Category Archives: Travel

Snapshots of Iceland

On Snæfellsnes peninsula, at the Rauðfeldsgjá gorge, we passed a man carrying a gull to his chest, its wing splayed under his arm. The man was speaking to his friend, the gull was nibbling at his zipper. In the gorge itself, a narrow crack in the mountains with a stream tumbling through it, the corpses of gulls hidden behind boulders we had to scramble over. At the back of the gorge, a rope leading up but we didn’t trust the rain and our wet feet.

By Öndverdarnes, auks and black-backed gulls, kittiwakes and their tiny chicks nestled into the nooks of the cliffs. It’s a long winding gravel path there, through the mossy lava fields. The moss is incredible, so plush and thick that you can sink half a foot in without knowing what’s underneath. Let the other cars pass when you can; there’s an orange lighthouse in the distance and a sign to help you identify the birds you’ve been seeing. Arctic terns with their black heads and wings like a plane, fulmar with that amazing glide, barely flapping their wings as they circle around Hreggnasi (what a view, to see the way the lava flowed from the volcanoes, the craters around, the glacier, shy and hidden by clouds).
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Can I tell you about the volcanoes we drove up? The empty dirt road, the warning sign (this volcano is active, it erupted in 2000, please run if we text you), the soft lava dirt that threatened to sink our car. The snow on the side of Hekla we slid down so that our bodies ached with cold. Almost sunset at 11pm and how the clouds descended suddenly so that our path down was shrouded, the car tires rumbling over rocks we couldn’t see. On the way back, sheep being carried by truck toward the volcano (they are everywhere, these sheep, so it’s funny to think that some are carried to remote places to sit in the grass and eat). Then there was Snæfellsjökull. Our second try, finally a sunny day, we hiked through the snow to reach a lesser peak. Crevices in the ice deep enough to grab a leg if you weren’t careful. Before we reached the peak though, clouds had formed a ring around us as though trying to trap us.
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One night a calico farm cat joined us in our room. We’d opened the door to our room that led outside and the cat, seeing us, scampered over and spent a while purring happily in bed as we petted her. It was midnight and still light outside.

The colors of the sulfurous mud pots in Námaskarð. And the stink of it! So much more overwhelming than I thought it’d be but beautiful in the steam rising from the land, the bubbling heat, the streaks of yellow and green.
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Two pools, one in Hofsós, the other in Lýsuhóll. The first set on the edge of a hill, with a view out to sea. The second nicknamed the green lagoon and under the shadow of a mountain, with algae along the walls and floor of the pool so that you slipped easily and without any chemicals; I was told the algae was good for the skin. Both geothermally heated so that even with the rain, it was more comfortable than most pools here in the U.S. There were hot tubs, too, that were much more crowded than the pool—some of the locals, I think, didn’t even bother using the swimming pool at all.

IMG_20170718_122623IMG_20170718_114249IMG_20170713_224614The burgers and hot dogs were nothing to write home about but the best fish and chips are always from tiny little trucks in little towns without much else. Arnarstapi had the best and cheapest one and what is this potato seasoning that tastes a bit like cajun without the spice?

The most incredible hike in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. A narrow dirt path through flower-covered terrain, a view of forbidding mist-shrouded mountains in the distance like a fairy tale. There were birds that flew overhead, their wings thrumming like machinery as they swooshed past. Tiny field mice that sniff and put their paws on your sneakers. The glacier in the distance and then suddenly, it all opens up, the glacier right below with its striations and sharp edges, that intense blue that empties out into a glacial lake that feeds the rivers and streams running through and out and away.
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summer/fall

Just a quick post to say: Hello! I’m still alive! But I’m working on a new website which is one reason why I haven’t really been posting here.

