Sunday, March 29, 2009

In the land / of Ferdinand / My favorite bull / who kept his cool!

we survived! (and that's why we look so tired)
the Parque del Buen Retiro (bigger than Central Park)

turtles in Atocha Station, which basically had its own indoor rainforest
the view, on our day trip to Toledo
everything was ornamented, even the balcony undersides
city wall gate in Toledo
hot chocolate and churros near Puerto del Sol!
one of about a million cows all over the city
protesters on the free New Madrid tour that we tried to take
the amazing green art (which was also in Avignon, on the side of Les Halles)
part of the outdoor Rodin exhibit

We arrived in Madrid after the world's longest overnight bus ride from Avignon--stops every three hours, mouth breathers, "Titanic" in Spanish, and of course, a healthy dose of motion sickness. Not to mention that the bus left from a sketchy corner in Avignon at 10 at night. But no worries, we survived and made it to our hostel near Sol.

Everything in Madrid was so inexpensive compared to Dublin, especially wine, which was only a few euros per bottle. At one bar (El Tigre, for anyone planning a visit), a glass of the local cidra cost 1.75 euro, and came with a plate of delicious tapas. For 3 euro each, we were fed for the night. Whoever heard of a 3 euro dinner in Dublin! (and yes, McDonald's would have been more expensive, not to mention less delicious and slightly more destructive to my arteries)

We spent a lot of time walking around, just seeing the city, in addition to visiting the Prado and the Reina Sophia (which I absolutely loved--the Prado for its "Sleeping Beauty" room, and the Reina Sophia for the Picasso and Thek exibits). We actually tried to take one of the New Madrid tours, which are free, but it never left the Puerto del Sol and only lasted about five minutes. The licensed tour guides were protesting against the tour, and then the police came and broke up the whole thing. Apparently, there's a huge dispute over these tours, because they take business away from tour guides that charge money--who say that the tours are illegal because the guides aren't licensed. The law says that only paid tour guides must be licensed, though, and these tours don't cost any money. So we walked right into a moral dilemma.

Speaking of which, we were asked whether or not we wanted to go see the bullfights, which kind of shocked me. I know that bullfighting is part of Madrid's culture, and that it still happens, but the suggestion to attend a bullfight still kind of threw me. I love Hemingway, but I could never watch an animal be tortured for sport. I'd much rather go to a flamenco show, which we did, and which was much less bloody (although I wouldn't want to get in the way of those stomping heels).

And then we missed our flight home and waited at the Madrid airport for ten hours. But it was a fitting ending, I think, for all our blunders!

Friday, March 27, 2009

"But is Snape really evil after all?"

Yes. That's Alan Rickman (a.k.a. Severus Snape, Eamon DeValera, or hairdresser extraordinaire Phil Allen...depending on your taste). He came to UCD today to accept an award from the Literary and Historical Society (who also brought Heaney and Nighy).

It was really great to hear him speak--I kind of had to stop myself from raising my hand and asking if he remembered what a bezoar was, but hey that's just me. Really though, he was incredibly interesting and funny, and it was pretty much awesome. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

just a note...

The post I wrote about Avignon is for some reason below the photos from Bruges, and I don't know how to fix it. So if you already looked at Bruges, scroll down. Surprise!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Photo Post - Brussels and Bruges

amazing clock tower in Bruges
funky trees in Bruges that remind me of the ones from that Dr. Seuss story (the one with the pants with no one in know you know what I mean)
canal in Bruges
medieval gatehouse over the bridge in Bruges
palace in Brussels
Brussels cathedral!
"Wasn't me..."
(apparently all the jamb statues on this building are passing the blame for a giant fart--I swear I did not make this up! It was told to me by a Belgian. I cannot tell a lie.)
the real deal: "gauffres avec des fraises et chocolat"
self-portrait of the Mannekin Pis as a Tibetan monk
apparently Brussels is known for their cartoons! they don't have graffiti...they have cartoons.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"I´ve always wanted my own drawbridge!"

my favorite street, Rue des Teinturiers
the merry-go-round at the Place d'Horloge
view from the top of the city...this is why the popes came here


way #124293569 that you can tell I'm into art history: admiring the groin vaulting
Mr. AwesomeFace
the beautiful grotto where I saw a man brushing his teeth. don't drink that water.

le Palais des Papes
the window bars in Avignon deter criminals with their coolness
that face = excitement that I fit under such a small doorway + my thighs are killing me
sur le Pont / d'Avignon
false doorway in the medieval city walls

From Bruges we made our way to Avignon, on probably the most spectacular train ride I've ever taken. The French countryside is absolutely beautiful, even after an entire day on the TGV. And after the wind and rain in Ireland and Belgium, the warm breeze and blue skies of Avignon just made me want to stay there forever. I may have shamelessly taken a nap standing up while waiting for the bus.

