Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rambling in Barcelona

Barcelona - what a fun city! It's got history, with walls erected in Roman times, and churches and mansions built centuries ago. The city is dominated by monuments and bizarre architecture, many of the Alice-in-Wonderland, curlicue style of Gaudi especially the famous church, Sagrada Familia, with its immense spires soaring into the sky. More than a century in the making, it’s still a construction zone.

The people are friendly, but many speak a
strange foreign tongue, Catalan, as their first language. They all, however, know Spanish, and are eager to break into broken English (unlike the French, who prefer to parler en Français). Getting around is easy for their subway system is extensive and we used the T10 ticket (10 rides for 10 euros). The wine is even cheaper than in France, but just as abundant and high quality. Tapas and paella are delicious and inexpensive. Outdoor cafés are everywhere.

On Sunday, we savoured a gelato while rambling along the broad Las Ramblas boulevard, which was jam packed with strollers. And the buskers are high-class! We enjoyed a classical pianist, guitarist and two opera singers, whose voices echoed beautifully along the narrow stone-walled streets of the Gothic Quarter.

We wandered to the Columbus statue on the waterfront at the foot of the
Ramblas. It looked familiar because it is a takeoff of Nelson’s statue in London’s Trafalgar Place.
Two groups of tourists whirred around the base on Segways. Barcelona was a kaleidoscope of markets, parks, churches, art galleries and quirky buildings.

Although we received many warnings about pickpockets, nothing was filched. Perhaps instead we should have been advised to bring good walking shoes, for that is a must, to enjoy all this delightful city has to offer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pretty, Perfect Pezenas

Awakening in Pezenas is like opening your eyes in paradise. Living here amongst the narrow twisting streets hemmed in by tall buildings is like being immersed in ancient history. This was the local capital in the 1600s attracting nobility who preened in luxurious lifestyles and built magnificent mansions, many of which remain today. Even the King visited. 

The town is built like a dartboard, laid out in concentric circles. The inner core is centred on a hill where a castle once stood and was once surrounded by a high, thick stone wall with only
remnants left today. The streets are cobble-stoned, narrow and twist sinuously like a serpent. The high stone buildings date to the 1600s, or earlier. The next circle was built in the 1700s with more narrow streets, straighter, and narrow, tall four-storey buildings crammed together. This is where my dearest and I resided, loving the narrow spiralling staircase and old scarred beams of Chuck and Steph’s pad. The rest of the town, what little there is when the population is only 8,000, then peters into the vineyards of the surrounding countryside.

How can you not love this area, for rural France has a character and
elegance not found in the New World's countryside. Even in this tiny town women dress with sophistication, art and culture flourish and the cuisine and wines match those of Paris. And it all comes together at the Saturday market, which offers an incredible selection of gourmet choices.

When we went for drives, we were overwhelmed by the thousands and thousands of acres of vineyards and hundreds of wineries. The Languedoc wine region is immense, explaining why wine is so plentiful and inexpensive. Even gas-station kiosks sell wine: red, white and rosé. 

Location is everything, and only 20 km to the south is the vast, blue Mediterranean with long sandy beaches and incredible seafood. Also nearby are many historic, picturesque towns and great hiking.

Ah, life in Pezenas is simple, but oh so pleasant.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Paris – A Monumental City on Every Scale

 Paris is Alive! Yes, it's throbbing, pulsating with life, history and culture. The sun beat down from a cloudless sky as my dearest and I walked and walked and walked, drawn by incredible monuments, attractive parks and brasseries spilling onto sidewalks at every corner. We gawked in awe at the gargoyles and flying buttresses of Notre Dame. Artists of every ilk splashed paint on canvas in a crowded, boisterous square in Montmartre. At the towering Eiffel, which dominates the skyline, most of the immense crowd were obsessed with taking “selfies.” The garden at Museum of Rodin offered a quiet respite as well as glorious, bronze companionship. Markets abounded and were filled with mouth-watering cuisine, flowers in technicolour and friendly vendors. A small statue near Notre Dame served as a memorial for Princess Diana and was crammed with photos, flowers and thousands of padlocks clamped onto the railing (a Paris fad).
We sat for hours at sidewalk cafés, sipping a coffee (too tiny) or, better, a vin blanc or pression (draft beer), watching the hustle and bustle go past. I can’t help but mention, strictly as a scientific observation, that Parisian women are elegant, even striking. I loved the tight-fitting jeans, the colour–coordinated scarves, and their confident, haughty, poise. And don’t get me started on the sexy French

Our favourite place was the immense, rambling Luxembourg Gardens and Palace, a short stroll from where we stayed. Like everything in Paris, it is elegant and historic, yet comfortable and liveable. Parisians flock there on sunny days, enjoying the lawns and statues, playing pétanque, sailing boats on the pond, reading newspapers and smoking, all in view of the grandiose palace where the French Senate meets. Every once in a while, a soldier wearing a beret and carrying a lethal-looking automatic rifle, was a reminder that Paris has recently suffered terrorist atrocities.

Ah, Paree, Paree. Indeed, one of the great cities of the world. Probably the best.