Vietnam – Day 7 – Hanoi

Today I woke up at 5:30am. Notice a trend here; I’m not really able to wake up at a normal time yet, despite being here a week. Breakfast at the O’Galley Majestic Hotel & Spa started at 6:30am, and I was starving, so I waited until it opened and rushed down to the basement. I was not disappointed at all; there was so many different options to choose from at the buffet.

After breakfast I went and visited the famous Hanoi rail track again, as they were on the way to my next stop which was a wall of ceramic murals along the Durong Tran Quang Khai highway, which was a few kilometer walk away. The tracks were less lively during the morning, than last night, but there were still some people doing food prep, and building repairs.

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The ceramic murals were quite intricate, and stretch a total length of 6.5 kilometers (4.0 miles). They were developed between 2007 and 2010 to celebrate the Millennial Anniversary of Hanoi.

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After visiting the ceramic murals I walked to the nearby Dong Xuan Market. One word can describe this place; chaos. This market has everything you could possibly dream of in one place, with some tremendous deals to be had on clothing, electronics, jewelry, etc. It’s absolutely packed and seems like a tremendous fire hazard waiting to happen, but it was still unique to see. I didn’t purchase anything there. The market was originally built by the French in 1889, and has been renovated many times since, with the latest iteration in 1994 after a fire broke out, almost destroying the market entirely… As you can see not much has changed. I noticed a ton of expired fire extinguishers stuffed underneath the escalators and stairs…

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After visiting the Dong Xuan Market I visited Bach Ma Temple. The temple was originally built in 1010, by the Ly Dynasty. It honors a white horse, which was thought to be an incarnation of a local river god. The temple was rebuilt in the 18th century after severe flooding damaged the original building.

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After visiting Bach Ma Temple I strolled over to Hoan Kiem Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword”. An old wives tale suggests that in 1428, Emperor Le Loi was boating on the lake when the Golden Turtle God named Kim Qui surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. The Emperor came to the conclusion that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that it’s master, Dragon King Long Vuong had given Loi during the revolt against Ming China. The Emperor gave the sword back to the Golden Turtle after finishing fighting the Chinese. I relaxed for a bit along the lake, taking pictures of the Turtle Tower, The Huc Bridge, and Jade Island.

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After relaxing along Hoan Kiem Lake it was time to find some lunch. I settled on a Japanese restaurant called Moto-San. I decided to have some ramen noodle bowl and some sushi while enjoying all the racy propaganda art strewn around the interior of the building.

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After lunch I walked back to the hotel, as I was feeling pretty exhausted and just wanted to relax at the pool. I got back to the hotel at around 2:30pm and relaxed by the pool with some beers until around 5:00pm.

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At 5:00pm I walked around the government area near my hotel and took some pictures of the buildings before walking to the very famous Bun Cha Huong Lien Obama, where former US President Obama and Anthony Bourdain ate on May 23rd 2016.

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After dinner I took a GRAB back to the hotel for 32000 Dong ($2 CDN). I had to pack my bags as I was off to Ninh Binh early. tomorrow morning.

Check back tomorrow when I travel to the countryside and visit Ninh Binh, also known as the Inland Ha Long Bay.

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Portland – Day 2 – Exploring Portland

The next morning, I started off the day by smashing my left foot on Catherine’s bag and breaking one of my toes. We made a new rule that we are to leave our bags in the corner of the room to prevent that happening again. We started out the day with some Starbucks coffee and breakfast. Next, we walked around downtown Portland exploring all the sights. The first stop was Keller Fountain Park, which was closed for the remainder of the year for extensive repairs and renovations. While I didn’t take any pictures of Keller Fountain Park I did see some pretty interesting sights along the way.

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The next stop was Chapman square. Chapman is center of three squares that comprise the Plaza Blocks which are bounded by Third and Fourth Avenues and Salmon and Jefferson Streets. The center square is named for former Iowa territorial legislator Virginian William Williams Chapman, who sold the land to the city in 1870. Chapman Square, originally designed for the exclusive use of women and children, and features all female gingko trees. Lownsdale Square, the square to the North, was to be the “gentlemen’s gathering place.” Fortunately today men and women can now safely coexist in either of them.

