Saturday, May 5, 2018

Dublin, Ireland

Summer travels have started, the suns out, our bags have been packed and we are ready to go.  Gone are the days when Bode would sleep the entire day in the carrier, but we sure are enjoying watching him explore the world.  We had "the luck of the Irish" on our side and had some wonderful sunny weather as we explored this beautiful country.  Our first stop was in Dublin, a great city to spend a day (and if you're) big on the booze drinking (unlike us) maybe a few days.   There is so much history in Ireland's capital that it makes for a sightseer's delight!  Here's what we did with a day in Dublin:
We parked close by the banks of the River Liffy near Temple Bar.  Temple Bar is located in the oldest part of Dublin City and was settled in 795 (if not earlier) by the vikings. Today they should have a welcome sign saying "The Las Vegas of Europe", because the party scene is real. Dubliners know how to have a good time we ran into quite a few people showing off their Irish-jig moves and they made their way from pub to pub.  The streets were filled with bachelors in speedos and bachelorettes in tiaras. 
This area it chock full of trendy shops, cafes, theaters, flower baskets, galleries, and of course pubs! I had to get a picture with the man in a very racey wrestling costume.
Bode wasn't fazed by it at all...
Our next stop was to Trinity College, so that we could get Bode's college tour done while we were close by...Kidding, but not really it would be cool to go to school here.  Trinity college was founded in the late 1500's by Queen Elizabeth I and it has long been Ireland's most prestigious college.
I think Bode is ready to meet the admissions committee here!  Class of 2035 here he come, it's time to start that college fund!
The college students lead a 30 minute walking tour around the school, but we explored on our own.  Enjoying the lush green grass, beautiful clear sky and wondering "what is this Irish misty weather people talk about!?!"
Love. Love. Love. the changing color of the leaves!
The highlight of Trinity College was seeing the Book of Kells in the Trinity Old Library.  The Book of Kells is a 1,200-year-old version of the four gospels elaborately inked and meticulously illustrated by dedicated monks.  The books combined Christian symbols and pagan styles making it the finest piece of art from the Dark Ages, although showing that monastic life in this far fringe of Europe was far from dark.  The detail work in the caligraphy was beautiful and so intricate it was quite amazing!
The Hatch boys loved the 15th century library-I did too-but these two are serious book worms, so they felt right at home.  The Trinity Library has the largest collection of manuscripts and printed books in Ireland.
Look at these bookworms in their true natural habitat!
Smart people
This boy, I love! 
The look of not wanting to leave the library is this one....
We were hungry for some good lunch and there are so many places in Dublin to eat, the variety never ending, we found a good burger at Bread & Bones. We really liked the fried chicken burger with coleslaw and the BBQ Burger with the added onion ring... The kimchee fries, although good, weren't anything amazing.
In the afternoon we tried to walk off lunch wandering the streets. It was a beautiful day to walk the bridges! 
We strolled to St. Patricks Cathedral and admired its beauty.  Bode really enjoyed sitting in the park and watching all the kids play.
If you are in the Wicklow area we have the perfect B&B for you.  Speaking of B&B's this was one of our favorite parts about the hospitality in Ireland, they actually still do B&B's the old fashion way-where they make you breakfast still! Laura at Tinnycross was a gem, she made us feel right at home (Bode even had a pack-n-play) and we enjoyed ourselves.  

The B&B had a wonderful garden, and Laura gave Bode a toy remote control that became his favorite toy throughout the trip.  I can still hear the remote in my head saying "Hello, Bye-bye!" Thanks Laura!
Now these little Irish towns are tiny and with not many places to eat, we had a takeaway pizza from Pizza2000 in Blessington.  It was good, handmade by two Irish ladies, and we enjoyed it in the park!  
We had a wonderful day, and the adventures have only started on this trip!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Barcelona, Spain

We've returned from Barcelona and it was the perfect place to spend four days.  There is so much history, culture and crazy architecture that makes the city so vibrant and fun to explore.  There are many fun things to do and three to four days is just the right amount of time.  Read along about our adventure, there was certainly enough to enchant us during our visit!
Our accommodations were spot on, Jordan found a great hotel: reasonably  priced, (sans breakfast), great updated room, and best of all great location. There was a bus leaving every five minutes to the airport, and metro access was very close.  Because of its central location you'll be walking distance to many places we visited, I would recommend staying at Hotel Nouvel.

