Prague final day

And so we come to our final day in Prague and almost the last of our holiday.

Guard at Prague Castle

Guard at Prague Castle

Today we took a gentle stroll through Letna Park. This large park sits above the city and contains numerous walking tracks set amongst a sparse planting of trees. One of the things in the park that can by seen from quite a distance is the giant metronome. It was erected in 1991, on the plinth left vacant by the destruction in 1962 of an enormous monument to former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The 23 metre long Metronome is now mostly a scenic vista and a meeting place for young people.

The area behind the Metronome is also a popular skate spot where skateboarders from Europe and around the world congregate and film throughout the year. I took the shot below whilst we were at the skate park watching skateboarders doing their stuff.

015blog

As we kept wandering we noticed Prague Castle looming on our left (hard to miss really) and a small deep valley between us and the Castle. The valley was full of trees but no stream which seemed a little odd. Further along one of the trails we were able to cross the small valley via a bridge. As we were crossing the bridge towards the Castle we overheard a tour guide explaining to her group that the small valley was in fact the Castle’s moat! Ah ha things now made sense.

After wandering around the Castle grounds for some time we decided to head back to the river and hire a paddle boat and chill out. Each day as we crossed the river into the Old Town we had seen these little paddle boats out and about and thought they would be a good way to spend an hour or so drifting under and around the shoreline and bridges. We were intrigued by one of the paddle boat hire places having an Australian flag fluttering happily in the breeze.

118blog

Paddling on the river

Yes, there was a connection with the land down under. The owner’s wife originally came from Melbourne but was now living permanently in Prague. So, into our paddle boat we climbed and spent a very relaxing hour exploring some of the river. It was a lovely way to end the day.

On the way back to our apartment we came across a shop window that had the most bizarre thing happening. One of the brochures at the Tourist Information Centre  advertised a cafe where you could sit with your feet in a fish tank and the tiny fish would eat all the dead skin off your feet!

156blog

Will that be one foot or two?

We had a chuckle over the brochure, placed it back on the stand and then thought no more about it. Now, here it was happening right in front of our eyes. A man and his son were happily sitting in the cafe window slurping on a drink and tiny fish were cleaning up their feet for them. What will they think of next?

Being our last night in Prague we decided to head out for dinner. But before that we attended a chamber music recital at one of the small chapels that dot the city. It went for an hour and included many small classical pieces that have become favourites over the years. Not the most exciting concert I’ve been to and the musicians seemed to be playing by numbers. One exciting thing  did happen whilst we were at the concert – the heavens opened and rain tumbled down. A huge thunder storm rolled across Prague just as the concert started and cleared up just as the concert ended – brilliant timing. It was only the third time in the whole time I’ve been away that it has rained.

137blog

Charles Bridge

Ooh forgot to mention. Last night we went to dance performance at the National Theatre of Prague. Beautiful old theatre and wonderful contemporary dance pieces. Even I enjoyed them.

And so ends our travels for this time around. It’s been a wonderful 10 weeks away from Perth (and 4 weeks for Jule) but I am more than ready to return home (and the same for Gluten Girl). Tomorrow we would leave Prague at 3.45pm and journey to Perth via Dubai arriving home after 19 hours of travel.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog, I’ve certainly enjoyed writing it.

Best wishes

Damian

 

 

 

 

Prague Days 2 & 3

*Have you got the lunches?       czech

*Have you got the wallet?          czech

* HAVE YOU GOT THE KEYS?  czech

This little ritual is played out each time we leave the apartments now. After our incident in Paris where I locked the keys and my luggage inside the apartment we have this little czech list we put each other through as we head to the front door and the day’s outing.

012blog

The oldest pipe organ in Prague

It’s Easter Sunday today and we are undecided where to celebrate Mass on this most important day in the liturgical year. Quite by accident we ended up at the wonderfully ornate Church of Our Lady Before Tyn in the Old Town Square. When I first saw the name of the church I was intrigued by the ‘before Tyn’ thing. Upon investigation I discovered that the church’s name originates from the Týn Courtyard which sits behind the church.The church was built in the 14th Century and the church’s organ was built in 1673 by Heinrich Mundt. It is is the oldest pipe organ in any of the churches in Prague.  A further bit of trivia – although the structure is not the same, legend has it that Tyn Church gave Walt Disney the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

So, hearing the bells of The Church Behind Tyn  we joined the congregation for 10.30am mass. Didn’t understand a word of the liturgy or the sermon as it was all in Czech – interestingly, two of the readings were in English. The music for the liturgy was superb. As well as the organ there was a brass section, a string section and some timpani. Accompanying the instruments was a large choir. A stand out for me was Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus which was sung during the Offertory. The whole mass certainly was a Hallelujah to this most holy of days.