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The next stop was Mill Ends Park. Mill Ends Park is a 452 square inch park located in the median trip of SW Naito Parkway. The Guinness Book of Records recognized the park as the smallest park in the world in 1971. The history of the park starting in 1948, when a hole that was intended for a light pole never received its light pole and weeds started growing in the opening. The park was named by Dick Fagan, a columnist for the Oregon Journal. He planted flower in the hole and named it after his column in the paper, “Mill Ends”. This park has had some interesting history occur over the decades and has been home to such items as a swimming pool for butterflies (complete with a diving board), a fragment of the old journal building, and a miniature Ferris Wheel (which was delivered by a full sized crane). In 2001, on St. Patrick’s Day, the park had a tiny leprechaun leaning against a pot of gold and a children’s drawing of glovers and leprechauns. The park was temporarily relocated in February 2006 during road construction. In December 2011, plastic army figures and small signs were placed inside the park as a mock of the Occupy Portland movement. In March 2013, the park’s tree was stolen. A new tree was planted, and the next day the stolen tree was found lying next to the new one. In April 2013, officials from Burntwood complained to Guinness, claiming that Mill Ends was not large enough to be a park and that Prince’s Park, smallest in the UK, should hold the world record because it had a fence around it. In response Portlandians built a fence that was a few inches tall around and placed an armed figurine in the park. In 2018, Portland Parks & Recreation installed a miniaturized park sign and planted miniature roses.

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The next stop was Voodoo Doughnut. Portland is known for two doughnut shops; Blue Star Donuts and Voodoo Doughnut. We ended up trying both on this trip and preferred Blue Star over the two, but more on that in a later post. Voodoo Doughnut has seven locations throughout the states, with two right here in Portland. The original location, which we went to, was opened in 2003. There are over 100 varieties of donuts in total ranging from simple glazed doughnuts to extravagant donuts such as the “Captain my Captain” doughnut which has captain crunch cereal on it. Voodoo Doughnut has offered some strange varieties in the past such a the Nyquil Glazed and Vanilla Pepto Crushed Tums doughnuts, but these are no longer available due to order of health officials. In addition to doughnuts, they also offer legal wedding services, complete with doughnuts and coffee for the reception. I had The Loop, which is a raised yeast doughnut with vanilla frosting and Fruit Loops. Catherine opted for Chuckles, which is a raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting dripped in mocha powder and topped with peanuts, caramel, and chocolate drizzle.

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After stopping at Voodoo doughnuts we explored Chinatown. We came across Lan Su Chinese Garden, which was absolutely beautiful. We only looking at it from the outside due to the fact we though the entrance fee of $11 USD was a bit steep for the small but beautiful garden. I messed around with my camera for quite a bit here because it was so pretty, playing around with different depths of field and lighting. The garden was envisioned back in 1988 when Portland and Suzhou, China became sister cities. The garden was built on leased land donated by NW Natural in China Town. The garden was designed by Kuang Zhen and built by 65 artisans from Suzhou. The park was officially opened on September 14, 2000. The name of the park is a blend of the names Suzhou and Portland; Su representing Suzhou and Lan representing Portland.

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Next up was checking out Powell’s City of Books. Powell’s City of Books is the Powell’s Books headquarters and is the world’s largest bookstore. The family owned and operated book store occupies over 68000 square feet of retail floor space and has nine color-coded rooms and over 3500 sections to choose from. The book store has about four million new and used books; some of which are even out-of-print. Powell’s even buys used books; purchasing about 3000 used books a day!

