Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gaudi Gaudi and Montserrat

The ever reliable cab/tour driver turned up exactly on time and took us on our personal tour of Barcelona. First through the narrow cobbled streets of the old quarter (where we are staying) past the Cathedral and the Brandenburg style gate to the business area and onto La Famiglia Sagrada. LaFamiglia is the most grand and differently ornate cathedral designed and commenced by Gaudi but unfinished due to his death, then the Spanish Civil war (I think- must check), the World War and the cost of its completion. However now it is being worked on and getting closer to completion which is fantastic but it mean there are cranes everywhere which does interfere with ones possible photo angles. We walked around the perimeter of the building and then back to our reliable tour vehicle.
Next stop was Gaudi Park- it is actually called Park Guell as it was commissioned by Eusebi G├╝ell who wanted to create a stylish park for Barcelona aristocracy. The park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tiling and fascinating buildings. There is a walkway supported by twisting rock pillars that seem to be growing out of the ground like tree trunks. It was photographers heaven trying to capture the shapes and colours.
But there was more to see in our tour so back in the car and off to Montserrat. The Benedictine Monk retreat at Montserrat offered some of the most spectacular mountain views of Catalunya. There is a holy grotto and our guide timed our trip so that we were there in time to hear the Montserrat Choir boys recital. There is no better way to admire the beauty of a church than to be there when the choir is singing. I had visited the monastery in 1980 and my memory of it included the black Madonna and really very little else so it was lovely to be able to admire the views yet again.
Despite the time of year it has been warm enough although on the mountains a long sleeved t-shirt and vest weren't quite enough.
Back in to town and the end of our tour, where our guide dropped us at the Picasso museum, at least at the end of the lane along which is the museum. We availed ourselves of the opportunity to try some gelati and strolled along the lane. Sue left us as she needed to get a little work done for one of her schools which had sought her help- so she headed back leaving us to stroll through the museum. Picasso is not my favourite artist I have to say although there are enough of his early works and some of his later work that I do like. I didn't particularly like his ceramics despite the fact that they said it marked a change in the way ceramics were done?!
The adventure continued after our sojourn at the gallery- we had to find our way back (without Sue our GPS) with a rather skimpy map. However we managed very well as luckily the "placa" we are staying in is one of the points of interest and we were able to find little blue tourist signs indicating our way.
We ended our day with.... tapas having strolled around our area doing a little shopping and some more photos.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Where do I begin?

Barcelona!!!! What a wonderful place! The main parts we have explored have been to do with Gaudi and still I have not had my fill.
When we arrived here yesterday, all five of us, we needed a larger car than one would normally so we found a company with larger cabs. I wasn't going to travel by train or bus again to get to our apartment. We had be on the go for 12 hours after a days work and as far as I was concerned we didn't need to use public transport- get me there the fastest way possible. So eventually Sergio arrived- charming and Spanish- sorry Catalan and absolutely chuffed to be driving Julia Roberts! (That's another story).
He was wonderful drove us to where our apartment is in the middle of the old district (where no cars can regularly go but cabs can) and then found the apartment in the middle of the Sant de Josep Oriel Placa (the Spanish sorta doesn't translate here). When I say in the middle it's actually above a Tapas bar which has become our local tapas. I digress.... our cab driver was wonderful... he not only worked out where the place is but rang the bell and schlepped our luggage and arranged to be our personal tour guide tomorrow to take us out to Montserrat and other locales.

We spent the remainder of the day seeking our equilibrium- that is trying to work out who and where we were. We made the most of our local Tapas place and then walked around the local shopping area. Of course we got lost as it got dark and shops shut and shutters cam down and things looked different but we made our way back through the windy narrow streets to our square and our apartment on the first (2nd for USA) floor apartment. Oh our apartment! It is a 5 bedroom place with three bathrooms and an enormous kitchen and a smaller lounge room.
And so to today- it is Sue's birthday and she has had a grand day as have we. She chose to try on all her birthday gifts at one time including the funny hat Judy had me bring for her
Breakfast was late and a feast of scrambled eggs and the grand idea of getting coffee from our tapas bar. It was great coffee and they actually had home delivery!

Once we were finally organized we headed for the subway and for our first Gaudi locale. La Pedrera, the Gaudi apartments, another having first spent time working out the train system and watching the amazing street performances.
A late lunch (3pm) at ....Yes a tapas bar ... and onto the next Gaudi gorgeous environment Casa Batillo. Talk about photographers heaven we snapped and snapped and then departed from the building and headed back to the Ramblas and walking toward home but first a stop in the market for some food for dinner (9pm) and an evening at home.
The day has been one glorious vista after another.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Heading off.... again!