After Mass we continued our wandering – this time through the Easter markets that have sprung up in the many squared around the city. I said in a previous post that Barcelona is the home of ham. Well, Prague would come a pretty close second I think. No Prague Easter market would be complete without big slabs of pork being roasted over open wood fired BBQs and then served to the waiting, salivating masses.

028blog

Gluten Girl with our ‘slab’ of freshly BBQ’d pork

When the pork is cooked they simply slice a portion of the piece on the spit, plonk it on plastic plate and then sell it to you based on the weight. You are also supplied with two pieces of bread, a paper serviette and a plastic knife and fork (which, like all plastic knives and forks, bend and break the first time you use them). If the palm oil on the potatoes yesterday didn’t kill us, the fat on the pork would today.
Feeling suitable nourished, and a little nauseous, after completing the pork feast we headed for one of the most visited sites in Prague – St Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle.The castle was founded in 870 AD and  is the largest medieval castle in Europe. It was the seat of the Kings of Bohemia for centuries, and today the President of the Czech Republic rules from here.

St Vitus Cathedral

St Vitus Cathedral

The Prague Castle complex covers over 7 hectares  and is centred around three great courtyards. The most  dominant building in the whole complex is St Vitus Cathedral. The history of Prague Castle dates back to the 9th century, when the first known building was erected on the site. In the 12th century it was replaced by a Romanesque palace. And in the 14th century it was rebuilt in the Gothic style, under the reign of Charles IV. A further reconstruction of the Royal Palace then took place under the Jagellons at the end of the 15th century.

Following a fire in 1541, Prague Castle underwent further works. The Spanish Hall was added during the reign of Rudolf II. Final alterations were made by Empress Maria Theresa. Today, Prague Castle serves as the historical and political centre for both city and state. A Changing of the Guard ceremony at the front gates reflects this. It takes place daily on the hour every hour between certain times. The midday ceremony includes a fanfare and a banner exchange.

084blog

On our way back down from the Castle to our apartment we came across a lovely little spot called King Wenceslas’ Vineyard. This restored vineyard is located in the central part of the grounds, on the southern slope between the buttress wall of the Old Castle Stairs and the upper scenic ridgeway. Legend has it that it is the oldest vineyard in Bohemia. Originally, the “divine vineyard” was reputedly cultivated by the patron saint of the Czech nation, Prince Wenceslas. The renovated vineyard was opened to visitors to Prague Castle in 2008 marking the 1100th anniversary of Saint Wenceslas’ birth. Its history is thus linked with the origination of Czech statehood and the adoption of Christianity. The area is quite unique in the fact that this  piece of land in the middle of the city has been preserved in its original, unaltered appearance. It’s a great place for a cup of coffee (in fact it probably had the best coffee we tasted in Prague) and for enjoying wonderful views of the city and river.

074blog

 

 

April 19 Prague Day 1

073blog

One of Prague’s national foods – beer

At 7.30am this morning my mobile phone rang. I stretched across to the bedside table and stabbed at the ‘answer’ button on the phone. “Hello” I said, “Hello dear” said Gluten Girl, ” I’m just checking to see if you are awake.”

I looked across to the far side of the bed, way off  in the distance I could just see Jule speaking to me on her phone. “Yes, I’m awake . . . now” I said, “Good” she said, “I’ll meet you in the dining room and we’ll ‘do breakfast”.

And so begins day one in Prague.

The great thing about Prague is that you can walk to most of the main tourist destinations without the need for public transport.  It’s similar to Venice in this respect. Our apartment is just across the river from the main square (about a 15 min walk). So, it was on with the walking shoes and into the centre of Prague. Without really meaning to we ended up at the Town Square and in front of the famous Prague astronomical clock. There’s not really enough room here to describe what this amazing pieced of machinery does but this website will provide you with lots of information if you are interested http://www.orloj.com/.

052blog

The famous astronomical clock

We climbed into the clock’s tower and began to see the crowds amass below us having no idea why there would be a sudden swell in numbers. It didn’t take long to find out. On the stroke of 11.00 am bells started to go off all over the place and then a trumpeter appeared from on the balcony beside us and played a short tune to which the crowd below gave a warm round of applause. The bells of cathedrals and churches close to the square also started ringing their bells. It was quite a show really. Five minutes after it had started, it stopped (the bell ringing, not the clock) and the crowd immediately melted away leaving the square half empty.

025

The crowd gathers on the hour to see the astronomical clock

The being Easter there are a number of Easter markets and stalls around the city. In the clock square there were stalls selling traditional Czech food, one of these foods being trdelnik (it’s those three consonants again making things difficult).

Trdelnik pastries can be found in cities like Prague and other popular Czech destinations, as well as in Bratislava and other Slovakian cities. Sometimes they are served with the traditional sugar-and-nut topping; other times a variety of toppings will be offered.