Anyway, now it’s fall, and I haven’t even updated since summer! Summer was lovely but went by way too fast. There were trips to Long Island and one long trip to Costa Rica (again!) complete with car misadventures, iguana sightings, and many many beaches on the Pacific coast.img_20160719_135403 img_20160722_154307 img_20160722_075156 img_20160724_080730

There were bicycle rides to the beach and museum outings and readings. And at the beginning of September, a trip to the midwest for family, friends, the Minnesota State Fair, then the most wonderful one week residency a girl could ask for at Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp. Loons and bald eagles and the Milky Way and s’mores with new friends and kayaking on a crystal clear lake. It was truly magical. p1140985 p1160040

This autumn is turning out to be pretty packed, too, with a new job and several new pieces coming out in some literary journals I really admire. Also, hey, I’m an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program! With my own studio and everything! So I think my work goals of finishing this collection early next year is definitely doable. I’m even already thinking about my next big project…

Back to New York

Back in New York now after a long 14 hour flight from Shanghai. I’m feeling a bit of a sense of culture shock now that I’m back—where are the crowds? And the e-bikes? There’s so much diversity here! The roads in Brooklyn are potholed something awful and the single or double family homes around Jamaica are so much different from the skyscrapers and traditional housing of Shanghai. And here, you get a “Hey, beautiful,” instead of “Why aren’t you wearing a jacket? Aren’t you cold?!” (I prefer the latter, though.) It’s pretty warm here, too, and the magnolia trees are blooming! Two springs in one year—not bad. I can’t wait to start biking around.

But leaving Shanghai was pretty surreal and happened far too quickly. About three days before I left, I went to Suzhou for the day. SK and I peered down into wells and into a shop where a mechanized press printed sheet after sheet of material (is this how it works in the U.S. too?) We stumbled upon the bird and flower market where adorable ceramic flower pots and cacti in the shape of tiny rabbits were being sold, as well as turtles, pigeons, and puppies. On Pingjiang Rd, there were ice cream cones of different colors. Then it was time for the literary festival! It was lovely meeting Don and Lieve—Lieve was such a good storyteller that I barely had to say anything but it was a pleasure to listen to her. Afterwards, I read “Westward, Ever Westward” then had dinner with SK and Lieve before rushing off to the train station. Due to the traffic, we would’ve missed the train if it hadn’t been delayed an extra 10 minutes.
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As part of the residency, all of us artists have to leave a “trace” that is then put in Swatch’s virtual museum online and may be shown in one of their galleries. I really liked the end result of my trace, titled “Smoke Signals.” Here’s what I wrote about my trace and some photos!

Using joss paper as a medium, Smoke Signals reflects and complicates the Chinese tradition of burning joss paper as money for ancestors in the afterlife. The joss paper is one that my family always uses but instead of putting it to its traditional use, I inscribe the last two lines of a poem I wrote referring to the use and significance of it upon Chinese culture. Within the center is a Chinese translation of the poem, almost invisible except in certain lights. In this way, this work comments upon the hidden messages within this tradition—paper as smoke signals and currency, the invisibility of the Chinese text—as well as reflecting the poem’s message in a physical form, using traditional materials in a non-traditional format.
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Anyway, I’m really glad I did this residency—it was definitely a productive experience. I participated in one art show and two readings, wrote at least 5 short stories and a few smaller works, and met some amazing artists of all types from around the world. I’ll really miss a lot of my fellow residents—it was pretty hard saying goodbye when those I knew for three months left and only got harder with artists I’d known for longer. I know I’ll come back to China in the future—after living in China for almost two years in the last five years, I feel as though it’s my second home—but the artists I know will be scattered around the world. I suppose that gives me more of an excuse to travel, though! See you all someday in the near future!
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The Bookworm Literary Festival!

For all those interested, I’ll be moderating the last event called “On the Wings of the Dragon” at The Bookworm Literary Festival in Suzhou this weekend. The focus is actually on Lieve Joris’ work–she’s one of Europe’s leading non-fiction writers and will be talking about her journeys between Africa and China. 6:30pm on March 26th at The Bookworm in Suzhou! Afterwards, I might do a short reading at the Festival Party. If you’re in the area, come check it out!