It is almost Thanksgiving- well next week anyway and for AUSSIE consultants in NYC it is a chance to add a few days together and head off one some adventure. This year Sue and I have some other friends traveling with us and we are heading (any minute now) to the airport and our flight to Barcelona where we'll stay in an apartment for a few days and then join our Celebrity Cruise of the Western Mediterranean.
To say we are a little excited is to put it mildly. The thought of no work and lots of fun for a large number of days (14 to be precise- 10 on the cruise and the rest in Barcelona and traveling) is almost more than we can think about.
So yesterday was spent packing and washing and repacking. Now having rushed home from work the last few items are in the trusty suitcase (and my laptop ready for emails and updates of blogs) and so to the airport! Yay!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Having worked hard all day with the Assistant Principals network I got back to the apartment. I usually check the mail as I arrive home and this time there was a parcel for me. I thought all my online shopping had been delivered and perhaps this was the parcel Michele had said would be arriving soon, but no it was a US postal service box.
I was even more puzzled as I only vaguely recognized the sender's name. Back in the apartment I opened it and there nestled in a cloth bag was a "Comfort Afghan". Each square of the rug has been crocheted by a different person from different place in the US and assembled by Alex Lundgren. A familiar sounding name but I just needed to investigate a little further.... and sure enough she is one of the group of wonderful women who visit, learn and share through the Debbie Hodge Get it Scrapped website and classes.
How incredibly kind, thoughtful and comforting to know that there are people... friends , who will put such care and thought into supporting others whom they don't really know. They do know that times can be difficult and they find a way to comfort and nurture you.
Thank you Alex and all those wonderful women who spent time creating their part of my Comfort Afghan Rug.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Island adventure

Having spent last Monday visiting new schools it was time to actually start working at them. Today's one was on Staten Island. I was pleased to note that near the school there was an express bus stop. Great! Wrong- they don't start running in that direction, ie Manhattan to Staten Island until later in the morning. It takes about an hour at least on the bus, depending on traffic, so the 7:30 am express bus wouldn't get me to the school before 8:30am and given that they start at 8:02 (don't ask me why that precise time) then I wasn't going to be able to catch the express bus there.
So it was time to check out the internet and hopstop. That was an adventure in itself too trying to get the quickest, shortest combinations of train and /or bus and /or ferry.
The decision came down to the "1" train to South Ferry, the Staten Island Ferry and then a taxi- this would all take about 1.5 hours so given that my departure time was 6:30!!! Sparrows weren't even up let alone f**ting!
But in true either "Pollyanna style" or "Stephen Covey- the only person you can change is yourself style I decided my attitude to it all needed to change and so it became the next step in the big adventure that is education consultancy in New York City.
It was my first time on the Staten Island Ferry. I didn't even know how to find where it was once I got to South Ferry but did the usual commuter thing- followed the crowd. I didn't even have to go outside- it's all linked very nicely thank you very much.
The ferry ride was quite peaceful- no stopping and starting for 29 minutes or so and there wasn't too large a crowd. The crowd steamed off in Manhattan before we boarded. I was on the wrong side to see the Statue of Liberty (duffer) but I had a grand view of the Verrazano Bridge. Although the windows were so salt laden it was difficult to get a really good view (on the camera) of anything.

Once off the ferrry there was a rather nasty time with acquiring a taxi- I know the drivers have to make a living but being "stalked" at that time of the morning (at any time really but early on a Thursday morning) is pretty yucky. I eventually gave in to one of the greater stalkers and actually had a decent trip to the school.
By this time I felt I'd done a day's work already but still had to work- and work hard I did. The leadership team of the school spent the day with me working through what they do and what plans they have and ways we can develop them further.
Then it was time to make the return journey. The literacy coach offered to drive me to the ferry- how nice was that given that it was about 20-25 minutes away. She said she used to visit her sister on Staten Island when she was living in Manhattan and basically said it was a "water bag and compass trip".
This time I sat on the side that would give me views of the Statue of Liberty. It was such a grey rainy day that the views were murky but she is still an inspirational thing to see. I got home about 5:30 and had to do my photocopying for the Assistant Principal network workshop but even so that couldn't take away from the great feeling of achievement I had in getting to and from Staten Island- only 14 more trips to do!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Good friends

It always amazes me what generous, thoughtful and interesting friends one can have.
Leonie came to our apartment for a "sleepover" on Monday, the intention being that we would go for a drive today. That is in fact what we did but what a great journey we had. The decision was that we would visit Sag Harbor, Long Island. It was quite a distance there and back but it was the journey we were enjoying. And Leonie did all the driving.

Getting out of Manhattan took a while even with, or because of, the GPS. It took us via all the traffic but Sue and I got to do a bit of window shopping along the way and saw some interesting sights.

Out on the freeway we had great vistas including the views of trees in various stages of autumnal glory. The weather was perfect for enjoying all that the countryside had to offer (safely in the back seat of the car of course).