054blog

Rolling the pastry to form the trdlenik

The trdelnik pastry is made by wrapping dough around a stick (wooden or metal) and roasting it over an open flame until it is golden brown and fully cooked. In our case it was then rolled in the combination of sugar, nuts and cinnamon just before being sold. It was off limits to me but Gluten Girl bought a serving and hopped into it. ‘What’s it like?’ I asked. ”A bit like a croissant but a lot more stodgy” was her reply.

057blog

“A bit like croissant but more stodgy”

However, Coeliac Boy was not to be left out of the Easter eats. There was one stall selling what looked like slices of potato on long skewers. When we asked the vendor what he was selling he told us ‘potato slices on long skewers’.  He further informed us that the potatoes were cooked in palm oil. Excellent I said to myself,  not a hint of gluten to be found there then.

061blog

The ‘potatoes on a skewer’ that have the potential to kill you by 3.00 pm

“What are they like?” asked Gluten Girl. “Absolutely wonderful!” I replied munching away. “Enjoy them” said Gluten Girl,  ‘Because if they are cooked in palm oil they’ll probably give you a heart attack by 3.00pm this afternoon – it’s one bad oil for cholesterol, that one.”  And indeed I did enjoy them very much even though life might end by mid afternoon.

And so began a day of wandering. Wandering was pretty much all we did in Prague. As mentioned earlier, the  main sights are all within a 1-2 km radius of the Old Town Square so we were quite content to give public transport a miss and use our own transport legs to get us around.

017blog

Prague from the astronomical clock bell tower

On the way back to the apartment at the end of day one we came across a wall known as the Lennon Wall. Since the 1980s it has been filled with Lennon sayings and pieces of lyrics from Beatles songs (though I didn’t find either of these). In 1988, the wall was a source of irritation for the communist regime. Young Czechs would write grievances on the wall and in a report of the time this led to a clash between hundreds of students and security police on the nearby Charles Bridge.  The movement these students followed was described ironically as “Lennonism”  (great play on words) and Czech authorities described these people variously as alcoholics, mentally deranged, sociopathic, and agents of Western capitalism.

The Lennon Wall

The Lennon Wall

April 18 Leaving Italy, entering Czech Republic

001blog

Our enormous bedroom in Prague – the whole of our Paris apartment would have fitted inside this room. Czech out the size of the bed. We decided we would have to take our mobile phones with us to bed and use them to contact each other in the morning to see if the other was awake.

(Photo in the header above is a night shot of Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral)

There must be something terribly wrong. We are at Venice Airport on time, the plane we thought we were leaving on is the actual plane WE ARE leaving on and I haven’t left anything locked in the Venice apartment. Is this the same Damian and Julie from just a week ago? My stress levels are certainly lower that they were this time last week.

Only one minor hiccup at the airport – one of the computers at the security check was down which meant a very long queue to get bags and self checked and through into the departure lounges – and you know how much we enjoy queues. However, this is one queue we needed to stay in and couldn’t just come back tomorrow with our ‘skip the line’ ticket. After 40 mins of queueing we finally got through, though not before Gluten Girl had to be given a full body pat down as something kept annoying the security walk through thingammy. Jule asked if she could be patted down by one of the tall, good looking Italian male security guards but, alas. that was against company policy.

136blog

Gluten Girl at the front door of apartment building

Both of our flights today (Venice to Paris and then Paris to Prague) were with Air France and they certainly do not do gluten free tucker. ‘Gluten free, what is zat?’

I must say I love these short haul flights. Both trips today were less than two hours duration. Just enough time to get your seat belt tightened, enjoy nothing but a cup of coffee (for me) and a light snack for Gluten Girl and then it’s tighten your seat belts again, make sure your tray table is stowed and you’re touching down at the next destination. When people in Europe ask us how long it takes to fly from Perth to Europe and we tell them 19-23 hours they stand there aghast – ‘You mean a plane can stay in the air for that long?’

004blog

Prague would not be Prague without its trams

Our second flight from Paris to Prague was delayed so we arrived into Prague airport about 40 minutes behind schedule. By the time we waited in line for the ATM machine (queues again) and collected our baggage (Gluten Girl says that her baggage is with her all the time – me) we were the last from our flight to head to customs. This was the beginning of a number of Czech jokes that emerged over the next few days.

‘I wonder if they will want to Czech our luggage?’ says Gluten Girl. However, customs were too busy talking to each other and as we approached the counter they just waved us away and pointed towards the exit sign. No custom’s czechs needed in the czech republic.

