Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving's one of my favorite holidays because, up until this year (and when I'm able to attend, which isn't always), I get to see my whole family in one place at the same time. So, what was different this year? Well, because the family's increasing size, it's gotten more difficult to find a place big enough and someone crazy enough to host the party! 2013 would be the first time in my entire life that our family's Thanksgiving would happen in different places.

Regardless, Diana and I boarded the (lovely and very convenient) direct 7 1/2 hour flight from Barcelona to Philadelphia to hang with the family for Thanksgiving Week 2013:

Most of the time, when I'm writing a new story, I start by going through all the photos that I took and decide which ten-or-so are the best. I then upload the photos and basically fill in the words around the photos. It was funny this time because I noticed that about half the photos show some food and that almost all of them show us with family like this one of us a breakfast one day with my dad and sister's family:

Diana's impression of the United States is that all we do is eat. It's not completely false but it's definitely more true during the holidays. She was telling some friends last night about the trip back to the U.S. and it was "we woke up, we ate, we got in the car, we went to someone else's house, we ate, we got back in the car, we went home, we ate, then we went to sleep". Yeah, it was, in reality, something along those lines...

The famed, bigger-than-your-head, Thanksgiving turkey purchased by dad and expertly-cooked by my sister:

We spent Thanksgiving at my sister's house this year along with dad, my brother's family, and my brother-in-law's family. I don't yet know if it was a one-off or the start of a new family tradition but, either way, it was a lot of fun and, of course we ate waaaaaay too much food:

Nom, nom, nom, nom...

No separate kids' table this year. Just one big happy family:

But, Thanksgiving week wasn't just about eating, trust me, we tried. Nope, there was also copious-amounts of shopping to be had including on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year in the U.S. We definitely did some damage. Diana trying on some camo at the local sporting-goods store (yes, in the U.S. you can buy a gun at the same time as some new running shoes and snowboard):

Thanksgiving weekend officially kicks off the Christmas season in the U.S. Even though stores and public places generally decorate sooner, people tend to decorate their houses and put up their Christmas trees during the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving.

I've seen some crazy Griswold-style houses over the years. One of the winners in my dad's neighborhood is this guy down the street who fills up his whole front yard with giant, inflatable Christmas statues along with lights on the house. This photo of Diana was taken the first night he decorated so it doesn't show the final results but it gives you an idea:

And, of course, Thanksgiving would never be complete without a parade. The most famous one is probably Macy's Thanksgiving Parade that takes place in New York city every year. We didn't make the trip up to NYC this year but we were lucky enough to see a smaller local version. In the area around where my dad and sister live, what seems like every fire truck, rescue vehicle, and ambulance gets dressed up with lights and form one of the coolest parades I've ever seen. It's a little boy's dream parade for sure but it seemed like everyone enjoyed it.

On our last day in town, we were invited to my cousin Bobby's tailgate party that he holds for all the home Eagles games, some Phillies games, and many other sporting events. If you've never heard of a tailgate, it's a BBQ-style party that's held in parking lots before sporting events. In this case, my cousin's is called Cav's Eagles Tailgate and he's won awards and is well-known throughout the city for one of the best. Oh, and the name Tailgate comes from the fold-down rear "door" of a pick-up truck, which is called a tailgate and is often used like a table for food and drinks during the party.

My cousin Bobby doesn't mess around. He's used to serving food in all kinds of weather to well over a few hundred people. He doesn't mess around as you can see in the photos above and below (yes, the bus above is his as is the pick-up truck and BBQ trailer below):

The reason we went wasn't for the food, though. Many of my relatives who we didn't see at Thanksgiving a couple of days before made the trip to the stadium so we could all catch up. The crowd below includes my mom's brother and sister, their spouses, and a bunch of my cousins and second cousins.

Yeah, it somewhat sucked that we couldn't all get together in one place this year but, I guess, very few of my Thanksgivings fortunately have been this way. It was still a great week and visit. We got to celebrate Thanksgiving with another part of the family for a change, and I have a feeling that the separate-settings thing isn't a permanent fixture. I predict, okay, maybe I hope that we'll all be together again next Thanksgiving. Stay tuned...

