Barcelona day 2 – Camp Nou and Sagrada Familia

Day two in Barcelona was Tao’s birthday day, and I’d planned a couple of surprises for him.

In the morning, we went to Camp Nou, home of Futbol Club Barcelona. There’s a museum tour (I’d done it before and wasn’t particularly enamoured by it, but I knew the birthday boy would want to experience it). The history of the club is actually really interesting – it was founded in 1899 by a group of Swiss, English and Catalan footballers led by Joan Gamper, and the museum tour experience is a mix of photos, stories, artefacts (such as original football strips and boots) and trophies. Oh lord so many trophies.

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Tao is an Arsenal fan and we had a sad little photoshoot next to a trophy that FCB won over Arsenal…

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Also as part of the tour you get to go outside the museum and into the stadium grounds – with a capacity of 99,000, its the biggest stadium in Europe. It’s somewhat hard to really comprehend just how big it is, even with photos…

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One of my favourite things about FCB is their slogan “Mรฉs que un club” (More than a club). It came to symbolise the Catalan people and their desire for freedom. The slogan is printed across the stadium.

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After a quick pitstop for tapas (patatas bravas with every meal, no regrets) we hopped in a taxi and sped over to Sagrada Familia. One of the most popular attractions in Barcelona, when pre-booking you have to choose a specific timeslot. As part of the tickets I bought, we got entry to the main church, entry up to the towers of one of the facades, and an audio guide.

Sagrada Familia is another Gaudi masterpiece. I don’t even think masterpiece is enough to describe it. Construction began in 1882, and in 2010 it passed the midway completion point. Currently its schedule to be finished in 2026, 100 years after Gaudi died. Previous estimates, based on the technology of the day, guessed that it would take hundreds of years to complete, but thanks to improvements in design technology (and a boost of funding), it should be finished earlier.

It’s difficult to know where to start when describing it. We entered from the Nativity facade. Ultimately there will be three grand facades – the completed Nativity facade (which has the most influence from Gaudi, having been worked on during his lifetime), the Passion facade which was completed in the 70’s, and the Glory facade whihc is yet to be completed.

The Nativity facade depicts the birth of Jesus. Because it was worked on during Gaudi’s lifetime, it’s intricate and elaborate, taking a lot of influence from nature. It’s overwhelming, to say the least.

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In comparison, the Passion facade is sparse, austere and full of harsh lines. Portraying the suffering of Jesus during his crucifixion and the suffering of man, it’s a colder, more dramatic aspect. The Glory facade is still under construction and under tarpaulin, sadly!

But it’s the inside of the church that captured my heart.

Gaudi’s vision was a cathedral-sized church that embraced nature and brought light in intelligent and strategic ways. Often when we think of light and and wanting a well lit space, that space is just flooded with light and there’s no balance. Gaudi understood balance, and knew that too much light was not right for his vision either.

As you enter the church, you’re struck by phenomenal stained glass, giant tree-like pillars that spread into branches with leaves at the ceiling, and light.

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The stained glass is incredible, following Gaudi’s mosaic style (seen previously in Casa Batllo for example). We sat in the church (which is in a typical cross-shape) for a long time just marvelling at the light, the windows, the colours.

The ceiling is also beautiful beyond words – there are signs of nature everywhere, the columns themselves mirroring trees and branches.

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At the centre of the cross is a statue of Jesus, and despite not being religious myself, it was refreshing to see people acknowledge this is a church and not just a tourist attraction.

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As part of our trip, we took the (only slightly scary) lift up one of the towers on the Nativity facade. Way up high above the city, on a sunny day, it’s a stunning experience.

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That said, in hindsight, walking down the teeny tiny narrow spiral staircase, with occasional light from little windows, its quite a nervy experience. The lift up, in comparison, was a breeze. As you walk down, there are little balconies where you can step out and get a wonderful view of the city – but it’s definitely not for those with a fear of heights!

When we got back down to ground level (which took ages because seriously, that scary spiral staircase is slow-going) we explored the Passion facade and admired the towers.

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An absolute must-see in Barcelona – I know everyone says that, but I have to admit, before I visited the first time, I didn’t know much about it and wasn’t that bothered. Shame on me. It’s incredible, go and see it, you won’t regret it.

Barcelona day 1 – Casa Batllo

A couple of weeks ago I surprised my boyfriend with a trip to Barcelona for his birthday. He knew we were going somewhere (he had to take time off work after all) but didn’t know where until the day of. He’d only been to Barcelona as a tot, and whilst I’d been years ago and loved the city, my experience then wasn’t great, I wanted to go again with the best possible company.

On our first full day, I took him to Casa Batllo. One of Gaudi’s amazing creations, this former residence is full of mosaic tiles, stained glass, wavy lines (there are no straight lines in the building!) and light.