Upon arrival at all of our other airports we had taken airport buses, trains or other public transport to our apartment. Whilst this was certainly cheap it also meant carrying heavy luggage onto crowded transport. To get to our apartment in Prague meant an airport bus to a point somewhere along the way and then a tram the rest of the journey. The thought of trying to climb up into trams during peak hour with luggage did us in and so we decided to take a taxi instead – good move Doyles.

004blog

Typical Prague architecture. Our apartment is just behind these buildings

The taxi driver was wonderful and provided valuable information.  He introduced us to some of the history of Prague, gave us tips about how to use the public transport system, told us about the best money changers as well as lots of other interesting tips that came in handy during our stay. When he dropped us off at the apartment and we had paid him he then drove around the block and came back again to Czech that the apartment owner’s representative had arrived and then, wished us well for our stay in his home country. If that’s a sign of Czech hospitality then we were going to enjoy our stay. (In fact we did find that kind of hospitality a lot during our time here – the locals really did go out of their way to help the stupid tourists who couldn’t speak their language).

Our apartment is on the ground floor of our building and the rooms are enormous (even by Australian standards). As mentioned above, the whole of our Paris apartment could have fitted in our Prague bedroom.

105blog

This is why we had trouble with the Czech language. Try pronouncing the words on this label

With all the details about the rent sorted with Voiteshka (the apartment owner’s representative) we headed out to do some shopping. This was an interesting experience and made more interesting because of the Czech language. 

With Spanish, Catalan, French and Italian the word structures are similar to English but with the Czech language when you put three consonants together the words become  almost unpronounceable. The label at left is a good example of this (by the way if you bought this product without any idea of what was in it you would have purchased a bottle of strawberry scented shampoo). However, we had a trump card we could play. Before leaving Perth I had printed off a number of gluten free cards in languages of all the different countries I would visit whilst away. These small cards inform the reader of the things to which  I am allergic. At the Prague supermarket near our apartment we produced the GF card and, after reading the card, the woman behind the deli was able to point out the various meats and cheeses that were OK. Again Czech hospitality came to the fore. A man standing at the counter next to me could see I didn’t understand the native language and so interpreted for me to the lady behind the counter.

106blog

Some of my gluten free cards. If you thought the Czech language was hard to pronounce try Hebrew or Arabic??!

With some goods purchased from that store we then tried another smaller store closer to our apartment. This store was run by  a Chinese family (of course they must have been Chinese Czechers) but alas no gluten free biscuits or crackers were to be found on the shelves. We would have to search further afield for gluten free supplies.

005blog

Looking towards the Charles Bridge

Everyone we had spoken to in Perth who had visited Prague said to us that it was ‘a beautiful  city’. I can see what they meant now. Jule summed it up well when she said that Rome is very masculine, Paris is like the snooty older sister, Barcelona is like the slightly badly behaved but creative younger brother and Prague, well Prague is the quaint and beautifully dressed elderly aunt. As you walk the streets of Prague you just feel happy being surrounded by such lovely architecture and the city’s position on the Vltava River. 

Welcome to Prague  Dmnammnnian and Jzulinne Doynzble

 

April 17 Venice Day 5

030blog

Another slow beginning to the day. 11.30am start again. Our plan today was to wander into the Santa Croce part of Venice. And that’s just what we did and continued to wander until 5.30pm in the afternoon when our little legs said ‘enough is enough take me home’. Knowing that those little legs had to last us another five days of walking in Prague we obeyed and set sail for our apartment on the canal. Tomorrow we will leave the city of canals and head to the Czech Republic and Prague.It has been a wonderful stay in Venice and we have enjoyed ourselves very much.

 

035blog

April 16 Venice Day 4

040

The Doyle with the Pollock at the Guggenheim

Slow start to the morning, we didn’t get to leave the apartment until 11.30am – that’s the beauty of holidays. Peggy Guggenheim was a US expatriate (1898-1979) and heir to a mining fortune. She first came to Europe in 1921 and began amassing a collection of contemporary art which she exhibited in London and New York. She made Venice her home in 1947. The Guggenheim museum contains works by many contemporary artists including Piccaso, Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Marino Marini. The great thing about the gallery is that it is set in a wonderful garden with some of the biggest and oldest trees in Venice gracing the grounds. Throughout the grounds are a number of sculptures by famous artists.

019blog 020blog

In a quiet corner of the garden is the final resting place of Peggy and buried not far away are the dogs that were so much a part of her life. Looking at the age of the dogs when they died it would seem that Peggy got better at looking after them the more dogs she had.

068blog

Picasso

What surprised me about the museum was the number of young people who were stationed around the collection and were available to answer questions about the exhibits. I’m not sure if it is part of the policy of the place to employ up and coming artists or students studying art but it certainly was great to see.

