Monthly Archives: September 2012

Barcelona, Spain

We spent this past weekend in Barcelona, Spain, where we met up with my college roommate, Dave, and his wife (and also a college friend of mine), Kelly. They came to Europe to celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary — their first time back on the continent since their honeymoon. We also met up with Dave’s good friend, Jeff, and his wife, Melissa. The two of them are from the States, but they’ve been living in Dublin, Ireland, for the past 18 months. It was fun to spend a couple of days with fellow ex-pats!

We flew into Spain on Vueling, a Spanish airline that seems to straddle the line between mainstream carrier and low-budget. It was a pleasant trip without incident. We’d definitely use them again if the price was right. We then caught a shuttle bus from the airport into the heart of Barcelona where we met up with Dave and Jeff and were escorted to our apartment.

The place they picked out was on a tiny pedestrian street just off of the famous La Rambla boulevard. It was spacious, came with three bathrooms and a kitchen, and had a pretty sweet view of the hustle and bustle below.

The side street of our hotel, with La Rambla street in the distance.

Shortly after dropping off our bags we made our way to a flamenco show to take in a nice Spanish dinner while watching classic Spanish dancing. Both the food and the dancing were great — a little touristy feeling, but great nonetheless. It’s definitely a popular thing to do when visiting the region.

We followed up the entertainment with some gelato before heading back to the apartment for some down time.

The following day we set out for the famous Sagrada Familia¬†by way of a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city. The church became the life’s work of a local Catalan architect by the name of Antoni Gaudi. He worked on it from 1883 until his death in 1926 (he was tragically killed by a city tram). And get this — because the church uses only private donations to fund its construction, it’s still not done! 130 years after breaking ground, the building is still far from complete (they say it’s about 60% done).

But that doesn’t prevent visitors from enjoying what’s already there. Two of the building’s three exterior facades are finished (Passion and Nativity — only Glory has yet to be built). Each facade depicts scenes from the Bible and Jesus’s life that fit either of the three themes. The Passion facade is very plain and modern looking, whereas the Nativity facade is very intricate and “busy.” I liked the style of the Passion one better.

All of the statues on the Passion facade carry solemn, pained expressions.

Within the building, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of two main features: the stained glass windows and the tree-trunk-like columns that rise up to meet the ceiling just like a tree’s trunk would meet the branches and leaves above. It was the effect Gaudi was going for and he pulled it off perfectly.

The view looking straight up.

The stained glass windows are everywhere. Their patterns may not be the most complicated I’d ever seen, but the light that shone through produced a richness of color I’m not sure I’ve ever seen with stained glass before. It was a beautiful thing to see in person.

These look even better in person.

I also really liked the crucifix that hung over the altar and the massive choir lofts that sat on either side of the church near the back. The church became a minor basilica in 2010 after Pope Benedict XVI made a visit — pretty interesting considering the church is barely half done. We each had to pay 18 Euros ($23) to get in, but we felt better about it once we were told that the money goes to help finish the church. Every little bit helps, I guess.

After grabbing a sandwich nearby, we hopped back on the bus and rode around a good chunk of Barcelona. We eventually hopped off at the Plaza de Espana where we sat on the steps for a few minutes and enjoyed the amazing view of the city below. The plaza itself is down at the bottom of the hill where we were dropped off, but we spent our time on the hill just outside of the national art museum.

All of us with the Plaza de Espana in the background.

We rode the bus back to the waterfront where we walked up La Rambla street and back to the apartment. Dinner that night was at a tapas restaurant called Taller de Tapas. We saw a few of them in the city, so it’s some type of franchised establishment. But the food was reasonably priced and very delicious. I hadn’t had tapas in quite some time and had forgotten how much fun it is to order a little bit of food at a time and try a variety of things.

The next day we walked around the old city of Barcelona and made our way to the beach. Dave and Kelly had already been earlier in the week, but Katie and I wanted to see it for ourselves. We didn’t go in the water, but we had a nice lunch on the sand and enjoyed some people watching. The boardwalk that’s right off the beach is very clean and paved, making it easier for people to get along the beach whether they’re walking, jogging or biking.

