Archives for the month of: June, 2013

Today, I learned from Google, is Antoni Gaudí’s 161st birthday.

Just last week, I was in the Barcelonan sun, discovering this amazing architect’s work in person. The Modernista darling designed some of the most interesting apartments, parks, houses, and Spain’s #1 tourist attraction (which has been under construction for more than 100 years), La Sagrada Família.

I was told they’d tried to develop a film about Gaudí, seeing as he’s such a hot name, but, unlike Dalí or Picasso, Gaudí’s life was not dramatic or romantic enough. That’s what you get for being totally and utterly devoted to your work. Although he did get hit by a tram on June 7th, 1926. Everyone thought he was a tramp, so didn’t bother bringing him to the hospital. People are awful. He died three days later.

Other than that, no romance or raucous adventures for Gaudí! Work and God, that was enough for him. But God, what beautiful work!

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The courtyard of La Pedrera (built 1905-1910)

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On the roof of La Pedrera.

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View of La Sagrada Família from the roof of La Pedrera.

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Imagine living in this apartment… Casa Batlló.

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Detail of La Sagrada Família being constructed.

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Waiting to get into La Sagrada Família. If you want a glimpse of the amazing interior, get there early. Very early. Or get your tickets online.

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The spellbinding ceiling of La Sagrada Família.

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Inspired by nature: trees as columns in La Sagrada Família.

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Stained glass and amazing light, La Sagrada Família.

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Walkway at Parc Güell.

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That famous bench, Parc Güell.

Wandering a city where the façade of a building can have you entranced for many minutes (I was going to say hours, but that’s ridiculous) made me wonder why we are so afraid to inject any kind of originality in our own everyday architecture. It is possible to be beautiful and functional at once.

And I’m sure each city has its own aspiring Gaudí, just waiting for a chance to carve something spectacular into a skyscraper. Obviously, the argument is money, right? No one has any money, so build fast and cheap.

But they charge hundreds of individuals €18 each to go into La Sagrada Família (more if you want to visit the towers, which I was too scared and cheap to do), €16.50 for La Pedrera, €18.15 for Casa Batlló… the park is free (until further notice). So someone is making their money back.

I demand more beauty (and not just the kind that you have to look for through the cracks in the concrete)!

Warning: this post may contain graphic imagery.

I’m in Denmark. I don’t know why, but I never thought I’d end up in Denmark, however much I adore their movies. But here I am, in an ideal situation: 2 weeks’ writing residency at a theatre school/creation space where I have a room of my own writing, writing (checking email), writing (checking Facebook), writing.

After 11 months of travel, I have time and space and silence to get some order in my ideas (except when the actors have their workshops downstairs… then it’s a lot of howling and running around and entertainment all ’round).

The residency is in a big yellow house with beautiful light and cute little lampshades. It’s about a 30-minute walk into town through the woods. When it stopped raining today, I figured it was my chance to go for a walk and go to the store to get some milk.

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A lovely walk. Until…

There I was, following the bicycle path that little red riding hood would take, the sun filtering through the leaves, watching my step to avoid the slugs and snails as best I could…

For all the amazing wildlife I’ve seen this year, the diversity in snails and slugs was quite fascinating.

A little portrait of Nykobing Sjelland fauna:
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First of all, if you’re a slug, maybe a bicycle path is not the best place to be. Squish!

Although that was gross, it wasn’t as spine-numbing as the horrifying discovery I made.

SLUGS ARE CANNIBALS!

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Are these guys gathering to pay their respects to their fallen brother? No. No! They’re eating his corpse! The horror! The horror!

Seriously, there were slugs eating slugs all over the place. All over the place.

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Quick! Look at this beautiful bouquet of 7 different types of wildflowers! Keep looking at it- it’ll help wash away the image of disgusting cannibalistic slugs.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I haven’t had much experience travelling with boys. I mean, just me and a guy, right?

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Me and my brother at Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. Before he went back to France, he gave me that sweater (because he is a gentleman and he was going to leave it behind anyway- it’s full of holes). That sweater saved me from hypothermia in Austria and the Czech Republic. Merci, David!

Since May, I’ve had the chance to travel Croatia-Bosnia-Serbia with my brother David and then meet up with my friend Jeremy for Slovenia-Austria-Czech Republic.

I’m not going to make a big deal about this, but there are a few things I noticed that were different from travelling with other girls.

Travelling with boys

1. First of all, you end up spending far more time in bars than in cafes. You realise you still don’t like beer, but you discover juice-beer in Croatia that makes it look like you’re drinking beer when you’re really just drinking juice. So you can look semi-cool (because beer is cool) until someone reads the label and sees you’re just drinking radler. And that you’re tipsy after 4 sips.

