Sunday, September 12, 2010

Theatre Liceu & Barcelona Port

Thursday September 9

Today I strolled down La Rambla and found the Liceu Theatre just in time for the next tour. The auditorium is one of the grandest I've ever seen, and our guide tells us it has more than 2,000 seats - the only theatre larger is in Paris. Only operas, concerts and ballets are performed here - no plays - and as it was built by the bourgeois it has no royal box. It is now a public building. Unfortunately I've arrived in Barcelona between runs, so I can't book to see a show. As the stage and hall have been destroyed twice by fire, what we're seeing today is a "faithful copy" of the original.

Plush red seats with oval backs and footrests are arranged in a horseshoe shape, which is good for acoustics but leaves some people with poor visuals. To this end, some seats on the outward curve of the horseshoe were fitted with small screens in the 1994 reconstruction. The amount of gilt in the auditorium is astounding. There is a circular bubble at the centre of the curved, painted ceiling, and elaborately decorated walls with raised, gilt-painted vines.

We move onto the hall of mirrors. This is where guests can get a drink between acts. The ceiling has a lush fresco painted on it, and above the mirrors, the walls hold sepia miniature-style portraits of famous composers, musicians and singers. This is all original, with only restoration work undertaken since the hall opened.

With the tour over, I continue down La Rambla until I hit water. For the first time since arriving in Spain, the sun is too bright, and I slip on my sunglasses. (The Aussie sun is much harsher, and I guess I've grown used to it. I can hardly believe this is my first trip outside the country in nearly two years.) The water is blue, blue, blue, and sailboats are tied up all along the port. I snap a couple of photos of the water, the sculptures, the buildings - and a European woman in a smart sundress asks, "Will you photo me?" I take her picture, and she takes mine. This is the first time I've allowed anyone to hold my camera, but she does give it back.

I am tempted by street vendors with hot dogs and waffles, but I should get actual lunch, so I carry on until I see a cluster of cafes at an intersection further along. The one I choose, Casa Pascual, says it's been open since 1916, and it has a "menu del dia" for 11.50 euros, so I go in an make an attempt to read the Catalan menu they give me. The waitress catches me glancing at the glossary in my guidebook and brings me an English menu. A few minutes later a waiter comes by, and I order as best I can in Catalan. He is especially pleased with my pronunciation of beer - "una cervesa" - and gives me a handshake and a "muy bueno!" The Estrella beer he brings is light-tasting but very pleasant, and the glass has been chilled.

I eat my artichoke and chicken paella, and later a dish of potato and seasoned white fish, hake. We have  hake in Australia as well. I'm pleased that many of the other diners have ordered the same main meal, and I can only pick out one other foreigner. For dessert I have oranges with cinnamon, curious whether the translation might have missed something - but out comes a plate of thinly sliced and peeled oranges, sprinkled liberally with fresh grated cinnamon, nothing like the powder I bake with. It's simple but heavenly.

Next, I find the Catalunya Museum of History, and spend quite a long time there - the exhibit is huge. I think Jody would have enjoyed it more than me, because a whole room is devoted to amour and mounted knights. There are a few interactive pieces, like the Moorish water wheel, and a stone wheel for grinding grain. The most interesting to me were all the posters from the 30s through the 50s, and the display of early gadgets, including an Underwood typewriter with worn keys.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

An afternon in Zurich

It's a little before noon local time on Sunday September 5th and Jody and I have finally had some time to relax. Somehow - likely through sheer exhaustion - we managed to get about 6 or 7 hours' sleep on our 11 hour overnight Swissair flight. Still, neither of us feel particularly rested, and our calves and ankles are swollen from all the flying and cramped conditions.

It took some time to make a plan for the day and stick to it, but eventually we cleaned ourselves up- we're over the 36 hour travel mark now - had breakfast, and took the train into Zurich central. We walked until we saw water, then parked ourselves on a green bench in a gravelled, treed lookout point with a wharf.

The sun is streaming down, a welcome warmth after the pilot's announcement of our descent included a 6am weather report of 10 degrees. The two European young men seated next to me made a sound that needed no interpretation. I looked at them, clad in t shirts and shorts from their trip to Bangkok, and uttered one of the few German words I still remember: kalt. The guys grimaced. "Kalt."

It isn't cold now, which is great because I'm in my maxi dress and a half-sleeved cardigan. An older woman has come to ask if she can share our bench, and Jody gives up his turn of having his legs up.

The woman points at her legs and so do I, with an understanding smile. She looks at Jody and says, in accented English, she is young. I am an old woman."
She asks where we are from, and after Jody tells her, I muster enough German to say we've had 20 hours of flying. She returns that she's had 18.

In this half-English, half-German fashion, we remark on the water, the mountains, and the view, which is "wunderbar."

"Married?" The woman points at her rings, and I show her my own. "Mein mann," I say, "drei jahre."

She nods her approval. "Gross liebe," she says. Big love. If my German is terrible, she doesn't mention it.

We move on, have a coffee, and spend the rest of our afternoon in a grassy park with a rose garden.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Happy Life

It's 9:30pm Sydney time on Saturday and Jody & I are in the Bangkok airport, where the sun is just setting outside the terminal window. We've been traveling about 14 hours now if you count from leaving our hotel at 7am. Our next flight leaves in 4 1/2 hours, and hopefully we can sleep on the plane! It's so exciting to be going on a vacation together, but strange that we'll be returning home to Australia... where we don't yet have a new apartment to call home!

