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Thursday, February 27, 2014

DAY 190 - WHAT? 8 Days in Barcelona!

Sept 25 - What are Tapas?

Every major city in the world now has Spanish tapas, but none compare to those found in Barcelona.
More on that later.

It's only about 3 hours from Carcassonne, France to Barcelona, Spain by train.  We were on the road again, but thankfully - not so long of a trip as some of our other rides.

A look at a cool, old church along the RR tracks.

We took some French cheese to eat with our bread.  Very tasty!
 Our hosts were Ivan and Patricia.  We originally were going to stay with them for four days, then go to southern Spain.  Because of the expense of traveling and because we were unable to get tickets in Granada to Alhambra Palace, we opted to stay in Barcelona.  It was our longest stay that we couch surfed for the seven months.  We ended up staying here 8 days.  It was great!  R & R...great conversations, amazing hosts, and we absolutely loved Barcelona (except for the grey water smell EVERYWHERE!)
Our own comfy bedroom to ourselves!

Our own bathroom to ourselves with a jacuzzi!

A washing machine AND a dryer - up until now, very few hosts had clothes dryers.

A beautiful kitchen which we were able to use and cooked many meals.

A lovely living area with nice TV, sound system, and comfy chairs.

A balcony which was so beautifully decorated with plants.
 Ivan and Patricia were super hosts!  We had so many great conversations together.  Patricia was from Uruguay, originally, but married a Swedish Pop star and lived in Sweden for 20 years.  She now lives with Ivan and has been in Barcelona for only 6 years, but knows absolutely everything about the area and Spain.  So intelligent!  Her English was impeccable!  She had amazing insight to all the different cultures and a very interesting way of expressing herself. 
We had a few meals at this table with our hosts - they were GREAT!

 Ivan was learning English and actually was doing quite well.  We understood him and we all communicated very nicely.
Our view off their balcony.  Many a crying baby and screaming moms did we hear.
 As we traveled around Europe, we carried our backpacks, and most of the time, we had a food sack.  We carried snacks, fruit, bread, cheese, and often times produce to share with our next host.  We had used the same bag since Germany. (over 5 months). It was very sturdy, but it finally bit the dust.
Rich is so sad to give up his Lidl bag from Germany!  HA!
 Ivan and Patricia didn't have any pets like most of our hosts did.  But they did have Pepe!

She was part of their family and had a mind of her own.  oops...her/him?? Well, I think it's a "she".  Anyway, every morning at 10 a.m. she would wake up and do her thing.  She was always very hungry, so one morning she went to her favorite place.  Unfortunately I don't have a photo, but she went to our host's bedroom where there was a beautiful plant.

Pepe knocked down the plant and began eating the dirt and leaves, making quite a huge mess.  It reminded me of the time when my son, at 9 months, would crawl around and grab at the leaves of my plants and tear them off, then eat the dirt.

When she tired of that, Pepe turned for another room and she left a trail behind her of dirt and chewed up leaves.  Patricia really scolded her and put her back in her container, turning her off for a day.  Pepe hopefully learned her lesson.

It was fun watching her scurry from room to room, doing her thing, but I noticed she often times would skip the kitchen.  I think she was really pretty lazy since that is the messiest room in the house.  Maybe she's just smart!

Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers or snacks originating in Spain.  They may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (such aschopitos, which are battered, fried, baby squids). In select bars in Spain, tapas have evolved into an entire, and sometimes sophisticated, cuisine.  They are the full meal deal!

Tapas go back a long way in Spanish history.   The word "tapa" translates as "cover".
  • One common explanation is that an item, be it bread or a flat card, etc., would often be placed on top of a drink to protect it from fruit flies;  at some point it became a habit to top this "cover" with a snack.
  • It is also commonly said that since one would be standing while eating a tapa in traditional Spanish bars, they would need to place their plates on top of their drinks to eat, making it a top.
  • Some believe the name originated sometime around the 16th century when tavern owners from Castile-La Mancha found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus "covering" it, and started offering free cheese when serving cheap wine.
  • Others believe the tapas tradition began when King Alfonso X of Castile recovered from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals. After regaining his health, the king ordered that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine to customers unless it was accompanied by a small snack or "tapa".
  • Another popular explanation says that King Alfonos XIII stopped by a famous tavern inCadiz (Andalusian city) where he ordered a cup of wine. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king, to protect the wine from the beach sand, as Cádiz is a windy place. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the tapa, ordered another wine "with the cover".
Ivan and Patricia took us to a typical Catalanian Tapas restaurant close to where they lived.  They said it was one of the best in the city and the tourists don't know about it. 
Potatoes that were fried with basil, avocado, garlic and salt - these were delicious!

