Ramblin’ on Las Ramblas

LOCATION: Barcelona to JFK
WEATHER: Barcelona – sunny, high 55. JFK – unseasonably warm. High 60

Our flight wasn’t until 6:00 PM, so we were excited to spend another day in beautiful Barcelona. After a coffee in a coffee shop/bakery (they are everywhere), we stored our bags at the hotel and headed off.

Our destination was Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s famous pedestrian mall. It starts at a major plaza then goes all the way to the port. Since it was a sunny Saturday, seemingly all of Barcelona had the same idea and the boulevard was full of people, mostly Spaniards.

It is lovely to see the old buildings and the stalls along the way – souvenirs, flowers, and snacks

Little restaurants were getting set up for tapas and wine

We strolled and strolled, and made it all the way to the old port area. There is a beautiful maritime building…

And a statue of Christopher Columbus….

It didn’t seem all that touristy, but Barcelona can fill up in the summer and/or when cruise ships are in port. It is quite a problem.

We decided to head back to the hotel through back streets, and boy were we rewarded! We peeped down little alleys where people had their clothes drying on their balconies…

Spaniards love to be out and about, and the streets were full of locals. We found a cute wine/beer bar. I had the house wine, again served in a juice glass, and George tried a different beer. Our tapas were Spanish icons – Manchego cheese and a portion of Spanish tortilla (like a potato omelette – not to be confused with Mexican tortillas)

Alas, we had to leave for the airport. The flight was 8 hours, leaving at 6:00 PM, and arriving at 9:00 PM (NYC time). Our bodies, however, told us that is was 2:00 AM.

We stayed overnight at an old Howard Johnson motel – in Jamaica, NY which is the JFK location. It is pretty dicey. During the night, I heard gun shots and a lot of roaring motorcycles. Welcome back to the USA!

Me encanta Espana! (I LOVE Spain!)

LOCATION: Barcelona, Spain
WEATHER: Very pleasant. A bit overcast; high 55

Due to the northern Europe short winter days, we arrived in Copenhagen in the dark and left this morning in the dark, so we really didn’t see anything of the city. Next time….. We had a great Scandinavian smorgasbord breakfast in the hotel – with luscious rye bread, herring, cheeses, and meats.

After a 3-hour flight, we landed in Barcelona and took a taxi to the old city part of town where our hotel is. I lived in Spain in the 1970s when I was in college. Boy have we (both Spain and I) changed. I never would have taken a cab – I was Miss Cheapo during those days. And, I quickly discovered the land of 1 cent glasses of wine with free tapas has totally disappeared… 😦

Our hotel is a cute boutique hotel type of place. We got a map of the city and off we went. Our goals were to see Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and get some wine and tapas. It was quite a hike (2.5 miles) to La Sagrada Familia, but it felt good to walk again after those long flights. I just love the wide boulevards in Spanish cities like Barcelona and the beautiful architecture.

Tickets for La Sagrada Familia are 30 euros each and you have to buy them online weeks before your visit, so we just looked at it from outside. It has also changed a lot since I was here last (1972). When I was here, only this part was finished.

Now a more whimsical side has been added, and they are still working on it.

With that item checked off our list, we went in search of vino, which isn’t hard to find here! We found this cute bodega for our first round of tapas…

It is the kind where you sit at the bar, order your wine from a barrel, select your tapas, drink wine from a juice glass, and chat with the owner. Absolute heaven!!!

We ordered two plates of tapas – one was cheese-stuffed anchovies; the other was spicy olives. Delicioso!

Happy as clams, we walked back toward our hotel, getting lost quite a bit. We stopped at another bar that was a bit more upscale, but since it was farther away from the tourist area, it was actually cheaper. Here we had chorizo and sauteed mushrooms for tapas. George tried a new beer.

Our third, and final, bodega stop was a hipster kind of place with lots of university students. There we had 3 plates of tapas – calamari, grilled peppers, and croquettes (very popular in Spain).

Tired from the flight and all the walking, we headed to bed early – probably earlier than anyone else in Barcelona!

I think I could live in Spain again. Just wonderful vibes.

The Joys of Flying

LOCATION: Copenhagen, Denmark

WEATHER: Rain. Cool. Around 50

The best laid plans…..We were scheduled to fly from Dubai to Barcelona with a layover in Copenhagen. When we got to the airport, we found that everything had been changed. At first we couldn’t figure out why, but then learned that all flights over Iran are being redirected due to the “tensions” there. (I could say more…..)