We had to start our first morning off right with a good hearty breakfast, and of course eat what the Spaniards eat.  We ate churros, and lots of churros at Bar Xurreria Layetana.  Look at this goodness this man is frying up!
We really liked the churros dipped in chocolate (like an Entemann's donut where the chocolate is almost waxey but good), and the porro churros with a nice cup of liquid chocolate bar. 
I really like to "porous" churros: they're thicker, greasier, and much easier to dip in liquid chocolate. 
If you enjoy good art, and museums Barcelona will serve you right.  On our first day we went to the Picasso Museum and learned so much about the artist.  It is pretty amazing what he painted as a 14 year old, heck I think I was still drawing stick figures and Picasso was making paintings that were stunningly realistic!
It's amazing how talented Picasso was; while I never knew he could paint surrealism and expressionism, he was also a cubist master.  We really enjoyed the Las Meninas exhibit that Picasso painted.  In his later years, Picasso was captivated by Velázquez and painted over 40 renditions of this painting-it's interesting to see how his artistic style changed from the beginning of his career.
This is one of my favorite Picasso paintings!
We wandered the streets of the Gothic Quarter for a bit after the museum.  I love the architecture of the buildings  and the streets are a labyrinth to get lost in!
We made a quick stop to the Barcelona Cathedral, a 14th century Gothic Cathedral with a massive interior.  We don't always go into every church we visit, but when Ian (Jordan's brother) is visiting us he makes it a point to step into all the cathedrals, so we went inside because "Ian would want us to".
We walked up and down the tree lined street of  La Rambla which were crowded with people, street vendors, and musicians.
Bode had lots to say about it too:
La Rambla is definitely a main thoroughfare for tourists and locals alike, it is carnivalesque with mimes creating human statues alongside homemade art, souvenir shops and selfie-stick sellers. It is the perfect place to run perpendicular to a gastronomic hub for lunch: La Boqueria Market located right off the street. I don't think our trip to Barcelona would have been complete without a trip here!
This market has everything you could ever need, I am jealous there isn't one closer to where we live.   It opens at 8 am daily and I am guessing the earlier the better to arrive to grab fresh local produce because around 11 it fills with hungry foodies making the experience a bit more crowded, but totally worth it!  Jordan started us off on culinary quest with Spanish meats.   When you see Seranno hams hung up, how can you resist trying them.  We tried a little variety kebab, it was good!
When it comes to eating, there is nothing as easy as tapas (because of their appetizer size) it means you get to enjoy more of them!  At Bar Pinotxo Juan Bayen worked behind the counter in his signature striped vest and bow tie, firing off orders to the cooks behind him.
We had the chickpeas with blood sausage... a 10/10!
What impressed me most was the amazing amount of fresh seafood!  The fishmonger stalls can double up as a marine biology lab with their huge variety! So many different types of shrimp (gamba,  langoustino, cigala...) razor clams, salted cod and so much more! 
Beautiful fresh tuna!
We don't see enough fresh seafood in our land-locked country, so when it's readily available, you better believe we are going to enjoy some! Fresh chucked oysters... yes please!
Of course had to try them...
Here's how Jordan's first experience went with a big oyster:
We had to get dessert, because we wouldn't be Hatch's if we didn't have something sweet to finish it off with.  These baclava looking cones STUFFED with Nutella were seriously ah-may-zing!
We wandered the streets some more, came back to the hotel for a siesta.. and got ready for dinner. We're all having a great time!
We tried to avoid the crowds around dinner time, eat like locals, and try the most delicious Catalan food there is.  I think the key to this success is both taking recommendations from locals themselves, and also not eating at places with picture menus and maitre d at the door trying to entice you in.  We walked along Costa Brava to our restaurant, enjoying the beach... which we definitely needed to get back to on this trip, even in the chill of February. 
I don't think there is a better restaurant than La Cova Fumada, and you most likely will walk right by it if you aren't looking for it... There is NO sign but loads of locals inside...
Their menu is definitely catered to locals, and we were the first ones in the door when it opened because word on the street was it fills up quickly.  Looking at the menu, the place looks like it has been around for a while, which is always a good sign. We had the waiter order for us and that was a great idea.  
Let's talk about what's good to eat, and by "good" I really mean fantastic-because the food was so good, that some things we ordered twice.
The Bomba (so good that we got two orders).  It's a potato ball with a garlic sauce and a spicy chilly sauce on top, named in honor of the Barcelona Anarchists.  There was definitely some kick to it, and it was A+

