Archive for October, 2007

hogar dulce hogar (home sweet home)

Karie on Oct 23rd 2007 09:55 pm

We’ve been back in Barcelona for almost two weeks.  Sometimes I think we’re starting to get the hang of things, and other times I think it could take a lifetime to really adapt.

We are currently sharing a flat through the end of the year.  Hopefully this will give us enough time to learn a little more about the city and figure out where we want to go next.  Our flat-mate is Christine, an English teacher from Germany that lives in Spain.  Go figure.  She actually went to college in England, then moved to Barcelona, where she has been for the last 15 years.  She is a wealth of information!

Even though she’s not Spanish, she has really helped us adapt to the local culture.  Plus, as a fellow “extranjero”, she has been in our shoes so she is more than willing to help.  She helped us open a bank account, gives great recommendations for food/entertainment, and best of all, she let us to go the market with her.  We literally followed her around taking notes on what to get, how to order, how to ask them to remove the fish guts & head before selling it to us, etc.  I think we’d be surviving on crackers if it wasn’t for her.

Our flat is quite large, so we really haven’t been in each other’s way at all (plus she works strange hours).  You enter into the center of the flat, and if you go right there is a long hallway down to our area, and to the left is her area.  We have our own bedroom, large closet & living area in our end of the flat, we share the kitchen and one bathroom with Christine, then she has another ½-bathroom & the washing machine in her end of the flat.

The building we are in is over 100 years old.  It has a lot of the original modernist tiles & doors, but the kitchen & bathroom have been recently updated with new appliances, fixtures, etc.  It’s a great mix with the charm of the old but the convenience of the new.

We occupy the third floor, as there is only one flat per floor.  The first floor is a storefront (a shoe store to be exact – I live over a shoe store!!!), the second floor belongs to the owner of the building, then there’s us.  Above us is Matilda, an 80-something-young lady that climbs 4 flights of stairs every single day, and on the very top is another couple.

The neighborhood we live in is called Gràcia (pronounced Gra’ thea).  It’s known as a hip, artsy, political center of town.  In the old days, when Barcelona proper was much smaller, this was considered “up town”, and it’s where all the wealthy Barcelonans came on holiday.  Now that the city has expanded, it is very central – about a mile from downtown.  However, you don’t need to go further than a few blocks to find anything you need.  Gràcia is full of café-lined squares, tapas bars, markets, shopping, and entertainment.

To sum it up, we love it here.  Although I have to admit I never saw us as having a roommate at this point in our lives, it has all worked out beautifully.  We are also keeping busy here and starting to make lots of friends.  More updates on those things to come soon.

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reflections… warning: this one is sappy

Karie on Oct 10th 2007 08:54 pm

I had a moment the other day… I actually have a lot of moments, but this one hit me while riding a train through the Tuscan countryside, and it really stuck with me so I decided to share it.  This particular train was the dumpiest we had experienced so far.  Let me just sum it up by saying that when using the bathrooms, you could see down the toilet straight through to the ground below – no flushing required.  That wasn’t my moment, it just reminded me that you can hear God despite your surroundings.

Goofy as it sounds, I was listening to “Right Now” by Van Halen on my ipod. That song will forever remind me of working Turning Point Retreats for Buffini & Company, so it got me thinking about goals we had set, things we have done & still have yet to do.  I feel so blessed.  I’m not even 30, and I have seen some of the most beautiful masterpieces on earth.

Michelangelo was an equally brilliant painter, sculptor & architect (and even a poet in his own right).  He sculpted the Pietà at 24, painted the Sistine Chapel in his early 30’s, and became chief architect of St. Peter’s Basilica at age 72.  However, Michelangelo’s life’s work was dedicated to interpreting or recreating what God had already done.  The best that humans have to offer – magnificent as it may be – is only a copy of what our Creator has already given us.

Doesn’t it make you wonder how much beauty exists that we don’t even recognize, or lessons that we can’t begin to convey through pictures or words?  We spend countless hours and dollars (or Euro) to stand in awe of someone’s interpretation of a truth that we can barely grasp.  It just reminded me of how small I am in the grand scheme of things, yet blessed anything I could’ve ever imagined.