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One of my favourite buildings in Barcelona, the Noble room is my dream room. The whole building has a very visceral feel to it – this means it just “feels” right (literally its the gut feeling when something is good). Huge wavy windows let in light, stained glass balanced the light, and phenomenal chandeliers add shadows and texture.

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The ceilings are equally beautiful…

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I particularly loved photographing the lights from various angles – first how we’d normally view them, and then later from directly underneath, to see the shapes and patterns both of the fixtures and fittings but also the shadows they cast on the ceiling itself.

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I think my favourite is this next one – the directly-underneath-view was breathtaking, as the ceiling spirals beyond the light.

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Thankfully the owners of the house, Josep Batllo and his wife, who commissioned Gaudi to redesign it in 1904, were very open minded. They let him run free, and one of his most notable design features (and demonstration of how well he understood light and the need for different amounts of light at different levels) was the central atrium/elevator shaft that runs from top to bottom of the house.

Gaudi understood that at lower levels, more light was needed. He had the entire central well tiled in shades of blue. As you start at the bottom, the tiles are the lightest, palest blue – this would make the space brighter and reflect what little light reaches them. As you go further up, the tiles get darker, to signify more light reaching them, and less need for them to brighten the space.

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The rooftop and overall feel is somewhat skeletal – the roof is arched and curved and is thought to be the scaly back of a dragon (or dinosaur!), covered in more mosaic tiles to give texture and depth. It’s said that the rooftop spine, turrets and cross represent St George slaying the dragon – and I discovered that St George is not only the patron saint of England but also Catalonia, where Gaudi himself was from.

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Throughout the whole building, I got a sense of space and light – but not in a traditional way. Every element has been thought of differently, to be just right – not just typical big windows, but how the light fits the space.

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There’s also a little sun-trap terrace – it’s a little difficult to imagine what it would have been like 100 years ago because the sound of traffic and the neighbouring more-modern buildings change the vibe somewhat, but when it goes quiet, it’s a continuation of the truly beautiful building.

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^ Even outside on the terrace, the shapes are wavy and the mosaic tiles are plentiful.

Located on Passeig de Gracia, close to metro stations Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia, it costs around 25euro (that price includes an audioguide), and is absolutely worth visiting.

P.S. Should you wish, you can click through the photos and see them in an extra-giant scale. All dem megapixels at work…

Ely Cathedral

In my last blog post, I went off on a tangent about religion, and how much I don’t need it in my life, in fact what I need are people to just care about each other. Not difficult.

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That said, I do love me some historical buildings – even if they happen to be religious.

This is Ely Cathedral, in Cambridgeshire. Ely was an important Christian centre from as early as the 7th century, and was founded by St Etheldreda, the daughter of an Anglo-Saxon King. Basically, its an old religious area.

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The cathedral itself was built from 1083โ€“1375, is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles. I remember going to visit quite often as a kid, and being a little girl in such a huge building was a memorable experience – although, even now, I can’t quite grasp how big it is. I can never seem to get any context when I’m inside, it just seems to go on and on.

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Last time I was in Ely, I decided to pop into the cathedral to take some photos. Like I said, I’m not religious, but I can appreciate incredible, historic buildings. The ceiling of the nave is an impressive feat of ceiling design.

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In fact, all of the ceilings are painted incredibly, and preserved so well.

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A lot of the cathedral is gated off, and members and paying visitors can explore more. The free bits are pretty good though, lets be fair.

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In one of the little side chapels, there are piles of hand-stitched cushions, featuring names and dates of various saints. Again, I appreciate the craftsmanship and the effort that went into every detailed design.

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As a child, I could never decide if stained glass windows appealed to me or freaked me out. I’m pretty sure I like them now, though I should admit the designs occasionally leave me feeling a bit disturbed.

If you’re in the area, Ely Cathedral is worth visiting – its rich, varied history, with Saxons, Danish invasions and even Jurassic finds in the area (an almost complete specimen of a Pliosaur was found nearby!), it’s a sweet little place.

The Earth laughs in flowers

Thats one of my favourite quotes, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century American essayist. A philosopher, he championed ideas such as individuality and freedom, and “the ability for humankind to realise almost anything”.

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He rejected the notion of God as a separate entity, instead believing in the moral worth of the individual. Given the current atrocities happening in Gaza, and all the wars as a result of religion, I kinda like the idea of rejecting God.

Anyway! I digress! This blog post was basically just to show off some photos of nature – beautiful flowers in bloom. Beauty like this is natural, no religion needed.

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Just some colour to counteract the grey days.

Ally Pally boating adventure

At the end of the my last blog post, my parents and I were full of food from my birthday picnic. We decided some adventuring was in order, and made our way up to Alexandra Palace for a walk and a jaunt on the boating lake.

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Actually, first we found the bar in Ally Pally and had a few drinks admiring the view!

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“Stand closer together.. no, not that close, you can’t see the view.. no not that far apart either..” – family photos are the best. We took heaps more with us and the view, but the breeze turned my hair into a beehive, so I won’t be sharing them.

