Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Smith Catch Up V5

Well, well, well, has it really been 13 whole days since I last opened up Blogger?! That is crazy!

Hope you are well.....

Unfortunately, and if you follow us on other social media you'll know I haven't been well. In fact since I got back from Glasgow I've been sick enough that I have needed a day off work, an entire weekend of bed rest and antibiotics. I am just about back to full health but it has knocked me for six and has not been a good 10 days - mainly for anyone who had to listen to my whinging and moaning.

Throughout the 13 days there have been some up's though. I found out that along with one of my customers we were shortlisted for 'Best Enterprise Platform Implementation' award at the Learning Technologies Awards. I will miss the presentation we have to do (sad times) as i'll be attending a wedding in Idaho (good times) but i'm super happy to have got this close with the team and hope they can bring it home. We find out in November!

In another up my netball team made it through to our second consecutive final. I can't believe it was a year ago I wrote this post - to think how scared I was! We lost the final although, as I played with a chest infection and we only found out we had the final half way through playing the semi -final it wasn't a bad effort. The whole team staggered off the court at the end.

And you may have noticed that we spent Friday night to Sunday afternoon in Barcelona. It really is such a benefit to living in the UK, we can finish work, get to the airport and be in a new country in less than 2 hours. Unfortunately our journey wasn't quite that simple. We made it to the airport in plenty of time and managed to find a space for dinner in the Frankie and Benny's. Luton airport was AWFUL. It is currently a building site and with scaffolding reducing the available room for passengers it meant people were sat on the floor, resting against walls and generally seeking any personal space they could find. It looked more like a disaster zone than an airport.

It probably didn't help that most flights were experiencing delays. Our flight was delayed for over an hour - thankfully we had spotted this before starting to board as anyone who went through had to spend an hour stood on stairs. We at least had seats. Once boarded we got a sense that we weren't going anywhere quick and after getting everyone seated they confirmed it. We were to sit on the runway for another hour as we had missed our landing spot in Barcelona. Veuling is not an airline we'd recommend. Uncomfortable seats, no head rest and a 'slot' instead of a basket. This simple thing ended up being so annoying as we had no-where to put our drinks so sat heating them up in our laps while we waited.

My illness meant I was ultra tired by this point so I thankfully managed to fall asleep and not wake up until I was thrown out of my seat landing in Barcelona. Turns out that Veuling don't check for seat belts!

We were so glad to get off the plane and into the airport so that we could figure out our new plan. The delay meant we didn't have much public transport choices as it was 1.30am. Thankfully the decision to get a taxi was the right one, our driver sped through the city and it cost €15 less than expected.

On arrival at the apartment we were staying we were greeted by a bunch of friendly faces - we had finally made it to the Sten (Stag/Hen) weekend. After dumping our bags we headed to the lounge just in time to see everyone run inside covered in water. Turned out that some neighbours in an upstairs apartment had taken offense at the noise being made and decided to throw water over the group - no warning, just water!

The 2.30am soaking prompted an end to the evening and we all agreed that heading to bed would be best to get the most out of the Saturday. By 10.30am we were all up and the 7 of us made our way to the city centre to collect bikes and our tour guide. For the next 2 hours we cycled the city, the harbour and everywhere in between. We saw amazing architecture, beautiful parks, lots of cute dogs and walked on the beach. The pace was just right allowing everyone to stop and take pics but never stopping long enough for anyone to get bored.

After the cycling we felt lunch was very necessary and took our tour guides advice to head to Born and go to a tapas bar on the street. The food was delicious and we got to watch a marionette performance of an old man on roller skates. A thoroughly lovely way to spend a Saturday. After all the excitement a siesta was required.

Waking up at 5pm we had just enough time to shower and get ready for our afternoon activity - Sagrada Familia or Gaudi's unfinished cathedral (now basilica after a a visit from Pope XVI in 2010). On my previous visits to Barcelona I had driven past, walked past and even enjoyed lunch in a park opposite but I had never been in. This time changed that. We had been told that sunset is a particularly stunning time to visit as the sun lights up the church through certain windows. The recommendation was spot on. Walking it the spectacular interior was glowing with the reds, oranges and pinks that featured in the windows. It was breathtaking.

I am not usually a church fan but this place is something else. From the stories carved into the outer facades to the detail given to the branches that extend upwards to create a canopy that holds the roof up. I was truly touched listening to the commentary about how Gaudi believed nothing man-made should be higher than God's work, so at it's highest point it will still be 1 metre short of MontJuic on the outskirts of the city.

