences, museums, galleries, an opera house and a church. But it is its site that truly boggles the mind. Versailles encompasses over 2000 acres. At one time there were over 60,000 residents living at the palace.

It is really easy and inexpensive (3.6 E) to take the RER C train to Versailles. And you can't really mess up you just get off at the end of the line.


One of the Restored Ceilings

Another Ceiling*

Roadboy in the Hall of Mirrors*

Comparison Illustrating Restoration Efforts

This is where Marie Antoinette tried (and failed) to escape the mobs through a secret passage from her upstairs bedroom.

Since the revolution the palace has been deemed a historic site subject to continuous restoration. It is just such a marvelous place to visit when the crowds of Paris start to make you crazy.

The Tree Lined Roads on the Grounds*

Sunset At Versailles*

Like the Louvre, this is a place that really requires at least 2 days to see it all. Our visit allowed for the main palace, but we barely go to walk on the grounds and have no time to visit the Grand and Petit Trianon or Marie Antoinette's Cottages.

Tomorrow a visit to the Paris Catacombs!

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

(*Thanks to Scott for the Photos)

La Madeliene, The Louvre and Notre Dame

Day 4

Wednesday was set aside for getting to know the heart of Paris by burning up some good old shoe leather. We set out from the hotel to walk to The Louvre. Along the way we encountered the monstrously huge Le Madeleine.

La Madeliene*

The Altar at La Madeliene*

In all my visits to Paris I never realized La Madeliene was actually a huge Catholic church. Somehow I had always thought it was some sort of national archive.

In reality La Madeliene began in 1182 when Bishop Maurice De Sully seized a Jewish Synagogue and reconsecrated it as a Catholic church. In 1757 a new church was designed using the Latin cross with dome design. Construction was begun in 1763 and was halted in less than a year.

Nothing happened again until 1777 when a new architect was selected to plan the church. He razed all of the earlier work and planning a completely different church based on Rome's Pantheon. But then the French revolution began and by 1789 with only the foundations and portico complete, construction stopped again.

As the country entered its post revolutionary period lots of ideas were considered how best to use the partially built church. That was settled in 1806 when Napoleon decreed La Madeliene should be an army memorial ad brought in another new architect.

Upon Napolean's fall, Louis XVIII assumed power and decreed that La Madeliene should be a church. Louis brought on a new architect (given up counting yet?) who worked on a church plan until the July Monarchy when a power shift once again decided it should be monument of national reconciliation...... 

or a train station.

By 1842 La Madeliene was consecrated as a church and just 7 years later gained international prominence as the site of Chopin's funeral. With such a fascinating and turbulent history it is heartbreaking to see it in its present horrible state of decay.

We then walked a few blocks to the Place de la Concorde to see where the Guillotine's operated during the revolution. From here we went on to spend many (many) hours in the Louvre.

Winter At The Louvre*

Diana Of the Hunt
(Pierre - Nicolas Beauvallet 1799)

It is amazing how I always anticipate spending 2-3 hours at the Louvre and (without realizing it) wind up spending more like 10 hours. Time just disappears. And, despite all that walking, I barely scratch the surface of France's finest collection of art treasures.

The Young Martyr
(Paul Delaroche 1855)

But, of course The Louvre is far more than an art museum. Its history parallels the modern history of France itself. The building began as a fortress in the 12th century and then was developed over time into a royal palace. It served as a palace until 1682 when Louis XIV opted to move his royal residence to Versailles. In 1776 the decision was made to convert portions of the palace into a peoples museum.

Ceiling The Napoleon III Apartments

The Tomb of Phillipe Pot 1843*

A Vase Detail
The evening was capped with views of Notre Dame. Along the way we did lots of window-shopping and people watching.

I love Paris....

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

(*Thanks to Scott for the Photos)

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Day 3

Tuesday we traded the sunshine of Madrid for the excitement of Paris.  The transformation was delivered via a very nice (is that actually possible anymore?) Air France flight from Madrid to Charles De Gaulle. OK color me cynical but I am sort of taken aback when I get on a bargain priced short haul flight and find legroom, exceptionally courteous staff, a painfully easy check in and a tasty and free sandwich in economy.

Upon landing in Paris we boarded a Roissybus for a direct trip to the Opera (about 2 blocks from the Marriott Ambassador Opera hotel where I've cashed in a zillion frequent flier points).

After a bit of unpacking, a trip to the executive lounge for snacks (with a free rooftop view thrown in of the Eiffel Tower in full sparkle mode), there was time for a leisurely evening walk through the Galleries Lafayette Department store and around the Garnier Opera to finish the day.

And, initial impressions....Parisians are still skinnier than us, they are still meticulously dressed and they still smoke like fools.....

The Magic of Paris*

It is Soldes (Sale) Time Till February 11
At Paris' Department Stores*

Window Shopping is Pretty Amazing*

The Garner - Home of The Phantom!

Tomorrows post a full (foot numbing) day at the Louvre!

Roadboy's Travels © 2015

(*Thanks to Scott for the Photos)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Euro 2015 Arriving in Madrid

Day's 1 & 2
The Royal Palace, Prado and the Museo ABC

This visit to Madrid was all too brief.  Arrived at 8:15 AM Sunday and immediately went to visit a little museum specializing in Illustration and Design Museo ABC. I knew it would be closed on Monday, so we put it in the hopper to do first. 

We found it on a little side street and spent an hour or so looking at its vintage collection of Blanc et Negro Magazine Covers and a lovely temporary display of Benjamin Thompson's colorful Madame Butterfly illustrations. It is just a lovely little 6 story museum that will be of interest to comic book artists and illustrators all crafted from the circa 1900 Mahou brewery. 

Museo ABC

Madame Butterfly 1
(Benjamin Thompson)

Madame Butterfly 2
(Benjamin Thompson)

Example of Turn-of-the Century Illustration

Example of Deco Era Illustration

Just loved the Character of this One

After a little walking it was time to return to the hotel and suffer night one of jet lag. Crashed at 8:00 PM awakened at 10:00 PM now wide awake....

Just stayed put and the finally re-awakened dead tired at 9:00 AM.

Had a wonderful breakfast, and looking around the restaurant realized it had to be fashion week in madrid. The whole dining room was full of 6' tall, size zero models. 

The day was filled with sun and a slight chill. A totally lovely day for walking around a beautiful city. We began with a visit to the Royal Palace. I was surprised how much the tour route has been changed since my last visit. The Crown room is now on display, complete with the June 18, 2014 King Juan Carlos abdication documents. 

Ceiling of the Grand Reception Stairway 
Palacio Real Madrid

Then it was off to the Mercado San Miguel for Tapas and a visit to the Prado (which was open till 8:00 PM!).

Finished a full day with a nice fresh mozzarella panini for dinner and it was time once again to face an evening rewiring my circadian rhythms.

Tomorrow we depart for Paris.    

Roadboy's Travels © 2015