So, the flight had to detour around Iran, adding several hours to the trip. Then, running low on fuel, we had to stop in Cyprus to refuel. I guess I can now say I have been to Cyprus.

The flight was full of crying babies and yelling children. I felt sorry for them, and their mothers. The flight ended up being 10+ hours. They ran out of food and all the ice melted for drinks. Everyone was wrecked, but tempers did not flare.

I have complimented Norwegian Airlines before as a low-fare, well-run airlines. They certainly took care of us here! Since we landed so late, we missed our connection to Barcelona. They gave us vouchers for an overnight stay here, with shuttles, dinner with wine and beer, breakfast, and rebooked our flight to Barcelona for tomorrow. All done efficiently and courteously. I was proud that I still know enough Spanish to inform our hotel in Barcelona of our delays!

We haven’t seen much of Copenhagen. It was dark when we arrived and we are just near the airport. I was here many years ago. I think I would like to return.

On to Barcelona….hopefully!

Dubai – a City of “Wows”!

WEATHER: Perfect. Sunny. High 78

We were off today to get our money’s worth from the Hop On/Off bus. The hotel shuttle took us (free) to the metro station where we got a train to the Dubai Mall. The metro was super crowded as it was rush hour. Like in Japan, when there was no more room in the shuttle, more of us squeezed on. We made it!

There are 3 long loops on the Hop On/Off bus. The first one was the beach route. Our first stop was another mall. This city seems like it is one big shopping center! Then, we went through the beach area. This 7-star resort hotel is one of Dubai’s icons.We got off at another resort hotel, built to look like the ancient Arabic souks (markets). Inside were lots of different souvenir shops and nice restaurants.We passed by gated neighborhoods with 60 high-rise apartment complexes. These self-contained communities have everything – shops, schools, hospitals, with underground tunnels and overhead skyways connecting them to the beach on one side and marina on the other. Wow!

This loop ended at yep, another mall. This second largest mall in the Middle East is home to an indoor ski resort with 5 slopes. One can ski here with real snow any day of the year Another Wow!

The second loop was the marina loop. We stopped at the main marina for a boat ride. It was an hour’s worth of gazing at even more skyscrapers. And, the construction speed is overwhelming!

We found a marina-side lunch spot for a quick sandwich. It is popular to have a hookah smoke as a kind of after-dinner drink in most restaurants. They give you a menu with flavor types and a guy prepares it for you.The bus took us to the man-made island city shaped in a palm tree. It is overwhelming to realize that you are not on real land – more high rises, villas, hotels, malls, and a water park. They told us they are building another man-man island near Dubai that will be bigger than Hong Kong! Another Wow!

The third loop was the old city loop. I wish we had had more time to explore this old area. We did wander down an alley where there were lots of interesting spice shopsThen, we took another boat ride on the Dubai Creek, the city’s original business area (before oil) – with fishing and finding pearls.Our last stop was…..another mall! This one was the most high-end we have seen. Raffles Hotel (think Singapore) is there. We were in search of a nice luxury hotel for our one drink of the day. We found a Spanish tapas place in the Omni. The entire complex makes you think you are in Egypt!DINNER: We took a cab back to our hotel. We had spotted a small Iranian restaurant near our place, off the beaten path, so we went there. We shared a platter of lamb and beef kabob with rice. Quite nice When we were finished, the nice waitress asked us where we are from. We answered…..Canada!

Spectacular Dubai!

WEATHER: Sunny. High 80. Beautiful

We arrived at our hotel at 6:00 AM, but they were kind enough to let us check in to take a nap. By mid-morning, refreshed a bit, we took off to start our Dubai exploration.

We took a cab (cheap here) to the Dubai Mall, the largest in the world There, we found the Hop-On/Off Bus and signed up for tomorrow. Normally I do not like malls, but this one is spectacular. The quality of the stores is amazing -mostly all high-end. We went through one section that is entirely jewelry; another one that is children’s designer clothes, etc. . The burqa-clad women were doing a lot of shopping.

Chanel even had a line in front of the shop, waiting to get in. Lots of money here!

The women are so interesting in their variety of traditional clothing. Some are covered from head to toe (toe is usually some type of incongruous Nike tennis shoe) and others only wear the gown, but have their heads/hair free. Others have something in between. All are wearing beautiful make-up. We wached the ones with the face covers eat….they carefully lift up the cloth to put food in their mouths.

