"" Writer's Wanderings: September 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

Barcelona - The Green Line

Having finished the blue loop of the Barcelona Bus Turistic in the morning and early afternoon, we took the red line a few stops to where the green line intercepted. By then we were ready for some coffee and an afternoon snack. We found ourselves in Port Olimpic which was built when the 1992 Summer Olympics was held in Barcelona. The area is now bustling with a huge marina, lots of restaurants, a casino, and beach areas.

We found a strip of small cafes and one that had a sign featuring churros and chocolate, another delicacy on our list of to-try while in Barcelona. We ordered one cup of chocolate and a plate of churros along with two coffees. A paddle constantly stirred the chocolate in a large urn on the counter. When our server set the cup under the spigot, the chocolate just oozed out. It is really more like a thick soup than hot chocolate that you drink. It is creamy dark chocolate and you dip the honeyed churros into the chocolate to enjoy them together. When we ran out of churros, we just spooned the chocolate out to finish it. Need I say it was heavenly?

The fresh sea air mixed with the warm sun and began to lull our senses but we plugged in our earphones to the commentary once again on the bus. On the green line, the bus took us through what was once a large industrial area but is now a more modern office building/hotel area. The city’s oldest cemetery to be built outside its walls is located along this line in Poblenou.

We also passed a remarkable park called Parc Diagonal Mar. Diagonal Mar refers to a main artery of Barcelona that cuts diagonally across the city and ends at the sea (mar). The park was designed by an architect, Enric Miralles. The curving tubes are to remind you of the motion of the seas. Our first reaction was to think of our grandson who loves designing roller coasters on his computer.

The green line circuit was finished in about 40 minutes since we didn’t get off anywhere to explore and we returned to the end of La Rambla and walked back to our hotel, passing by the tapas cafes and the florists and stopping on occasion to admire the human statues. There were not so many as we remember in the past. Somehow these entertainers manage to dress and use makeup that makes them look exactly like a statue. It is quite startling when you walk past one and they move.

Our dinner that evening was not the best of choices and certainly did not come up to the standard of our wonderful dinner the previous evening. We found what looked like a nice little place that was a pasta bar. You ordered your pasta and trimmings and they cooked it up right there at the counter for you. The small restaurant had tables with square stools for chairs and looked clean enough. Unfortunately while Bob was paying for our meal, I happened to look down through the glass in the counter which topped a wooden lattice. There, crawling through one of the little squares of wood was a roach.  When we sat down to wait for our plates, I mentioned that if anything on the plate moved we shouldn’t eat it. The food was okay but the appetite had suffered.

More Barcelona Posts:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Barcelona - The Blue Line

Segrada Familia

After contemplating several transportation options, we decided it was in our best interest to buy a two day pass from the Barcelona Bus Turistic (there is also a Gray Line hop-on-hop-off that does pretty much the same routes). Somehow it works out that you can buy a coupon for 4 euros off the price of 31 euros for 3 euros thereby saving 1 euro. Confused? We were too but it did work out and we got a book full of discounts as well as a good map of Barcelona.

Casa Batllo
The starting point for the bus is at the Placa de Catalunya on the north end of the main part of La Rambla but you can catch it wherever you are along the route and buy tickets on the bus if necessary. It was a great sunny day so we chose to take the Blue Line (there are three different routes) and stop at the Park Guell, a park designed by Gaudi, Barcelona’s famous architect for his great patron, Count Eusebi Guell. It was to be a residential area but only one house was actually completed, the house that Gaudi lived in and now is a museum.

On our way to the park, our commentary delivered in English through earphones (seven other languages are available as well) pointed out several landmark Gaudi buildings including the Casa Batllo with its characteristic wavy edifices and the most famous, the Segrada Familia, the cathedral begun in the late 19th century and under construction today years after Gaudi’s death in 1926. We had visited it several times in the past and skipped it by this time.

Park Guell
The Park Guell was very crowded when we arrived. It was after all, a weekend and a beautiful sunny day. We walked past the famous lizard fountain and  up to the top of the grotto area to view the city from there. The buildings that do exist in the park are almost like gingerbread houses. Gaudi’s home is pink. As you can see from the pictures, he used a lot of color in his work.

Our next hop-off point was a little section of the city called Sarria where we looked for a place to grab a light lunch. The town square bordered by the church and the town hall was busy with people watching a fencing exhibition. We explored several side streets and happened upon a Panini shop where we ordered something by pointing to it on the menu and got a bottle of “agua” to drink—“no gas.” If you’ve not toured in Europe, you might be surprised with their penchant for carbonated mineral water. The sandwich was excellent, whatever it was and the cold water refreshing.