2. You get very jealous of the fact that boys can carry around all their possessions in their pockets. Camera, wallet, maps, passport, all stuffed in their cargo pants while you lug around a heavy handbag holding a camera, wallet, hoodie, water bottle, guidebook, journal, pens, wet wipes, and anything he can’t fit into his pockets.

3. You are far more likely to end up on an improvised pub-crawl with 10 British guys on a rainy night in Zagreb, chasing last calls around town. Maybe as a girl alone, I would have opted to stay at the hostel and stream the latest episode of Arrested Development (and kept my shoes dry). But then I would not have been re-exposed to the stellar dance moves of 25-year-old lads.

4. You may not have felt comfortable sharing a 4-bed dorm with a 6’2″ Tasmanian firefighter, a massive Croatian tattoo artist named Nico, and a Martiniquais guy with a penchant for rum, if one of those guys hadn’t been your friend already.

5. You do get asked all the time how you know each other. People were surprised my brother was my brother and people were surprised that Jeremy and I first met in India and then, weird, here we are meeting up in Slovenia. Check that out.

That’s about it. It’s actually not so different travelling with boys vs girls. Except maybe it’s an unexpected perk that a boy might carry you up a flight of stairs just because you had a blister on your toe. That’s different.

There’s so much to look at in Barcelona. Here are some pictures of some of the artsy doors I found and loved.
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I am back in a land of parrots and jacarandas. And life seems much easier now.

Before I go any further, I just want to warn you that this post is all about the weather (I must not forget my Canadian roots).

Turns out I am a wimp. Turns out the weather affects me far more than I ever thought or admitted. I will not weather the weather and I will fly to Barcelona if I have to.

After an unnaturally long and hot summer (for a Canadian), including a standout night of42-degree hell, I decided to skip to Europe instead of subjecting my sweaty, exhausted, dusty self to more humid heat.

The European chapter started off so perfectly, my luck was bound to run out. I met up with my brother and went to a beach dance party in Croatia, we went swimming in a (albeit freezing) waterfall in Bosnia, and went out at night in t-shirts in Belgrade. But then I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to grey skies that would follow me for what seemed like weeks (in reality: 12 days).

In Slovenia, I met my Tasmanian friend Jeremy and greeted him with cold and rain (to remind him of home?). We still managed to enjoy a mucky visit to Ljubljana castle and walking in the city in the rain (deluge).

Soaking it all in, Ljubljana.

Soaking it all in, Ljubljana.

Ok, we did have one perfect, beautiful day in Slovenia, when we visited this perfect, beautiful gorge near Bled.

But then it was 8 degrees in Bled, Vienna was windy and rainy and my feet never quite dried (sorry to the people in the cinema watching The Hangover 3 who didn’t want my wet socks hanging off the back of the plush seats), and when we crossed into the Czech Republic, it was flooded. Beautiful and interesting and amazing, but flooded.

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Cleaning up in the rain, Vienna.

I wonder what Jesse and Celine would have done in Vienna had it been rainy and cold.

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Tourists, the only ones out in this weather. Vienna.

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And then it rained. And the river busted its banks. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic.

When we got to Prague, we got a bit, em, lost. For 2 hours. With wet feet (hello, worst blisters in the history of life!) and soaked backpacks (we thought they were safe stowed under the bus!). After a day of cold and wet and being lost and frustrated and very very hungry, we finally found our hostel, took all the stuff out of our bags to hang them to dry, and went to the local restaurant-bar.

I haven’t ever been so happy (wine on an empty stomach?) to sit in a smoke-filled room waiting for a plate of meat to arrive. It was warm. It was funny. Every single person was smoking. At the table next to us sat five or six old men playing  cards in their patterned knit sweaters. Smoking and drinking beer. The bad day ended with giggles and alcohol and barely any veggies. The lesson here: this too shall pass. But mostly: don’t trust Google maps’ directions in the Czech Republic.

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The river rose and rose in Prague. Everything was flooded. Everything was closed. But it stopped raining! Czech out those blue skies!

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The boardwalk in Prague, under water.

The plan was to keep going north, through Poland, as I have a writing residency arranged in Denmark, and it makes geographical sense (and I want to go to Poland). Instead, I booked a not-so-cheap-but-screw-it flight to Barcelona.

When I got to the Prague airport, the destination screen indicated the weather next to each city. Everywhere was sunny. Including Warsaw. 25 degrees and sunny. Everywhere had a little sun. Except Barcelona. Hilarious! (Not hilarious.) I started questioning my choices, my life, my decision to leave Jeremy for a potentially-false promise of sunshine. But then I remembered that no: this choice is the right choice because it’s the one I made. This is where I was supposed to be. Thank you, Robin Esrock for this.

And when I landed and it was hot and the sky was blue without the slightest sign of a cloud, I knew, yes, this is where I was supposed to be.