012blog

Crossing the Grand Canal in a traghetto. Gluten Girl about to be cut in half by a large barge

Getting to Peggy’s place took about 50 minutes this morning. At some stage we had to cross over the Grand Canal from San Polo to Dorsoduro (where Peggy lives). There are only 3 bridges that cross the Grand Canal – Ponte degli Scalzi, Ponte di Rialto, Ponte dell’Accademia . At different points between these bridges are traghettos. These are gondolas that act like mini ferries to take people straight across the Grand Canal – no love songs, no pointing out the sights, no history of the various buildings, just get in and across we go.

045blog

Title of sculpture: the cow

The cost is 2 euros per person per crossing for tourists and .70 euros for locals. Instead of 2 comfortable seats these gondolas contain just two planks for some people to sit on and the rest of the passengers sit on the side of the boat. There were 8 of us on this journey. There are two gondoliers who are the engine room and the crossing takes about 60 seconds. It’s a quick, easy and cheap way to cross the Grand Canal. In our case the S.Maria del Giglio traghetto picked us up in San Marco and dropped us pretty much right outside Peggy’s front door.

023blog

We spent an enjoyable couple of hours at Peg’s Place and then found a quiet spot on the steps of a small canal nearby to enjoy our packed lunch. We then went back to the apartment for an hour or more before heading out to a concert at the Church of San Salvador. In our wanderings two days earlier we saw a poster advertising a concert at the church by the orchestra and choir of Wesley College, Perth. WHAT?? On closer inspection it certainly did say Wesley College, Perth, Australia. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi. So we ended up at the church at around 5.20 and readied ourselves to hear the young whippersnappers from Perth perform at 6.00pm. Only they weren’t from Perth – they were from Melbourne! On some of the program notes we were handed before the performance started it stated the orchestra and choir were from Perth and other performance notes stated they were from Melbourne. We were completely confused. In the end we forgot about where they were from and just enjoyed the music and singing. It was a lovely way to finish what had been a very enjoyable day – a day of the Arts. Tomorrow would be our last day in the City of Canals.

170blog

It definitely says Wesley College Perth Australia

April 15 Venice Day 3

006blog

Tuesdays are fish market days. So, being the fish lovers we are, we made our way back to the Rialto Bridge again this morning to buy fresh fish. Learning our lesson from yesterday we didn’t arrived until after 8.30am and found at least a dozen sellers with all sorts of goodies from the ocean for sale. The great things about fish in Venice are the freshness and the price. Salmon in Perth will cost you around $30-$35 a kilo. At the markets here in Venice it was $20 a kilo. Fish for dinner tonight.

When we were here 3 years ago we didn’t really have time to visit any of the tourist attractions (though one could say that just getting lost in Venice is a tourist attraction). So, this time we wanted to head to Piazza San Marco and see the church as well as get a bird’s eye view of the city from the campanile (bell tower).

056blog - Copy

Venice from San Marcocampinale

Getting to San Marco from our apartment is easy – just follow the signs to Ponte Rialto and from there the signs to Piazza San Marco. The other way to find your way there is simply to follow the masses. It seems that most people are either heading to Rialto or San Marco and, a bit like being in Ikea, you just go with flow.

069blog - Copy

The belle and the bell (San Marco campanile)

San Marco is an enormous square dominated at one end by the church and campanile and surrounded on the other three sides by white buildings containing lots and lots and lots of arches. In the guide book it says the best time to visit the church is the afternoon when the sun helps to illumine the golden domes of the church roof. Given the size of the queue to enter the church when we arrived we agreed with the guide book and headed over to the queue for the campanile (only half as long). I’m sure that for centuries the only way to get to top of the bell tower was via the winding staircase. These days the only way to get to the top is via an elevator with 14 others.

080blog

San Marco Square

Whilst the square below was bathed in sunshine and shielded from the wind, the top of the bell tower was in shade and open to every whiff of wind that happened to be passing through. It was freezing!!! However, it did provide a wonderful view, on this a clear day, of the city and surrounding waters. Not too many people stayed for any length of time at the top, the queue to jump in the elevator and descend to ground level was almost as long as the one on the ground waiting to ascend to the top of the bell tower.

153blog

golden dome San Marco Basilica

Later in the afternoon we went back to the Basilica of San Marco which began in its original form in 829 to house and honour the remains of St. Mark that had been brought from Alexandria. St. Mark thereupon replaced St. Theodore as the patron saint of Venice, and his attribute of a winged lion in time became the official symbol of the Venetian Republic. The Basilica became the cathedral church of Venice in 1807.

085blog

This is the second of three weddings we saw today

The first Basilica was burned in 976 and the current Basilica was completed in 1071. The interior is decorated throughout with mosaics on gold ground and with many varieties of marble; the floor is of inlaid marble and glass. In the very restricted light the enters the church their colours glow.