We returned to the bus stop and caught the next bus to finish the Blue Line’s route. Had we not gotten off, the round trip would have been about two hours. We still had a good part of the afternoon left so we hopped off the Blue Line, took the Red Line and transferred to the Green Line for a short trip around the port area of the city. 

More Barcelona Posts:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Barcelona, Spain, has always called to us to explore more than one day as a port stop on a cruise. We eagerly arrived around 9 a.m. local time and caught a taxi from the airport to the Hotel Turin where we were to stay for three nights. Thankfully our room was ready for us and we could indulge in a shower and brush our teeth before setting off to begin getting better acquainted with this beautiful Spanish city.

We began where we had ended on our last visit—La Rambla, the main street that is a tourist must see. Traffic moves on either side of a large pedestrian walkway that is shaded with trees and filled with vendors selling everything from souvenirs and newspapers to flowers and tapas, the ever popular snack of Barcelona. Tapas are small plates full of food that are like ordering several appetizers instead of a meal. It was top on our list of things we’d missed on previous visits and since we were getting hungry, we stopped at one of the outdoor cafes and ordered a couple of plates—mussels and coquettes.

At the south end of La Rambla near the sea is a large statue of Christopher Columbus who is held in high esteem as a world explorer. He towers above the street pointing out to. . .where? If you notice, in the larger picture, the sun is on his back in the afternoon so he’s facing east and pointing slightly south of that. If he truly thought that was where the New World was to be discovered, we would still be awaiting his arrival. In all the times we have visited, we never knew there was an elevator to the globe upon which Columbus stands where you can look out upon the sea and the city. Unfortunately when we did locate it, it was out of order.

After a short nap to try to adjust to jet lag, we scoped out a restaurant for dinner. We found a highly recommended one, the Arcano, in the Gothic section of Barcelona. But when we arrived, we discovered dinner was not served until seven. With the promise to return, we set out to explore the Cathedral we had passed along the way.

The Cathedral is the central focal point of the Gothic Quarter which was all built on the old original Roman town. Inside we found niches all along the side walls dedicated to various saints and heavily decorated with gold. It was interesting to note that no longer do you light a candle inside the cathedral. There are now small electric candles representing tea lights that are lit with a donation and the flick of a switch. Outside in the cloister area where materials were not flammable, we found large candles lit in front of several saints. There was also a large fountain with a pond full of white geese who strutted through their territory honking for food to be tossed to them.

After exploring the cathedral, we sat on the steps for a bit and watched the activities on the square in front. There was some sort of book fair going on with a dozen or so booths full of books and a program that we could only guess had something to do with how books affect people’s lives and education. Even if we had learned some Spanish, it would have been difficult to understand as in Barcelona the most common language is Catalan.

Seven o’clock arrived and we sat down to one of the nicest dinners we have had abroad. Since the Arcano restaurant was a little difficult to find and off the main street I wondered what it would be like. The interior was finely designed to suit the large stone arches of what must have been the foundation of some very old, if not ancient, Roman buildings. Surprisingly the prices were not at all bad considering the atmosphere and the wonderful food we indulged in. Well worth the walk from our hotel and the hunt to find the place.

Our walk back to the hotel was past many shops in the Gothic Quarter that were already closed but it was well lit and we felt comfortable making the trek back through a few side streets along with others who were out and about as well. It was time to rest and prepare for a full day of sightseeing in wonderful Barcelona.

Other Barcelona Posts:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Traveling With a Nanny

Today's guest post is shared by Nancy Parker who regularly writes for eNannySource.  She is a graduate in English literature and currently pursuing her masters in Online Journalism. She can be reached via email at: parker dot nancypr at gmail dot com

Having a trusted caregiver to help you care for your kids while you’re on vacation is one of the many perks of having a nanny. But before you pack up and head out, there are some essential questions to ask yourself about traveling with your nanny.

Is travel part of my nanny’s job description?
Not all nannies want to or are able to travel with their employers. Some caregivers have their own families and don’t want to be away from them for extended periods of time. Some nannies volunteer, go to school, or have other commitments during their off time that make it next to impossible to get away. And other nannies simply don’t like traveling as part of their job.
It’s always best if you talk about travel during the interview stage and include the details in your nanny contract. However, if you didn’t talk about travel with your nanny up front, don’t assume she’s unwilling to head out on vacation with you now. Sit down with her and outline your needs and your plans, and ask if it’s something she’s willing to do. Once you have that conversation and decide how travel fits into her job description, it’s a good idea to update your nanny contract to reflect the new agreement.