I only just got back from visiting relatives in other, more mountainous areas of China. It was rainy but I still managed to go hiking around a few mountains (so green and lush! Palm trees and tall grasses and along the way, fields of rapeseed flowers glowing yellow in the gloom.) I also ate tons of delicious food, from homemade dumplings to hotpot to sweet&sour fish to clam noodle soup. It was a pretty great time although I’m saving my more complicated thoughts from the trip for an essay but here are a few photos.IMG_20160322_131322~2P1140610P1140790IMG_20160321_151044~2

I love you. I know.

My new favorite jacket:
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Now that Chinese New Year festivities are over (no more Monkey king crowns with their long shiny antenna and all those lanterns and crowds over the bridge at Yuyuan), all the shops are open again. The other day, while walking from the French Concession, Ai and I found a mostly empty store filled with piles of miscellaneous items: heaps of rope, boxes of fabric cut into odd shapes for 1rmb each, bamboo hampers with the label “Flower” on them, oval shaped mirrors, straw slippers. It was a store that was about to close but it was hard to tell what sort of store it was in the first place. IMG_20160302_165106

T visited and I took him on an adventure to another of the islands in Hangzhou Bay, Qushan Island. There’s so little written about it on the internet so it was a real adventure. During our first night, we checked out four hotels before we settled on the last—the prices were all around the same but some were definitely more shady than others! One of the first we saw had a boudoir type photo on the wall and peeling wallpaper, at another, the guy showing us the room wouldn’t let us test out the hot water—never a good sign. Unfortunately, it rained all during our first and only full day there but we decided to go hiking regardless. We trekked past the city and towards the mountains, past farms, and first found a reservoir then a road into the “scenic area.” It was actually quite an undeveloped scenic area—the paved roads devolved into dirt road and we got sidetracked a few times, including once by google maps which showed a road that had been completely washed away. The coastline was unexpectedly…industrial isn’t quite the word I’m looking for but there were quarries and salt fields, not a completely natural coastline. Eventually, we found our way to the temples that are apparently the highlight of the scenic area but even they were quite different from what we expected. The temple was covered in mist so that you could barely see a few feet ahead of you and yet, it was more of an idea of a temple. Gates that were unfinished, a bridge without railings over what would one day be a pond. A monk passed us but didn’t say a word and later, we heard chanting from one of the buildings. Otherwise, we were alone but even if we weren’t, it would’ve been hard to see any other people. Incredibly surreal. P1140547 P1140551

The next morning though, before our ferry back, a walk along the western side of the coast—all fishing boats and repair yards. One road ended at a gate for a company but a man told us to go in where we saw machines that moved blocks of ice on conveyer belts above our heads and smashed them before dumping them into the ship’s hold. A perpendicular path took us through a vast space filled with long green fishing nets; the road then continued over swamp and towards towns nestled by the mountains. P1140559

Several new artists have arrived in the last month within a very diverse range of fields: architecture, music, sculpture, literature, graphic design, ceramics. We held an art talk for ourselves and it was fascinating to hear about everyone’s projects! Only wish I had more time to think about collaborations but now I’ve been here the longest out of everyone. I’m currently reading Shubnum’s novel, Onion Tears—really engrossing and a fun read, the setting so different from what I’m used to reading since it’s about an Indian family in South Africa. And can I say that I’m just a little bit in love with Ai’s photo collages? Oh and since we’re on the subject of artistic work, my friend Nathan (a fellow Hangzhou Fulbrighter from 2012) is working on a documentary about competitive yoga! I hadn’t even known the sport existed but it sounds pretty fascinating—here’s the concept: Posture: The World of Competitive Yoga,” explores the many controversies, lawsuits, and failed petitions for yoga to be recognized as an Olympic sport. The story follows several competitive yogis as they train towards the 2016 USA Yoga Federation’s National Tournament. This shit is about to get zen!” It comes out this winter. Check out their website and facebook page.

It’s pretty bittersweet now that my time here is coming to a close soon. I’ve loved meeting so many talented people (and learned a little bit about visual art, I think) but it’s been a bit hard watching people come and go since some only stay three months. And they’re scattered all over the globe! From Brazil to Germany to Serbia to Indonesia. But I’ve got a lot to keep me busy this last month: working on my “trace” to leave behind for the residency, visits to my relatives and my family’s hometown, and arts events. Plus, I’ll be participating in a few events in Suzhou for the Bookworm Literary Festival! I haven’t gotten much information about what I’ll be doing quite yet but will post once it’s all confirmed.