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Best parents.

My mama had been suffering from some knee problems (she explained to me what it is, but in Polish, and for the life of me I dunno what it is in English) so when we decided to go boating (pedalo-ing?), my dad and I said we’d pedal and mama would sit in the back and admire the view.

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We hopped into our car-shaped boat, and started pedalling with great gusto… aaaand about 10 seconds later realised how much bloody effort it was.

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The boating lake is small but cute, with an island in the middle for the ducks. When I was a kid, I loved water (I still do!) and ducks – and with my little toddler Geordie accent, would shout at the site of a duck – “dooook!”. Geordie babies, what a hoot.

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The island in the middle is home to all of the ducks, and they’ve made some cracking nests along the side – there are cliffs and floating nests, like a little hippy ducky commune.

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Beautiful afternoon, thank you parents!

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Birthday girl

It was my birthday last month, and I was fortunate to be able to take some time off work for it.

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My brilliant parents decided to come down to London for a couple of days to see me, the weather was perfect, so I decided to have a brunch picnic in the garden.

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I bought a ton of nibbly snacky things, but also decided to make some food. Two of my favourites – sweet potato and sausage hash, and homemade sausage rolls.

A quick rundown of the hash:

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Whack some sweet potato, sliced onion and rosemary into the oven

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Until it looks like this! (Roasted sweet potato has gotta be one of the most delicious things on earth)

In the mean time, prep some tomatoes (I went for little plum tomatoes) and garlic

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And fry some sausage meat – this stuff looks so gross at first. You can buy big tubes of sausage meat (less faff) or buy actual sausages and squeeze the sausage meat out (I did this for the sausage rolls… it was icky, lets just leave it at that).

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When it starts to look like mince, its good to go. The sausage meat adds a wonderful flavour, and the texture is sticky and smooth, rather than more obvious like mince would be.

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Pop everything into your baking tray, and back into the oven until its all golden. I also chose to crack a few eggs into it, and bake them. Job done.

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Pretty simple, bar some prep time!

I also made sausage rolls – like I said, this was the less glamorous bake – squeezing raw sausage meat out of the casing isn’t as phallic as you’d think. It’s just gross. But! Good sausages, plus some more rosemary, garlic, and some dried herbs, made for delicious sausage rolls. Homemade is always better.

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We ate at the end of the garden in the shade, with hummus, pitta bread, a bottle of fizz, and a huuuge jug of smoothie that I’d made. Perfect.

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My sweet, lovely parents were in fine form

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We sat and ate and chatted for the best part of the afternoon, before moving onto Eton Mess. Luxury Eton Mess, if you will, made with meringues from the Meringue Girls.

The Meringue Girls are a brilliant pair of ladies who’ve created some seriously delicious treats – regular size, and mini size, in some fantastic flavour combos. I first discovered them when I bought their recipe book on a whim, and their love of colour and their outstanding creativity won me over.

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I got a jar of minis with strawberry, raspberry and coconut, and then a box of the regular size

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Gin & tonic, hazelnut, dark chocolate, passionfruit, and pistachio.

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Everything got thrown into the Eton Mess, which didn’t photograph well, but in our defence we’d had a few drinks at this point, and it tasted delicious, which is what matters.

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Happy birthday me! :)

Exploring Bordeaux

Last month, Patrick and I flew off to Bordeaux for a week – a weekend exploring the city, and 5 days in a chateau for the wedding of some friends of ours.

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Usually when we go anywhere, we look for gay bars (for him), and cocktail bars (for me), but this time there was a whole other treat instore – the Bordeaux Wine Festival.

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Stretching 2km along the river, this outdoor festival is a new one to me – you pay 20euro for your own wine glass (in a cute little lanyard-pouch combo, that you hang around your neck) and booklet of coupons and info, and then you make your way down the river, stopping at 13 different tasting stations, each one from a different vineyard in the area.

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The afternoon was a hazy but enjoyable one, with Patrick showing off with his fluent French, my schoolgirl French slowly improving, and maaany different wines drunk. We had our favourites, but I’ll be damned if I can remember now.

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We also explored the city over the course of weekend (navigating like locals by the end of it – admittedly its a small city…).

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La Grosse Cloche (15th century), the second remaining gate of the Medieval walls.

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I loved the French buildings – generally, old French architecture always woos me.

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We made a little friend – this sweetie was so happy, wriggling on a doormat. Simple pleasures.

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A walk through the park near our hotel and near our new-favourite restaurant revealed this pretty statue – a memorial to the children of Gironde who died during the Franco-Prussian war, 1870-1871

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French posters and a shop sign – beautiful Rob Ryan style lettering.

And of course, at the end of the wine festival, we went foraging for food and… more wine.

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All in all, an awesome weekend, before we headed off to the chateau to relax!