 The most amazing garlic bread spread on soft fluffy fried bread, also a winner winner.
Grilled artichokes 
Wonderful grilled squid!
 Sweet prauns
 I think it's safe to say we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner??  By the time we left, the quiet restaurant was bustling with locals chatting and the waiter running around.  Safe to say, this will be a highly recommended restaurant by Jordan on TripAdvisor.
We went home happy, full and ready for bed...but not without a selfie.
Day 2 brought about more fun, food and exploration.  We started off our morning the way everyone who visits Barcelona should... with Xuerros. Xuerria Trebol was on our list of go-to food places, and in the area of where we were going to explore in the morning so we made a stop in (okay...we also went again before leaving the area because it was that good!).  
The xuerro shop is family owned and the owners sons are busy working up these fried delicious without a break.  We sat at the little bar top, watching them fry xuerros, drown them in sugar (or fill them with fillings...well get to that in a minute) and hand them out to the local regulars who come by to get their morning breakfast on the way to work.   There were so many xuerros to choose from!
Small little churros dipped in chocolate:
Large xuerros stuffed with nutella, custard, and caramel...Yes please!
We went with a Nutella stuffed churro and a custard stuffed churro that was dipped in chocolate! So good!
Sorry Bode, you're still too young to try.
Feeling pretty good after that breakfast we made it to Casa Batlló, what many people call Gaudí's designed residence aka the "house of bones"....Don't the columns look like fibia bones?!?

We ordered our tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting in a long line.  There is a GREAT audio/visual guide that you use throughout the house that really brings everything to life.   The architecture was so cool, it felt like we were under water and I don't think we spotted one straight line in the whole house!
Psychedelic mushroom fireplace
Blue and white ceramic to enhance the underwater feel, it was quite groovy!
After our tour we got lost (not really, we just wandered). Hanging outside of many houses, and pinned to peoples clothing, are yellow ribbons in support of releasing Catalan political prisoners.  When you are in Barcelona local residence will tell you that you are NOT in Spain, you are in Catalonia.  The 8 million people who identify themselves as Catalonians have their own language, history and culture. Catalonians have often been at odds with the central Spanish government in Madrid and have rebelled against the king.  They are wanting their own nation, and those who have rallied their troops have been put into prison.  Many are in support of freeing these people, just ask a local on the street (but make sure you do so in Catalonian, not Spanish!)
As we walked down Vila de la Grácia to a cute little restaurant for a little bite. We shared a Catalan bread with tomato and oil which was delicious along with the Bravas which were made in a waffle iron with a very nice garlic sauce. 
We attempted do take a free walking tour that afternoon, but with Bode's sleep schedule that turned out to be a bit difficult.  We made it through the Gothic Quarter before he was ready to nap horizontally. What a beautiful area of narrow winding cobblestone streets, bullet marks still on old building from the Spanish civil war.  
After napping we weren't too hungry for dinner so we headed out for some light tapas at El Pintxo de Petritxol.  It can be difficult eating dinner in Barcelona with a little one, Bode's bedtime is well before most places start serving food, but we made it work with a light bite and good tapas.   At El Pintxo there is a long bar of tapas to choose from, and you grab and go almost like buffet style until you're full.
Let us not loose sight of things that are important, like dessert.  We went to Chok-The Chocolate Kitchen since their window looked very inviting.  We tried a chocolate cronut with pistachio cream filling inside, it was good, not great, but I would give this place a second try only I would order the brownie with caramel on top next time!
The next morning (day 3) we woke up and went to the Montjuic area. 
On the large hill is the 1992 Olympic Stadium and the National Museum.
Selfie! Where's Bode?!?
We didn't go into the national museum to check out any of the art, we weren't too interested in the exhibits but we did go to their rooftop to get a great view of the city!
Serious amazing views
Aren't my boys cute?
My little munchkin, they don't come cuter than you!

