Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Montreal and the Good Life Part 2

On Friday evening, we braved the blizzard conditions to get ourselves to Montreal. We drove with my parents in their Subaru which has snow tires and all wheel drive. We were feeling pretty snug. Reuben drove. He's a great driver. Confident when he needs to be and cautious when he needs to be. This first picture is the view from our hotel room. You can see some of Montreal's older architecture. Our hotel had elevator access to a mall which was below and beside it. On Saturday, my mom and I stayed inside all day. We did some shopping, we got our nails done and basically relaxed. My dad and Reuben walked outside to the Mac Store to buy a computer. They said the temperatures were frightful. In the evening, we went to St. Hubert's for dinner. We could also access the restaurant from our hotel without going outside. We had a fantastic meal and then relaxed with dessert in the hotel bar. Just as we were about to turn out the lights my aunt and uncle arrived so we went down to the bar to keep them company while they had a snack. They had driven up from Boston that evening along with my cousin, Corrine and her boyfriend, Adam. See below.

The next morning, we took the Metro to church which is held in the YWCA downtown. We walked about a kilometre in the most howling wind I've ever walked in. It must have been -30 or more with the windchill and I was wearing a skirt and no hat. Ugh ... it was awful! But worth it as we got to see my cousins! And Amanda's new little one, Jacob. The service was in French so we didn't catch much. We decided to head home right after the luncheon around 2pm. Thankfully, Adam drove us back to our hotel as by now the snow was swirling around. Our drive home was nicer because it was during the day but just as treacherous as Friday night. We saw three cars rolled over in the ditch. God's Hand was upon us for sure.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Montreal and the Good Life

In order of things I'm looking forward to this weekend.

Good Food.
Luxury hotel at a discount price.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Our First Christmas Tree

In Daylight
In Nightlight
ps. The tree is standing in front of (behind?) our new bay window! We also got our big bedroom window replaced (in the front of the house) and we already feel the decrease in draftiness.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Spain Day 11

at the Madrid-Barajas airportCatalabrian mountain range, northern Spain
I won't write a post about our trip home because it will be too exhausting to read. It was exhausting enough just doing it. We were awake (really hard to sleep on the plane) for 22 hrs. There was major turbulence over Labrador but other than that, it was fine. Oh and one of our bags stayed in Amsterdam a few extra days; unfortunately, it didn't pick up any souvenir dropjes while there:) But we did! They are so much fresher.

In summary, we had an amazing trip and are so thankful that we were able to go to Spain. We recommend it to anyone wishing for a great cultural experience!

Next on the agenda:
a) visiting Smithers and Seattle
b) visiting Holland and British Isles

I think that's the plan anyway, right Reuben?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A post about Santa

I just read this blog post and thought you might be interested. I couldn't link to the specific post but just to the blog in general. It's written on Dec 1. It's written by a woman struggling with whether to tell her daughter that Santa isn't real. It's written from a Christian perspective and is incredibly beautiful. Take a look.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Spain Day 10

Our last day in Spain was spent fairly leisurely. We got up around 9am and had a nice breakfast including the ever popular cafe con leche. Reuben decided to try bacon and eggs this time but they forgot it and it got cold. After that we decided to try and find a Vespa dealership so after some confusion we were walking down the street that we were pretty sure it was on and all of a sudden I looked up and there it was! So, we went in, the place was crowded with bikes and the salesman understood English and Reuben bought a Tucano Urbano cover for his Vespa. Basically, it wraps around the front of the Vespa and covers his lap so he doesn't have to wear rain gear on those wet and cool days.

Then we walked over to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza stopping at some souvenir shops along the way and Reuben went in. I had no desire to walk around another art museum so I went to Starbucks and tried a new flavoured coffee that they were advertising (not worth the calories) and then just wandered around for an hour.

After we met up again, we walked to the El Retiro park in the center of the city. It reminded us a lot of the gardens of Versailles in Paris, France. It had a huge man made lake in the center with rowboats which we didn't have time to try out. Then we walked toward the Crystal Palace which Reuben had spotted on the map. It was part of an interactive art exhibit put on by the Reine de Sofia Museum(which we saw on our first day in Madrid). It was really cool! As you can tell from the picture. To experience the art you were meant to take off your shoes and walk over the grooved marble floor which had a bit of water on it. Reuben said it was really cold! I didn't feel like hassling with taking off my shoes but I'm glad one of us did it.