The Powell company was founded by Walter Powell in 1971. Water’s son Michael had opened a bookstore in Chicago, Illinois in 1970, which specialized in used and hard to find books that were primarily academic books. Michael joined his father in Portland in 1979 when he’s fathers store in Portland was not offered a lease renewal; and thus abandoned Chicago. They both found a great location for the new headquarters, which is the same building that Powell’s City of Books stands today.

In 1982 Michael purchased the bookstore from his father. In 1984 a second Portland bookstore was opened in a shopping mall in the suburbs near Washington Square. Over the years a few other stores were opened, and a few closed, with 5 still in place today; including one location at PDX airport. The City of Books headquarters grew over the years with its first expansion in 1999, and a major expansion in 2008 with two new floors being added to the stores southeast corner. Michael handed over management of the bookstore to his daughter Emily in July 2010.

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After visiting Powell Books we were both starving so we went to Grilled Cheese Grill, which was in the parking lot that has about 50 different foods trucks parked in it. I ordered The Moondog, which was a grilled cheese sandwich with Provolone, Hard Salami, Pepperoni, Sliced Tomato and Green Olive Tapenade on Sourdough Bread, served with sour cream and onion chips and a pickle. Catherine had The B.T.G.C., which was a grilled cheese sandwich with Tillamook Cheddar and Bacon with Tomato on Sourdough bread, also served with sour cream and onion chips and a pickle.
After eating our lunch we started the long walk up and out of the city to the west to the International Rose Test Gardens and Japanese Gardens. The journey took roughly 45 minutes. The rose gardens were absolutely beautiful and has a bunch of fully bloomed roses as well as some junior trees that had not bloomed yet. After finding out the price of the Japanese gardens was $19/pp we opted against them as we had both seen some amazing gardens in Japan in the past.

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The next stop on the list was Pittock Mansion, a French Renaissance-style chateau in West Hills overlooking the entire city. As it was 600 feet of elevation gain and my broken toe was causing me some agony, we opted to take an Uber. We had a wonderful lady named Melissa. Melissa was originally from New York and had lived in Canada for 26 years before coming to Portland. The drive was about ten minutes and I’m very glad we opted for the Uber instead of walking.

Pittock Mansion was originally built in 1914 for Henry Pittock and his wife. The 46 room mansion was built of sandstone. Construction was started in 1909 and wasn’t officially completed until 1914. The mansion was designed by Edward Foulkes, from San Francisco. The mansion feature technology only the very wealthy could afford; such as a central vacuum system, intercoms, lighting, an elevator, and a refrigerator. Henry’s wife Georgiana died in 1918 at the age of 72, and Henry died the following year at the age of 84. The Pittock family remained in the mansion until 1958, when it was put up for sale by one of the Grandsons. The mansion went unsold an a very bad storm ended up causing extensive damage to the home. The local community raised funds to have the mansion restored. In 1964 the City of Portland purchased the estate for $225,000. A 15-month restoration project was initiated and the mansion was opened to the public in 1965 and has been a Portland landmark since. The view from the top of the hill that Pittock Mansion sat on was amazing. There were amazing views of the entire city, the port, and Mount Hood.

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After visiting Pittock Mansion we walked roughly 40 minutes through the forest to Witches Castle in Macleay Park. It actually wasn’t as exciting as the internet made it out to be so I’d honestly give it a skip if anyone is visiting Portland and is thinking about visiting it. It’s just an abandoned house with some graffiti.

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It was time to head back to the hotel so we could get ready for the Darci Lynne show. Again, because my foot was killing me and we had already walked nearly 20km I booked us an Uber. We had a lady named Marilyn who had nearly 20000 Uber clients over the 5 years she had been driving for Uber, which is quite impressive. She was into photography and graphics design so we had quite the chat during our rush hour commute back into the city.

After being dropped off at the hotel we got ready for the Darci Lynne show and enjoyed an IPA beer and cider in the hotel lounge area before walking over to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall at Portland’5 Centers For The Arts. Portland’5 Centers For The Arts was established in 1987, as Portland Center For The Performing Arts (PCPA). The campus consists of three buildings; Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Antoinette Hatfield Hall, and Keller Auditorium. PCPA changed its name to “Portland’5 Centers for the Arts” in 2013. The “5” in the brand name is intended to highlight that the organization has five separate venues, by counting separately the three theaters that occupy Antoinette Hatfield Hall.

