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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

As soon as we got off the plane, we could feel the warmth of Spain. Neither of us are sunseekers, but we found the temperature perfect at about 24 degrees.  After a slight detour to drop our friend off at his hotel, which turned out not be in central Barcelona at all, we arrived at our hotel Hotel Barcelona Universal.

The enormous Camp Nou in Barcelona

On our first day, we met up with some friends who had also travelled for the Champions League Semi-Final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United. We enjoyed beer and wine on various outdoor patios before making our way to the Camp Nou stadium for the match. It was my first trip to Camp Nou, which seats 98,000 and is the largest stadium in Europe. Seated in the 5th and uppermost tier with the United fans we had a birds-eye view of the match but the sunset was amazing. United played defensively and went home with a 0-0 draw. A goal would have been nice, but overall a good result for the away leg.

The second day began late after a much needed lie-in. We walked along the waterfront to Port Vell and then wove our way through the Barrio Gotic to the Taller de Tapas for a late lunch. Admittedly we weren’t at peak dining time at 5:00 in the afternoon but we got dismal service and the food was only average. After lunch we wandered up Las Ramblas to the Avenida Diagonal before taking the metro back to our hotel for a nap.

Tje view from Park GuellThe third day we got up earlier (around noon 🙂 ) and went to the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, two of the famous Gaudi landmarks. They were both packed with tourists but in the park we found a shady bench and some relatively empty paths. The picture to the right was taken from the mosaic covered serpentine bench along the main terrace. 

 

On the last day we returned to Rossini in Placa Reial (where we had eaten lunch on the first day) for lunch and then watched the Chelsea – Manchester United game in an Irish pub. After lunch we took a funicular up the hill to the Montjuic Park where the 1992 Olympics were held. The view over the city was amazing especially from the abandoned diving venue. Although some of the venues are still used, it was a shame to see dozens of birds swimming in the diving pool. After exploring the park a bit more we took an ancient cable car to the waterfront and had a quick walk on the beach before taking a taxi back to the hotel exhausted after another day of hiking around.

All in all it was a great weekend. Lots of rest, sunshine, good food and wine.

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PEI – A Trip to Our Homestead

Last week my brother and I drove to Prince Edward Island (PEI) to visit the old homestead. When our family moved away from the island we sold our house and some of the surrounding land, but kept the remaining 23 acres, which our parents have since given to us. We have the woodland where we made maple syrup as kids, harvested firewood and took many walks; the waterfront where we swam, canoed and sailed; and the fields where we skied, sledded and played games. My brother and I try to make at least bi-annual trips to check on our property, relive old memories and make new ones.

Coming across on the FerryWe took the Wood Islands ferry across for old times sake and because it means a lot less driving than going over the bridge from where we were. We rushed up to the cafeteria to beat the line-up as we used to do as kids, but there was no one in the line up. Maybe the food isn’t as popular in the middle of the afternoon as it used to be at breakfast, or maybe people are just eating better these days. When we turned down gravy on our fries the server said “you don’t know what you’re missing” and we replied “oh yes we do..” and the guy behind us chimed in “yeah, about 900 calories”. He also passed on the gravy.

Tent

We camped on our land, which has no water or electricity, in my brother’s tent for two nights. During the days we visited a few friends and explored some of our old haunts. As with anywhere I guess, so many things have changed since we left 12 years ago but lots of stuff has stayed the same.

The fields, which were farmland when my parents bought the property more than 30 years ago, are becoming more and more grown up in trees, which were mainly planted by our parents. From the top of the hill you used to be able to see the river and look down across the valley, but now the trees are so tall you can’t see above them. The woodland looks mostly the same as the last few times we have been there. Our old roads are slowly growing in but not much else has changed. The dappled light and the sweet smell of ferns and leaves still make our woods one of the nicest places to be on a warm sunny day.

Woods

The first night we did a quick tour of Cavendish and saw that a lot of changes had taken place. It was the end of the season, but lots of places looked like they hadn’t opened at all this year. The most horrifying of all was discovering that Rainbow Valley was no more. Rainbow Valley was the first fun park in PEI. We used to go there every year with our school class and often again in the summer with our family. It was a huge park with tons of rides which were mainly for smaller kids but it had the best waterslides on PEI, a shooting gallery, bumper boats, paddle boats, and lots of great stuff for older kids. It has been purchased by Parks Canada and now has nature trails instead. We took a long run in the National Park along the beach on another natural trail and then went to Pizza Delight for supper. My brother and I both worked at Pizza Delight during our summers on PEI and we were anxious to see how it had changed under new ownership. We were relieved to discover it was even worse than it used to be (yes, this is possible). The menus were tattered and covered with food, the service was virtually non-existent and the food was greasy as ever. Some things never change. After supper we returned to our campsite, built a fire and roasted marshmallows under the full moon before retiring in our tiny tent.