Oh, and here’s a photo of one crazy foggy day (not pollution!): P1140540

Happy New Year!

It’s Chinese New Year’s eve and it feels strange not being with family. On the street, the locals are burning paper money within chalk outlines, a circle with an opening. The smell of incense fills the air around the Jade Buddha temple and there are gates being set up, like the ones you tap your card on to get through to the metro station. Three cats sleep in a park near a building that references butterflies but I haven’t seen one around.

I walked along Suzhou Creek, past where I once saw a man with a monkey on a leash, without a destination in mind. On a street with the same name as my family’s Chinese hometown, an old complex lies half demolished amidst other buildings which have yet to be demolished—posters still on the walls where there are walls, empty frames of buildings when the walls are gone. Piles of rubble and bricks and plastic bags. Stray cats live here as well. But today was one of those days where you’re a bit in love with the world just for being there. IMG_20160207_152944

My reading+talk last month went well thanks to Josh at the consulate and his thoughtful questions and all the people who came despite the rain and listened to me and asked questions (shout-out to the Swatch crew and the current Hangzhou Fulbrighters!) Was happily surprised by those who came up to me afterwards with recommendations!
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Happy year of the monkey! We’re making dumplings tonight : ]

Oh and here’s my annual list of books I read (only 46 this year but I blame it on being in China):

1. We Are Not Ourselves- Matthew Thomas
2. Bed- Tao Lin (didn’t finish)
3. Land of Love and Drowning- Tiphanie Yanique
4. Almost Famous Women- Megan Mayhew Bergman
5. J- Howard Jacobson
6. One Story Collected- 2014 Literary Debutantes
7. There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, And He Hanged Himself: Love Stories- Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
8. Get in Trouble- Kelly Link
9. Young Woman in a Garden- Delia Sherman
10. Flings- Justin Taylor
11. We Have Always Lived in the Castle- Shirley Jackson
12. The Wilds- Julia Elliott
13. American Innovations- Rivka Galchen
14. Dept. of Speculation- Jenny Offill
15. Binary Star- Sarah Gerard
16. The Wallcreeper- Nell Zink
17. Maud’s Line- Margaret Verble
18. Wilberforce- H.S. Cross
19. Hausfrau- Jill Alexander Essbaum
20. The Miracle Girl- Andrew Roe
21. Make Your Home Among Strangers- Jennine Capo Crucet
22. Oh! You Pretty Things- Shanna Mahin
23. Come Along with Me- Shirley Jackson
24. Hangsaman- Shirley Jackson
25. The Lake- Banana Yoshimoto
26. Bark- Lorrie Moore
27. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China- Evan Osnos (NF)
28. You Never Can Tell- George Bernard Shaw
29. Monstress- Lysley Tenorio
30. Gutshot- Amelia Gray
31. Ruby- Cynthia Bond
32. Everything I Never Told You- Celeste Ng
33. The Memory Palace- Mira Bartok (NF)
34. Taipei- Tao Lin
35. Man V. Nature- Diane Cook
36. The Edge Becomes The Center- DW Gibson (NF)
37. Howl’s Moving Castle- Diana Wynne Jones (re-read)
38. Wind, Sand, & Stars- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (NF)
39. Station Eleven- Emily St. John Mandel
40. A Canticle for Leibowitz- Jr. Walter M. Miller
41. The Three Body Problem- Ciuxin Liu
42. Crazy Rich Asians- Kevin Kwan
43. How the Light Gets in- M.J. Hyland
44. One Day- David Nicholls
45. Fates & Furies- Lauren Groff
46. Brothers- Yu Hua

Ghosts

In the Huangpu river, the body of a woman floating. Face-down, black and white checked shirt, mini skirt, her hand still clutching a metallic silver handbag. Lights of the police boat flashing red and white and blue. This is the first body outside of a funeral. The way you feel upon seeing a body: disbelief, shock. Pudong is clouded so you can’t even see the tallest towers. It all feels surreal, a different sort of universe. The lights of Pudong are dark, it is midnight, and what you have seen haunts you like a ghost.