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Pisa, Italy

Karie on Oct 10th 2007 11:34 am

Our flight back to Barcelona left from Pisa, so it was the perfect way to spend our last day in Italy.  There was really only one thing I wanted to accomplish there, and that was to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  It’s not the highest or the most magnificent thing that we have climbed, but I don’t see how this building can stay open to the public forever, so we wanted to be able to say “we were there when…”

The tower actually was closed for several years, as it was slanting 15’ from center.  After a lot of pushing, pulling & moving dirt, it was deemed safe, now being only 13 ½ feet off center.  I personally don’t think that sounds much safer, but ok.

The tours are guided, and only allow about 30 people at a time, for 30-40 minutes.  It was a strange feeling to climb the spiraling steps.  You can always tell which side of the tower you’re on, as you have the feeling of going uphill on one side and downhill on the other.  The stone steps are also well worn in patterns, based on when gravity pulls you to the inside or outside edges of the steps.

Going down was even crazier, and that’s when I understood that whole vertigo thing they had warned us about.  The slant of the building feels more exaggerated when going down, so when you’re walking in the direction of the downward slant, it feels like you’re falling forward.  The staircase now felt narrower than when I went up, and I was suddenly aware that there were no handrails.  This place would never pass American safety regulations!  I guess that’s partly what makes it so cool.

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Cinque Terre, Italy

Karie on Oct 9th 2007 11:08 am

Cinque Terra, translated “five lands”, is a group of villages built into the cliffs along the Mediterranean coastline in northern Italy.  While it is quickly growing in popularity, it is still relatively untouched by tourists, which makes it even more appealing.

We were staying in the easternmost village of Riomaggiore, which basically consists of one main street, starting near the sea, and going straight up into the mountain.  That made carrying luggage up to our apartment super fun!  We spent the afternoon exploring & hanging out on a rocky beach, which makes for a beautiful cove, but not so much for comfortable lounging.

That night Lance, Rachael, Thomas & Kaitlin all arrived, so we cooked dinner together in the apartment we were sharing with the Gertz’.  We wanted to tour all 5 of the villages, so the next morning we took a ferry to the furthest village, Monterosso al Mare, then took the entire day to work our way back..

We had heard about a “secret beach” called Guvano Beach, beneath Corniglia, the village in the center, and decided that would be a good meeting place for later in the afternoon.  Thomas & Kaitlin hiked there, and we took the train with Lance & Rachael.  Rachel’s book said there were two ways to get to this secret beach (although the fact that it’s printed in Frommer’s kind of spoils the secret): 1) a treacherous climb down the mountain, or 2) walk a mile through an abandoned train tunnel.  For some reason, we chose the latter.

We found the tunnel, which was blocked by a large gate.  The book said to push the button for entry, so we pushed it, and the gate popped and then slowly opened.  No person, no voice, no instructions, so we had no idea who opened the gate or where they were.

We hesitantly walked inside, and then the door closed behind us.  Creepy!  Walking down the dimly lit tunnel really made me feel like we were all in The Goonies or something.  I did notice that there were no train tracks, so no chance of some train mistakenly taking the wrong track into the abandoned tunnel & running us over.  However, a few minutes into our walk, we started feeling a breeze, and soon, the rumble of a train.  It turns out that the current train tracks are not far above where we were, so it sounded like a ghost train was coming out of nowhere through our tunnel.

We had a lot of fun freaking ourselves out & taking pictures of eerie things along the way.  After about 20 minutes, we emerged into the sunlight, where we found the man that opened the gate and paid him 5 Euro each for the use of the tunnel.  I’m still not sure if he owns the land, or if he’s just a local that figured out a way to make some money off tourists.

From there it was just a short climb down to the private beach, which turns out is popular with nudists!  It’s not the easiest place to get to, so we were really expecting to pretty much have the small beach to ourselves, but no such luck.  However, as long as you looked forward (not left or right), this place was spectacular.  The water was so clear you could see 20 feet down to the bottom.

From there we walked back through the tunnel (not nearly as scary the second time), then hiked through the next two villages to get back to Riomaggiore.  Part of the trail is referred to as “Lovers Lane”, so we timed it perfectly to catch the sunset from the cliff-side path.  What an incredible day – perfect weather, sparkling sea, and good friends.

Our time there was too short, especially considering that we had to say a more permanent goodbye this time.  This was the end of our Italian rendezvous with the Gertz & Yeaman’s, but in case our paths don’t cross again in Europe, we’ve already planned a reunion in San Diego next Fall.