The Campanile, which is separate from the church, was originally begun around 912. It was adapted into its present  form early in the 16th century. In 1902 it collapsed but by 1912 had been rebuilt on its original site. In 2014 it is still standing!

087blog

Venice – a great place for leather

One of the things we had promised ourselves we would do this time in Venice was take a gondola ride. Close to our apartment there is a small bridge over one of the canals and there are always the same two gondilers tied up there waiting for customers. So, we stopped by the bridge on the way home and asked for a ride. ‘No problem signor and signora,  please step aboard.’

121blog

Gondola selfie

Funny thing about gondolas. When we are out walking and crossing over the many bridges during our travels I tend to stop and take photos of the gondolas as they float towards me and then below me. They just seem so . . . .  ‘Venice’. Of course it doesn’t matter who is in the actual boat at the time – they just become part of the picture. Therefore, it’s a bit weird when you are the one sitting in the gondola and approaching a bridge and you see all these tourists standing on the bridge taking photos of you! What goes around comes around. Our gondola ride lasted 40 minutes.

131blog

Gondola cruising in the Grand Canal

Our gondolier wasn’t very talkative – he pointed out a few of the major attractions – this is where Casanova stayed, there is the casino, over there is the something or other hotel. He also sang a little piece from the song   ‘Amore’ but apart from that left us alone to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the ride. That changed a bit when we got into the Grand Canal but our man in the stern has been in the business 35years so was able to negotiate with ease the traffic zooming up and down the major waterway. Then it was back into the smaller canals and back towards our little bridge. It’s a lovely slow way to get a boat’s eye view of some of the Venetian canals and to spend some special time with each other, It’s also a sure fire way  to end up in a German tourist’s series of photos of the ’gondolas of Venice’.

001blog - Copy

Both of us really tired tonight – we had done a lot of walking today and our legs were complaining. We enjoyed the meal of fresh fish then tried to watch an Italian soccer show that included a few clips of games and lots of talking by a panel of ‘experts’. We couldn’t understand a word they said so after 20 minutes we decided to leave them to their expert opinions and we had an early night. Tonight was our coldest night since arriving in Venice and the days and nights are certainly colder here than in Barcelona. Tomorrow we were going to be purveyors of modern art with a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

 

033blog

Basilica of San Marco

April 14 Venice Day 2

166blog

Having wandered yesterday and found our bearings, particularly around where we live, we decided to cast our nets further afield today. We knew that the Rialto fruit and vegetable markets would be operating so we left the apartment early with the idea of beating the tourist rush (school holidays started in Europe on Saturday and we had noticed an increase in the number of families on our travels in the past few days). In the tourist information sheets it stated that the markets opened from 7.00am – 1.00pm. However, this also meant that the sellers didn’t start setting up until 7.00am. We arrived a little early and had to sit watching traffic on the canal for a while until the produce was ready to be sold. Sitting watching the canal was a delight in itself. When a whole city relies on water craft to function it’s amazing what you see go past.

023

A boat load of mattresses

Of course you have your regular services – water taxis, water buses, police and ambulance but then everything else is also moved by boat – fruit and veg, meat, furniture, building supplies. We even saw one boat go past with a load  of very large paintings in beautiful frames all enclosed in bubble wrap and waterproof sheeting. By 7.45am most of the sellers were ready for a day’s trading so  we purchased fruit and vegies for our stay and headed back to the textile factory. Again, the weather looks like being kind to us during our stay. In the 8 weeks of being away I have still only experienced two days of rain and one of those days was in the desert in Israel where it only rains on average once every three years.

007blog

Gondola jam

Finding your way around Venice is easy if you look for the signs. There seems to be four main markers that are signposted throughout the city – Piazzale Roma is a square not far from the train and bus station. We know that if we are lost and head for this square we will   be on one of the main thoroughfares past our apartment. Piazza San Marco is the huge square in San Marco (seems reasonable to call a square San Marco if it is in the district of San Marco) Again, we know that if we are heading in this direction we are heading away from our apartment. Ponte Rialto is the famous bridge which crosses the Grand Canal and is on the way to San Marco  and the fourth sign sends you to Campo San Polo. This square is in the middle of Venice and if we find ourselves there without wanting to be then we have taken a very wrong turn somewhere as it is not on any thoroughfare going to or from our apartment. So, when out wandering we just look for one of these four markers and we can get our bearings.