Darci Lynne, a 14 year-old singing ventriloquist, performed her Darci Lynne & Friends “Fresh Out Of The Box” show and I must say she was even better in person than she was on YouTube and America’s Got Talent (AGT). Darci Lynne was the winner of season twelve of AGT and received 2nd place on AGT: The Champions. No photos or videos are allowed in the venue, but if you go on YouTube you can find videos of her performing her acts.

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After the show we walked back to the hotel to change into some warmer clothes before walking back to Deschutes Brewery again. We loved the place so much the previous night that we decided to come back. I tried a few more beers and Catherine had another cider. I tried Blushing Brut Rose, Lil’ Squeezy Juice Ale, and The Kveik Freak. We shared some garlic cheese fries and something called Sweet Fire Cheese, which is a pistachio biscotti topped with fresh chevre and marionberry-habanero jam. After eating and drinking we walked back to the hotel and went to bed as we were both tired.

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Check back tomorrow when we explore the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, and Wings and Waves Waterpark!

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Chile – Day 1 – Travel Day & Santiago

I have to start of with an apology for a half month delay for this travel series. Internet connectivity was questionable at the majority of places we visited, and I was combating a very nasty flu which left me with little energy to write. Anyways, let the adventure begin!

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Today was mostly a travel day for us. We woke up at 8am, got ready and my dad drove us to the airport. We travelled from Calgary to Toronto on one of Air Canada’s last Boeing 767-300ER flights before they are retired from mainline service to Air Canada Rouge; a low-cost subsidiary of Air Canada. The flight departed Calgary at 11:45am and we arrived in Toronto at 5:15pm. After a 2 hour layover in Toronto we departed for Santiago on Air Canada’s flagship Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. The flight arrived the next morning at 8:45am.

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After landing in Santiago we went through customs, which was actually a fairly painless experience contrary to what I had read online. After clearing customs we boarded a Centropuerto Bus that took us to the city center station of Los Heros for only $3.20/pp. Once we reached Los Heros we took the Red Metro line ($1.30/pp trip) to Manuel Montt station, which was right below our hotel; the ibis Providencia. We checked into the hotel and had a quick two hour nap before venturing out into the city.

After waking up from our nap we walked along the Mapocho River, which was extremely turbid and fast flowing. The river led us to the beautiful community of Bellavista, where we stopped at the Fukai Sushi restaurant and ordered some sushi rolls. We tried three unique rolls that we’ve never had before; Guacamole Rolls, Baked Brie Rolls, and Seared Salmon with Almond Slivers. We’ll call this lunch/dinner since it was about 3 in the afternoon.

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After having our meal we walked to Funicular de Santiago, which took us to the top of San Cristobal Hill. The funicular was opened in 1925 and definitely shows its age. The views provided from the top of the hill are absolutely fascinating. We had 360 degree views of the entire city, including one of my favorite of the newest flagship building in Santiago; Gran Torre Santiago, which is a 300 metre tall skyscraper that towers over the city. Gran Torre was completed in 2013 and is the tallest building in South America. Also at the top of the hill was Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (Virgin Mary).

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Instead of taking the funicular back down the hill we opted to take the gondola across the hill and down the other side, exiting near the Gran Torre. We ended up walking around a bit before taking the Red Metro line to Baquedano station, where we got off to get ourselves some of the famous ice cream from Heladeria Emporio La Rosa. C had I both had two scoops of Ice Cream. C had Raspberry & Pineapple, while I had Vanilla & Cookies and Cream. It was starting to get late and we were tired so we walked past Santa Lucia Hill before walking back to the hotel. We walked a total of 23km today, which our feet and bodies definitely felt considering we only got 1.5 hours of sleep on the plane as well as a two hour nap.