It was a cloudy day, but still warm enough for the water.

At this point Dave and I indulged our wives and let them window shop for a few hours as we slowly made our way back to the apartment. Katie and I looked and looked and looked for an ornament to add to our collection, but we couldn’t find anything. We looked on other days, too, and even at the airport — but nothing. Barcelona became the first city where we didn’t buy an ornament. So I’m going to take the two corks I saved from the wine we had at one of our dinners and make them into something I can hang on our Christmas tree. I’m sure Katie will love that … : )

Later that night we walked to a restaurant Katie read about online called Cerverceria Catalana. There was a 45-minute wait for a table when we got there (and this was at 9:15 p.m. — so still kind of early for dinner) so we grabbed a drink around the corner while we waited. And boy am I glad we waited. The food was even better than the night before and probably a little cheaper. I think the best thing from this night were the veal sandwiches and the baked camembert cheese. Delicious!

Katie and I left the next morning, but managed to sneak in a walk back to the Plaza de Espana before flying out. We liked that area because it was very laid back and offered awesome views of the city below. From down in the plaza itself, you can get some pretty nice views of the national art museum that sits at the top of the hill.

Looking up at the art museum from the Plaza de Espana.

There you have it. It was a quick visit highlighted by the Sagrada Familia and the amazing local food. You can see more photos on our flickr page.

Spain was country #14 for the year. The hope is to drive through Liechtenstein for lunch tomorrow (it’s on the way back to Munich) to give us #15. Not sure if we’ll get to our goal of 20, but 17 or 18 for sure.

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Where is September going?

Our whirlwind September is flying by. We started the month with a few days in the States where we wrapped up a two-week visit back home.

We followed that up with an awesome 10 days with my brother, Mike, which included a trip to Prague, a visit to the Andechs monastery and brewery (one of the oldest in the world), a return visit (for me) to the Dachau concentration camp memorial site, lots of biking, beer and cards, and a memorable late night of NFL football. He was the last of my siblings that will be visiting this year (we welcomed Kim in March, Amy in April and Ben in June) so his departure was especially sad. I’ve really enjoyed the one-on-one time I’ve had with my brothers and sisters this year.

Just hours after Mike flew home to Chicago, Katie and I boarded a plane to Barcelona for a quick weekend visit to Spain. We met up with our friends Dave, Kelly, Jeff and Melissa. I won’t go into detail on Barcelona just yet — look for a blog post sometime this week! But I can tell you right now that my favorite three things from the trip were seeing the Sagrada Familia basilica (it has to be seen in person to be believed), enjoying a casual afternoon in the Plaza de Espana and the delicious, filling and surprisingly affordable tapas. They were so good!

Today was a Munich maintenance day and tomorrow we hit the road again for a trip to Switzerland. Katie has two work meetings on Thursday — one in the morning near Geneva and one in the evening in Basel — and another potential meeting on Friday. If time allows, we’ll make our return trip through the tiny country of Liechtenstein. Either way, we’ll be back in Munich for the latter half of the weekend.

Look for updates along the way, including photos and a blog from our Barcelona visit. We hope all is well back in the States!

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Prague, Czech Republic

This past weekend we rented a car and made the 3.5-hour drive to Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic and one of Europe’s most visited cities.

Getting there from Munich is a breeze. It’s a simple drive along a couple of highways that takes you through a beautiful part of eastern Germany. We had to pay $15 for a 10-day toll sticker in the Czech Republic, but other than that, our costs were just the car rental and gas. We even found free parking on the street that our hotel was on.

The view from our room at Hotel Angelis.