Can I afford it?
When you take your nanny on vacation with you, it’s your responsibility to pay for all the costs related to her trip. That includes transportation (e.g. airfare, train ticket, car rental), lodging, meals on and off duty, and fees related to the activities she joins in on while on duty (e.g. amusement park pass, resort fees). Of course you still have to pay her normal salary plus any overtime she works. These costs can add up very quickly, and for some employers it’s simply too expensive.

What do I want my nanny to do?
A nanny’s responsibilities often expand when she’s traveling with a family. You may need her to care for additional children, or do more family-related tasks like grocery shopping, cooking, family laundry, or errands. Talk with your nanny about the scope of her responsibilities while you’re traveling. Communication is key; there’s a fine line between expecting your nanny to be flexible during travel times and expecting her to do things that are not part of being a nanny. Make sure you’re both on the same page before you leave home to avoid the stress of miscommunication during your vacation.

What schedule do I want my nanny to work?
A nanny’s schedule is often different during vacation time. You may need her to work a few very long days then have a few days completely off. Or work flexible blocks of time (e.g. from when your child gets up until after breakfast, from nap time until dinner, from bedtime until late night) throughout the day. Or you may just want to play it by ear and have her on call during the entire vacation. You have lots of scheduling flexibility during vacation time but make sure to put some boundaries in place to ensure your nanny gets adequate downtime to relax and recharge.
Remember, nannies are paid for their availability so if you want your nanny to be close by and ready to go to work at a moment’s notice, expect to pay a higher hourly rate during travel times or to pay a daily travel stipend.

Do we have a workable team approach?
If you’re a working parent, chances are you don’t work side-by-side with your nanny very often. However during vacations you’ll often be caring for your children in tandem, which can cause some confusion about boundaries and expectations. Setting basic guidelines ahead of time will make your time together go smoothly. Figure out what role you want your nanny to play in planning activities, handling discipline, and pitching in on other tasks. Do you want her to be a proactive partner, making decisions and taking the initiative, or do you want her to simply be an available extra set of hands, waiting for specific instructions from you?

Will having our nanny with us interfere with our privacy?
Many families want vacation time to be strictly family time. Having an outside person, even a beloved nanny, can change the dynamics of the vacation considerably. If privacy is important to you, make sure you provide your nanny with separate living accommodations. If she’s simply in a bedroom in the family condo, there’s a good chance you’ll be sharing time with her in the kitchen, living room, or deck, and you’ll get little “alone” time.
If you decide traveling with your nanny doesn’t work for your family, yet you still want to have some help with the kids and enjoy some adult time on your vacation, consider hiring an on call nanny. Most hotels, resorts, and condo rental offices can connect you with a reputable local agency that can provide a caregiver to meet your particular needs.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Spanish Around The World

Do you remember any of your high school Spanish? I didn't take Spanish in high school. I chose German. But I did try my hand at learning some Spanish at our community college. Unfortunately not a lot of it took but even if I had learned it, what I was taught might not be what some Spanish speaking cultures consider as their language.
We first discovered that in Barcelona, Spain, where Catalan is spoken. Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya and both Spanish and Catalan are spoken and often interchangeably. Basque, Galician, and Extremaduran are other "Spanish" languages found in areas of the country. Then you have Andalusian in southern Spain and  Murcian in the southeast. Oh, by the way, Castilian is the official language of the country and is what is usually taught in schools and colleges.

As you branch out to the Spanish speaking Canary Islands, you find the dialect called Canarian. On Gibraltor which is a British territory you will hear Llanito, a combination of Andalusian and British English.

Crossing the sea to the Americas, you discover Latin American Spanish spoken in Mexico, Columbia, Peru, and other Central and South American countries. Even so, there are more dialects to be found. For instance, there is Rioplatense, a dialect in areas of Argentina and Uruguay and Caribbean Spanish found mostly in the islands of the Caribbean. 

Perhaps my favorite Spanish dialect discovery is found in Africa. Equatoguinean is a combination of Spanish, the language of New Guinea and some German dialect. 

All of this just goes to show that people adjust as they come together and find the need to communicate. Languages blend to meet the needs of those who live together. Communication is central to understanding and thriving in any nation. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The House of St. Mary - Turkey

[On our trip to Ephesus in 2008 our excursion included a stop at the place some consider to be the home of Mary, mother of Jesus after his crucifixion. Here are my notes.]