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Zurich

The next stop on my three weeks of travel was the beautiful city of Zurich, Switzerland. I spent two days here, with one of the days being a side trip to Jungfraujoch, but more on that later.

Accommodation was at the ibis Airport Hotel. The cost was reasonable at $70 CDN, although the rooms were rather simple, but the beds were comfortable.

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city at 408000 people. Switzerland has a population of 8.2 million people. Before we take a look at Zurich let’s look at a bit of history of Switzerland and how Zurich came to be.

Switzerland’s history is rather young. Switzerland was inhabited by the Gauls Raetians and was under Roman rule in the 1st century BC. The Gallo-Roman culture was combined with German influence during 235-284 AD time period. The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons (similar to states or provinces). Other localities joined the original three cantons over the years. The Swiss Confederation became independent of the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. The constitution of 1848 replaced the confederations with a centralized federal government. This constitution was modified again in 1874. Switzerland’s sovereignty and neutrality have long been honoured by the major European powers and the country was not involved in either of the two world wars. Switzerland did not become a European Union member until 2002, but maintains its own currency.

Zurich has an extensive tram network that would make many other cities jealous. The trams run every 6 minutes and are very punctual. This keeps traffic extremely light in the city as most people take public transport. Other cities that I have visited that have had great success with trams are Amsterdam, and Melbourne. Two cities that I’ve visited that used to a great tram network before the 1950’s rush to build automotive highways were Auckland, New Zealand and my home town Calgary, Canada. The mayor of Auckland even ordered the removal of some of the tram lines in the middle of the night! It’s a shame because these two cities are absolutely plugged with traffic.

Zurich is an extremely wealthy city, and Switzerland is also an extremely wealthy country with a large population working white collar jobs such as Google (3000 people in Zurich alone), fine quality jewelery and watches, chocolate, and banking and finance.

Zurich straddles both sides of the Limmat river and has many bridges that offer fantastic views, and a beautiful viewpoint from Lindenhof Park. Another wonderful spot for photographs is Grossmunster church, a Romanesque-style Protestant church, which was built between 1100 and 1220 AD.

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Check back shortly for the final installment of my trip; a trip to Jungfraujoch, a notable saddle in the Bernese Alps, connection the two peaks of Junfrau and Monch.

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2018-03-20 – Heading Home!

Today I woke up naturally at about 8:30am. I took the complimentary shuttle back to the airport. It was time to scope out some breakfast as I hadn’t eaten yet. After some McDonald’s and Starbucks (only choices available) I explored Charles De Gaulle Terminal 1. Terminal 1, an avant-garde style building, was designed by Paul Andreu, and was built in the image of an octopus. It has a circular terminal building which contains the check-in counters, baggage claim conveyors, and a few restaurants. There are also passages between the third, fourth and fifth floors with a tangled web of escalators arrange through the center of the building. The escalators are suspended over the central courtyard and each one is covered with a transparent tube. It has seven satellites (tentacles) with boarding gates that are connected to the central building by underground walkways. I did not take the overhead photo. Credits for the overhead photo go to (www.adp-i.com).
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On my first flight I had an empty seat next to me, but there was a very nice gentleman I believe was named Joshua situated next to the window. He’s from the Minneapolis area in the United States and had previously served in the United States Military. We talked the entire flight which helped make the flight go by faster.

There was a quick layover in Reykjavik before my second flight to Vancouver. The second flight went by pretty quickly too despite it being 7.5 hours long; perhaps Top Gear episodes, a comfortable business class seat, and free Wi-Fi helped!

There was a two hour layover before boarding my final flight home to Calgary. My friend Myriam, who works for Air Canada as a flight attendant happened to also be in Vancouver so we visited during my layover. The flight home was a bit delayed because the ground handling staff accidentally pulled the ground power which shut down the entire plane because the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) wasn’t running. I was exhausted by the time I got home so I went straight to bed.