We stayed at Hotel Angelis, a couple of miles outside of the city center, but right next to a tram stop that took us into the heart of the city. After dropping our bags off late Friday evening (Katie had to work so we got in late), we immediately headed to the Old Town for dinner at a place that Katie found online called Mlejnice. They offer a large menu of mostly traditional Czech food, including beef goulash, roasted chicken and gnocchi. It took us a couple of wrong turns to find the place, which is tucked away in a narrow alley off of the main square. But once there, we were in heaven. Not only was the food fantastic, but the atmosphere was authentic and the prices were unbelievable. Entrees were in the $5-10 range, starters were between $3-5 and beer was only $2 for a half liter! It turns out that Prague is an extremely affordable city for those of us using the USD/Euro.

After dinner we strolled through the city’s main square and over to the St. Charles bridge before stopping at a nearby bar for another drink and some cards.

The following day we grabbed breakfast at the hotel before taking another tram line to Prague Castle, which is allegedly the biggest castle in the world. After ascending a long but not-too-steep set of stairs to get to the main gate, we were greeted with a fantastic view of the city.

Looks kinda German!

Once inside the castle walls, we couldn’t take our eyes off of St. Vitus Cathedral, the centerpiece of the castle and a true masterpiece. The outside of the cathedral was littered with mosaic tiled pictures and gargoyles. But I think we were most mesmerized by the stained glass windows within the church itself.

The St. Vitus Cathedral is the centerpiece of Castle Prague.

The colors looked even more magnificent in person.

From there we made our way outside of the castle where we stopped for this incredibly mature photo:

Classy Americans.

After a bit more walking — which included a stop for lunch and shopping for a Christmas ornament — we found ourselves at the Old Jewish Cemetery. It’s the most crowded gravesite you’ll ever see. With some 12,000 visible tombstones and an estimated 100,000 individuals buried there, it’s amazing that it only covers one major city block.

At this point our legs were getting a little tired and we decided to make our way back to the tram stop so that we could stop by the hotel before dinner. Our return hike took us past the city’s famous Astronomical Clock Tower and the Church of Our Lady before Tyn. Both buildings are impressive to look at and for just $5 (well, $2.50 if you say you’re a student) you can take an elevator to the top and get some awesome views of the city and the Church of Our Lady.

Looks like something Walt Disney would have been proud of.

We eventually made it back to our hotel and changed for dinner. We went to a place called U Spirku, just next door to Mlejnice from the night before. We stuffed our faces with more Czech food and beer, again for a bargain price, and then made our way to a local night club called Starsky and Hutch (awesome) where we finished the night with some more beer and cards.

We hit the road first thing on Sunday morning. On the way back we stopped in the town of Regensburg for a quick 30-minute waking tour (and some gelato). We were back in Munich by early evening so that we wouldn’t miss a minute of the Bears and Packers games. Mike went to bed happy after his Bears took care of the Colts. Our Packers struggled against the 49ers and started their season 0-1. Both teams play again on Thursday night, which will actually be 2:20 a.m. our time on Friday. The plan as of now is to watch it if we can figure out a good way to stream the game online (it’s on the NFL Network, so our Slingbox doesn’t do much for us).

A few pictures from the Prague trip are on our Flickr page. Enjoy!

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Back to Europe!

Katie and I were scheduled to take a non-stop flight from Chicago to Munich tonight at 8:20 p.m. That is, until we got a call that said our flight had been cancelled due to the ongoing labor strike in Germany by Lufthansa workers. Our options were to take the same flight tomorrow night or to still take a flight tonight, but a non-direct flight (through Frankfurt) that included a 3-hour layover and a 2-hour delayed departure. We chose the latter due to the fact that my brother, Mike, is also flying out tonight (on LOT Airlines).

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that nothing else changes. The last thing we want is for Mike to beat us to Munich and have nowhere to go.

Our return to Europe comes after an awesome two-week stay in Milwaukee. We’ll be back again in late October and stay through my sister Beth’s wedding. Then we’ll have a final month or so in Munich before coming home for good in December.

As for Mike’s trip, we’ll be going to Prague (Czech Republic) this weekend and filling the rest of his time with our standard Munich favorites — Sheepshead, pretzels, biking and beer. Oh, and sightseeing.

More as it happens!

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