Near Ephesus, up in the hills, is the place where many believe Mary, mother of Jesus, lived out her life. The disciple, John was asked by Jesus to take care of her and, since he moved to Ephesus, it is assumed that he took her with him. As the story goes, a Bavarian woman had a vision of a home in the hills near Ephesus where Mary lived and was buried. In 1892, ruins were discovered of a church dedicated to Mary in the 9th century. It is said that the church was built over the ruins of her home. The grave of Mary has never been found.

The building has been restored but you can see where the original ruins end and the new part begins about 2-3 feet above the ground. The inside is bare stone walls with an altar built into a niche. Outside and down a walkway is a place where you can find holy water from a spigot--actually three spigots--and a wall where people leave a small prayer cloth or prayer wish.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Ancient City of Ephesus

[On our next trip to Turkey, we will skip Ephesus because we visited in 2008 and would like to see some other things in the area. Here's what I wrote about our 2008 visit]

Ephesus dates back to 2000 B.C. when it is mentioned as being near the temple of Kybele who was later called Artemis. It was said to be founded by Amazons. In the 11th century B.C., Ephesus was conquered by the Ionians. At that time, it was a coastal city full of temples honoring the Greek gods and goddesses.

The historical period probably remembered most is during the Roman rule of the city which began in 190 B.C. During that time, it became the capital and most important commercial center for Rome's province of Asia. It was during this time period that the city's history was linked with the history of Christianity through John, Paul, and Mary, mother of Jesus. As a Christian, one cannot help but imagine the people of the times as they crowded the market places and lined the streets in this once bustling city and be in awe of how a faith, a religion, could grow under such dire persecution.

Only one-third of Ephesus has been uncovered so far. Our walk through the city streets on some of the original marble slabs stretched a distance of two miles. In some ways it is like walking through a giant jigsaw puzzle of many parts as archeologists try to piece together the buildings and structures of the past.

The most impressive of the structures is the large theater (one of two in the city) that is built into a hill. It seats 24,000 people and is so acoustically perfect that it still attracts modern day performers for concerts. This was the scene of an uproar found in Acts 19: 29-41. It took place when a silversmith named Demetrius felt that Paul and his disciples were a threat to his income. You see Demetrius made and sold silver images of Artemis (the Greek name for the Roman goddess Diana). He was likely the head of a guild and incited the members.

The Ephesians felt they were the guardians of the temple for Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. All that remains standing today is a large column. The statue of Artemis can be found in a museum nearby. It looks like she is made of many ostrich eggs. Perhaps that is because she was to symbolize fertility.

Along Curetes Street, you pass many columns and pedestals that adorned this place where so many wealthy Ephesians lived. The pedestals at one time held statues that honored its more prestigious citizens. Curetes Street leads down to the next most impressive restoration, the Library of Celsus. The library dates back to the 2nd century A.D.

Passing through the arches of the square in front of the library takes you into the area known as the agora--the marketplace. This is a huge open square that was surrounded by shops and on market days was filled with local produce and supplies for sale. It was here our guide stopped to explain to us the Christian symbols we would see in the marble slabs along Harbour Street.

I knew that the Greek letters for fish also stood for Jesus Christ Son of God but he showed us how the early Christians had taken those Greek letters, laid them on top of each other and created a secret symbol that resembled a wheel with spokes. This symbol was carved into some of the marble stones and helped to identify the path to safe homes for Christians being persecuted.

Ephesus was at one time a port city but over many thousands of years, the river flowing down to the sea deposited silt and formed a delta which has now put the ancient city about 4 miles away from the sea.

Ephesus is a must see for anyone with an appreciation for history. For me, it was an opportunity to bring some of the scriptures in my Bible to a fuller meaning. To my surprise, I learned much history surrounding my Christian beliefs from our Muslim guide.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Turkish Rugs - Do They Fly?

Long ago in the history of the world there emerged a college junior who needed to take a concentrated series of classes in one area of the fine arts to complete her art education degree. She chose fabric arts which was a fancy word for weaving. In time, one of her projects was to make an area rug using a knotting technique. It was tedious to say the least but in the end I had a lovely albeit small rug for my room.