We had a bit of a hurried start this morning, as we made it down to the hotel lobby at 6:58 and found our 7am shuttle driver already worried about the time. I wasn't sure where the second hotel keycard was so I was rummaging to make sure it wasn't in my purse… I might have delayed us about 1 minute. I'd prepaid for the ride to the airport so that made him much happier that he didn't also have to sort out change for me. I felt much better about my slight delay when, at our next stop, two backpackers failed to have any cash to pay the driver. He was so anxious about getting everyone to the terminal on time, he let them ride with us and we had to stop at two banks along the route before we found one that was open.

We reached the airport with plenty of time to spare, and Jody and I ate a leisurely breakfast and coffee. In Duty Free, Jody was excited to find the camera he's been eyeing for less than advertised in the city, but it'll have to go on the wish list. The gate next to us was scheduled for a flight to Auckland, but it seems there was some kind of natural disaster and the run was canceled. We're not informed just now so I don't know what the extent of the damage is. Anyone?

The Thai airways cabin crew wore orchid corsages and shot silk jackets with long silk skirts. They were very courteous and the service was quite good for economy. I would fly with them again. We had a window and aisle seat to ourselves, with no third seat, and there was a reasonable amount of space. Our seats were directly forward of the toilets, unfortunately, but at least that meant there was no one tugging on the back of our chairs as they got up. The food was decent too, and drink service often enough that I didn't get too dehydrated. I read somewhere that you should have one glass of water per hour travelled, but I'm not sure how big the glass is supposed to be… 

No hope of blending in here, particularly with Jody in his Australian hat and me so white and gawking at all the artwork and orchids around the airport. I'm not half as polished as the Thai ladies and Europeans passing through but at least I'm not wearing track pants or hiking shoes. (Graphic t-shirt, cardigan, cotton pants and shiny ballet flats.) A young Thai woman on our flight had absolutely gorgeous sandals: black heels about 3" high, with a zipper closure behind her ankle and two crisscross straps, one around her ankle and another across her toes. One strap was black and the other was diamante, with a diamante dragonfly on the ankle strap. When I complimented her on them, she thanked me, then asked if I was staying in Thailand. Regretfully I told her we were just passing through, and she wished me, "Happy life!"

Pearls and Productivity

If you're not in the loop, I am moving in a few weeks, and things are insanely busy. I don't have internet at the moment either, so my apologies for not posting. I do have one or two "blogging unplugged" entries I've been writing up by hand, and when I have more time I will be posting them.

Today was a mad rush to do many errands, and I felt like the fabled adult of Allie Brosh's world. (If you haven't discovered Hyperbole and a Half, do yourself a favour and click on over. She has a sense of humour that would be skewed if it weren't so bang-on, and she uses Paint and her imagination to charmingly, if strangely, illustrate her insights.)

So! I'm an adult!

  • I went to the bank
  • I opened a PO Box at the post office
  • I paid bills
  • I got a Medicare refund
  • I did laundry in the hotel sink
  • I picked up my new contacts
  • I called about unlocking my phone
Except for the last thing, this was all done in the space of six hours - and I also met a friend for hot chocolate, got my brows done, remembered to feed myself lunch (kebab!) and walked all over downtown. I was doing so well, I decided that I deserved to do something I've been meaning to do for AGES. Though I've been in Sydney nearly two years, and have walked or bussed past the gorgeous restored building that houses Australia's premier pearl jewelers, I have never set foot inside Paspaley.

I wandered around and a nice sales lady came up to me and asked if I was having a browse. (For the record, I was wearing a nice Esprit dress and a scarf, so I didn't look like a backpacker who'd come to gawk.) I decided to go with the truth, and told her I'd been meaning to come by to see the beautiful building and their pearls for some time. She smiled and left me with a "Let me know if I can answer any questions," and I meandered through and looked at many cases of huge round pearls, some on strings and some as earrings, several with diamonds or other stones to set them off. Eventually I came upon a case with earrings set with diamonds, pearls and turquoise-coloured stones. They were sheer gorgeousness. The sales lady chose that moment to ask if I'd found a favourite yet. I pointed them out and she said the stones were topaz, and the metal platinum.

I looked around some more, wistfully, and once near the door (and the smaller, though no less stunning pieces) I said, "Well, maybe on my thirtieth..." and she said that was the year of the pearl. Then, noticing that I was the only 'customer' in the shop, she offered, "You can try those on if you like."


I can say quite honestly that I have never seen such beautiful pearls, and although they were weighty, the post and clasp design didn't drag at my lobes. They were just the right length, dangling down to my jawline, and so sparkly... sigh. They are valued at $22,800.

Yes, people. I got to model jewelry that's worth as much as a car. I then tried a simpler pair, worth a mere $5,000 - a single pearl dropped from a chain and two small diamond studs, and they were also quite lovely - with perfectly round pearls. Such extravagance. Such a fitting end to my last day in Sydney for who-knows-how-long. Such a dream, this life I'm living now...