We saw the Palais des Papes (where I almost passed out--woo hoo!), the Musee du Petit Palais, the Pont d'Avignon/St. Benezet and about a million and half side streets--it turns out that Avignon is a really small city, and unless you brought someone to nuzzle with in the Place d'Horloge, you may run out of things to do. But no worries! We became excellent conversationalists. And I managed to meet up with my friend Raine, who is au pair-ing and teaching English in Avignon. I hadn't seen her in almost a year, so it was so incredibly nice to catch up.

If anyone reading this manages to make it out there, we happened to go to this amazing restaurant that you should definitely try. Without a doubt, it was the best meal I had across Europe. On the Rue des Lices, it's called L'Epice & Love, and it is adorable, delicious, and not expensive at all. The chef brought our dishes out and emphatically explained to me that I must eat my chicken "avec les doights" (with your fingers). So I did! I mean, when someone tells you to do something in French, you just do it. Even when everyone else in the restaurant is staring.

The waitress tried to steer me away from the passionfruit cheesecake offered for dessert, saying that it wasn't like American cheesecake, but I pressed on intrepidly, and it was amazing. I've never had anything like it. Basically, you'll just have to go to Avignon and try this restaurant for yourself--but brace yourself, you might not be able to get the cheesecake since they change the menu every day, basing it on what looks good at the market. Is this not the coolest restaurant? And I even forgot to tell you that they had kitchen tools hanging in the window and seashells in the sink. Amazing.

And now for something completely different...

´´But why is he wearing CLOTHES??¨

The next stop on the Big Trip was Belgium--first Brussels, then Bruges. We arrived in Brussels safely, and soon found ourselves in the midst of chocolate heaven. Every store was selling chocolate truffles, pralines, bars, etc. Many of the chocolates were in the shape of the Mannekin Pis statue--apparently the legend goes that a boy was lost in the woods, and his father told the villagers that if they found him safely, he would erect a statue of his son in whatever position he was found to honor his rescuers. He was found ¨watering the flowers,¨ hence the name. Brussels was having some sort of exhibition involving the statue and different types of costume, so we never actually got to see it in full deshabille (is that how you spell it?). Very sad.

We were only in Brussels for about a day and a half, but we also managed to eat Belgian waffles and visit the Musee des Beaux Arts, which was great. They have some Bruegels and a Bosch that I´ve never seen before, which I was incredibly excited about.

We took the train over to Bruges, thinking that all of our travel woes were over...whoops again. When we went to the ticket window to pick up our TGV tickets to Avignon, we were told that our tickets had already been printed out, and that we either had to pick them up wherever they were floating around, or get them in Brussels. So we ended up wasting a few hours the next day going back to Brussels to pick up our tickets, which was quite unfortunate, because Bruges is a really pretty city. The chocolate museum was kind of disappointing, but our hostel was surprisingly nice. It had its own bar and restaurant attached, and they gave us a free Belgian beer sampler. Along with dark, blonde, and cherry beer, I also tried a raspberry one and another called Floreffe--all delicious. Belgians know their beer.

We trekked across the city at 5:30 in the morning to catch our train, and left for Avignon...

(pictures later)

Monday, March 9, 2009

"...and then they went over the cliff."

The next morning, we had plans to travel to Doolin, where the famous Cliffs of Moher are. We decided to walk into town from our hotel, and consequently missed the only bus to Doolin leaving that day. Whoops! We (very stupidly) assumed that there would be at least a few buses going there per day--Dublin Bus has made us soft in the head. We begged our way onto the last tour bus going to Doolin, which was actually kind of nice because we got to stop at a few sites. This is a castle that we saw:

and the view from the castle
green green grass
not the Cliffs of Moher (but I liked these better, and you'll soon know why)
there's something in this picture that I will never see again...
the Burren! our tour bus driver had a lot of geological information for us. it's limestone.
Doolin seafood chowder
the Cliffs of Moher
tower on the Cliffs of Moher
can you figure out the puzzle now?

an erratic rock! carried by the glaciers
When we finally arrived at the Cliffs, we noticed that it was kind of windy, but we were not deterred. I should have known something was up when I was struck by a small rock, but I carried on. The wind picked up...and up...and UP. (We found out afterward that the wind was hitting 70 mph) Long story short, my friend Prarthana was knocked down the stairs and hit her head, and in the process of trying to help her down to the visitor's center, my glasses flew off my face and somewhere out over the water. Whoops.
And now I'm in Bruges! But that's a story for another internet cafe.