(Some past Thanksgiving stories, if you're interested: 2010, 2011, and 2012.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

48 Hour Open House Barcelona 2013 - Day 2

Day two of the 2013 48 Hour Open House Barcelona wasn't nearly as exciting as the first day but I wanted to do a quick story about it because we got to visit another Gaudi building. This one, The Colegio Teresiano (Teresa School), is not easily accessible to the public so it was on our must-tour list.

Much like his more famous work, the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi was brought in to the project part way through and was able to put his stamp on the work. Gaudi designed the building to be austere, in deference to the vow of austerity practiced by the sisters, but it's pretty damn fancy compared to most school buildings. Gotta' love the wrought iron gate:

He used his signature catenary aches and a raw (austere) brick theme throughout:

The highlight of the modernist building is probably this area, which is similar in design to the top floor of Casa Batllo where catenary arches are the design theme:

Our other stop on day two was at the Palau Baro de Quadras, which, like the Palau Guell, is another modernist building originally built as a private residence:

The palau is another work by Catalan architect, and Gaudi contemporary, Puig i Cadalfalch. The building is designed with two facades, the one on Avenida Diagonal (shown above), which was used by the family and is more showy, and the the second more plain one, which faces a smaller street and was used by people who rented apartments in the building. Cadalfalch designed it with a northern-European-castle feel and there are some similarities with other works of his such as sculptures built into the facade like you find at Casa Amatller.

Like I said, day two wasn't quite as exciting as day one but the chance to see any Gaudi building is something to be taken advantage of. We'll definitely be back next year and can't wait!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

48 Hour Open House Barcelona 2013 - Day 1

Barcelona's a dream city if you're a fan of architecture and will probably make you a fan if you're not. There are tons of beautiful buildings both in and around the city some of which you can visit and others that are private. Each year for two days Barcelona holds a city-wide open house when about a hundred buildings, some normally not open to the public, are open for visits free of charge. It's a great opportunity to see some of the "hidden treasures".

Two years ago Diana and I had gone to both days (Day 1 story and Day 2 story) but last year we were living in Stuttgart so we couldn't attend so we definitely weren't going to miss this year. We were up bright and early on Saturday morning and headed straight to the Casa Sayrach, which I had really wanted to see:

This private building is right down the street from where we were living and I passed by it regularly on the way to the metro. Designed by Manuel Sayrach i Carreras and built in 1918 as an apartment building, it's one of the last modernist buildings to be constructed in Barcelona. What I really like about it is the undulating roof, the small vertical bars between the facade and the roof line (you'll have to look carefully), how it's designed to take advantage of it's corner location, and oh, of course the tower.

I was hoping that the tour would take us through the whole building but it only included the lobby/entry area, which is jaw-dropping. Quite a few modernist buildings, including Gaudi's Casa Batllo, have nautical themes. The lobby of Casa Sayrach made me feel that I was under water and maybe even inside some giant sea creature. I love the ceiling medallion, if an entire roof can be a medallion, that looks like a shell as well as the rib-cage-like twisty arch at the approach to the elevator and stairs:

I pretty much could have stopped after this one building as, like I said, it was the one I really wanted to see this year...but...we kept moving on. Our next stop was at the Palau Moja, which is located about a block or so from our new apartment. From the outside, this former palace-like private residence, which was built in 1714, isn't too much different from many of the other buildings in the area with it's small balconies, shutters, and so on:

But inside it's a different story. It felt very similar to some of the castles we had seen in Germany like Schloss Ludwigsburg or even Schloss Hohenschwangau with it's Baroque styling, which seems somewhat out of place in Barcelona but I guess to each his own. What's cool is, looking at just the photos in this one post, how different the architectural styles are in Barcelona.

While in line at Palau Moja, we ran into Vladimir and he told us about a nearby private apartment and artist's studio that had been renovated and was open for tours. The apartment is located in a modernist building near La Raval neighborhood just on the other side of La Rambla.