Lettuce with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese

The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them.  Also, in some countries it is customary for diners to stand and move about while eating tapas.

Calamari - Squid

Pig's Feet - I tasted these, but I couldn't eat any more.

We also had bread with tomatoes and garlic and sausages....very tasty!
Stuffed Mushrooms were fantastic!
oops...must have been ice cream and dessert - can't remember!

A super introduction to what Tapas are - nice to eat outside, too.

They look like they are meant for each other - such a great couple!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

DAY 189 - The Day I Got REALLY LOST!

Sept 24 - Carcassonne & Candy

Europe's Ultimate Fortress City -

In the year 760 “Pepin the Short” wrested southern France from the Saracens, except for Carcassonne – he just couldn’t breach it. But he figured that eventually, they’d starve within its walls and surrender. But Dame Carcas had other ideas – she fattened up their last pig, and had it thrown over the city’s ramparts. Their enemies figured if they could waste such an animal, they must be well-stocked. Once the enemies retreated, Dame Carcas rang all the bells of the city in celebration. “Carcas sonne” (Dame “Carcas rings” the bells) is where the name of the city came from, or so they say.

 Cyril had some bikes for us to borrow, so we were excited to take off and see the city and the fortress.  Rich, however, needed to have time on the computer working out the last couple of weeks of our trip.  I was anxious to get going, so I just decided to explore myself (on foot).
 I enjoyed looking at all the shops and the unique French town.  When I go on walks, I sometimes turn and take scenic routes.  Who knows what I do, but after awhile, I realize I haven't been paying attention to where I'm going.

I had some postcards I wanted to mail, so Cyril had explained to me where the post office was.  I asked some questions, and found my way there, but to my misfortune, I realized that I didn't have a clue how to get back to his house.   I had luckily brought my little notebook that had our couch surfers contact information in it.  Unfortunately, I hadn't written in Cyril's address, phone number, or last name.  mmm....what to do?

 I just kept wandering and taking a little tour around where the post office was.  I back tracked where I thought I had come from, but got lost, so I went back to the post office.

I decided to stop and ask a lady at the real estate office if I could use her computer.  She didn't understand much English, but she finally let me.  I thought I would get on the couch surfing website and our yahoo email and send Rich a message.  I didn't remember the passwords or they didn't work.  So that failed.

 In my wanderings I found some cute signs with the composers names and years on them.  Of course you all know how much I love music, so I took pictures of several of them.

Frederic Chopin - 1810-1849

Wow - he was only 39 when he died and so much beautiful music he composed.  Krisalyn, my oldest, learned some amazing pieces by him.  I remember the Revolutionary Etude the most - crazy left difficult!

Claude Debussy - 1862-1918

A wonderful "impressionistic" composer with some beautiful, scenic interpretations in his music.  I love playing "La Fille aux Cheveux de lin" and "Clair de Lune" even today.
 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - 1756-1791

If I were asked what my favorite composer was, I'd say Mozart.  I love his operas, his piano sonatas, his string quartets, and his classical style with little or no pedaling.  I played Susannah in "Le Nozze di Figaro" in college....a delightful opera.  Then I saw "Don Giovanni" with my youngest daughter, Arianne, in NYC - a Metropolitan Opera production.  FANTASTIC!!
 All my piano students either love or hate Johann Sebastian Bach 1685-1750, the most popular Baroque Era composer.  I would teach his early minuets to them when they were 5 and 6 years old.  Every Suzuki book has at least one Bach piece in it.  Remember all the Monster Concerts we had and playing Partita in Bb with the Minuets and Gigue.?

Oh the memories!
 Francis Poulenc - 1899-1963

He wrote music in the 20th century and is one of my favorites.  I had one that I did while in high school that I can still play today, thanks to my wonderful piano teacher, Mrs. Ransom.  I love her and she is still alive playing for her church even today at nearly 90 years old.
Back to my LOST story!!

I finally had the idea to call Etty from Paris.  I had her number in my notebook.  Then, she could text Rich's cell phone.  He wouldn't have accepted a call from anyone because it costs so much there.  I called her and she was in the middle of a session, but said she would call him and tell him to meet me at the post office.  So, 1/2 hour later, Cyril and Rich picked me up in Cyril's car;  THANK-YOU!!

 We grabbed a bite, then took off on the bikes to go the Fortress.
Look grandkids!  I did wear a bike helmet in Europe.  Aren't you proud of me?