The tallest building in the world is connected to the mall. We checked it out to see about taking the elevator up the 165 floors. There were long lines (Chinese tourists) and tickets were expensive, so we opted to just look at it from outside.

This fantastic hotel/office complex/condo has two high buildings connected by a swimming pool at the top

We found another landmark, the Dubai Fountain, next to one side of the mall. It is surrounded by restaurants. The fountain show goes off every 30 minutes. It is beautiful, with very nice accompanying orchestra music.

A Lebanese restaurant next to the fountain was our pick for lunch. We had interesting dishes while watching the fountain shows….and people.

Dubai seems very, very prosperous. Lots of construction going on and skyscrapers everywhere

We continued strolling around the mall – iceskating rink, aquarium, movie theatre – all in addition to the thousands of shops.

By 5:00, exhausted and foot-weary, we found (with a bit of difficulty) a bar with alcohol. It was in a very posh hotel surrounding the lake. I think the only places that serve drinks are those associated with resorts. We sat on their patio next to the lake and enjoyed the fountain show by night.

DINNER: We grabbed a sandwich from the mini-store in our hotel and went to bed early.

Dubai is pretty cool!

On to Dubai!

LOCATION: 8+ hour flight Johannesburg to Dubai
WEATHER: Johannesburg pleasant. Dubai – 68 (at 6:00 AM)

It was a slow day in Johannesburg. We stayed around the house and got packed (packing took about 5 minutes). 🙂 The maid came. She hadn’t come when the homeowners were away, but Monday is her regular day here. Having a maid around always makes me uncomfortable. We had left our breakfast dishes out for her to wash. I felt guilty just sitting around while she toiled away. I did sneak into the kitchen to wash up our lunch dishes when she wasn’t looking.

We took a 20-minute Uber ride to the airport. Check-in was easy. We found a nice lounge to hang out in to wait for the flight.

We flew Emirites – a huge double-decker air bus

It was pretty nice, and with aisle seats we were able to stretch a bit.

We arrived in Dubai at 5:30 AM (3:30 AM our body time). The Dubai airport is ultra-modern.

After a quick cab ride, we arrived at our hotel, central in the city, we think. They let us check in early so we napped a bit. Anxious to explore this city!

BOOK: “How to Sleep with a Movie Star”. A new author for me – Kristen Harmel – recommended by my traveling buddy Jenny. Kind of a cute, love story; the author writes cleverly. 4 stars out of 5

Fantasy-land in Johannesburg

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Beautiful. Sunny. High 80

On our last full day here, we thought we would explore another part of town called Sandton. It is a wealthy suburb about 20 minutes from here. When Johannesburg’s downtown began to go downhill, major businesses, banks, and shops pulled out and moved to Sandton. It is quite a contrast – everything is new, well-kept, and prosperous-looking. It is a big banking/finance center

Our plan was to go to a Sunday farmers’ market there that is supposed to be full of food vendors, food trucks, etc. However, when we got there, we found it closed! (Even though the internet said it was open). Undaunted, we asked the Uber driver to drop us at the adjacent Monte Casino, not knowing anything else to do.

What a shocker! It is a massive complex, with hotels, entertainment complex, and of course the casino. It is a fantasy-land, sort of a cross between an indoor Disney World and Las Vegas. The inside is dim and the decor is Tuscany-wantabe. We strolled around the entertainment complex with lots of different restaurants, a movie theater, ice skating rink, bowling alley, and performance auditorium. Our mouths were probably wide open with shock.

Our first stop was at one of the Italian restaurants for a glass of wine and some duck pate.

No, I didn’t drink this entire bottle!!!

We followed the signs outside to a bird park, in a beautiful garden setting. We were in luck – the bird show was starting five minutes after we bought our ticket

They put on a nice show – kind of like Sea World (but with birds).

This huge owl flew to a perch right by us.

Then, we walked around the aviary observing beautiful birds, and some animals.

This bird was breathtaking – a crimson ibis.

Back inside the casino, we chose a Greek restaurant for lunch. (We opted out of the Texas steakhouse restaurant). George had kingclip, a fish unique to South Africa that he has been wanting to try.

We took an Uber back home, then chatted with the homeowners over a glass of wine on the patio.

DINNER: The homeowners took us out to Melville, the cute little neighborhood nearby that had the unfortunate drive-by shooting on New Year’s Eve. They took us to a Middle Eastern restaurant. We shared flat breads with different dips, then a pita. It was nice enough to sit in their outdoor courtyard. A very nice evening!!