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Rome, Italy

Karie on Oct 7th 2007 07:53 pm

Rome is quite different from the other cities we visited, mainly because it is much larger, so you get everything that goes along with a big city.  If we were to compare it to a U.S. city, it would be Los Angeles – loads of attractions, entertainment & culture, but spread out amongst greater distances with some “less desirable” areas in-between.

As it turns out, our Bed & Breakfast happened to be one of those less desirables!  Upon check-in, we were informed that “a toilet was broken” (aka, he overbooked), so we were being moved to a neighboring B&B.  What’s funny is that I had actually seen our new B&B online and consciously decided that I did not want to stay there… and there we were.

It was actually very clean & had all the basics that we needed, so I don’t want to make it out to be a nightmare.  There was mainly just one thing that annoyed me, and that was the owner, Marco.

On the website for this B&B, where most owners would post photos of their rooms & facilities, Marco posted a photo of himself.  He seemed to be quite impressed with himself and his guest houses, to the point where he seemed to believe it was our honor to stay in his place.

To sum it up, he managed to boss us around the entire time we were there, despite the fact that we never even spoke to him.  How, you might ask?  Through little signs.  Little signs posted EVERYWHERE telling you what you can & cannot do.  “Please do not…”, “It is strictly forbidden to…”   There were 5 sets of instructions posted in the bathroom alone.  Seriously?  I’m not going to steal you candles Marco, and I don’t need a sign asking me not to!  It was obnoxious, but we got a kick out of the whole thing.

Luckily, Devon & Jason met us there, and due to some booking error in their hotel, they got upgraded (why weren’t we so lucky?).  So after long days of sightseeing, we would end the day relaxing on their private terrace.  Of course, if you know Devon and her love for planning activities, a relaxing evening was in order.

Our first full day together began with a private guided tour of the Vatican City.  Linda, our guide, has been doing this for years, and seemed to know every guard in the city.  Before we entered, she explained that we would move quickly through the first few galleries to try to get to the Sistine Chapel before it got too crowded.

I had heard stories about what a wonderful journey it is through the hallways, with the Sistine Chapel being the culmination of it all.  I had imagined working our way through slowly, then almost hearing the angels sing at our first glimpse of the chapel.  So at first I was a little disappointed to do things in a slightly different order, but as it turns out, I was wrong and Linda was right!

She planned it perfectly.  We got just enough enough detail going through the initial galleries, but still moving at a consistent pace, so we were probably among the first 20 people to enter the Sistine Chapel that morning.  In fact, the guards “weren’t ready yet” (which we think is an arrangement they have with some of their favorite tour guides), so we were able to sneak a few pictures!

Even though I’ve seen pictures, it still wasn’t what I expected – in fact, I honestly didn’t think it was as impressive as I had imagined… at first!  There is so much going on in these frescos that I think it was just too much for me to take in & appreciate.  Then Linda started pointing out small details, telling us stories they represent, pointing out where Michelangelo had incorporated faces of people that he knew, etc.  Wow.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, you could listen to this room for years.

We later had to circle back through the chapel again, and it was so packed you could barely move.  Then I realized just how special it was to have the private experience that we had, thanks to our guide.

We also toured many other courtyards & galleries, and of course, St. Peter’s Basilica.  St. Peter’s is the largest church in history, covering nearly 6 acres, with the capacity of 60,000 people.  Its enormity alone is impressive, as well as it’s design, which was the product of many different artists & architects.  There is so much going on in there, each corner is like a different art gallery.

As amazing as Vatican City was, I have to say that it wasn’t the highlight for me.  Early the next day we were among the first group to enter the Colosseum. Although I find many of the activities that took place there quite disturbing, the structure itself is amazing.  It’s both massive & old, being completed in 80 A.D. with an estimated capacity of 65,000-72,000.

It was just cool to stand in it, and imagine what it would’ve been like when filled with everyone from the wealthiest Senators to the poorest of “common folk”.  All the events that took place in the Colosseum were hosted by wealthy families & free to the public; but spectators were seated according to status, so those “common folk” had a lot of stairs to climb to the top!

The Colosseum had been used on & off for various purposes, but was also abandoned for centuries at a time, following damages caused by fire and/or earthquakes.  It was later used as a quarry for precious materials to be used for other projects such as St. Peter’s Basilica.  Now it is just a tourist attraction, although concerts & events are still held nearby, using the Colosseum as a backdrop.  Just this year, it was voted as one of the new 7 wonders of the world.  It is incredible, but I can only imagine what a wonder it must’ve been in its original grandeur.

