Thursday, October 31, 2013

Easing back into our life

It was a surprise to come home from Barcelona to full-fledged autumn here in Victoria.  A nice surprise.  We've had some days of bright weather that illuminate the golden trees.

We're over the jet lag now; it seems to take more of a toll each trip but we're able to sleep through the night now and are easing back into our life in VIctoria.

Maggie is holding her own; some days she's able to walk fairly well, other days not so much. But she seems comfortable enough and still enjoys her meals. So I think we still have some time with her.  

We've dived back into the renovation at Yukon Street, which had more or less stopped while we were gone.  It's going to be beautiful when it's done, probably in mid-December--just in time for Christmas.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Maggie's hanging in there

We are back in Victoria -- in the fog.  What a contrast from the bright sunny skies of Barcelona where the temperature, I kid you not, is around 27 Centigrade, or well into the 80s.  Our trip home was seamless except for the fog in Victoria that had us a bit worried about our flight in the little plane from Vancouver. But all was well.

Dear Maggie is hanging in there, able to eat and drink and do her bodily functions.  She can't walk well but is alert quite a bit of the time.  We are thinking that it may be days or perhaps a week or two, but not much more.

It's such a dilemma with our pets who cannot really communicate with us in words. We have to read their signals and keep in touch with their hearts and souls to know what is best.  I don't want Maggie to suffer needlessly, but I don't want to make a decision to end her life before she's ready to go.  How does one make this difficult decision.

Today Maggie wanted to come in the car with me when I went grocery shopping and when I took Geordie outside to play she wanted to come too.  She can't stand very well, she keeps falling over, but with the harness that the vet has fitted out for her she can sort of manage.

Our friend and house sitter Peggy was such a wonderful caregiver for her. I am so grateful for her love and compassion.  And thanks to Maggie for hanging in there until we got home.

Maybe when the fogs lifts my way will be clearer in this tough, tough decision.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A day of music and art -- and some sad news

The plan was to walk down to the old part of the city, see the cathedral and then visit the Picasso museum, but we got a late start because of some bad bews. We got an email from Peggy, who is taking care of our dogs, that our dear old girl Maggie is failing badly. We were hoping this wouldn't happen while we were away--but it did. Maggie is in her last days and I only hope she can hang on until we get back home on Thursday.

So it wasn't unti about 10:30 that we set off for the Cathedral. It's gorgeous, of course, but what delighted us was the cloisters where there is a pool and a gaggle of white geese.

By the time we got to the Picasso Museum it was afternoon and there was a huge lineup for tickets. Rather than waiting two hours we walked down the street to another art museum of contemporary European art. It had an amazing exhibit of figurative work, both two- and three-dimensional. Here is some of what we saw.

I think that figurative art is flourishing in Europe.

Lunch was tapas and sangria, then we walked home for siesta. Very Spanish, si?

Earlier in the day we had seen a poster for a free concert at the cathedral so in the interests of keeping busy and not dwelling too much on poor Maggie's condition, we decided to go. This meant another  walk down to the old city, but it was totally worth it. We didn't have any idea what a treat we were in for. The Millfield Camerata is a choir of about 25 young men and women who sang beautiful arrangements of religious music, from the middle ages to American spirituals. It tuns out that this is an award winning choir of teenagers from an English private school.

After the performance we walked back to the Picasso museum and there was no lineup so in we went. I enjoyed seeing the large collection of his early work from age 14 on. By the time we'd finished there my knees gave out from all the walking. It was all I could do to hobble to a restaurant for a light dinner. We had to take a taxi back to the hotel. 

Tomorrow is our last day here. We leave very early the next morning for our flight back to Canada. I only hope that Maggie will be able to wait for us.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gaudi's Casa Batllo

Aside from the floors and some of the walls, there's not a straight line to be found in this building. Welcome to imagination gone wild. Antoni Gaudi renovated an existing apartment building both inside and out using sinuous, flowing forms and brightly coloured mosaics. This is only one of his amazing works, but it happens to be the one we visited this afternoon.

Above you see a window overlooking the street. here's the same window from the inside showing details of the suble stained glass colours in the top.

This is the front room with a divider also echoing the circular glass design.

Here's the ceiling in the living room.

This is one side of the large llight well that brings natural light to interior rooms. It's tiled in blue with the colours deepening as they get to the top.

Another view on a different level, closer to the top.

This is the attic, very simple but still curvy.

And here's the rooftop with fanciful tiled chimneys

This building was commissioned by some wealthy people who wanted a unique house. I think they got one!  There were other modernist architects working in Barcelona arounf the turn of the century, but Gaudi was the most far out there. Each of his buildings is different, but they all have curves and mosaics and they are all works of art that go far beyond architecture.