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On the first island, off a boat that rocked from side to side as though in a blender, we took a bus whose destination we didn’t know. From its final stop at the bus station, we walked through a tunnel and a farm, past baby goats and an army storage space that looked as though it were a storage house for farm machinery rather than for the locked plastic boxes they contained. The floors were unswept, the door left open. Some wood left in a room. A soldier found us and told A, “Let me see your photos.” A showed him and he said “Next one. Next one.” as though there were some secrets to be found through the lens of the camera that he didn’t already know.

Towards the beach, signs for bicycle rentals with only a phone number listed. No addresses. And a travel information building long left derelict, the window panes all smashed in so there was glass in piles on the ground, both inside and outside. And glass bottles too, as though they had forgotten to take out the recycling.

On the second floor of what used to be a restaurant, the remnants of a fire, blackened floors and damaged ceiling. A pack of dogs that barked at us then hid under the floorboards, unhappy at being disturbed. But someone had been feeding them—there was an ebike parked by the curving stairs, the railing unhinged and sagging, and food bowls scattered about.

The beach had an admission fee and a closed merry-go-round as well as an area where, during the high season, there would be shao kao, in an adjacent area with murals by local fishermen. Somehow the murals were all somewhat alike as though they’d all seen some Picasso paintings then tried to imitate them but using the sea as an inspiration. We didn’t go to the beach then but later, found another path further east, through a hole in the fence. It led us to two huge many-hued rocks on the beach, one topped with a pagoda. By the water, the rock was purple and covered with barnacles but further up, striations of pink and yellow and green. It was low tide and the sand was finer than what we have in New York.

Chongqing style grilled fish for dinner at 78 rmb and razor clams stir fried with scallions and garlic. At the hotel, our towels were tiny like washclothes and the water never quite got warm.

*

A leisurely ferry to another island, passing ones named Splendid Green Island and Flower Bird island. There are perched atop the hills spanning one island, neighbors with the buildings climbing up the slopes. The colors shifted dreamily, turquoise water, pale pink and blue sky without a sun. Along the way, packages get delivered to and from our ferry: dried noodles open to the air, boxes of eggs, engines and long cables go out and in return, a couple of bags of oysters, boxes of assorted goods, and even a three-wheeled cart, all rolled up a plank to go onto the boat.

By our dock, an entryway leads to machinery that take mussels still clinging to the rope to a finished, cooked state to perhaps be packaged for sale. Steam envelops the rooms and shards of mussel shells litter the floor. There are plastic baskets filled with live crabs but when I ask for a seafood restaurant recommendation, I am just told, “Walk forward. All the restaurants sell seafood.” Yet in the evening, at the restaurants, there are barely any crabs left.

Over the mountains that remind me of Jiufen, stairs past patios going up the mountains and tombs on the hills. There are terraces covered in the pink of dried shrimp and tiny crabs, some people calmly raking wavy lines through it all and laughing at us when we kneeled down to take photos. Following the road up, we are followed by a group of men who ask us where we come from. At first, I find it intimidating but once we answer their questions, they point us down the correct path, away from the army base, past the small temple, to the abandoned fishing village.

They are clustered all down the hill to where the waves crash upon the dock. Their windows are empty eyes from two story buildings, colorful mosaics on the fronts and sides in shades of pink and green. Vines tangle around the sides and into the doorways. Most of the buildings hold no furniture, only the remnants of sunken roofs and broken glass. The leaves of the vines are green shading to red and the village is silent but for the waves.

