Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Hola Barcelona - Montjuic

The title is not in reference to the travel card called Hola Barcelona which gives you unlimited public transport travel for a set time period. You might find that useful if you are travelling alone. If you are more than one, you might benefit from buying a 10 metro tickets set that makes it cheaper per ticket as well as that the tickets can be shared by multiple people or consider cabbing it as taxis are reasonably cheap. 
I digress. 
We spent a weekend in Barcelona. By that I mean, we flew in on Saturday morning and flew out Sunday night.
We missed our outbound flight in the early morning by probably 90 seconds. We looked at the departures board for the next flight, and bought tickets online. But we couldn't check in online as it is too close to the departure so we needed to go back to the check-in counter. Exiting the security area at London Luton airport turned out to be a huge hassle. In case you ever need to know, you need to go to Gate 6 which is far from the departures area and you need to call the airline responsible for your flight and ask them to send a personnel to escort you out of the airport through staff access which includes a passport check. Random piece of information, I know. But it may come in handy some day.
Anyway, we got there and joined our friends for a Sandeman's Barcelona city tour. It turned out to be less of a city tour and more of a history lesson. After 1.5 hours, we probably stopped at 5 places, each with a history lecture. So we left at break time. I've done many of the Sandeman's free tours that introduce you to the city. They used to lightly touch upon all the important sights in any city and show us at least half of them from the outside as well as tell us how best to visit those sights. This one was just a history class. So we left.
We just wandered around La Ramblas and Placa Riel. We ate some fruits and ham at the farmer's market nearby (La Boqueria), had some nice tapas and sangria, and watched a flamenco show at Los Tarantos. It's an interesting experience. I was very intrigued by how graceful the male dancer was (so was the female dancer although that was expected from the public perception of flamenco). Another thing to note is that dancing is only a part of flamenco. Our show started with a wonderful solo piece by the guitarist, followed by a musical performances by the band who were eventually joined by a dancing couple who gave us solo performances each before a duet.
The next morning we went to Park Guell. I absolutely love it, especially so after watching Emerald City, a TV show that portrays Park Guell as the palace of the Wizard of Oz. But may be because of all the shooting activity, a large part of the roof was under renovation. Then we made our way to Montjuic.

Montjuic is a hill. We can drive up there but we can also take a cable car from Parc de Montjuic. To get to Parc de Montjuic we can take a different "funicular". We googled up about cable cars and we find out there is one at the beach. So we went to the beach where we had a nice lunch and then we waited in the queue for the cable car. I had twice previously stood in this queue on my visits to Barcelona but I left because it takes so long. But this time we waited. While we waited we realised that this cable car doesn't seem to go to the hill at all. The hill is too far away. Nevertheless the website and all tourist info is telling our there is a funicular that takes us to the Parc. It took us a long time to figure this one out but anyway it's not from the beach.
We got into a cab and asked the driver to take us to where we can catch the funicular to Montjuic.
We needed to take the Montjuic funicular from Parallel metro. We cabbed it to metro and couldn't find anything remotely looking like a funicular. Instead we found a bus that takes us to the Montjuic funicular. We took it. It delivered us to Avinguda de Miramar where Parc dear Montjuic is. I repeat there is actually no cable car that goes to Parc de Montjuic. It is a bus. From there we take the cable car to Castle Montjuic. We didn't go into the castle. The views from the hill are beautiful and you can see out into the sea. On the way back we stopped at one of the stops which is simply a park around a view point.

Sagrada Familia
I went to view Sagrada Familia in 2012 and was  disappointed a little bit due to the fact that I paid a lot of money for what was really just a construction site. 
In 2017 I sort of had to go for it with my friends and I was expecting more of that and was pleasantly surprised! A lot was completed over the last few years and now, it looks beautiful!
I would highly recommend!!!

A weekend in Rome - Pompeii & Herculaneum

If Rome was magnificent, Pompeii is fascinating and Herculaneum ever more so!

We took a day trip to Naples for a tour of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, so that we can accompany our dear friends Ivo and JR on their Euro trip.

To give you a bit of history, Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD spewing lava and ash catastrophically for the two places and many other cities. Pompeii and Herculaneum were both between 7-10kms from the mountain and with lava flowing at 80km/hour and hot gases ever faster, the towns' people had little warning, especially considering that Mt Vesuvius had been dormant for 800 years prior.

We first arrived at Pompeii.
To tour an entire town would take you a couple of days one would think and we had a couple of hours. We picked out what we wanted to see, nevertheless we got lost. You see, it is very much a city. It has street names, a town center, the market, residential quarters differentiating the haves and have-nots, and not one but two theatres, not to mention the main amphitheatre. Pompeii must have been a metro of its day.

What people probably find fascinating is the decorations in some of the rich houses. They had these mosiac patterns on the walls, on the ceilings and even on the floor. Some had enamel paintings which are largely lost but you can still make out the structure of the painting. Many of the houses of the rich also had nicely maintained gardens with pathways and sculptures well preserved. A brothel is also a popular spot, for the well-preserved paintings. The market square is so impressive with its large pillars and it is also here where they

found the remarkably preserved bodies of a dog and a hunched up man, under all the volcanic ash.

What I found most fascinating was the fastfood restaurant on every other street. They have this kitchen area and serving area so fundamentally similar to any fastfood restaurant you can think of. That little Chinese place around corner from my office has the same layout. That tells you that this is the same city as today. Might have had horse carts instead of cars and people had some zebra crossings so they don't set foot on the road, but fundamentally it's the same as today. We live the same way with the same differences between rich and poor and gather around market squares.

Herculaneum is slightly different. Although it's currently dug up underground and is far from the sea, back then it was a multilevel Hamlet on the sea. Hence it doesn't have the same roads that Pompeii has and neither did it have it's organised structure. Roads are narrowing and winding, many ending in stairs at you get closer to the sea. Not unlike the historical center of Edinburgh. It has its own charm, that of a small community. When they dug up Herculaneum, they underestimated the number of people who lived and died there. The archeologists assumed that the people of Herculaneum had too little time being too close to Mt Vesuvius and hence couldn't have run far. But as they continued to dig they found a closed warehouse near the erstwhile harbour where at least 300 took refuge or may be waiting for boats to get away from the lava. A grim picture. But it also helped the archeologists figure out where the sea used to be versus where it is now and all the land mass that now exists between Herculaneum and the sea has been contributed by Mt Vesuvius, albiet over multiple eruptions.

Today there are 3 million people living in the vicinity of Mt Vesuvius which last erupted in 1944, compared to the 800 years it was dormant before spewing lava on Pompeii.