Laura and I spent almost 2 hours walking around, impressed and amazed. The visit is a must and we already have plans to be back in 2026 when the cathedral is meant to be completed.

Saturday night was official Sten Do night and after a quick turnaround and addition of one more person the 8 of us hit the city for dinner. This time we went to area known for having tapas restaurants selling a pick-and-mix of tapas. You walk in, order a drink and then select the tapas you want from the counter. Each piece of tapas has a cocktail stick through it and at the end you count up your sticks and pay the amount. Each piece is usually €1 so it's easy to figure out.

We went to three different tapas bars before deciding to head to the confectionery cocktail bar. The bar itself was in an old sweet shop and the cocktails were a weird and wonderful mix. As I was on meds I watched as everyone else ordered bizarre drinks - the hen and stag shared a bath or a cocktail in a bath, another person had a cocktail in a pepper and another in a teacup - they all looked delicious!

After cocktails we split into Hens and Stags. At the start of the night the hen and stag were given task lists with points awarded for each task achieved - lets just say it involved obtaining a few things and finding a few willing victims, The night was hilarious and somehow led us to an Irish bar where there was a very helpful group of men and one was a dentist. The dentist advised me on what I should and shouldn't be eating on my meds and by the end of the conversation we realised he used to live 20 minutes from where we do now. He also knew people living in a flat previously rented by the hen! Small world.

We survived until 3.30am by which time the metro back was much needed, over the course of the night others arrived back at 4.30, 6,45 and 9am. It made the 12pm clear out time hard to meet. Thankfully Laura took control and got everyone organised and out by 12.30pm.

As brunch was much needed we went to a restaurant the group had discovered on Friday night only two streets from the apartment. We tucked into more tapas and paella and made our plans for the rest of the day. Our flight was at 7pm so we decided we had enough time to check out La Pedrera or Casa Mila, an apartment block designed by Gaudi as his last piece of work.

While the rest headed for the beach we headed for the Metro and it to La Pedrera for 2pm. The queue was short and after paying the €20.50 per person entry we were in. The first stop is the apartment base allowing you to gaze upwards and see the colours and designs that cover the walls. There are no straight lines, everything is curved or wavy. It is like nothing we'd seen before.

The visit is about the roof though, you are whisked up via a lift and as you walk out you are greeted by an expansion of cream walkways. Like walking on sand the walkways rise and fall smoothly. From every angle is a new view of the city. The designs look other worldly and almost like knights (it is also known as the garden of warriors). The arches frame either the Sagrada Familia or the castle on the mountain. The audio guide (included in the price) talks you through Guadi's thought process. He thought that metal objects which served purpose were shoved on roofs without thought, making roofs look like men with only one hair on their head - he wanted his roof to be a thing of beauty and purpose.

After completing the roof you then follow steps down to the loft where you see the full scale of the construction. Under the roof are 1000's of arches, differing in size and height. In Gaudi's words a fine gentleman should have both a hat and umbrella, the loft is the buildings hat and the roof it's umbrella. Now the loft is a gallery showing construction designs and other Gaudi memorabilia, it is fascinating.

The last stage of the tour is the apartment decorated as it would have been in Gaudi's time. The guy was a genius, he designed the apartments so that walls could be moved to meet the needs of the apartment owners without impacting the structure. He also built in servants quarters and used the natural light to enhance the feeling of space. The apartment is impressive even by today's standards.

And then that was it. Our trip was done. We grabbed an ice lolly as we sat and enjoyed the last 20 minutes in the sun before heading to the Metro and the airport.

We were impressed with Barcelona, it had free wifi everywhere and was easy to get around. We bought a 10 journey travel card at the start for €10 and it served us well. While walking is possible we had to cram a lot in and the Metro was a time saver. The food was also fairly priced - not cheap - but not ridiculous and our meals didn't go above €20 each. So all in all a great trip.

Of course our flight back was delayed (seriously avoid Veuling) but not as badly as before so we could still get the car and get home by 11pm.

Our whole trip had also been made a lot better by Bisbee letting us know she was doing great. We had a lovely friend stay over and look after Bisbee - turned out she also helped Bis message. Knowing she was doing just fine helped us relax and focus on the trip.

So I am almost back from London - on another scorching day! Seriously one of these 'hot' days I won't be in the hot and sweaty city and I will be in the garden.

How has your week been so far?

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