On our last trip to Turkey, our excursion included a stop at a carpet shop in Turkey where a small amount of time was spent before our shopping opportunity to tell us of how much work went into the handmade rugs and carpets. If they are truly handmade, I have no doubts and certainly the fine knots and techniques they use to deliver a much more intricate design than I did are extremely time consuming and tedious. We will be in several ports in Turkey on our Black Sea cruise and I'm sure we will again get more shopping opportunities on our excursions so I thought I would look into their manufacture a little closer.
Silk threads

The weaving dates back to the early nomadic times when tents were woven from goat's hair. Apparently the goat's hair would mat down covering any small holes and would make the tents waterproof. Eventually they wove floor coverings for their tents too. Today while goat's hair is still used in some rugs today, other materials such as silk, sheep's wool and cotton are prevalent.

There are two basic knots used in the rug making, Persian and Turkish. There is no easy way to describe the difference in words but you can see them in pictures if you go to United Carpet Service.com. Thankfully I was taught the Turkish knot. The Persian knot looks a bit more complicated.

Perhaps the more dramatic part of the excursion to a Turkish rug shop is the way they display their wares. Rolled rugs and carpets were carried in on shoulders and then with a flick of the hands and arms, the product was instantly laid on the floor in front of you. Carpet after carpet of beautiful colors and designs unveiled before us any one of which we were assured could be sent directly to our homes by the time we returned. My only question was do they fly there on their own?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Black Sea - Noah's Territory?

The Black Sea is next on our travel itinerary. In doing some research before we leave, I found an interesting story posted by National Geographic about an expedition by Robert Ballard that hoped to find evidence of ancient civilization on the floor of the Black Sea.

The theory is that when the Ice Age ended and glaciers melted, it sent a surge of water through the Mediterranean Sea eastward cutting what is now Turkey in half and causing the Black Sea to rise six inches per day thereby causing a catastrophic flood. It is from that flood that the explorers surmise came the story of Noah and his ark. An interesting assumption. From what I could glean of their dispatches from the 1999-2000 expedition, they didn't quite find what they were looking for.

There are six different countries that surround the Black Sea: Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania. The Black Sea area holds a lot of history. Biblical cities of Ephesus, newly discovered Laodicea,  Pergamum, Smyrna, Iconium, Lystra, and Tarsus (Paul's hometown) are among many in Turkey. Greek and Russian history date the area as well.

Culturally and historically it should be an interesting learning experience as well as an opportunity to see some beautiful scenery. And as always, I'll be posting our journey here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Steam

Steam in the Valley is the theme for this month's celebration of Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad's 40 years of service. While we weren't able to participate in the special 40th anniversary events this past weekend, we grabbed the camera for the evening run of the special visiting steam engine and caught it in pictures as it passed by the Boston Mills station.

The steam engine will be visiting the area for the month of September and all sorts of special runs are planned. Check out the CVSR site for excursions and prices. Even if you don't have a chance to ride the rails behind the steam engine, take time to find a spot along the line and watch and listen to it as it goes by. It's pretty exciting even if you are not a train enthusiast.

The steam engine is officially the CP 1293 -- Ex Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 No. 1293 brought to the Valley by the generosity of Age of Steam Roundhouse. It was built in 1948 and weighs 243,000 tons.

Once again, there's steam in the Valley--if only for a little while.

Monday, September 10, 2012

On The Bucket List - The Oregon Trail

While international travel is exciting and adventuresome, there are still lots of places that need to be explored closer to home. In researching some interesting ideas for travel in the USA (remember Dinah Shore singing "See the USA in your Chevrolet"?) I came across a The Oregon Trail. While we may not drive it in a Chevy and definitely not a Conestoga wagon, we could fly to Independence, Missouri where it starts, rent a car, and follow the trail as the National Park Service has identified it.

There are several interpretive maps and brochures available through the NPS that will help with directions and  stops along the way. The Trail goes from Independence, Missouri, through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho to Oregon. The 2,000 mile journey would take about a week if you broke it up into 300 mile segments, stopping to enjoy the history and the sights along the way.

Sights to see include Courthouse and Jail Rocks and Scotts Bluff in Nebraska, Independence Rock near Casper, Wyoming, where many pioneers carved their names, and Lava Hot Springs in Idaho. I'm sure there are many more and the researching will be fun.

Spring seems to be favored as the best time to visit out west when it is all at its greenest and freshest. And unless you are extremely adventurous, it is suggested you make reservations for your overnight stays well in advance. Some accommodations may be few and far between in a few spots along the way.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Through My Lens - Cleveland Metroparks

Captured these on a nature walk with our nature-loving granddaughter.

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