Between houses are wild chrysanthemums and many of the steps are covered with overgrown plants. Wild fig trees. But there are gardens here still being tended. Wilted bok choy and cabbage. We see the occasional gardener—I spoke to one and she said she lived in an adjacent village. It isn’t totally abandoned, there are a few houses with signs of life. A man lives in one of the houses, a banner hanging outside to perhaps inform the tourists from trespassing. He says that the village has been abandoned for 20 years due to inconvenience—no connection to a major road, hard for schoolchildren to get to school, the army base up top.

*

And on our last day, a walk to another island, past people mending fishing nets and dock workers. A group of men and one woman wave us over, offer us freshly caught and steamed crabs and we eat them standing up, spitting the shells onto the street the way they do, everything in one big pile to be swept away afterwards. Over the bridge to find that a pharmacy can only be found three towns over in Da Wang where there are murals painted on the walls and buses, even. Nets line the one highway we walk on, up and down the mountains—we kept thinking the dock from which to catch the ferry back to Shanghai was an hour’s walk away only to find it required another hour after that. There were so many small fishing docks there and out in the harbor, the mussel farms buoyed up by big styrofoam cylinders stretched out far far into the ocean.

Finally, the correct dock, standing alone without a town surrounding it. No other buildings, only mountain alongside. This last island was the wildest, I think, but we also walked alongside the ocean, a steep drop down. On the ferry ride back, a Shanghainese man talked to me about his love of travel, how he loves, too, the undiscovered places and not those that have been “opened” to the public with ticket prices and overcrowding and fake historic villages. “My friends think I’m crazy,” he says, “They don’t go out and travel and try to discover natural places the way I do.” It’s true that the travel mentality is different here and he gives me a few recommendations, writing them down in Chinese in my notebook. He tells me he finds most Chinese close-minded when it comes to travel, only going where everyone else has gone. And 6.5 hours later from when we reached the dock, we’re back home where everything feels so much more comfortable than it had before.

*I tried to put up photos but looks like my internet connection isn’t on my side. Sorry, maybe later.*

 

Those lakes, those mountains

Two years later, I’m back in China and although based in Shanghai this time, I went on a quick trip to Hangzhou, like I’d promised I would.P1130446

The mountains are as beautiful as ever as is West Lake, despite the rather terrible air pollution these last few days. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed nature after being in Shanghai for 3 weeks. I’d forgotten how much I loved the juxtaposition of city/tea fields/small villages/mountains/lake so close together, the changes so rapid. On my second day, M and I walked up behind the tea museum into the tea fields and up some steps and suddenly we were on Jilong Mountain and from there, to Tian Ma Mountain then down a dirt path to a quiet temple. P1130501 P1130509 P1130515

The first day was for West Lake, up the western edge, with brides in red posing on walkways floating over the water. Then south and east for dinner at Wai Po Jia because the western side has mostly mountains and temples. P1130453 P1130448

In the morning, a walk from my hostel in Siyanjing (Four eyed well) through Manjuelong and up past caves, one dark and filled with the music of water, another lined with carved statues appearing from the stone. To Nan gao feng where I helped an old man take photos. Mosquitos ate me alive and I have been itching since.

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But there’s something about climbing the mountains in Hangzhou that is just so satisfying. You can keep on going until you want to stop—there is no set entrance or exit and I like to imagine taking a days-long hike over the mountains, one after another after another; I don’t want it to end. The mountainside is lush and there’s a tranquillity to it—in a touristy city, it feels like a respite. P1130470

Europe Part III: Lyon & Barcelona

Lyon
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Traboules, I was told, were what we should look at. So, we’d see a sign, an open door or a lion’s head, and we’d walk through, peer at the courtyard around us. We’d cross the bridge over to Presqu’île for dinner, with its narrow alleys and stair-ed walkways bringing you higher and higher above the rest of the city. We bicycled around the city and one evening, went to the best restaurant called Le Comptoir du Vin where we feasted on a salad that was not called a salad but came with beautifully crisp roasted potatoes, blue cheese, and prosciutto draped on top as well as pork in a crème sauce. We wandered through Parc Tete D’Or by foot and by bicycle—their zoo was delightful, with a leopard crashing about in the undergrowth of his lair and deer that wanted to befriend us. At the Velodrome, there was a race happening and we also ran into an outdoor concert of xylophones (or were they glockenspiels?) and stayed for their last song.