Then we walked down towards a book market that was in the guidebook. Of course, since it was 2:30pm, they were all closing up but we browsed a bit and finally got brave enough to ask one of them if they had any English books. So this person brought out a whole stack of books most were on dieting, managing your life, self-help books but there was one kids fantasy book near the bottom that I bought because I needed something to read on the flight home. It was pretty good and I'm glad I have it as a memory from Spain.
Then we headed back to near our hotel and met up with Tim again. We walked towards the Royal Palace and actually went in the garden. It was pretty neat.

After this we did some more walking around and got lost in Chinatown which turned into this ghetto area. It was kind of scary but we quickly made our way out and ended up back where we started. Oops! So then we went in search of our friends' recommendation of 100 Monteditos; monteditos is Spanish for little sandwiches. We found a place that Tim said he used to go to a lot. It was really cool. They had about 75 different sandwiches to choose from and you write down what you want and then bring it up to the counter, pay for it and then go and get it when they call your number. We sat there for a couple of hours while we waited for Esther to join us.

And then after that, we went to an Irish pub just because. We had Guiness and just sat and chatted. It was a really nice way to end our time in Spain. We walked back to our hotel and then packed and set our alarm for really early the next morning.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Spain Day 9

Segovia is a small town an hour northwest of Madrid. We took the bus on a warm, sunny morning that quickly turned cloudy and cold. We believe that Segovia is at a higher elevation than Madrid but haven't done the research to prove it. We started out with a cafe con leche(latte) and croissant from the Cafe down the street from our hotel then proceeded to walk to the bus station. It was down hill the whole way and it helped me orient myself in the city more. We caught the 10am bus to Segovia.

Along the way we say many mountains, cows, bulls and sheep. It was very scenic. At the bus station, we grabbed a map of the town and made our way to one of the main attractions, the Roman aqueduct. This aqueduct was built in the first century A.D. with no mortar and is still standing although not functioning.
It was very impressive. We climbed up a staircase beside the aqueduct to enter into the old city. The main road was under construction so very messy and noisy. I can't imagine what it's like here in the middle of tourist season. It must get very crowded. We stopped in the main square to eat our lunch of crackers and cheese (still left from San Sebastian) and then went into the cathedral. The inside of the main part of the cathedral was much like the inside of the cathedral in Toledo. The outside was quite different and it also included an inner garden, which was quite beautiful.

While inside the cathedral we started hearing shouting and whistleblowing and cheering like all of a sudden we were hearing echos of a football game. So we went outside and there in the plaza was some sort of protest. It didn't look violent but there were police keeping things under control. As our Spanish is below elementary, we had no idea what was going on. I was a little intimidated though.
As nothing much was happening we started heading towards the other main attraction in Segovia which is the Alcazar or castle. Along the way, we walked by this nun and we thought she was quite quaint-looking.
This is the Alcazar. We heard it said that Walt Disney used it as one of his models for the Disney castles.

Inside we saw all sorts of neat things, old bedrooms, throne room and the armoury.

Then we walked up 152 windy stairs to the top of one of the towers.
And the breathtaking view of countryside and town were definitely worth it.

This is the 'drawbridge' and empty moat surrounding the castle.

Back in Madrid, we raced up all the steep hills we could find to the Egyptian monument in Parc del Ouest to see the sunset. It was stunning!

Then we did some more shopping and went to another sangria bar that we had found earlier for sangria, mushrooms and tortilla.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spain Day 8

Wednesday, Nov 12 was a long day. We had to set our alarm and be out of the hotel by 8am. Turned out we took too much precaution and ended up having to wait at the bus stop for half an hour; but we made it. It was pouring rain again; boy, did we get wet.

The bus ride back to Madrid was pretty boring. There were only 5 other people on the bus. I read my book; Reuben listened to his MP3 player and watched the scenery pass by. The sun came out part way through. We stopped at the same rest stop only this time it was deserted.