We had lunch in Sag Harbor and then had a walk around the area all utilizing our SLR digital cameras. Actually it was my usual camera, Sue has only just bought one the same as mine and used the time to get to know its workings, getting ready for our cruise next week. Leonie had borrowed Alan's SLR and was enjoying the flexibility SLR's give you.

Having done our photo shoot it was time to start heading back to Manhattan but this time via Shelter Island. Two ferry rides and beautiful vistas again!

We got back to Brooklyn where Sue and I caught the subway back to our apartment and Leonie headed back to Park Slope. Her generosity and thoughtfulness we both truly appreciated- not only the driving (and the fuel) but also her time, friendship and company. I don't know how she'd manage to get up the next day as Sue and I were truly exhausted and tried to get some work prepared when we got home but chose to delay it until early next day.
It was a lovely day all round.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

During the week

It has been a week that has flown by with lots of work to get done but some social aspects to life too. Today I'm spending the time getting my well and truly overdue thanks to people out and done.
I was going to attach my thanks and the card from the family to my emails but it was all taking so long that I gave up but was still able to get letters/ emails to people thanking them.
Things tend to catch you unawares and Kath's (my niece) blog was enough to have me catching my breath and thankful that she does have people she can talk with when she was unable to talk with "Gran".
It brings home even more how "private" she was although public with her political opinions. It has been strange not writing to her and telling her the ins and outs of my week- giving my version of what has happened and how it has affected me and those around me.
This week I would have written to my mother about the election and what an exciting time it was in New York and the "US of A" (as she insisted addressing her letters, or comments at least).
Like others I find myself thinking about what and how I would tell her about things.
On Tuesday we had an amazing walk back from the New York Times Building. Crowds had gathered to watch the "count" on the big screens through Times Square- the crowds spilling on to the road with police valiantly trying to keep them on the footpaths but to all intents and purposes the viewers ignored them.
People were out with signs and music and eager to see and hear the result of the election. The scenes were like none other seen around an election.
We continued on our walk back through to the Rockefeller Centre to see the "tradition" of the progress of the count via the "ribbons" being drawn up the side of the towers. It was crowded and difficult to see much. The atmosphere in Times Square was far more exciting and intriguing.

We came home and watched the closing of the polling stations on the east coast. Just as 11 pm struck a roar went up from Times Square (which we could hear) and didn't stop for at least an hour and a half. It was still going when I went to bed after midnight. The vibrancy of the crowd and the event was much more exciting and spontaneous than New Year's Eve.
And then we had to front up for work the next day- I was exhausted by the end of the day but not so tired as the principal I was talknig with on Thursday who had stayed up until 4:30am watching the count and the repeat of speeches and events throughout the country.

It was fascinating to be here and be a part of it all even if on the periphery.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

The day dawned for us really early as we had to go to work however Judy was also up early showered, dressed and out the door at 6am. Not to go to work but to go and vote. How exciting! There is a polling booth on 48th St near 8th Avenue so it was a short walk. While she was out we saw on the news that there were queues for the polling booths so we thought she may not be back until after we headed to work. But she was back in high dudgeon having exercised her right to vote.
We had to leave to get to work- at least I left and headed for Staples to copy the materials I needed for the day's workshop. It all went very well and now I'm home early enough to rest before heading out to the New York Times Theatre to hear some columnists talk about the election and then we plan to head back home via Times Square and off to Rockefeller Centre's Election Plaza. Hopefully the crowds won't be as bad as they are on the night of lighting the tree.
The ice rink at the plaza is used to light up each of the states depending on whether the state goes Republican (red) or Democrat (blue). They also have a count of the votes on the side of one of the Rockefeller Towers. Perhaps some photos later but I need to have a snack before we head off as the American food for dinner will not be until 8pm.
Mnay of those we worked with today needed to head off as early as they could to vote as the polling booths close at 6pm.
Hopefully- more later.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The time has come....

... this walrus is saying (I hope you manage the allusion to Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and The Carpenter) I need to talk of many things.... not the least which is I am now finally feeling settled back in NYC.
Thank you to all those friends (both new and longer term) who have contacted me online, by phone, by mail and in all manner of ways expressing their sympathy and condolences. I really want to post about all that has happened over the past weeks and more importantly about Maddy (my step-mother) who died on October 8th at about 6pm. She was indeed a wonderful woman and at some time soon I hope to share with many how wonderful and amazing she was.
I left many in my family dealing with the harder issues of settling estates and awaiting probate- mainly my sister Michele and brother Andrew who both live in Melbourne so in the same city as the "ancestral seat".
Since I have been back in NYC work has been pretty well all consuming as well as trying to get my head together after the flight and coping with Sue being very sick with pneumonia. She is on the mend but hasn't been able to work for three weeks and begins work again tomorrow.
So having made a start of blogging again here I go for the next few weeks at least... until this may be interrupted by our tour of the Western Mediterranean late November.