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2018-03-18 – Montserrat & Barcelona

Today I woke up at 7:00am with the help of my alarm clock. Since it was the weekend the only breakfast place that was open near me was McDonald’s so I walked there and had an Egg McMuffin for breakfast before catching the metro and regional train to Montserrat. I arrived in Montserrat at around 10:00am.
Montserrat, whose name means ‘serrated mountain’, is ideally located to play an important role in the cultural and spiritual life of Catalonia. The Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey was built on Montserrat in 880AD. Having survived two fires, and the Spanish Civil War, the basilica still stands strong, and is currently undergoing restoration as i write this.
When in Montserrat I visited the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey as well as taking the funicular up to the top of the mountain to overlook the entire Montserrat complex, as well as complete a small hike.
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I returned to Barcelona at approximately 3:00pm, and scoped out some food since I was hungry. I noticed a Japanese restaurant called Takumi Ramen Restausant while walking yesterday so I decided to visit there for lunch. I had a spicy chicken ramen dish with vegetables, and it was delicious!
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After finishing a late lunch I took a number 24 bus to Park Güell. The park was another one of Gaüdi’s masterpieces. It’s a total shame that it never got finished.
Eusebi Güell and Antoni Gaudí conceived this park and housing complex in 1900. They imagined an organized grouping of high-quality homes, decked out with all the latest technological advancements to ensure maximum comfort, finished off with an artistic touch.
The park was built between 1900 and 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926 after Gaüdi died and the project was deemed as a failure due to lack of transportation and amenities to the main city, as well as lack of oversight and funds.
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After visiting the park I decided to walk around town to discover more architecture including Gaüdi pieces of work such as Casa Calvet before stopping to have a chicken and brie baguette for dinner.
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After dinner I went back to my hotel at around 8:00pm and prepared for bed as I was fairly tired. Tomorrow is my last day of my trip and includes a trip to Sagrada Familia before hopping on a flight back to Paris.

 

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2018-03-17 – Lyon & Barcelona

Today I woke up at 7:00am naturally. I had some time to just be lazy and stay in bed. I  left at 8:30am to catch Rhone Express to airport. On the way I stopped at a Paul coffee shop along the way and had a delicious pastrami sandwich, bagel and coffee. The Paul coffee shop chain gets a routinely bad review on Google here in France but I thought they were pretty good. I arrived at Lyon airport 2.5 hours before my flight to Barcelona, Spain so I had a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
I was surprised when it was time for me to go through security because despite it being a new airport it was extremely poorly setup. There was not enough staff, and the security area did not have a large enough area for people to queue so the queues backed up where the escalators and elevators to enter the area are. This prompted people to backup on to the escalators requiring people to hit the emergency stop button to stop people getting trampled to death (I’m saying this tongue in cheek but it was a gong show). Security took about 2 hours to get through in total. Once past security the airport is very nice, spacious, and had an ample supply of shops and food.
The flight to Barcelona was rather turbulent, but was actually ahead of schedule about 5 minutes. I took the airport express bus from the airport to the city centre and then walked to my hotel, which was only 5 minutes away from the bus stop. I checked into my hotel, dropped off my stuff and went out to take some photos. I visited a local street market in the Gothic Quarter (also where my hotel is), Barcelona Cathedral, and a few Antoni Gaudi buildings.
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I was starting to get hungry so I stopped at Coco Vail Beer hall and has a delicious burger and two IPA pints.
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After I was finished at the beer hall I walked about 10 minutes to Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera or “the stone quarry”. Casa Mila was desined by Antoni Gaudi and was built between 1906 and 1912. The facade of Gaudi’s buildings are extremely unique and encompass the Catalan Modern style of architecture. It looks like something that you would see in a Doctor Suess book or movie.
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After finishing Casa Mila I picked up some local IPA beers from a local bottleshop and went back to my hotel. It was getting late and I was getting fairly sleepy. I also saw this interesting use of a mannequin on my way back to the hotel.
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