By the way, there is an excellent film on this man's work, simply called Gaudi. It's worth searching out.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Barcelona is beautiful

I've always wanted to come to Barcelona to see the works of the famous aechitect Gaudi. But i had no idea that this city of almost two million people is so gorgeous and so liveable. It has 13 kilometers of Mediterranean beaches, a Medieval quarter and dozens of gorgeous plazas where you can get a reasonable glass of dry Spanish wine or an excellent coffee at a price way less than in Paris. That's not to mention the weather: on September 20 people are swimming at the beach and it's hovering around 23 degrees C or 74 F.

Today we took a tour on one of those hop-on-hop-off buses. This is something we've never done before, as we try to take public transit or walk around to explore new cities. I have to say I'm a convert, at least when it comes to a place with as much to see as Barcelona. Today we visited Barcelonetta, a beachy fisherman area, where I dipped my toes in the Med and then we had a fishy lunch in a tiny little neighbourhood bar/ restaurant. 

This cost us 8 euros and was preceeded by a plate of crispy sardines. My pleasant wine was 1.50 a glass!

We got back on the bus and hopped off at Sagrada Familia, the masterwork of Gaudi that is still  being worked on.  

The surprise there was that some kind of amazing festival was taking place. Behind the chuch the street was  closed off and people were gathered around watching a contest. A team of people dressed in blue and red gathered in the middle and 
made a circle of raised hands. 

Then others climbed on top to create a kind of tower. 

Then more climbed on top, and more, culminating with young children wearing helmets. Here's the completed tower with the last girl cimbing to the top. 

Once the tower is completed the children slide back down, followed by the rest.

It turns out this is a time-honoured contest between different teams, called castellers, that compete to make the tallest tower. There are nine teams in the city. Here's another team's entry. Isn't that amazing? I think this is a Catalan  tradition. 

We are learning more about this Catalan culture that dominates Barcelona. There is a strong separist movement here, in fact last night when we arrived there was a peaceful demonstration just outside our hotel. 

We've learned that the Catalan language is now used here in city notices, in the media and in the schools. There are Catalan flags hanging off many balconies. Yet the city is very international. The tour bus had the option of 16 different languages. 

Tomorrow we have another bus tour day. Who knows what treasures we will unearh.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Heading south into Spain

This morning we left our little Uzes tower and got the train in Nimes heading south to Spain. This is a second class train but it"s pretty nice, with comfortable reclining seats and some facing each other across a table, kind of like a breakfast nook. They even have outlets where you can plug in your electronic equpment.

We are riding along the edge of the mediterranean now under gloomy skies. The landscape is flatter here and houses are of bricks or stucco with tile roofs. 

Yesterday we did a dry run to Nimes to figure out where to return the car and we took in an exhibit at the gallery of contemporary art. We were surprised to find that a Vancouver-based photographer and filmmaker, Stan Douglas, was featured. He does amazing large photos that are kind of a super-realism.  One series done in 2010 was large black and white photos of people dressed in clothes from the 1950s recreating personal scenes. He has also recreated scenes of riots. Fascinating work.

From the gallery cafe there were lovely views over the centre of Nimes. it's lovrly with a bit of a Riviera feel with its wrought iron balconies. The crocodile is apparently a symbol of the city.Also, right in the centre is the best preserved Roman temple in the world. 

This afternoon we cross the border and change trains at Portbou in Spain for Barcelona. The adventure continues.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The miracle of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

We set out on a bright sunny day to visit a couple of villages in the Luberon area. This is high rocky country with gnarled vineyards and little farmhouses. The two towns we went to were both on the Sorgue River, which bubbles up from underground tributaries in the little village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. It seems a lot of people come to see this natural wonder and the entire village is designed around the visitors. it's a bit of a tourist trap, they charge 4 euros just to park and and there are dozens of artisans and trinket stores and cafes lining the route to the source of the river. Everything costs, even the use of the public bathrooms. But the day was nice and the river runs clear and green and the rocky setting was gorgeous.

We saw the 14th century water wheel and paper mill and then looked for a place to have coffee. The place is full of restaurants along the river but they only let you sit there if you're ordering a full lunch. This is another example of the French inflexibility we've encountered from time to time. Finally we found a little streetside cafe where we could sit in the sun for a bit before heading to the next town.

Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is actually on an island in the middle of the river. it's beautiful with canals and pedestrian bridges everywhere and beautiful cafes along the river. This time we were eating lunch so we got to sit at one. Then we explored the town, which has several old water wheels too. It was a big fabric dying centre for several hundred years. Now it's a big antique centre. It seems people come from all over France on weekends to search the brocantes. Most of the stores were closed but we found one that had some delights. Nothing we were willing to drag home though.

