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A few days in Barcelona

If you are visiting Spain, Barcelona is definitely a city you need to visit. The large city is filled with plenty of artistic, cultural, and historical sites to experience. I was only able to visit Barcelona for about four days, but I was able to get a good sampling of what the city has to offer visitors. From the airport it is easy to catch a bus into Barcelona. There is a subway system in the city and plenty of buses, so getting around was easy. I found a hostal near Placa de Catalunya, which was convenient to buses and the subway. Near the Barre Gotic area, the Gothic quarter, we found the Hostal Lausanne, which was part of a clean old building surrounded by some much more modern buildings. The staff was friendly and rooms were clean and spacious enough, but just a tad worn. The rates were okay, not great, but considering the good location, and having called nearly a dozen other places without vacancies we were happy enough with the hostal. We were given a triple room for the price of a double, and the place was secure, so we could not complain.

La Rambla - Barcelona
La Rambla – Barcelona

From our hostal we were walking distance to Spain’s famous street La Rambla. Down the middle of this street is a pedestrian walkway and flanked by narrow roads. Spotted up and down this street are restaurants, cafes, street vendors, street performers, newsstands, and kiosks, which became livelier in the evening. It was interesting to walk along this street but it felt more oriented toward the everyday tourist.

Casa Batllo by Antoni Gaudi
Casa Batllo by Antoni Gaudi

The Passeig de Gracia was only a half block away from our hostal. This large busy street had many businesses, restaurants, retailers, and cafes. It was a nice walk along this street observing the Spaniards carrying on with their daily lives. Along this street can be found a couple of Antoni Gaudi’s famous architectural works: Casa Batllo and La Pedrera (Casa Mila). You really must see these structures. We were unable to enter the Casa Batllo at the time of our visit because there were some special preparations going on inside for an event that evening. However, La Pedrera was readily open for visits allowing us to see one of Gaudi’s custom apartments and go up to the roof of the building to see some creatively designed chimneys, windows, and walkway structures. From the roof of the building you are also able to get a wonderful view of the city and see the La Sagrada Familia Temple in the distance.

La Sagrada Familia Temple is one place you cannot miss. The awe-inspiring spires of the temple reaching high to the sky are an amazing sight. The temple is still under construction and will continue to be so for many years more, but you are allowed freely to walk around the completed sections. The whimsical and futuristic look of this temple demonstrates how Antoni Gaudi, considered part of the Modernist style (Art Nouveau), was so far ahead of his time. North of Gracia is Parc Guell where Gaudi designed a park with many structures incorporating his signature artistic designs, such as the Hansel and Gretel-style gatehouses. To get to Parc Guell take the metro to Lesseps and from there it is about a 15-minute walk to the park. Another Gaudi site worth a visit is Palau Guell, which is just a couple of buildings east of La Rambla. This building is the only Gaudi house that is completely open to the public. If you enjoy the art of Picasso then you must visit the Picasso museum. It is well laid out and has many of his most famous works on display. The museum is inside a group of medieval stone buildings, surrounded by small art shops selling Picasso reproductions. The museum is closed on Mondays and free on the first Sunday of the month. When you are finished with the museum, walk over to El Xampanyet on Carrer de Montcada south of the museum, for some delicious tapas and cava (champagne). It is a small place with tiled walls, a friendly staff, and reasonable prices.

La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona

Many of our lunches and dinners were at tapa bars. This turned out to be one of the better ways to save money on food. The tapas varied from place to place, but no matter where you were the tapas disappeared fast, so if you were hungry you had to be quick. Some of the tapa bars were on the honor system to determine how much to charge you. One place I visited counted the number of toothpicks you had left over on your plate in order to calculate your bill.

The nightlife in Barcelona is varied so there is something for all tastes. I am not the night clubbing type so I cannot advise you on that, however if you enjoy having a drink and listening to live music, I can recommend a visit to the Jamboree in Placa Reial. This club has Jazz and Funk groups, and I was fortunate to see Marc Miralta and his Flamenco jazz group perform. The Marc Miralta group combines traditional Jazz pieces, and on this night mainly Thelonious Monk compositions arranged to the rhythms of Flamenco and Latin Jazz.  The club is small and cave-like with a good sound system, but was not too loud. Beware smoking is legal inside so be prepared to breathe it all in, remember this is Europe.