The apartment wasn't anything special as far as it's layout or location but that's what made it interesting to see. It's long and narrow, which is pretty standard for apartments in the older parts of the city. Where we're living is very similar, which creates challenges when renovating them for more modern tastes. The architect in this project removed a bunch of walls and opened it up as much as possible (top is before):

The results were fairly good with lots of relatively open spaces (for a Barcelona apartment). The things that I liked about this particular stop were that it was a "normal" private apartment, the architect was leading the tour, and they saved the original "hydraulic" floor tiles in as much of the space as possible. A view from the kitchen towards the living room:

It's tough to see more than a few buildings each day as the lines can take an hour or more and the tours can last around 30 minutes. Diana and I were dedicated to visit at least one more building on our first day and we chose to head to the Palau Macaya.

This former palace-like residence built in 1901 was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, who was a prolific Catalan modernist architect responsible for a ton of beautiful buildings around Catalunya including (what is now) the Cordoniu cava factory, the Casaramona textile factory (La Caixa Forum), and the Casa Amateller (located next door to Casa Batllo). Actually, Puig i Cadafalch should probably be more famous than he is but he tends to get overshadowed by Gaudi even though their styles tend to be very different.

Like the Casa Amatller, Puig i Cadafalch put a bunch of mini scenes on the building facade. One of my favorite touches was at the house's entrance where he showed himself hanging out with a donkey on one side and riding a bicycle on the other side. He did this to point out the difference between the laid-back countryside and the hustle and bustle of city life...with a bicycle!

Diana checking out the details at the Casa Macaya (note the clover detail on the ceiling):

All in all, it was a very busy but very fun day. Diana and I got to see four different buildings in four different styles spanning approximately 300 years...all within walking distance...and that was just Saturday!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

More Family Visits Barcelona!

A couple of months ago my uncle sent me an email that he and my aunt would be in Barcelona for a couple of days around Halloween. There plan was to board a cruise ship that would float all the way back to the United States. Whatever! I was just happy to have some family visit me in Spain!

A lovely sunny Halloween day checking out the Sagrada Familia with my aunt and uncle:

They arrived on Wednesday afternoon and hung out until Diana and I could meet them later for dinner. Of course we took them to our favorite local restaurant, El Glop, which is where we held our wedding reception. I'm not sure if it was the Cava sangria, but they both gave it their thumbs up.

The next morning we met up at the Sagrada Familia where Diana was kind enough to wait in the 45-minute line while the three of us walked around the outside and had a chance to catch up. We got back to Diana just as she was about ten people from the ticket booth. My uncle looked at me and asked if they can just jump in line like that. Of course you can! They ducked under around the ropes and, about two minutes later, were inside the church.

They both really enjoyed and were impressed by the church. We talked about Gaudi and Barcelona architecture while we walked over the the nearby La Paradeta, which is another of our favorite restaurants. Again, they seemed to be impressed but, hey, it's easy to do only the best things when you have just 40 hours together!

After lunch, they came back to our (new) apartment. We opened a bottle of Cava and talked for a couple of hours. It was nice to have family visit our home. (Note to other family...and friends...when are you coming?) When it was time for us to say our goodbyes, I asked them to take a photo with me in front of the Canaletas fountain down the street. The tradition says that you'll come back to Barcelona if you drink from this fountain. Here's hoping for a swift return!

 A couple of interesting notes. First, my aunt and uncle paid about $550 U.S. per person for an all-inclusive cruise that went all the way back to the U.S. That seems downright cheap. I'm not really that into the idea of taking a cruise but, hey, I'm a little more interested when I heard that. Who knows, maybe one day...

The other interesting thing was when my uncle called me the next morning to say goodbye. He wanted Diana and I to know how much they enjoyed visiting with us and how impressed they were with Barcelona. My uncle even said at some point in the conversation that his expectation of the city was something like Cleveland, Ohio, based on brief visits to other parts of Spain but that the reality was something culturally more like New York City but way cleaner. It was definitely a huge compliment. And, guess what! He and my aunt were already talking about coming back for an extended visit. Woohoo! I knew there was something about that fountain!