Finally, we were back in Madrid around 2:30pm. We then tried to find out where to buy tickets or Segovia, which we wanted to do the next day (another hour outside of Madrid). It took us 2 hours to find and get to the right bus station to buy tickets for the trip. Then we trekked back to our original hotel and checked in again. This time our room was in the back of the hotel; which was a lot quieter for traffic noise. This is the view from our room.
After a bit of a rest, we went out and did some shopping. Then we went to a fancier restaurant that Tim and Esther had recommended with good food and decor but cheaper prices. It was called La Finca de Susanna. I had the most amazing tagliatteli with pesto for an appetizer. We shared a bottle of wine (only 6 euros for the whole bottle). Reuben had iberian steak with potatoes for a main course and I had an avocado salad with cod which was too fishy for my liking. Then we splurged on dessert. We didn't know what it would be because it was called Chocolate Tears with Ice Cream(they had an English menu) and it turned out to be truffles. Mmmm! They were so good.
After dinner, we walked down the historic Calle Mayor and tried to find a place that had a flamenco show. Our guide book told us of one just off the main street so we went there but it would've been 60 euros to see it; so we didn't. It was a really nice, warmish, dry evening. Then it was off to bed to be rested for our trip to Segovia the next day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Spain Day 7

This was the day we had been waiting for since planning our trip. Our day in Bilbao, visiting the Guggenheim museum!

We awoke to stormy skies and unfortunately, it rained pretty heavily all day. We took a city bus to the bus depot and bought tickets for Bilbao. It was about 1 hour and a quarter drive through some towns and some countryside. With the rain, it was hard to see too far in the distance.
When we arrived in the town, we realized we didn't have a map of the area so we found an info booth and got one. Then we decided to experience the town by walking to the Guggenheim. After getting ourselves oriented, we made our way. It was about a half hour walk. We stumpled upon a Music Congress centre that was pretty cool for architecture.

Rounding a corner, we caught a glimpse of the Guggenheim. It was pretty unreal. It kind of blended into the grey sky so wasn't as impactful as it probably would be on a sunny day. But still, it is the most unique building I have ever seen.

We had decided earlier that we would spend part of our day on one of those city tour buses, where you can hop on and off at different stops, as it was raining and would be a good way to get to know the city. When consulting our pamphlet, we realized that they only made the run twice a day in November (not a very popular month to be there, I guess) so we ran to the booth. After waiting 10 min for the bus driver to show up and realizing that we were going to be the only ones on the bus (a very run down bus), we decided to get our money back and not go after all.

So, then we walked over to the Guggenheim (just down the street) and paid for admission. We got audioguides(included in the price), put our coats and backpacks in coat check and started our tour. Oh wait, before we started we headed straight for the cafeteria! I was starving. Reuben wasn't, of course. Since we hadn't spent the money on the bus tour, I decided we could splurge a little on lunch. I got this wonderful pasta salad, a chocolate bar and apple juice and Reuben got this huge baguette with cheese, jamon, lettuce and mayo and of course, a beer!:) It was great to have energizing food instead of just some pastry and a coffee. Anyway, so after that, we started our tour of the museum in the main lobby and we listened to our audioguide talk about the process of designing and building the museum. Look it up sometime, it's really cool!
Then we went up to the top floor to look through the History of Art exhibit. It took awhile because at every painting that had an audioguide number we stopped and listened. Then we went to the second floor to look at the temporary exhibit by Cy Twombly. Hmmm .... interesting but very modern. I couldn't stand it. Just some scripples on a page and that was art and then they have these long, significant meanings. Maybe I'm uncouth but it was a load of crock. Then we went to this huge installation of metal structures that you could walk through. It's hard to describe. Check it out here.
By this time, my feet were incredibly sore (the floor was concrete) so we headed back to the bus depot. We took the very modern subway. And then had to wait half an hour for the next bus back to San Sebastian. It was 6:30pm. While waiting, I was hungry, again!:), and I watched this wierd looking lady (she was wearing red capri sweats with knee-high winter boots) get something from the vending machine (looked like a bag of chips) and then proceed to throw them away, unopened. So, since I was in a foreign country and not knowing anyone around, I grabbed them from the garbage. It was a full, open garbage can and it was just sitting on top. It was a very good snack!