One day I went up to Montjuic, the hill overlooking Barcelona from the southwest giving you a great view of the Barcelona bay. In this area is the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Fundacio Joan Miro. Some of the surrealist works of Joan Miro are on display in the museum and are worth a look by anyone who considers themselves an art connoisseur. I found these museums enjoyable and informative, especially the art of Joan Miro. I took the bus to get to Montjuic, but there is a funicular that goes up and down the hill, or the teleferic (cable car), which I rode down from Montjuic and saw the city from a different angle.

Since I was only in Barcelona for a few days, there was many other places I wanted to see, but you know how that goes…so much to see and so little time, well maybe on the next visit.


Venice, Italy October visit, Day one

My first visit to Italy and my first stop is Venice. We arrived at Marco Polo Airport in the late afternoon and caught an Alilaguna ferry to Piazza San Marco. The Piazza was near our hotel, so I thought, and it was a good landmark to get our bearings. The day was nearing sunset when we left on the vaporetto to San Marcos Plaza.

After a 14 hour flight, the boat ride was relaxing. Venice harbor with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop can mesmerize and excite you at the same time. Boat traffic was light except for a monstrous cruise ship heading out to sea which looked out of place near this old city. The setting sun highlighted the lagoons natural beauty and made the water taxi ride into Venice much more memorable. It was dark by the time we arrived at San Marcos and started looking for our hotel.

Sunset in Venice harbor
Sunset in Venice harbor

The adventure begins.

All of the travel books are accurate in saying it can be confusing walking around Venice for the first time. Most streets are not marked and once you start winding through the streets it can be challenging to keep your bearings. Markings on building are hundreds of years old and many are illegible. The canals are the streets, so addresses and signs are posted for that type of usage. But this is why we love to visit Venice, to wander its maze of tiny streets and canals.

It’s all part of the adventure.

Arriving at San Marcos Plaza as a starting point to get to our hotel was a mistake. I learned later, that we should have got off the vaporettos at the Rialto stop which is much closer to the hotel. We ended up walking around more than we needed.

Finding the hotel became more time consuming then expected. The street our hotel was on actually was a small alleyway. We walked right past the small walking street which led to Hotel Centauro. If I had taken a step into the alley, I would have seen the hotel sign at the end of the alley. So close, yet so far. Sometimes, when you’re tired you miss details or clues that could have helped. No panic, more adventure, somehow it all works out, and it did. As we stood in Campo Manin wondering were we made a wrong turn, some people nearby recognized our confused faces and knew we were looking for the Hotel Centauro; the same hotel they had trouble finding the day before. It was a refief to find I wasn’t the only one that had difficulty finding this hotel.

And how about this, the very next day, we were able to return the favor to a couple of other arriving travelers, who had the same lost expressions looking for the elusive hotel.

Canal view from our hotel room
Canal view from our hotel room

The Hotel Centauro lacked an elevator and we were on the third floor; however that small negative did not prevent us from enjoying our stay. The hotel turned out to be a very good choice. The Centauro Hotel is tucked away down a very narrow alley near Campo Manin in the San Marcos district, not far from the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge. We found the hotel to be an excellent location, and most attractions around Venice are within walking distance. A smaller canal is adjacent to the hotel and our room was above it on the third floor. Being near the canal gave us music and singing from the passing gondolas down below. I really liked this feature, the music added more cultural ambience to our hotel room.  Fortunately, the boat traffic in the canal was moderate and settled down at a reasonable hour, so it didn’t interfere with our sleep or comfort in our room.

The rooms were small and snug, which is typical for Venice, and all was neat and clean. Every morning there was a well presented continental breakfast with breads, pastries, fruit, cereals, some meats, juices, teas and very good coffee. There is an attendant present to restock the food and make cappuccinos for the guests. All tables in the breakfast area were prepared with clean linens giving the room an elegant look and feel. The staff spoke mainly Italian and very little English, but communication wasn’t much of a problem.

Getting situated in our hotel was a relief.  The beds were comfortable, and the jet-lag was catching up. We decided to get some sleep, get an early start in the morning, and start exploring Venice.


Bearpaw Meadows High Sierra Camp

Do you enjoy hiking in the Sequoia Forest? Do you want to see magnificent, pristine mountain scenery? How about having all your meals cooked for you, and not have to clean up afterwards? Well, Bearpaw Meadows High Sierra Camp in the Sequoia National Park is just the place for you. It has all of those things and more.

