Thursday, October 15, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

My next trip couldn't be any more different than the one chronicled here. Instead of rushing around the world, I'll be settled in one place for two months--and a small place, at that. Read about it on my new blog, "Another Gringa in Antigua."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Worst Vacation Photo Ever

An article I wrote about the trip that's detailed on this blog appears Sunday in The Washington Post. I'll also be participating in a Post Travel Web chat on Monday. In the meantime, here are some some answers to questions people ask us:

What were your favorite places? Madrid, Hong Kong and Bali. Madrid was spectacular as a return to the first world. Hong Kong was SOOO much better than we ever expected; we want to go back. And Bali? It was Bali. Yes, it's so, so far away. But ... it's Bali.

How about your least favorite? For me, Agra. For my husband, Cairo. We debated this one at some length, and decided to call it a draw.

What was your favorite bar? The Jaya Pub Bali, which featured live karaoke. (Meaning the music was live, not recorded.) Second place? Probably the Irish pub in Wadi Musa, Jordan. Culture clash is so cool.

(Oh, and the photo is me, in the infamous Adventure Pants. I didn't say they were flattering, just practical.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More Than 29 Photos

Hmmm... it seems it can take longer to sort through instant digital photos than it used to take to deal with the old-fashioned film kind. Here's a highlights slide show from this summer's trip:

Monday, June 22, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- We returned home safely Saturday evening, tired and still exhilarated.

(The 45 minute flight from JFK to National arrived three hours late. With the exception of the cancelled Royal Jordanian flight, the only noticeable air delays we experienced were on U.S. domestic flights.)

There are many more photos; we'll post links in the days to come. Sunday was our day for getting back to real life. Oh, and for doing laundry.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Does Barcelona Count as Another Country?

BARCELONA, Spain-- I have an architecture guidebook. Keating has his camera bag. Together, that spells a very slow walk along Barcelona´s boulevards.

In the early 20th century, this city was the home of a quirky architectural movement known as Catalan Modernism. It had its roots in France´s Art Nouveau school, but quickly branched off into something completely different. Its best-known practitioner was Antoni Gaudi; his works form the visual texture of whole parts of the city.

While Barcelona is legally in Spain, it is proudly the capital of Catalonia, an area with its own language (Catalan) and years of separatist politics. Think Montreal, but with street signs in a language that looks like a cross of Spanish and French with a lot of extra Xs and diacritical marks thrown in for good measure. Spanish is the second language; sometimes, English shows up, too, but trilingual signs can look a bit silly.

The Barcelona city government helpfully publishes a book with a well-explained walking tour of Modernism. On our first afternoon and evening in Barcelona, we followed it carefully (and slowly) for several miles, ooohhing and aaahhing at one spectacular building after another, ending our stroll with our first look at La Sagrada Familia, the cathedral that is Gaudi´s masterpiece.

As we saw when we revisited La Sagrada Familia the next morning, the cathedral is still very much a work in progress. Actually, it´s a construction site -- see photo -- where hundreds of people are laboring on a building that has been in the works for more than a century. There was a bit of a setback in the Civil War years, when anticlerical activists trashed the place. However, the sanctuary is scheduled to be completed in 2010, barring the usual construction delays, I guess.

From there, we crossed the city to Park Guell, a Gaudi fantasy of a public park. This, like many of his other works, was built with the backing of a patron who more or less gave him an open checkbook. That sort of unstinting patronage seems necessary for extreme art like that produced in Barcelona at the time. (Of course, such flashy spending also feeds the anarchist revolution that came soon afterward.)

Barcelona´s extensive subway system made it simple to reach sites spread about the city--over our days there, we saw the mansions of Tibidabo Avenue, the Joan Miro museum in Montjuic, and more.

And the narrow medieval streets of the city´s old quarters--Barri Gotico and El Raval--made it a blast to seek out shops and bars on what I could only think of as the "Picasso Drank Here" tour. Two of the more famous ones where the Spaniard spent some time: the London Bar and Els Quatre Gats. The latter received a new touch of fame in recent years as one of the key settings in "Shadow of the Wind" ("La Sombra del Viento"), a book that was a runaway European bestseller. In Spanish, it´s a spooky Gothic thriller that´s soaked in Barcelona atmosphere. In English, I´m afraid it´s a bit silly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Madrid Me Gusta Mucho

MADRID, Spain--It´s probably not possible to live on jamon alone.

Every now and then, you need some bread and cheese.

It seems that on almost every block in Madrid you can buy a quick snack of wonderful ham, or a jamon bocadillo, which is a ham sandwich. That comes in handy in a city where we found ourselves walking a lot, largely because the walks were so pleasant.

Aside from that ham, the highlight of the second day in Madrid was the Prado, a museum that lives up to its billing as one of the world´s best. Just the El Greco, Goya, Velazquez and Bosch would be enough for an entire museum of Spanish greats.

On our third day in the city, we spent the morning wandering around an Egyptian temple that had been moved to a Madrid park during the construction of the Aswan Dam. Somehow, it seemed appropriate to soak in that little bit of cultural fusion before we got onto the high speed train to Barcelona.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Estamos en Espana

MADRID, Spain--We brushed our teeth with tap water today.

Then we headed out into a city where we speak the language and can read the street signs. There's a lot to be said for coming back into the First World.

The cultural highlight of the day: seeing Picasso's Guernica at the Museo de Reina Sofia, an extensive collection of 20th Century Spanish art.

The psychological highlight of the day: doing laundry!