Self portrait at the beach in Barcelona.

Self portrait at the beach in Barcelona.

I feel good in Spain, except that I constantly feel bad not knowing Catalán and my Castillano is pretty rusty to begin with. But after a week, though I haven’t remembered any of the past tense, I may well have adopted a hint of the (affected?) th th th of the Barthelonan accent. To get there without going too far, I just pretend I’m Liv Tyler with her pout and lispy speech. And I leave the ‘s’ (or ‘th’) off the “gracias” in the hopes it sounds a bit Catalán.

Barcelona is colourful. It’s hot. It’s lively, but it really comes alive after 11pm. And it only rained once.

If you’ve ever travelled, you’ll know that the best-laid plans can fall apart, become muddy and complicated and sometimes take you way the wrong way.

I’ve had days where a simple A to B route became anything but simple. Train delays, flights that land in St John when you think you’re going St John’s (sorry, Amanda, couldn’t help it), wallets getting stolen, bus stations not existing where you thought they were…

But then there are those times where everything falls into place. I thought visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park would be a pain. A pain I was ready to endure, because it was meant to be a magical place, but still. Annoying to get to, expensive to stay near. Do we need a car?

But then it all worked out. A bus from Zagreb left us right at the entrance to the park, there were huge lockers for our packs and a walk that took us everywhere we wanted to go, long enough to fill the day, short enough to get us back to bus stop to meet the last coach to Zadar.

And with the logistics out of the way (and a back-up plan of spending all our money on a room in the area if we missed the bus), we were free to enjoy one of the most beautiful (and easy) walks that probably exists (my brother claims Krka is even cooler, if you can believe it).

Also, it didn’t rain, it wasn’t too hot, and we had delicious apples in our bags.

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First glimpses of waterfalls on our walk.

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I had a jigsaw puzzle sort of like this.

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Some reeds. It’s not ALL waterfalls, you know.

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The water was ridiculously clear and blue-green.

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So beautiful you want to eat it.

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Our trusty boardwalk. You couldn’t always trust it. Sometimes there was a lot of muck.

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We got into Zadar in time for a beautiful sunset thanks to a minivan driver who poached us and 5 other people waiting for the bus. He just flew down the empty highway. The drive was one of the most beautiful of my life- so beautiful I didn’t take any photos. But there was a huge blue sky, fluorescent green hills, and water that reflected everything back like a perfect mirror.

Belgrade. What can I say about Belgrade?

First of all, I am ashamed to say that after all the war stories I heard in Croatia and Bosnia, I developed a funny feeling towards (against?) Serbia. Shows how easy it is to succumb to idiotic prejudice. Plus, we’d heard Belgrade was good only for its nightlife, but was otherwise just ugly blocks of concrete.

Don’t listen to people. People can be wrong or blind. Or just have different opinions.

Belgrade may be a big city, but it is beautiful (its National Theatre is stunning, at least from the outside. I never actually ended up seeing that Anouilh play in Serbian…) and has a very very cool vibe.

I don’t really know where to start (getting a history lesson from the receptionist? watching the girls in impossibly high heels stumble down the cobbled streets?), so I’ll just show you some photos I took of the big church everyone kept telling us to go see (“But the inside isn’t finished,” they’d add apologetically). And it is a big church and the inside was not finished. But the inside was what I spent ages looking at, wrapped in plastic sheets like a Christo.

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Cathedral of Saint Sava, the biggest Orthodox church in the world, apparently. Still working on the inside. And not actually a cathedral.

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Inside.

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A wall on the main tourist drag of the old town, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Tell your friends to come to Bosnia because of the people, the food, the beautiful nature. Not the war”, Haris insisted as we said goodbye after his tour of Sarajevo.

And it’s true. The people are the warmest I have met, the food is so very full of meat, and the nature is beautiful (check out this waterfall, for instance). But there’s no denying that there are tangible remnants of the war here.

On a sunny afternoon in Mostar, we found the snipers’ nest. Of what was built to be a bank, there remains an empty shell of a concrete building, littered with broken glass.

While my brother and fellow-hosteller climbed the scary no-banister stairs to the no-walls storeys high up and collected a few empty bullet casings, I stayed safely at ground level, watching my step. Evidently, this is not only the place to come drink and break all your bottles, it’s also great to come shoot up and/or hook up. And paint on the walls.

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In Sarajevo, they built a 4.5 million-dollar bobsled and luge track for the 1984 Olympics. During the war and the siege, it was used as a kind of trench for the Serbian army.

Now, it is damaged, abandoned, and covered in graffiti in the middle of the woods (don’t go ‘awandering- there are still landmines in there). It was very affecting. Some sort of metaphor, maybe. Surrounded by beauty, face to face with such a state-of-the-art track, destroyed.

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