The second day we tromped around our property from the riverfront through the fields and up into the woodland. Apart from the trees growing up, it all looked great and mainly just as we had left it. After our walk we went to our favourite beach to cool off. The old store we used to buy cold drinks and snacks at on the way had closed down, but the beach looked great. Beaches change every year but there was still lots of good sand and a very strong current because the channel runs quite close to the beach.
Beach

Before leaving in the afternoon on the third day, we went for a run along the McCourt Road, a beautiful tree-covered heritage road right near where we grew up, which starts with two very steep hills and then flattens out. It was my brother’s idea to run ‘up’ the McCourt Road. I used to cycle to a summer job along this road. It would take 45 minutes to get there and 5 minutes to get home. Needless to say, I was quite knackered at the top and took a few too many walk breaks. After picking up a peck of Malpeque Oysters (some of the best oysters in the world) from Carr’s Lobster Pound in Stanley Bridge, we drove to the bridge and left PEI behind until next time.

McCourt Road

Overall it was a fabulous three days spent with my brother who I have not seen nearly enough in the last 12 years. We were always very close growing up and usually have a lot to catch up on. We laughed a lot and recalled stories about growing up in our little world in rural PEI and our lives since leaving. I was happy to find that we still have lots of fun together and I hope to see him again soon.

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Weekend in Kent

Kent, UK

To celebrate my birthday Rob and I spent a lovely weekend in Kent. For Christmas last year my brother gave us a voucher for the Pride of Britain hotels and we had been waiting for an opportunity to use it when I didn’t have rowing and Rob wasn’t studying for his CFA exams. Since I had wanted to see Bodiam Castle for years and my mom and I had planned to visit Sissinghurst Castle Garden when she was here, but we didn’t get a chance, I decided we should take a trip to Kent for my birthday weekend.

Eastwell Manor

We stayed at Eastwell Manor near Ashford, which is a gorgeous manor house with beautiful gardens and meticulously manicured lawns. With almost 1000 years of history, it was not the most modern of places. It was first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1069 and is the birthplace of two queens, the Infanta Beatrice of Spain and Queen Marie of Romania.

We arrived before our room was ready so we walked down to the modern section of the property, the Pavilion, where the more casual restaurant, the Brasserie, is located as well as the indoor pool, sauna, spa and beauty parlour. Most of the other patrons were guests of the day spa and were dressed in gowns and slippers while I was trying to be as proper as possible.

Bedroom WindowWhen our room was finally ready, we realized why it took so long to prepare. It was gigantic and very well equipped! There was fresh fruit on the table, still and sparkling water, and sweet and dry sherry. The furnishings were a bit dated, but it all added to the magic of the place. We had the most amazing corner room (top floor of the ivy covered left hand side of the building in the photo) with views over the rose garden and onto the front gardens.

There was always a fire burning in the big old fireplace in the lobby and the wood smoke permeated the entire building. It did provide an authentic manor feel, but I was a bit concerned that if the place did catch fire you would never be able to smell the smoke.

There were only three weddings on the Friday when we arrived, which apparently was a relatively light load. We did notice however that the red carpet was only rolled out for some of the weddings and that the flags over the door changed daily according to the nationality of the bride and groom. We must have been younger than their typical guests (well, at least the other guests we saw) because it took them about a day and a half to realize that we were actually staying there.

We did get the feeling it was a bit of a wedding factory, but I suppose they have raise the money for the upkeep somehow… and besides, the wedding guests seemed to all be staying down near the Pavilion in modern cottages while we had one of the best rooms in the manor house.

On Saturday we drove to Bodiam Castle and Sissinghurst. They were both quite busy although one crowd was considerably younger than the other. The exterior of the castle was just like a fairy tale, but the inside was mostly ruins. As an added bonus, there were hundreds of carp in the moat, which Rob enjoyed. We watched some little kids trying to catch them using a whole slice of bread tied onto a string. They were rather disappointed when the bread just fell off as it got soggy and their prize fish ate it right in front of them.Bodiam Castle

We made a quick stop at a nice country pub for a refreshment and then drove on to Sissinghurst. It was in full summer bloom and I know my mom would have loved it. Rob and I wandered around trying to not to get in the way of the uber-keen enthusiasts and their humongous cameras. There was a beautiful clematis in bloom as well as lots of roses, day lilies, red hot pokers and numerous other plants I recognize but don’t remember the names of. We climbed up the tower, where the photo was taken, and then walked down to the lakes behind the property before returning to the car and driving back to Eastwell.

Sissinghurst

We had supper in the dining room that night but it was not as good as we had hoped. The food was good, but the tables were too close together and the service was generally not very good, which we also noticed at breakfast. Supper was followed by coffee and petit fours in the lounge, which we had to ourselves for the first half an hour or so. Seated right in front of another wood fire, we had sat on a warm, worn leather sofa and watched the flames and read newspapers.

Overall it was a fabulous weekend. Definitely not something we can afford (yet!) to do often, but it was very special and I won’t forget it for a long time.

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