Thanks for stopping by and Diana and I can't wait to see you guys again soon!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


This past Friday marks the end of four straight weeks being in Ireland. Checking out the house in Barcelona's center during a flight (the black circle in the large open area is Plaza Catalunya):

It was very cool to be in Dublin. Most things are closed at around 5pm or so except for Thursday evenings when all the shops in town stay open until 9pm. A view up Dublin's river Liffey a little after sunset one evening:

I found the people exceptionally nice and enjoyed the opportunity to be in Ireland again. Around 2005, I was in the area around Cork and Dingle, or what I'd call the south of Ireland, but what I later found out is called the west since the whole north-south thing is a sensitive topic!

Dublin's much smaller and grubbier than I had imagined. Not that it was bad, just more industrial and port-centered than I had expected. The downtown area is classic European with small streets, lots of shops, and scenic views. But, it's also incredibly dangerous with it's wrong-way traffic! Make sure you look right!!! A couple of double-deck buses not too far from Trinity College:

The exceptionally cool, harp-shaped and rotating-when-a-ship-passes Samuel Beckett bridge (note the mandatory Irish pub with the Power's whiskey sign on the corner):

Dublin's not blessed with the best weather in the world, actually it seemed to rain every day, but it more than makes up for it with it's warm people and flowing alcohol! One of the things that most sticks out now when thinking about the city is the roving Guinness tanker trucks that pass by every 15 minutes or so. It reminds me of when we were living in Stuttgart and the Mercedes train would go by the metro station loaded with hundreds of brand new cars. Actually, I bet my brother'd rather have one of these than some Mercedes:

Well, until next time Dublin, thanks for your hospitality. I look forward to seeing you again and to experience more of what you have to offer!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Home Sweet Home aka Finally Settled Somewhere

If you haven't heard yet, Diana and I have a (rented) home of our very own here in Barcelona! It must have been time as when I was talking to my friend Ruma, she said "I'm happy that you guys have finally settled...somewhere!". Without too many details, some things have changed recently and we've decided that home will be Barcelona for the foreseeable future.

Don't worry though, not that you were, but I'll still be updating whereisdarrennow since I still believe that if I don't have anything going on that's interesting enough to write about, that I need to change something. This blog is one measurement of that goal. Plus, it looks like I'll still be traveling regularly and should have some cool stuff to see and learn about.

So, some details... Our new place has a location that can't be beat right in the (very) center of town. I think that the only way we could be more central is if we were sleeping in a box in Plaza Catalunya each night! The apartment was a bit rough and our new landlords basically said take it as it is or leave it. Well, we weren't too scared off by the combination of dark and darker decorating and the price was right so we grabbed it.

A before view of part of the kitchen:

Actually, so much of the apartment was painted in royal blue that it seemed like some Smurfs had lived there before us. It really wasn't that bad though. And, like people in real estate say, the bones were good and it's all about location anyway.

We had already looked at about 20 apartments during our search. Some great places for way too much money and some not-so-great places as well. When we were checking out our new place with the landlords for the first time, Diana and I were standing on the front balcony. I pointed to the corner where there were THREE different tourists taking photos down the street at the same time. Diana wasn't as sure as I was about the place so I said to her, "look at all these people who have paid thousands of dollars to come here for a couple of days - we can LIVE here". She was sold. We got the keys a few days later. I still get a kick out of watching folks take photos of my 'hood...

Diana and I spent the next four weeks learning the layout of our local Bauhaus home center, running back and forth to Ikea, and having paint and/or grime under our fingernails but things have come together even better than expected. Our old roommate David, who hadn't seen it since before we started working and was a bit, no, very apprehensive, told us this weekend how impressed he is with the difference. Nice!

An in-process shot of the 150-plus-year-old (!!!) hallway while I was rescuing the bathroom from Gargamel:

It hasn't been all hard work. Diana and I have found plenty of time to enjoy our new home including having breakfast on the balcony:

True to our style, we've already had our first couchsurfers. Linda and Ralph napping on a recent weekend while our friend Gema was in Lanzarote:

Just this past weekend we had about 25 of our friends over for a housewarming. It was nice to have them help celebrate but, because so many had other plans (or, at least I'd like to believe that's the reason), we'll be holding a second housewarming in a few more weeks for those who couldn't come so it's not too late to join us!