Back in San Sebastian, we headed to the grocery store again for another baguette and some cheese and a snack for the next day and then went to a coffee shop and had some specialty coffees (mine had bailey's in it) before bed.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spain Day 6

Day 6 was Monday, Nov 10. It was a warm and sunny day spent on the northern coast of Spain in the beautiful town of San Sebastian. I am so thankful that we had this relaxing day (although there was still a lot of walking involved) in the middle of our trip. We found a cute place to have breakfast that was completely deserted. Just like in Madrid, noone is up and about before 10am. We found, in San Sebastian, that a lot more people spoke and understood English, which was really nice. We walked through the old part of town towards the beach area and then around to the Aquarium. It was really windy! We took some great shots of Reuben getting "chased" by waves. The scenery was breathtaking with the ocean and the shoreline!
We went into the aquarium ... it was amazing because they have a clear tunnel through the water so the fish are swimming above and around you. It's really neat. There were sharks in the water, as well. I'm not sure why they don't eat the other fish in the tank. Maybe they are kept very full but they sure looked ominous. We saw other things like jellyfish and starfish etc.

Then we walked along the beach. We took our shoes off and relaxed for a bit. We stuck our toes in the water but it was freezing cold. And we watched the surfers. Then we kept walking along the boardwalk the whole way around the bay area. It was really relaxing. We went into the old part of the city again and found the cathedral but we decided not to go in. The old part of the city was also where all the shopping was so we did some window shopping and got some pastries to eat.

Then we walked to the funicular which was supposed to bring you to the top of the hill on one side of the city where there was an amusement park and spectacular views! There was noone waiting in line to get on the funiculur and when we got to the top it was totally deserted!! They were doing renovations to the amusement park and it was sooo windy up there that we had to yell to hear eachother. The view was spectacular though and we are glad we took the time to go up there.

After that, we figured out the public transit (bus instead of metro) to get back to our side of the city because we were pretty tired. It took a few tries but eventually we made it back. We bought dinner at the grocery store which we discovered near our hotel. We bought havarti and a baguette and a box of wine (no corkscrew). We ate "dinner" in our hotel room and had a bit of downtime. Then headed out again to do some more window shopping and look at the bay again at sunset. On our way back to our hotel we found a corner store that sold beer (Reuben wanted one because he lost part of his tripod, which was a total bummer!) and I had an ice cream. Mmm .. chocolate ice cream.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spain Day 5

Sunday morning we had to set our alarm as we were meeting Tim and Esther. We checked out of our hotel, ate the food we bought the night before and headed up to their appartment with our luggage. We were a little early but we had a chance to check our email. Then we walked to church, it was an english speaking United Methodist church held on the campus of Madrid University but in the building of the Madrid campus of Suffolk University of Boston. There were some really enthusiastic people there. The gospel was not preached. As Barack Obama had just been elected as president there was great rejoicing and focus on that during the service. We sang some nice songs and the people were very friendly but we weren't really fed, as it were. Tim and Esther usually go to a more Reformed service (they told us) but it is in Spanish so they thought we might benefit from this service more. I'm glad we did something, anyway.

Then we grabbed some fresh baguettes, cream cheese, chocolate and a bottle of wine and headed to Parque del Ouest. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day. We relaxed and chatted for a couple of hours.

Then we grabbed our bags and made our way to the bus station. It was a bit confusing there but we found our way on the right bus after almost getting on the wrong one. It was a five hour trip up to San Sebastian through some really cool scenery. We left at 4pm and with a half hour stop in Lerma, we arrived at 9:30pm.

At our stop, Reuben didn't get off the bus fast enough so the driver left and closed the door behind him. I couldn't figure out how to open the bus door from the outside. There were others trying to get off too so I was in a bit of a panic. Not knowing a word of Spanish I tried to find the bus driver in a sea of other travellers. There were 4 other buses stopped here all at the same time. It was a zoo. Thankfully, I didn't need to use the washroom as the line up was insane. And you couldn't get away from the smoke. Even out in the parking lot! Finally, as I was making my way inside to figure out what to do some guy on the bus caught the attention of one of the other drivers and he let them out. What an adventure.

