Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Barcelona Break

This past weekend I decided to take a trip to another location I've never been but always wanted to visit--Barcelona, Spain. Ever since the 1992 Olympic Games (can you believe it was that long ago...?!), I've admired the beautiful city located along the western coast of the Mediterranean riviera--a city of art, culture, and architecture like none other.

Very much like my weekend trip to Rome, I left on a late Wednesday night, connected through Paris early the next morning and then landed in Barcelona the early afternoon Thursday--just in time to hop on the train, ride into town, and walk four blocks to my hostel. Easy! (You see, it's no mistake that my accommodations are usually mere blocks from the closest train station since all trains run from the airports in Europe... just a little careful planning does the trick :o)

After checking
into my teeny little room at the hostel (twin bed, a small desk, no TV, one towel, no shampoo and soap baskets--nothing fancy, just the basics!), I decided to hit the town in my, "I'm so excited to be here I can't wait!" fashion. I threw on a pair of shorts, grabbed my camera and I was out the door. I looked at my map of the city a few times and power walked the city snapping photos of my favorite places and sights along the way. By the time I knew it I was walking home and it was midnight already. What a fantastic first day!

Over the course of the next couple days I just walked walked and walked... I hit the former Olympic Stadium and grounds, visited famous landmarks, lost myself for hours and hours on the winding narrow streets of La Ribera--which totally rocks, btw; and just wandered around soaking up the city. In fact, my favorite part of the weekend was getting lost for hours without my map and not worrying for one moment that I wouldn't find my way around. Plus (for those of you who've traveled quite a bit you'll know what I mean...), once you have landmarks and feel the "rhythm" of a city, you can get around quite easily. The secret is to walk the city (or bike), not ride in a car, bus, or train, unless you are moving from one point to another on purpose... because if you walk the city you will learn it much more quickly--well, at least the areas in the heart of the city. Plus, I find it both fascinating and inspiring as I get to experience so many things that I might otherwise miss (or not explore!) if I wasn't walking on my own time and my own dime.

So between the amazing foods, the beautiful people, the creative and eclectic art of Gaudi and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, I would most definitely visit Barcelona again. Best hits? The Olympic grounds (including the gardens on the way down the mountain); wandering through La Ribera, La Rambla and Rambla Catalunya; the immense but still unfinished church of the Sagrada Família, pictured at the top of this posting (which has been under construction since 1882 and is still financed by private donations. In fact, current completion is planned for 2026--now that's a long project!); and definitely all of the restaurants, shops, and food along the way. Barcelona is, truly, an amazing and diverse city full of life and energy.

Gracias, Barcelona, for a wonderful experience. Muy bueno!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sri Lanka Revisited

Last weekend a group of us headed to Sri Lanka for a weekend visit. Pam, Todd, Davin and I flew over on Thursday night (a short one-hour flight) and spent the weekend relaxing by the ocean, visiting the elephants, and touring the tea plantations in the mountains. It was wonderful to visit Sri Lanka again (the only location I've visited twice in my travels this year!) and enjoy the rich tropical rain forests, teas, and hospitable people.

One of the major highlights of the trip came on Friday as this was August 8, 2008 (08/08/08) and we were glued the to the hotel TV at 5:25pm (3 1/2 hours behind China
) to see the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games at 8:08pm. Stunning!

Another major highlight was visiting the Glen Loch tea plantation. We got to tour the tea factory and see how they process the different types of teas harvested in the mountains of Sri Lanka. It was fascinating (see my Picasa Gallery for more snaps). After the tour we stopped in the tea house and had a cup of freshly-brewed tea with Buddhist monks--what a unique and tranquil experience :o)

The rest of the weekend was spent resting, relaxing, reading, swimming in the pool, driving around the island, touring the beautiful mountains, and eating good food (steak--mmmmm.... :o) A nice relaxing weekend, indeed!

Sri Lanka - so beautiful I had to visit twice.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Bannerghatta Safari

Another place I visited when my friend Tom was here in July was Bannerghatta National Park and wildlife preserve in southern Bangalore. The 25,000 acre park is home to panthers, lions, tigers and a large variety of birds, and offers several different safari packages to the interested tourist.

Tom and I decided to head down there for a day and found all sorts of interesting sights. We bought our tickets for the Lion & Tiger safari and decided to walk around the premises beforehand. Much to our surprise there were some elephants walking through the park and their guides were nice enough to stop and let us meet the elephants on their way! We also got to experience a wide variety of monkeys (and their crazy antics!) as we walked around the lake and circled the zoo area.

In the zoo were a variety of snakes, birds, and other animals. I was amazed at how clean the zoo looked (after hearing reports that the zoo was rather shabby) and the variety of exotic birds and other jungle animals was quite interesting. The safari was incredible--we saw male and female lions, both gold tigers and white tigers, and got to ride in a bus with a whole group of kids from a local school. It was a blast! My favorite part was seeing the white tigers...beautiful. In fact, we were so close to them that they were only an arm's reach away--amazing!

After the safari, I introduced Tom to a drink of fresh coconut juice and a bite of the "meat" inside of it--I think he realized just how different it really is from the processed output we are accustomed to in the U.S.--but I love it! Plus fresh coconut juice is good for the body. Check the online photo gallery for more snaps.

All-in-all the trip to Bannerghatta was well worth the noise and hassle of traffic--a short ride for an amazing adventure, and all just a quick trip on the other side of Bangalore. Even though there might not be lions and tigers, you might be surprised about the things that are just outside of your backyard, I know I was!