Bearpaw Meadows Camp - Sequoia National Park
Bearpaw Meadows Camp – Sequoia National Park

Bearpaw Meadows Camp is a 11.3-mile hike one-way along the High Sierra Trail heading out of the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park. The trail head starts in Crescent Meadows, which is approximately 10 miles south of Wuksachi Lodge. There is a parking lot there to leave you car while you are hiking into the wilderness. Don’t forget to get a wilderness pass at the ranger station before you head out. The Lodgepole visitor center has a ranger’s office that will sell the pass.

We arrived in the Giant Forest area in the afternoon, so we arranged to stay a night in Wuksachi Lodge. We wanted to leave early the next morning to make the 11-mile hike along the High Sierra Trail to Bearpaw, so Wuksachi worked out perfect. The overnight stay helps get acclimated to the elevation before we started the long hike. We got up early the next morning, had breakfast in the lodge, and drove down to Crescent Meadows to start our hike.

The Bearpaw Meadows staff informed us the hike can take from 6 to 11 hours to complete, but most make it in about 7 hours. Of course, the more able bodied can make the hike in less time. In fact, one staff member told us he made the hike in 3 hours, which sounded amazing to us, but we had to keep in mind that they hike the trail very often and they do not need to carry any significant weight. However, you do not need to carry very much, since the camp will supply food and lodging.

Steve and Mike in our tent cabin
Steve and Mike in our tent cabin

The camp will have tent cabins with two small cots and basic linens, but an additional person can be added, sleeping on the floor for an additional fee. There were only 3 of us making the trip so we squeezed into one cabin comfortably.The third person has to bring their own sleeping bag or beddings, though the staff was very accommodating and gave us an additional sleeping bag to pad the floor a bit.

Since the hike is 11.3 miles, make sure you have plenty of water and some food for lunch or a snack. I carried several liters of water with me, but I like to drink lots of water along the way. Just keep in mind there will not be any place along the way to replenish your water supply until you get to the camp. There are a few creeks you will pass along the way which were very inviting to splash your face to cool off. If the sun is out, it will be hot, but there are some shaded areas along the way to make a rest stop. Take a good camera because the views along the trail of the Great Western Divide are spectacular.

The hike is not technically difficult, but the distance of the hike can still be very tiring. Good hiking shoes or boots are a must. The trail is well established and easy to follow and does not change in elevation much, only about a 1,000 foot overall increase ranging from 6,800 to 7,800 feet, so there aren’t very many switchbacks to contend with. However, the last mile or so there will be a steep elevation climb, saving the “best” for last, when you are nice and tired.

We arrived in the camp about an hour before dinner; so we had time clean up and rest a bit before we sat down to eat. The food was excellent here. The staff really takes pride in their cooking and you can really taste it. Three meals a day were prepared, but if you were going out hiking during the day, you could ask the cook to prepare a sack lunch for you. Not having to worry about cooking and clean up was a very nice feature. The camp will have shared shower facilities, and an outhouse. There is a sitting area attached to the kitchen where meals are eaten, with a beautiful view of River Valley and Redwood Meadow Grove in the distance below. They have a book exchange and some board games handy to help pass the time if you desire. Also, they had a few supplies such as batteries, film, suntan lotion and other small needs for sale, but I’m sure what they have available at anytime will vary so plan wisely. Everything was on the honor system and you settled your bill when your stay was over. We stayed 2 nights, but you can book as many as you wish.

Mike and I along the Hamilton Lake trail
Mike and I along the Hamilton Lake trail

Our first full day in Bearpaw, we decided to take a hike up to Hamilton Lake.The trail gains about 1,000 feet and there are some switchbacks to follow. We were able to get to the lake in about 2 hours. The area up there was gorgeous and jumping into the lake was a real treat. It is an alpine lake so the water is very cold, but after a heated hike, the water was too inviting to ignore. We spent the next couple of hours sunning ourselves on the rocks beside the lake and eating our lunch before following the trail back to the Bearpaw camp.

After breakfast the next morning, we had to do the 11-mile hike back to Crescent Meadows. This time our hike was much faster, we were able to get back to the trail head parking area in 6 hours. However, it seemed to be a more tiring hike, and my feet were really barking when we made it back to the car. I think we could have paced ourselves a little slower on our hike back, and still be able to return at a reasonable hour. On the way out, we stopped at the Lodgepole visitor center and used the showers to freshen up, and boy, did that feel good.

I would definitely like to go back to Bearpaw Meadows Camp. It was a long hike in and out, but once you are there, it’s just so amazingly beautiful. I think I would stay an extra night or two, as well. There were many other trails to explore, so one could stay there probably a week and see something new everyday. The place was so isolated and comfortable; you deserve to really enjoy it leisurely, you earned it.