004blog - Copy

Slippery little suckers

Today we found a gelati shop that takes its gluten free customers very seriously. You only need to mention the words ‘senza glutine’ and it commences a ritual that is not offered to ‘non diseased’ customers. Firstly the person serving you goes and washes their hands, they then pull out a separate box from the cupboard which has cups that have not been mixed with other cups and a spatula that has been freshly washed. Now for the ice cream. There are two tins of each flavour – one which is currently being used to serve customers and sitting underneath this tin is another full one of the same flavour. The first tin is removed and scoops of icecream from the second, non contaminated tin, are placed in the non contaminated cup using the non contaminated spatula which is being used by the non contaminated hands. It’s a bit of a longer process to get an ice cream but very much appreciated by me. To show my appreciation I only go there for an icecream if the shop is almost empty. To ask them to perform this ritual with a shop full of customers would be unfair. So all you gluten intolerant folk out there if you want a gluten free gelati when in Venice then GROM is the place for you. Queen Gluten recommends them for ‘non diseased’ royalty and peasants too.

 

130blog

On our gondola ride up the Grand Canal

April 13 Barcelona last day Venice first day

At 9.15am this morning Gluten Girl just happened to ask ‘Is it 1.00 or 1.30pm when our plane leaves today?’ I looked at the boarding passes which I had printed at Eller and to my shock I saw that the plane departed, not at 1.00 or 1.30pm but  at 10.55am with boarding commencing at 10.25am. WHAT??? I looked back at my original itinerary documents and they stated that the plane departed at 1.30pm. Somewhere along the line Vueling Airlines had changed the time of the flight. When I had printed the boarding pass at Eller I didn’t even bother to check the departure time believing that it would be the same as the original itinerary. How wrong I was!

017blog (2)

Our apartment in Venice with Gluten Girl hanging out the window.

It was action stations with rocket boosters strapped on. Fortunately we had packed our bags the night before so the last remaining clothes were hastily fired in and zips secured. No time for showers or breakfast. Final dishes were hastily washed and we were out the front door and ready to negotiate those tricky stairs. Coeliac Guy was very mindful to make sure all his bags were in the hallway before closing the self locking door. Careful, careful, just one step at a time on the stairs – no twisted ankles needed now. Reaching street level we dashed out into the laneway and headed for Placa de Catalunya.

001blog (2)

The canal on which our apartment is built

When I was first looking for a place to stay in Barcelona I chose our apartment mainly because it was close to a bus that would take us directly to the airport at the end of our stay. What a fortunate decision. We boarded the bus at 9.30am and then sat patiently as it travelled to the airport. Thank goodness it was a Sunday and there was minimal traffic. We alighted from the bus at 10.05 and headed into the terminal. As I expected the Vueling check in  lines were about 15 people long at each counter. Yoiks. Gluten Girl saw a sign at the far end of all the counters which read ‘last minute check in’ . Surely that meant us. We raced over to this counter and were ‘processed’ quickly, ‘You are still in time’ we were told by the assistant.  My watch now read 10.15 and we only had security to get through before making our way down the long corridors to our departure gate.

028

Beautiful Venice

We arrived at the departure gate with the ‘boarding’ sign flashing above and went straight through and onto the waiting bus that would take us to the furthest part of the tarmac and our waiting plane. We had made it. We boarded the plane at 10.40am and took off on schedule at 10.55 am. We had played the ‘skip the line’ game twice in two days and been successful both times!! What a dash, who needs strong coffee in the morning to get your heat pumping – changed flight schedules will do it every time, though I wouldn’t recommend it on a regular basis.  I had 1hr 45 minutes to still my beating heart before we touched down in Venice and the start of four and a half days in the canal city.

Our ‘huge’ apartment in Venice was about a 15 minute walk from where the airport bus pulls up near the train station on the Grand Canal.  Gluten Girl and I had been to Venice once before but only on a day trip from Milan three years ago. All I could remember about Venice was a maze of streets, lots of water and getting lost – many times. Our apartment was just off one of the main streets in Venice and easy to get to – didn’t even get lost once on our way there. Because of the changed flight schedule it meant we had arrived 2.5 hours early so we cooled our heels at one of the many bars on the way to the apartment and took full advantage of the free wi fi. The first thing we did was to check the departure times of our next flights from Venice to Paris and then Paris to Prague.

026blog

We arrived at the apartment one hour before our scheduled time and met the family who were just vacating ‘our’ apartment. They reminded us we were just moving into ‘their’ apartment. John and Janet and their two daughters were from England (both music teachers) and had just spent four days in Venice. One of the daughters was gluten intolerant so they were able to share with us some good recommendations for gluten free dining. At 4.30pm, as per our arranged schedule with the apartment owner, we rang the door bell and the cleaner met us and showed us through our home for the next few days.

098blog

If our apartment in Paris was the sewing box then this was the textile factory by comparison. Spacious kitchen, lounge and dining room and wonder of wonders – A SEPARATE BEDROOM. We felt like a king and queen – King Coeliac and Queen Gluten. Welcome to Venice your majesties. Our apartment (not John and Janet’s) is on the first floor and backs onto a small canal. It’s a very quiet location – far enough away from the main street and on a canal that is only used by the locals or boat drivers  who have had a few too many drinks at night and looking for a back way home to avoid the water police (actually I don’t know this for sure but I wonder if it happens in Venice?).

