Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

3rd Anniversary in Barcelona & Mallorca

Let’s recap:
First anniversary in Paris, France… magnifique!
Second anniversary in Cinque Terre, Italy…
And now, our third anniversary in Barcelona & Mallorca, Spain… ¡fabulós!
We feel incredibly fortunate to have such an opportunity.

So yet another year of a fun & happy marriage is under our belts! Can’t believe it’s been 3 years. Continuing on our European tour, we finally landed in the beautiful country of España. We first went to Barcelona for one week, and then hopped over to Mallorca for 4 days. Mallorca is the largest of the 3 Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain.

Barcelona is a great city. We loved it. We stayed in a B&B that turned out to be perfect. It was actually an apartment with two bedrooms that shared a bathroom & dining room. Sonia, the owner, lived in the apartment next door, and she was extremely friendly & helpful. It was such a cute place with a lot of character, and it felt really authentic Spanish (including being on the 4th floor w/ no elevator!). The location was great, right in the middle of the Gothic area, and near Parc de la Ciutadella with the beautiful Romanesque fountain, la Rambla (the main road), and the beach. Our street, La Princesa, was a great street to stay on, with tons of cafes and shops.

It rained for a couple of days, but at those times we still managed to wonder around the small pedestrian streets, do some shopping, visit the cathedral, etc. We would often duck inside a pub to watch a bit of the World Cup games when they were on. It was fun to watch the games with people from those countries cheering on their team. On the sunny days, we went to the beach, or toured Antonio Gaudi’s most famous works; the two houses, the park & the church.

We had a blast with the new camera. All of his creations are so unique, with the various shapes, curves, colors & textures. I especially liked Casa Batlló. It was once a private residence for a family who commissioned Gaudi to remodel it in the early 1900’s. I liked it because it was a actual house that I would love to live in. He used a mixture of artistic and practical shapes and designs, which made it both functional and beautiful. The other ‘house,’ La Pedrera, is more like a building on an entire city block. It has a unique attic, & a spectacular rooftop area.

We rented bikes one day, to see some other parts of the city outside of the Gothic area. Then, we got the brilliant idea to ride up to Parc Güell, the park Gaudi designed, while we had our bikes. We didn’t realize just how high and steep the hill was to get up to the park. It was so steep, that at the end we had to get off and walk our bikes up the last few blocks. We were dripping with sweat when we finally made it, but it felt rewarding.

The park offers the best view of the sea & the city below, flanked by mountains on both sides. There was a stone structure with a cross on top at the apex of the hill/mountain. You could climb up, and when you stood on top of it, you really felt like you were about to fall off the side of the mountain, but it was great. Several people were up there playing instruments, having a drink, or just enjoying the view. The park also has the famous curvy bench, with hundreds of different tile mosaic patterns.

Gaudi’s crowning achievement was the beautiful church, La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family). He did not see it completed during his lifetime, and it is actually still under construction today. Even still, you can already see and appreciate the vision that he had for the church. It is unlike any church in the world. He was very inspired by nature, and the pillars in the church are built like tree trunks, which at one point have a bulb shaped structure from which several smaller pillars branch out. It is quite impressive.

We also really like the food in Spain. Of course we ate tons of tapas. One of our favorites is the cured ham that Spain is known for. We also got paella at one of the restaurants by the sea. Since the Spanish typically take siesta during the afternoon, they eat dinner very late, generally between 8PM to midnight. But, they also eat larger lunches. Often we would get the menu del dia for lunch, which would have 3 courses typically for 10 euro or less. The Spanish beer was good; Estrella, Moritz or San Miguel. And of course they have delicious sangria; a mixture of fruit juices, wine & liquors, with chunks of fruit. Great on a hot day!

The best meal of the trip was definitely Cal Pep. Chad has read about this tapas restaurant in our travel book, & he wanted to try it out. It was always packed, so we knew it would be good. They did not have a menu, but they asked us if there was anything we didn't (we said no), and they said that they’d bring us some dishes and we could tell him when we'd had enough. They proceeded to bring us one delicious dish after the next. Everything was incredibly delicious and amazing. We loved it!

After a great week in Barcelona, we hopped on a plane for a short 1 hour flight to Mallorca. We took a bus from the airport to our hotel. We didn’t like the looks of Palma, the main city, so we were happy to see that our hotel was well outside of the city. It was actually on the side of a cliff (like most hotels on the southwest side of the island. It had a beautiful view of the sea & a little beach area where you could swim in the ocean.

We really like the little streets by our hotel. There were conveniently two English pubs where we could watch the World Cup games, cute shops, a restaurant that barbequed food outside, and a supermarket for water & snacks, etc. One day we walked over the edge of the hill down another beach area. It was also beautiful with blue/green water & rocky hills on the sides.

On our last day, we took a ride on an historic train from Palma to Soller, a town on the North side of the island. The train is mostly wood, and you get spectacular views of the unexpectedly high mountains in the middle of Mallorca. Soller felt like a different place completely from where we were staying. Small streets, pastel colored buildings, and gorgeous mountains in the background, it reminded us a bit of Italy. From Soller, we then took the historic tram down to the port, Port de Soller. The port has a circular shape, with one opening to the sea, between two rocky cliffs. There are nice beaches all around, and a row of hotels and shops, but it was pretty quiet in general. We stayed for an hour or so, had an ice cream, then hopped on the tram & train back to Palma.

We really enjoyed Spain. The people were nice, the buildings & beaches were beautiful, the food & sangria were great, and with the mountainous landscape to top it off. Now the only thing to decide is where to go next year, hmm…


- More pics to follow:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Steve’s 2nd Visit

Chad’s dad was able to make a second visit to Rotterdam this month. He had a conference in Antwerp for Bayer, so he flew in early the weekend before to visit with us. It was a nice & relaxed visit. We ate pancakes (of course), ‘sampled’ some beer, and strolled around Utrecht. And, of course he couldn’t go home empty handed… so we helped him pick out some gifts to take home, including Holland football shirts for Meagan and Trevor, since it’s World Cup season. ;-)