We biked quite awhile before we came to the river and then we saw it!
The massive walls enfolding the old town are nearly two miles around, with 52 towers, each topped with a "witch hat" turret. For good measure, an outer rampart was added around the year 1300. While the double walls seem mighty enough, moats strengthened the city's defenses. Moats weren't actually filled with water and alligators — they were just a dangerous no-man's-land designed to expose attackers.

 3500 BC: Settlement near the present-day site of Carcassonne can be traced back to when the city of Carsac (an old Celtic name) was an important trading hub.

The historic city of Carcassonne is an excellent example of a medieval fortified town whose massive defenses were constructed on walls dating from late antiquity.  In the second half of the 19th century, Viollet-le-Duc, headed up the restoration work.  Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. The earliest known occupation of the site dates from the 6th century BC.

It was an absolutely fantastic, beautiful, wonderful day to tour the Castle.


Across the moat, just like in the storybooks!

During Carcassonne's golden age — the 1100s — troubadours sang ballads of ideal love, chivalry was in vogue, and a pragmatic spirit of tolerance ruled. The area became a center of the Cathars — a heretical Christian group. They opposed the over-the-top materialism of the Church, which put them on a collision course with the pope.

 The 12th-century count's castle was built over the western part of the Roman walls; it was surrounded by a rectangular fortified enclosure in 1226. By the end of the 13th century the town had assumed its definitive appearance as a medieval fortress.

1240-1250: King Louis IX took rule of the city  and also added to the outer ramparts, boosting the reputation of Carcassonne as impregnable.

12-13th Centuries: Carcassonne played a role in the Albigensian Crusades. In 1209 Simon de Montfort captured Viscount Trencavel, let him die in prison, and named himself the new viscount of Carcassonne. Montfort was instrumental in adding more fortifications to the city. 

The Story of "The Princess Finding Her Prince"
"Some day my Prince will come....

...Someday I'll find my love!

"And how thrilling that moment will be....

...When the Prince of my dreams comes to me."  Where is he anyway??
Did he get thrown in the dungeon?

Is he hiding over yonder?

Here Princey, Princey...come to me!

Maybe he's locked up in the tower waiting for me to rescue him!

I've looked high, I've looked low.  :(

       Is he out back or around the corner?
Maybe I'm trying too hard to find him - he's supposed to come to me!

Could this be him?  No - he'd never wear PINK!

PLEEZE - Pinocchio?  Not my Prince!!

This one is just not my type!
I'd be robbing the cradle with this Little Prince!

The Phantom Prince - not on your life!
Are you my handsome, shining knight in armor?....No - you say?  Oh DARN!

 No, I won't look any longer for him.  The song says that he will come to me, so.....

Meanwhile, the Prince is looking and looking....

Up and down the streets he wanders.

HERE I AM - Principessa!  I was here all the time!  Come to me!
 And Love will abound in the kingdom as they live happily ever after...

For a day we ARE the Prince and Princess of this Castle!

 Back to the Story of the Carcassone Medieval Town

 As France consolidated its central power, it clamped down on feisty groups like the Cathars, even in this remote corner of the country. The king and the pope joined forces to launch the brutal 13th-century Albigensian Crusades. The Cathars retreated to isolated strongholds in the hills, but in the end were ruthlessly wiped out. Today the ruggedly beautiful land around Carcassonne is dotted with their haunting castle ruins.


A local revolt in 1262 caused the king to expel most of the inhabitants. He allowed them to settle on the other side of the river, where the new town that they set up was itself fortified in 1347. 


1659: The Treaty of Pyrénées reduced Carcassonne’s military,
 and the city turned its focus from war to wool making. 

 We enjoyed walking around the tourist shops, but what I enjoyed the most was all the candy shoppes.  There were so many different kinds and the stores were decorated so cute....very colorful and so clever.



 I wanted to try one of everything after the lady in this store gave us a sample of a cookie.  It was REALLY good!

 Can you believe how everything is organized?  So perfect!
Swirly Licorice
Are you hungry yet?

 This was just so unbelievable...when does it end?

Different flavors of divinity

Then there was candied fruit

Back to Our Historical Saga
 1849: The French government decided Carcassonne should be demolished, which was not received well by the people of France. There was a campaign to save the fortress as an important historical site, and in 1853 works began to refortify and renovate the city.

Carcassonne was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and welcomes more than 3 million visitors annually.

There were street performers trying to earn a living.

This guy was really quite talented.

I went into the church that is still being used today - I heard a group of men performing.

Back down the hill we went out of the old city gates and saw some cool architecture.

Good-bye to the beautiful Carcasonne Old City

What a beautiful day it was and I'm so glad that I found my Prince - I think I'll keep him!
We go to Barcelona next!