About this time I realized I had left my scarf in the first village. We debated about going back, thinking it unlikely it would still be there after three or four hours. But its a favorite scarf from our trip last year to Italy so we decided to give it a try. We drove straight into town past the pay parking lots and pulled up outside the little cafe. I got out of my car and saw a couple of waiters clearing tables where we were sitting. Before I could get there to ask about the scarf, one waiter bent down and picked up a scarf and held it up to show the other guy. It was my scarf and it had been sitting right where I left it allthat time. I called out, Oh, that's my scarf, and he handed it to me, perhaps thinking I'd just left it there a few minutes ago. The whole exchange took less than a minute. We turned around and headed out of town, me with a big smile on my face.  

We now refer to this as the miracle of Fontaine-de-Vacluse. The photo at the top is the little cafe where I left my scarf. There's even a fountain there.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Morning at the market, afternoon in Arles

Wednesday is market day in Uzes and we got down to the Place aux Herbes about 9:00 to find everything in full swing. The focus is on produce, food and beverage, and what a variety!

At the market you can try before you buy. Everyone is very friendly. We bought some olives with ginger from this young guy. They sound odd but they taste wonderful.

Here's a couple other shots. They even wheel in trucks that open up to become butcher shops. We managed to find ourselves some dinner ingredients very quickly.

The afternoon was dedicated to Arles and walking in Vincent's footsteps, that would be Vincent Van Gough, who lived in Arles for the last and most productive part of his life.

But our plans were foiled by our rental car, which developed a clunking sound. So after a nice lunch and a quick walk around, we tracked down the Europe Car office. They quickly gave us a replacement car but it took most of the afternoon.

Here are a couple Arles photos.

This one is the sanitorium where Vincent was hoitalized and painted in the courtyard.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Nimes, Uzes, and the Pont du Gard

There's a connection between these three places and we examined it today.  Nimes was a Roman town with special privileges.  Roman soldiers went there to retire and it was provided with a good supply of  water by means of an aqueduct from a spring at Uzes, 35 km away.  Remains of the aqueduct are gone now, except for the stunning part that crossed the Gardon River. More than 2000 years later this structure remains intact.

This is the Pont du Gard, a Unesco heritage site, and a lovely spot to visit. The river is lovely too and often used by kayakers. This taken from the bridge walking bridge that parallels the aqueduct. What a lovely trip that would be! Maybe next time.

One other thing about this spot; it has an abri, an ancient cave where prehistoric man lived. To see these two things juxtaposed really took my breath away. Talk about layers of history!

After visiting the aqueduct we drove to Nimes. And the waters are still flowing there. (Although not via the aqueduct. It was decommissioned after about 500 years because the water channel had been narrowed too much from calcification.)

Nimes is a beautiful city with a thriving pedestrian area filled with fountains, canals, and a beautiful garden that has a feeling of Versailles, but built for the people, not the king. 

The canals were built when Nimes was a centre of fabric dying with indigo. The word denim comes from "serge de nimes" in fact.

I really liked this cheeky cherub in the garden. He was sitting beside a deep pool of water full of healthy-looking goldfish.

Nimes also has an intact Roman amphitheatre and a temple that was discovered when they built the gardens. Amazingly, you can walk right inside it. 

Turns out they thought it was a temple but maybe it's a library. In any case it's beautiful, and another reminder of those incredible Romans. Ther've really left their mark here in the south of France.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Orange's Roman theatre and our tiny apartment

We took a short drive through the countryside today to reach the city of Orange. The landscape has a different feeling than in the Perigord; it's dryer and warmer feeling.

The trip to Orange was to see the most intact Roman theatre in the world. This one still retains its acoustic wall, the only one in Europe like it. Seeing this massive wall behind the stage gives a whole different feeling to the theatre. The wall is several storeys high and served as fortifications in the middle ages. In fact the entire theatre area was occupied by houses at that time. Now it's restored to a point that performances have been held here since the late 1800s.

Aside from the theatre there wasn't much to see in Orange, except for a couple of pretty fountains.  

Like the landscape here, the buildings have a different feeling. They are deeper colours and feel sun-drenched, even though there were clouds today.

We returned early to Uzes because Harry wasn't feeling very well. After a rest we went to a Brasserie to grab a bite of dinner. We each ordered a glass of wine and then tried to order a pizza to share. Turns out that's not possible here. If you don't each put in an order for food they don't want your business. We had no problem sharing food in other parts of the country but here in Uzes this is the second time we've been refused sharing a plate. Tonight we just didn't feel up to ordering a lot of food so we headed home to cook up a little pasta and pesto in our tiny kitchen.

I haven't showed you our four-storey 300 square foot apartment yet. Each tiny room is on its own level with ladder-like stairs connecting them.  The entry is a utility room with a washing machine and couple of counters. This is the living room on the second level, very pleasant with actual shutters that close behind the two windows.

Above the living room on the third level is the bedroom, big enough for a double bed and a tiny WC and shower behind a sliding door.

At the very top is a little kitchen with a table for two and a sliding window that opens to a standing only balcony ar rooftop level. The big basket is sitting on the wall at the top of the ladder going down.

It's actually quite comfortable, but it makes for a lot of exercise going from room to room.