If you find yourself in Barcelona, Diana and I would love to have you visit us. We've even got a second bedroom so you won't have to sleep on the couch - unless you'd like to of course. Hope to see you soon!

A nice cava cheers to our new happy home! Cheers!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bodø Norway

Since Lena had to work for part of our visit to Skelleftea, she suggested that we take her car and go on a road trip somewhere. Cool, we thought. It'd be fun to check out some other parts of the country.

I spent some time researching options and putting together maps to show Diana. A couple of things became quickly apparent. First of those things, Sweden's a big country and, with Skellftea's relatively isolated location, everything was pretty far away. We settled on three different options, each of which involved between 600 and 1,000 miles of driving! After talking it over with Lena and Toni, we decided that we'd drive northwest to the city of Bodø in northern Norway. The journey would take us north of the arctic circle (!!!) and would only be about a 300 to 400 mile drive each way. 

So we set out early one morning to see rural Sweden (and Norway) on our own. The weather wasn't too great with sometimes heavy rain but it was very scenic. Some snow-capped mountains north of the arctic circle but still in Sweden:

...and some wild reindeer more-or-less in the same area:

We arrived into a fairly-cold Bodø about 7pm and met up with our airbnb host who recommended that we go to eat at a restaurant in the center of town. Dinner was good, not great, but walking around after was super fun. Remember that this area of the world has 24 hours of daylight during the summer so it was fun snapping photos like this one staring into the sun at around 10pm at the Bodø small-craft harbor:

As far as tourist destinations go, Bodø's probably not going to make too many Top-Ten lists. It's very scenic with water and mountains everywhere but the weather's not too great and there's not a whole lot to do. Our host did tell us that the weather was particularly good that day, which scares the hell out of me for what it must be like during the winter!

One of the most popular and cool things to do while in the area is to visit the natural maelstrom, called the Saltstraumen, which is about 20 minutes outside of town. This is considered the most powerful maelstrom in the world and twice a day during the tide change, massive amounts of water pass through a narrow opening creating large whirlpools. To give you an idea of scale, those are people standing in front of the bridge on the left.

The effect is something like the cars on a freeway's center fast lanes passing the slower cars in the slower outside lanes resulting in what looks like a river flowing in the center with whirlpools forming along the edges. This is a video that I took showing the maelstrom. Warning though, the wind noise in the video is quite loud.

After lunch we hiked up to the top of a hill that overlooks the whole city of Bodø and the Norwegian Sea beyond. It's funny, but thinking back to that hike as I write this, all I can remember, other than the fabulous views, were the senior-citizen Germans out hiking on the trails too. We'd always see groups of them with their hiking boots and their ski poles (walking poles?) on the metro while we lived in Stuttgart. They are f'n hardy folks! Anyway, the view of Bodø from up top:

The weather broke the next morning and made for some excellent photos of our drive back south. Viewing area on the way out of Bodø:

Random observation from the trip was the number of sod-covered roofs that we saw while in Norway. It seems that sod has been a roof covering in this part of the world almost since people have been building structures thousands of years ago. This is a much more modern version at a rest stop / gas station:

One of the things that I really wanted to do during the trip was to get a picture straddling the arctic circle like I had gotten of the Berlin Wall in Germany and the Greenwich Mean in England. I was bummed to find out that we had completely blew by the circle in Sweden on our way up to Norway as it's not very well marked. In my mind, there'd be some big sign or something saying that you're now crossing the arctic circle but there wasn't anything on the main road. We did find out later that there was a sign off the road but you couldn't see the sign while traveling on the road.

The Norwegians have done a better job than the Swedes as they've built a Arctic Circle Center where you can learn about the arctic circle and, of course, buy lots of arctic-circle-themed souvenirs. A highly-overexposed photo on the arctic circle outside the Polarsirkelensenteret:

...and another "out back" of the center also straddling the arctic circle:

Our quick, two-night trip up to Bodø and back was a great opportunity to see rural northern Sweden and Norway. Spending a couple of days and nights north of the arctic circle was very cool. We ended up driving almost 800 miles on our trip and got to see some amazing scenery. Once again, a big thanks to Lena for lending us her car. Sorry about all the bugs!