169blogblog

However, royalty still has to do the washing and after several attempts we worked out how the washing machine worked and then had to negotiate the washing line. In true Venetian style the washing line is attached to the side of the apartment. This means you lean out of the dining room window and peg the clothes to the line hoping that pegs or clothes don’t fall into the canal one storey below. Unfortunately there were two peg casualties during the hanging out (alas poor Peggy I knew her well) but fortunately no clothes were lost.

167blog

April 12 Barcelona Day 4

001blog

Basilica of La Sagrada Familia.

Thank goodness for wifi (or ‘whiffi’ depending on your pronunciation). By midday today we had secured tickets to the Basilica with a guided tour at 3.00pm. With lunch stowed away in the backpack we headed into the subway and caught a train to the station nearest the Basilica. As we emerged at street level we could see the line to get in was about the same as yesterday. We walked straight past them all and into a nearby park where we enjoyed lunch (not the one we had packed but some delights from  a gluten free deli next to the shop from where our tour would leave). At 2.45pm we lined up with about 20 others who were taking the ‘English speaking tour’ and off we went with our guide straight into the grounds and then the interior of the Basilica. Derry was right to tell us in no uncertain terms that we had to make a visit to the inside of this remarkable church.

148blog

La Sagrada Familia was originally conceived by the Catalan publisher Josep Bocabella.  Work began in 1882 by public subscription on a design by architect Francesc de Paula Villar, which proposed a simple church in a traditional neo-Gothic style.

After arguments between Bocabella and Villar, Antoni Gaudi took over as lead architect in 1884. Gaudí immediately changed the project completely, seizing the opportunity to express his strong religious and nationalist feelings.

078

After finishing the Parc Guell in 1911, Gaudí vowed to abandon secular art and devote himself entirely to the Sagrada Familia. He worked on it tirelessly for over 40 years,  living as a virtual hermit in a workshop on the site. When questioned about the slow pace, he is said to have replied, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Nevertheless, it remained unfinished at Gaudí’s untimely death in 1926, when the artist was run over by a tram on the Gran Via. He died in hospital two days later and was mourned by all of Catalonia. He is buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia.

059blog

Work on the project continued after Gaudí’s death under the direction of Domènech Sugranyes but was interrupted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1935. The building remained intact during the war, but in 1936 many of its models and plans were destroyed by Catalan anarchists, who saw the church as a symbol of the old, conservative religion that had no place in the new Barcelona.

Construction began again in the late 1950s and has continued ever since. The current design is based on a combination of reconstructed versions of the lost plans and modern adaptations. Vaults over the side aisles were added in 1995 and the roof over the nave was finished in early 2001.

The current director, Jordi Bonet i Armengol, began using computers for the design and construction process in the 1980s, which has sped up the complicated process considerably. Still, the final stage of the grand Sagrada Familia is not progressing much faster than it did under Gaudi. Estimated completion dates range from 2017 to  2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death (I’m proposing it will even take longer than that).

033blog

It was a wonderful experience to visit the Basilica and I ‘m so glad we made the effort to do so. Besides the huge proportions of the church I also enjoyed the small touches in many of the statues that adorn the outside of the building. If you are ever in Barcelona you have to see this wonderful piece of architecture – even if you have to kill someone!

Today was our wedding anniversary (27 years) and so we chose to eat at a different restaurant tonight and not Café Doyle. Gluten Girl wanted to taste an authentic Spanish paella and I just wanted something on the menu that was gluten free. Jule opted for the seafood paella and I opted for the lamb chops! The paella was not too bad (6/7 out of 10), the lamb chops very ordinary (3 out of 10) and the company – first rate (10 out of 10). When we eat out in these cities it’s often a disappointing experience. That’s because the food and the way it is cooked is always so good at Café Doyle.

068blog

After dinner on our final night in Barcelona we did what most of Barcelona does – go strolling. Whilst this was an ‘aimless’ stroll I have to be honest and admit it did have one aim – a visit to Gelaaati. Their ice cream was just too good not to pay them one more visit before we departed for Venice. In a strange quirk of coincidence we got talking to the guy who served us and we found he was from Italy – Turin in fact. His mate, also working at Gelaaati, was also from the same city.  They had come to Barcelona to get work as work in Italy was in short supply! With tummies now full of gelati we strolled along La Rambla and back to our apartment. Tomorrow our plane departed at 1.30pm leaving us time for a very relaxed morning before getting ready and getting to the airport – OR SO WE THOUGHT!

162blog

Basilica of La Sagrada Familia