We passed through some amazing scenery including going through the Cantabrian mountain range. As we went down towards the coast, the bus went careening around corners. The lanes are significantly smaller here than in Canada and we passed some large lorries. I couldn't even look sometimes!!

Once in San Sebastian, we had no idea where we were as we didn't have a map of the city. The bus stop was near a traffic circle and a fancy hotel. Reuben decided to go inside and ask someone. And the desk clerk knew some English and gave us a tourist map of the city and pointed out where we had to go. It was about a 20 to 25 min walk to our hotel. It was a beautiful night. We could already feel the moisture in the air from being close to the ocean even though we couldn't see it yet.

It took a bit of searching to find our hotel as the odd numbers on one side of the street didn't seem to have even counterparts on the other side. But finally, we reached it. We had to buzz to be let in and it was on the second floor of the building. The receptionist/owner was a super friendly older lady. She let us in to our room and our jaws dropped!! We were looking directly out on the ocean. There was only the boardwalk between us and the water. It was brilliant!!

The sound of the ocean waves was mesmerizing. After settling in, we hit the town for some food. We ended up at a small tapas bar and had a couple of cervesas of beer and some tapas.

This guy was slicing up a jamon (leg of pork). They had this stuff everwhere hanging from the ceiling. It's a real delicacy here and each leg costs a good bit of money. It's smoked/cured. We had it on slices of bread with cheese. I had some spanish tortilla and Reuben tried all sorts of fishy delights.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spain Day 4

On Friday night we discovered this metal curtain for our bedroom window that sort of looks like a mini garage door. We thought this was great as the street noise below was quite loud and it would be nice to keep out the light as the curtains were quite light. During the night, I woke up to banging doors, rattling of keys and loud voices. It went on for quite some time and I was getting really annoyed. It woke Reuben up too. Reuben was just about to get up and tell everyone to keep it down (there was a sign in the hallway to keep it quiet after 11:30pm) when he decided to just check his watch to see what time it was. Turned out it was 10:30am...our nice, metal curtain had not let any light in and we had slept like rocks (still recovering from jet lag, I think). So funny! But it was really hard to get out of bed since we still had this feeling that it was the middle of the night.

Saturday we had planned to go to Toledo. This little town is about an hour bus ride to the southwest of Madrid. So we quickly got ready and rushed to the bus station that Esther had told us about. After waiting in line, we found out that the bus to Toledo left from a different bus station but that we could buy our tickets for San Sebastian there. So, then we took the Metro to the other bus station, found the ticket window and lined up for the bus. Thankfully a bus left every half hour so we were in luck. We got on the bus at 12:30pm.

After arriving in Toledo, we had to walk to the old city up a very steep incline. And then we went through the Puerta in the ramparts and into the old city. It had lots of teeny tiny streets, amazing churches, cool views and lots of souvenir shops! We stopped in at the Cathedral, which was the biggest one I've ever been in. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside but Reuben insisted on taking a few discreetly while I wasn't looking.

Then we found this church that housed a very well-known El Greco painting of the Burial of Count Orgaz.

Just recently, they figured out he was actually buried right below where the painting was mounted in the church. After this, we walked to a Jewish temple but didn't feel like paying to go inside. And then, this other church that had hung the chains of Christian prisoners who had been freed as a monument to them.
Basically, we just kept walking around, stopping to take tons of pictures and looking at the views and everything.
And playing on random swingsets in deserted courtyards.

We took the bus home at 6pm because we wanted to see the sunset over the town. It was quite cool. And then when we got back to Madrid, Reuben wanted to see the Palace so we decided to walk back to our hotel. Except that the map didn't tell us it was uphill the whole way!!!!

We didn't ever go inside the Palace even though it's supposed to be spectacular. When we got closer to our hotel, we stopped in at a corner store and bought Cava (champagne, we didn't have a corkscrew so we couldn't by wine), a bag of chips and a chocolate bar as a late night snack. We also bought some muffins and pastries so that could eat breakfast in our room before we met up with Tim and Esther for church.