Over four car loads (13 people), most of mums side of the family drove to a region in Belgium called the Ardenne, which is mostly known amongst the dutch for action adventure sports. My uncle rented a 12th century castle for us all to stay in, it was called Chateau de Rolley. It had something like 7 or 8 bedrooms, there was a living room, sitting room, kitchen, dining room, chapel and an armoury..of course containing a few suits of armour, spears and trumpets! I had planned on sleeping in a room by myself, until I found a secret door in my room leading to a bathroom, which also had a secret door to another little bedroom and yet another hidden door into an attic/storage space. After finding weird stuff stashed in there I was too creeped out to sleep in a room by myself, so I made my cousin rob sleep in the other bed!!
So the action adventure aspect of the weekend included two full days of activities: a high ropes course, archery, team challenges, rock climbing, abseiling and canoeing. The team challenges were pretty fun and hard! Things like getting the team from one small platform, via a central platform, to an end platform, using only two planks of timber and no one is allowed to touch the ground! Also things like tightrope walking, and rope swings. Hilarious!! I have a few scrapes and bruises from it all. But it was well worth it.
In the archery we also had individual competition. Six arrows each, best score wins. I was equal last with a few others on 10 points. Pat was the winner on something like 95 points. The canoeing was down L ‘Ourthe river and was the most amazing scenery. It was really pleasant to paddle down the river slowly and soak it all up. The serenity was occasionally disturbed by some evil cousins, Rob and Roel, who had an absolute blast splashing everyone with the icy cold river water!! Eeeek!
Around the castle we also wandered around the lake, explored the castle grounds and the castle itself and sat around chatting in the sun (of course I took every given opportunity to enjoy some rose beer). At one stage Pat found a random old wedding dress, so Maricia tried it on, then Jeroen (they are the two getting married next week) found a random priests outfit and put that on. My cousin Rob put on another priests outfit..then we had a pretend wedding and took photos in the old chapel. It was hilarious!!!
We arrived back in NL Monday evening, quickly did a bunch of washing and went to bed, as Pat, Anna and I had to get up at 0530 to get ready for a 7am flight to Barcelona.
It was a quick 2 hour flight to Barcelona, then we checked in at our bed and breakfast (brilliantly clean room!! always a bonus when you travel) After dumping the bags we started exploring. We started by looking at Sagrada Familia which was only a few blocks from our accommodation, it is a famous cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi. The building was started in 1882 and is projected to be finished sometime between 2020 and 2040. Gaudi got hit by a tram in 1926, so after that obviously other people had to take care of the project. It is solely funded by donation (my guess is actually that that means its funded by ticket sales).
Gaudi was an architect that designed some amazing weird and wonderful stuff, that was well ahead of his time. I really love his architecture, so visiting Gaudi works was pretty high on my list of things to do and see.
We spent quite a while at Sagrada Familia..it was all pretty amazing! And really interesting design, an amazing level of intricacy.
After Sagrada Familia we went to Casa Batlo. Casa Batlo was also stunning!!!! It had a sea theme, and it could be seen in everything, the shape of the walls and ceiling, the colours, the window and door shapes etc. The way he designed the lightwells was probably one of the most fascinating aspects, and demonstrates some very clever forward thinking. A light well (like a stairwell but without stairs) is open to a skylight at the top. Obviously the higher up floors get more light as they are closer to the top and lower floors get less light. So Gaudi designed the windows of the lower floors to be the same shape, but bigger than the higher floors, each floor you went up the wnindows got slightly smaller. This way the rooms would appear to receive an equal amount of light no matter which floor they were on. Another aspect was that the lightwell was tiled in shades of blue. The top floors that receive the most light were darker shades of blue (with the light buncing off them they would appear quite light in colour) and the lower floors a very pale blue (less light bouncing off them, they appear darker than they are). In theory this would also mean if you looked down the lightwell from the top, or up from the bottom, it should appear as the same shade of blue all the way. Pretty cool!!