P1130276There were Roman ruins galore and free admission for some reason at the museum by the ruins in Fourvière. The basilica there was beautiful, full of shining colored mosaics on the walls.We rode to the Confluence, where the Rhône and the Saône meet, past buildings that looked as though they belonged to the future, past a tributary of the river on which some contestants seemed to be battling it out with inflatable rafts and obstacles, to the little spit of land that led straight into the water. Then we slid down this structure by the museum there that all the kids were sliding down, including young mothers with small babies. It left your pants and hands white. There were croissants every day and in the end, we were sad to leave. P1130279 P1130286

Barcelona
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Gaudi and even more Gaudi.
Sagrada Familia, of course, with a trip up the tower to see the Glory facade but there wasn’t much of a view from the top. A shame that there was graffiti inside the narrow circular stairwell, so that certain windowed areas had to be encased in glass. There was Park Güell and Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. For the last few, we rode bicycles through the neighborhoods around the houses, down one-way alleys that opened up to little hidden squares where the community gathered with kids playing and the occasional market.
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The first few days, we were unimpressed by Barcelona’s architecture—we’d stayed in El Pablenou, very near Parc de la Ciutadella, which was dominated by rather dreary high-rises although Born and El Raval had more interesting buildings. The restaurants around the area reminded me of Mexico and Costa Rica, dingy little storefronts with a host of tables outside on the sidewalk. A menu mostly of sandwiches and platters with eggs or french fries. We went to the beach our first day—the water was cool but we got acclimated to it enough to swim for a bit before we walked down the boardwalk and watched a bunch of shiny tanned men working out on the public pull-up bars. Fascinating to see a whole routine being done on the beach. A vegetable paella for dinner with a surprisingly delicious pasta bolognese as a starter (yes, a rather weird combination but it was all tasty!) Another day, we went to Mercado de La Boqueria with its huge assortment of vendors—fresh juices (although a bit watered down, I thought!) and fruits, cones of  jamon Iberico, tons of seafood, spices…I realized after the fact that I didn’t take a single photo of the market but it’s a crowded one. At least I have one photo of my jamon!P1130297P1130321IMG_20150926_112702

The Mercé Festival was also happening during the time we were in Barcelona. We tried to see the human pyramid event but the alleyways all around the square were mostly all blocked and the crowds just kept carrying us away from the square—we weren’t the only ones who A) were very confused about the correct direction and B) just didn’t make it. What was a bit frustrating though were the amount of strollers. When going down a narrow, crowded alley, it’s hard not to get a bit annoyed with those tourists who had brought strollers to try to see the event. We did get to see the closing fireworks show at Plaça d’Espanya which was quite fun with the magic fountain, the music, and the fireworks. We’d actually gone to Montjuïc during the day, up to the castle and found ourselves watching the Catalan Folk Festival featuring performers from Estonia, Romania, Colombia, and elsewhere while eating freshly fried churros. The castle was more of a fort but did have a lovely view over the shipping container yards and the ocean and a soundtrack of some very chatty seagulls. We decided to walk down rather than take the funicular and found ourselves in the gardens, meandering down little paths that showed us musical steps and fountains. IMG_20150923_181436 IMG_20150923_173937

Another day, we took the train out to Montserrat and then the cable car up for about 20 euros combined. These are very different mountains from Chamonix, bulbous and finger shaped, but seemed quite great for the climbers we saw everywhere since the rock was so rough and had so many nooks and crannies. We took the long route starting from the monastery to Sant Miquel to Sant Joan then eventually to Sant Jeroni. Most of the trek was very pleasant and fairly easy with large, well-marked paths and then steps up the exposed mountainside to Sant Jeroni although the path back from Sant Jeroni back to Montserrat was mostly steep and narrow stairs (which is probably why the map indicated that it was one way! But there were a few people coming the wrong way up, maybe because they didn’t want to trek all the way to Sant Joan first.) IMG_20150925_131850 IMG_20150925_132421