We walked along the open parkway after to get to the beach...
Costa Brava is a great area to head to to skip the busy crowds and catch some sun. We enjoyed the sand, ocean and people watching.  There were roller skaters, volleyball players, muscle men and surfers galore!  
Do you see Frank Gehry's famous Golden Fish Sculpture in the background?  I love that it's practically on the beach... art everywhere!
Nothing better than laying out a swaddle blanket, opening a bag of potato chips and enjoying the beautiful weather with these two guys.  Not to mention, I think we are going to have a little beach bum, and I'm not complaining!

A very relaxing third day if you ask me... and before going home there were a few more things for us to see. Remember I said we went for a second round of xuerros, I wasn't kidding breakfast on our last day was pretty delicious, we got them freshly made, and still hot!

Our first site to see was Park Guell, designed by Gaudí as an upscale housing development for early 20th century urbanites. The former entrance looks like a little Hansel and Greddle house.
The famous dragon fountain, or is it really a lizard?  It is a famous icon of the park- a symbol of Catalan pride slain by Barcelona's patron said George (Jordi). 
The parks pathway of columns reminds me of drip castles made out of sand
 We sat and enjoyed some of the best views from the terrace. 
Rick Steve's taught us some cool things about the terrace too.  He said that Gaudí engineered a water-catchment system by which rain hitting the area would flow through natural filters, then through the columns below to a 300,000 gallon underground cistern.  the water was then bottled and sold as a health cure.
 I love the mosaic benchwork on the terrace along the 360-foot bench.  The bench is designed to fit your body ergonomically, supposedly Gaudí enlisted a construction worker as his guinea pig to figure out exactly where to place the lumbar support.
We made one last stop before heading to the airport.  We bought tickets ahead of time to see the masterpiece cathedral Gaudí designed: La Sagrada Familia!  We were not going to miss coming to Barcelona without seeing it.
It is still under contraction, never completed (will take over 100 years to complete) and is estimated to be completed in 2026. We took the guided tour through the cathedral, and it was well worth it to have a guide showing you around.  The best days to come are on days that are sunny, so the stained glass lights up in Technicolor. Seriously awe inspiring!

Even the building itself is lavishly decorated. I spy a pair of dentures on the cathedral door...

In the basement we went and saw how the architects are planning to finish the project.  It almost looks like a dental lab!
Mr. Gaudí himself...
We had a great time in Barcelona, it very well met all of our expectations.  One thing we never commented on was the great transportation.  We took public buses all over the place and when we left we took the Barcelona Airport Aerobus, which runs every 5 to 10 minutes from Placa Catalunya and Placa Espanya.  It was so easy, cheap, and convenient and took about 30 minutes to get to the airport!
Great memories made on this trip! Bode slept the whole way home, and we can't wait to get out again and explore soon!

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