I also saw more Gaudi works incl. Palau Guell, some lamp posts in Placa Reial, Casa Mila ..otherwise known as ‘La Pedrera’ and together with the three of us we went to Parc Guell. I loved it all!!!!!!!
At one stage Anna had a shopping day, and Pat and I had some brother-sister time. We did a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter and saw where the old roman part of the city was, learned some history of Catalonia and of some of the artists who came from Spain, like Picasso. (Catalonia is the area of Spain where we were. The people that live there will tell you they are Catalonian, not Spanish. and many are voting to be separated from Spain to become their own country). That afternoon we spent some time chilling at the beach and writing postcards. It was interesting to sit there and appreciate the beach, having just learned that the whole 5km of beach was man made using sand imported from the Sahara Desert. The Beach Promenade (as well as some other areas in and around the city) had beautiful palm tree, these are not native to the area and were imported from the Canary Islands. They imported so many palms that at one point The people from the Canary Islands had to say “No more” and the remaining palms were imported from Hawaii!! (these things changes to the city were completed to improve the city in preparation for the Olympic games held there in 1992)
For lunches and dinners we enjoyed quite a few different tapas…some good, some not so good. But I think the biggest decider in that was the restaurant itself. The Galician Octopus was the definite winner! Not sure how it was prepared but it was the most tender and tasty octopus I ever ate!!
Our last full day in Spain was spent on a ‘Dali’ day tour. Salvador Dali was the artist who painted the melting clock. The trip started with a 1.5hour drive to the Dali museum in Figueres. This was also where he lived in his last few years and died there. His tomb is in the center of the museum. There were some pretty awesome works in the museum. But it didn’t have as much of the colourful artwork and random sculptures as I had hoped for. Then we drove another hour to the coastal town of Cadaques. We stopped there for lunch. There were two other people on our tour, a mother and daughter from Texas. They had a cousin who lives in Barcelona who is a food writer, and he had recommended a few good restaurants in that town, so the 5 of us went to one of them..it was AMAZING!!!!!!
We had a welcome drink. A champagne cocktail with some frothy pink stuff on top. We ordered a few dishes to share…including juicy lobster paella, catalan tomato bread, “he best ham in the world” – joselito ham?!, poached egg in creme with black truffle oil, razor clams and croutons, rabbit ribs and some other stuff. All amazingly tasty!! We waddled back to the bus!
We got back to the bus a little late and our guide totally panicked that we would miss our appointment to visit Dali’s beach house in Port Lligat. So she hoooooned through all the back streets, and then we had to jump out of the bus and RUN to the beach house. Thankfully they still let us in!
The beach house was pretty interesting, he had developed it over a number of years. Every time he had enough money he would buy another fisherman’s cottage and then connect it to the other cottage(s) that he already owned..slowly developed it into a pretty big house. I think it was made up of 7 cottages all up. Part of what is interesting about his beach house is that there are two unfinished works there. When his wife died, he put down his paint brush and left the beach house never to return. She died at the beach house, but wanted to be buried in the tomb Dali designed in the castle he built/bought?? for her, so when she died he sat her up in his Cadillac and drove through the city, so people could see her ‘alive’. Then he took her to the castle and buried her in the tomb. It was designed so they would be side by side, with a little tunnel between them so they could hold hands.
Just before Dali died in his museum in Figueres, he had a private chat to the mayor of Figueres. After this discussion and Dali’s death, the mayor claimed Dali wanted to be buried there in the museum. As it was a private conversation..who knows if that is actually what Dali wanted?!
To end our day we drove to the lighthouse at Cap De Creus. This is the eastern most point of Spain, it also happens to be the point where the Pyrenees ends. It was quite a pretty area. After that we drove the 2.5hours back to Barcelona. I think most of us slept because we were so knackered! We left on the tour at 8:30am and got back to Barcelona at 9:30pm! We were so tired we just grabbed some maccas for dinner and were in bed around 11:30.
In Barcelona it is pretty normal to eat dinner around 10pm….so our bed time got later and later…but we didn’t end up sleeping in much and with all the stuff we crammed into each day we just got more and more tired! However tired we are, the adventure is all still worth it!!!