The history in Rome is amazing.  Scott gave me some perspective when he pointed out that when Michelangelo was carving The David in Florence, many of these structures were already 1500 years old.  It’s older than old!  Much of it dates back to the time of Christ, when the Roman Empire ruled much of the known world.   There are still ruins being excavated around the city – sometimes a few blocks or pillars, and sometimes you can recognize the shape of what was once a home to some affluent member of society.

Still I conclude that it’s the people that make the journey.  With all the history we experienced, the best part was creating our own memories with Devon & Jason, which some day we can share with our future godchild (who was also present, but has an obstructed view).  Love you Preeo’s!  Thanks for planning everything!

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Venice, Italy

Karie on Oct 3rd 2007 01:50 pm

Ah, the magnificent tourist trap that is Venice!  We arrived on Sunday afternoon, and took a Vaporetto (water bus) to the stop nearest our bed & breakfast.  The directions to our place read something like “cross the bridge, and turn left at the bank across from the toy store, walk for a bit, then turn right at the Jazz Club sign…”  We weren’t sure how long we would be lugging our bags over the millions of little bridges – up the stairs, down the stairs.  Luckily we found it pretty quickly (thanks to the Jazz Club), unlike the Preeo’s who had arrived the day before and wandered around for an hour before finding their hotel.  It seems there are a lot of unnamed streets & alleys in Venice (or maybe just bad maps).

Venice is a fascinating city.  I hadn’t realized that there are no vehicles at all in the city – not even bikes or scooters.  Deliveries are made by men pulling carts… up the stairs, down the stairs. That has to be one of the highest paying jobs in the city!  I never did figure out how their emergency services work.

Anyhow, we were briefly crossing paths with Devon & Jason Preeo, as they were headed off to Florence the next day (where we had just come from), then we will reunite again in Rome.  We had previously arranged to meet up for dinner that evening, but about an hour after we arrived we ended up running into them while crossing the Ponte di Rialto!  What are the odds of that?!

The 4 of us took a gondola ride through the Grand Canal and some other very narrow waterways.  It’s amazing how well they can maneuver those boats.  I’m quite certain that Venetians drive boats better than their fellow Europeans can drive a car.  However, I was disappointed to learn that the gondoliers don’t sing.  I did not hear ‘O Sole Mio once!  Apparently if you want that, you’re better off going to the Venetian in Las Vegas – it really does look pretty much the same.

Later, we ate at the highly recommended Alla Madonna, where we swapped maps & travel tips.  In typical Devon-fashion, she gave us a list of everything they saw in Venice, and in Jason-fashion, they rated them for us.  In typical Kaufmann-fashion, our map was marked with all the best places to eat in Florence… “oh yeah, and after you get that sandwich, you might want to walk over & see the Duomo… and you can walk through the Piazza Signoria on the way to that restaurant with the balsamic steak”  What can I say, we have priorities.

The highlight of our evening with the Preeo’s was eating gelato on the Grand Canal, which was when they asked us to be the godparents of their baby!  BP (Baby Preeo) is due in February, and we are so honored to play such an important role in his/her life (we will find out if it’s a him or a her next week).

We bid adieu to the 2.5 members of the Preeo family, and Monday we were off to site see.  Most of the charm of being in Venice is just being in Venice – there’s really not a ton to see, unless you’re really into art.  While we do enjoy art, once you’ve seen the work of Michelangelo and DaVinci, the rest seems so average – at least to our untrained eyes.  Plus, one can really only take in so many paintings of the Virgin Mary in one day.

However, over the next couple of days we did visit St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, the top of St Mark’s Campanile, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum, and I even fed the pigeons in St Mark’s Square.  Briefly.  That was a frightening experience, but I felt I had to do it – similar to skydiving, except that once I was done I had no urge to do it again.

Monday night we met up with Lance & Rachael (the newlyweds) again, who were in town for a fleeting 24 hours.  We found a place a little off the beaten path that seemed to be mostly full of locals, which was nice.  And of course, more gelato afterward!   It looks like we might be seeing them again in Cinque Terra next week.

I think these first few weeks are really spoiling us, by being able to meet up with friends randomly across Italy. The rest of our guest calendar is looking pretty bleak, so we need some future traveling buddies. Any takers?

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