19 November 2009

From Nar to Bar

One of the many many wonderful things about Europe is how easy it is, in the matter of a few hours, to be in an entirely new place.  Hopping the train from Narbonne to Barcelona, we felt this immediately.  When we stepped off onto the platform in Barcelona, everything was just so different.  A different language, different customs, different attitude, different cuisine, different landscape.  

We only had a short stay in Barcelona, but it made a strong impression.  From what we saw, Barcelona is a vibrant, diverse, relaxed, and fun-loving city.

Perched between the Collserola mountain range and the shores of the mediterranean, Barcelona is a visually impressive city.  City planners have definitely taken advantage of this asset -- there is lots of green space all over and a great beach front.  

Barcelona seems like the kind of place where people are going, going, going all the time, but also understand the importance of taking it easy (sometimes even in the middle of the street?).

While many of Barcelona's buildings are quite modern, there are definitely some grand old places like the kinds you'd expect to find in a big European city.  This is the National Museum of Art of Catalonia.  

One of the centers of activity in Barcelona is La Rambla, a long pedestrian street through the center of the city leading to the shore.  Markets, shops, restaurants, and lots of people...

The Cathedral of Barcelona, constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries.  

In stark contrast to this imposing, serious old building is all the funky modern art all over the city.

Catalan modernisme art and architecture left quite a legacy in Barcelona. The style was dominant from about 1880 until the 1950s and its mark is everywhere in the city, like this prominent sculpture near the beach. 

The best known modernisme artist was Antoni Gaudi.  The movement he helped to define was defined by Catalan nationalism and a rejection of bourgeois values.  Gaudi's work is characterized by rich decoration, bright colors, inspiration from nature and whimsical curves.

Park Guell is one of the best examples of Gaudi's creative genius.   

It is an enormous park on a hill with architectural elements both blending in with and extenuating the natural beauty of the area. 

A great thing about Park Guell is the buskers playing really good music around every corner.  These guys were maybe the best street musicians we've ever seen.   Very Barcelona.

One of the best parts about Barcelona is its water front...where residents and tourists alike come for a fun time.

17 November 2009

Work It Guuurl

Our time here has been more than just frolicking along the canal, nibbling cheese, and sipping wine...we work too!

Here is the crew we've been with for most of the time at Chateau Ventenac. You probably recognize the two work-horses on the left...then comes MaryAnne, Nick and Lexi from England and Nina from Australia.

One of our biggest projects here, and by far the one we are the most proud of, is the banister.

See the before and after? From drab to fab!!!!

Notice the fine gold detail work...we're no amateurs anymore.

Some of the spots were incredibly hard to reach. The only way to get to these pesky lil spots was to dangle a vanity mirror over the ledge and hope for the best.

More projects: Nick and MaryAnne painting the front windows and Nina getting her caulk on.

Here is a shot of our lovely bedroom...we added our personal touch by doing the blue swirly accent work on the doors to the bathroom and the closet.

After a long day, a cold beer!

16 November 2009

La Ville en Rose

With so much to do and see in the local area, we haven't strayed very far from Ventenac. But, we also didn't want to waste the opportunity of being close to so many exciting places without giving them a chance...so we made a road trip (aka train trip) to Toulouse.

We were up bright and early, greeted by a peaceful, misty sunrise.

We arrived at the Lezignan-Corbieres SNCF train station and boarded our speedy "TGV" train to Toulouse. The French have mastered the art of effective, enjoyable train travel. Trains are almost always on time, clean, and the journey is smooooooth.

Nina admiring the gorgeous landscape between Lezignan and Toulose -- rolling green hills, quaint farms, sleepy villages, vineyards, and the Canal du Midi.

We arrived in Toulouse at 9:00 and had an entire day to wander the lovely winding streets, do a little window shopping, and visit some of the important landmarks. Toulouse was a very accessible place to visit. It is a big city, but not overwhelmingly so and the people seemed warm and welcoming.

One of the trademarks of the city is the "rose" colored brick that most of the building are constructed out of, hence the nickname "la ville en rose."

Could he be more French?? Non.

Teenagers hanging out, soaking up some sunlight, during a break from school.

Our lunch spot of choice was the always happening Place St. Georges. The perfect French scene: a tree spotted square, cafes, people out enjoying each others' company with a glass of wine or coffee, and a few pigeons.

The church of "Les Jacobins." Les Jacobins is an immense 13th century gothic cathedral in the center of Toulouse. Without any pews to ground it, the first thing you notice is the incredible height of the place. The eye is immediately drawn up along the huge pillars and stained glass windows to the vaulted ceiling.

They even placed a mirror around one of the pillars at the end so everyone can fully admire the ceiling. Even the French pre-teens thought it was tres cool!

We did lots of wandering and ended up in the Jardins des Plantes where we made some great friends.

The sight of the old mill.

After a long day of touring, we were ready to board our train back to Lezignan. The train stations have huge lighted signs with the departure times and "voie" that the trains will be leaving from. People all gather around, looking up at the sign and waiting for their "voie" number to show up. When the number finally goes up it's a sudden mad dash to the trains like there is only one good seat and everyone is trying to get it. We have yet to figure out the reasoning for this, especially when there are assigned seats...