Christmas in Catalonia

CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR WAS SPENT in Catalonia. Northern Catalonia to be precise, in the French village of Port Barcares along the Mediterranean coast, just a short drive North of the Spanish border and Barcelona.  It was an especially pleasant experience  because we were joined by much of Melissa's family. Her parents flew into Geneva to meet up with her brother's family living in Albertville, France. We met the crew in Albertville and drove south towards Barcares for a week of vacation (more photos) . 
A sleepy town in the Winter, Barcares is an otherwise lively town set along the beach and in view of the Pyrenees mountains.  

 The parent refrain was "DON'T GET WET!!".   This one was close.  
 The kids collected one or two shells. 

 The dads found other things....
And  Jazzy found a couple good walking sticks (?)....
 Josh, the resident of France, insisted there was no such thing as Christmas markets in France.  So, the above picture, is not a picture of a Christmas market set among palm trees in French Port Barcares.
 And this is not a picture of me eating raw clams and oysters and some hot wine at the Christmas market that did not exist.  (Actually, had they not existed perhaps I would not have spent all of Christmas day in the bathroom. Blech. But I digress. )

 And the kids would have really enjoyed this ride at the Christmas carnival, if there was such a thing.

 And imagine how happy the kids would have been if there was, say, a lady making cotton candy with about 20 different flavors to choose from.   If only there was a Christmas market.
 And ice skating on the Mediterranean? Preposterous!

I will say the Christmas trees do have a slightly different feel that far south....

Port Barcares is uniquely situated within easy reach of Barcelona, some beautiful coastal towns,  Carcassonne, and a few other we have a handful of photo posts coming over the next few days as we get the pics uploaded.

25 things about England

  • The Beefeaters - the funny guards at the tower of London and Buckingham Palace -  are so named because they were on occasion paid in Beef rations.
Not actually a beefeater. 

  • The  nearest tube station to our apartment was "Morden". Anna dubbed it Mordor, as in "One does not simply take a red double decker bus to Mordor".  
In London, the "Eye" is a Ferris Wheel. 

  • It's not that hard to drive on the left side of the road, that is, providing there is absolutely no one in the immediate area to be harmed. Otherwise, it's extremely reckless. 
  • This was the first time we had taken a ferry, but the day we came back from England more than 23,000 people crossed the channel from Dover to France (one way). 
  •  There are entire websites dedicated to the precise location of something called a Tardis.  When Anna told us she wanted to see one, I had to google it.  
This, apparently, is a Tardis. 

  • Of British words we heard in public: Cheeky - yes.  Wonky - no. 
  •  London has the tallest building in Europe, nicknamed the Shard for it's broken-glass appearance.  So the answer to the question, "Who sharded?" -- it's London. 
  • There really is a Kings Cross Station, and there really is a Platform 9 3/4. 

  • Unfortunately for our son, in Germany Camden is sort of an odd name.  London has a whole town named Camden. 
He was on a Camden High

  • Abbey Road crossing looks a lot more peaceful on the album cover than it is in real life.  You have to be ready to die to get that shot.   Some tourists decidedly were. 

  • We have been in a ton of old churches, big and small...but among old churches Westminster Abbey is unbelievable.  
  • Among the names of the famous buried within Westminster Abbey, lie Isaac Newton, David Livingstone, Edward I "Longshanks", and Charles Darwin.  That's right, Charles Darwin. 
Westminster Abbey.  

  • Fish and chips - not bad. 
  • Language Lessons:   Chips = Fries.  Crisps = chips.  Tube=subway.  Subway=underground walkway.  Brilliant= great.  Clever = smart.  Brilliant  smart.    
  • As a pedestrian, traffic at crossings could come from anywhere, so the pavement is conveniently labeled with things like "LOOK LEFT" and "LOOK RIGHT."  Smart system.  
Brilliant (and by brilliant I mean clever). 

  • If you visit London, do not convert pounds to dollars in your mind while shopping.  Just don't.  
  • When to Romans arrived in England, they considered Stonehenge ancient.  Before the Romans were the Druids, but they  didn't make it, they found it.  That's how old it is. 

  • We decided you could write a Potter novel using primarily the names of Tube/train/bus stops. For example: Harry potter and the Crystal Palace.  Principle good guys: CharleywoodArnos Grove, and Hoxton.  Bad Guys: Blackwall, Croxley, and the Blackfriars.    Also useful settings: Wigmore Walk and Hackney Wick.   
Some Hogwarts students at play by the Thames

  • The White Cliffs of Dover are eroding constantly - that is what keeps them white.   
  • If you want to see the Tower Bridge, go to London.  If you want to see the original London Bridge, you have to go to Lake Havasu, Nevada.
The Tower Bridge (that's in London)

  • If you don't mind the gap it's your own darn fault.  You had plenty of warning.   
  • I find the best way to endear the British to Americans is to drive around one of their roundabouts backwards. 
  • There are now one hundred pence in a pound.  Prior to decimalization there were 240 pence to a quid, 20 shillings per pound, and 12 pence per shilling.  Got that? 
  • In London there is a Starbucks approximately every furlong. 

England's Chalk Cliffs

A couple photos from the South Coast of England....
Our first sign of England from the ferry was the White Cliffs of Dover rising over the horizon of the English channel.    Later in the week we travelled back down to the coast to see the Seven Sisters up close.   

 The weather was a little poor - there was a small break in the rain and fog to see the cliffs from the base, but the rest of the time was thick fog a poor visibility.  I have a feeling that on a sunny summer day this would be one of the most spectacular views around.

  The cliffs really are chalk. Pieces can break off onto the rocks where the tide rolls over them and they are quickly smoothed into round stones, causing a speckled beach of rock and chalk.

 The kids enjoyed scavenging on the beach for fossils or shells.  Anna found a shark egg case!
 A great view even on a foggy day.
 Some of the cliffs rise over 100 meters over the sea, which sadly makes it a popular suicide spot. On this spot there are around 20 suicides a year, behind only the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Mount Fuji in Japan.
 Mobile chaplaincy on sight monitoring the cliff sides for despondent visitors.
 Why are the cliffs white? Because they are constantly eroding.  The chalk is fragile and some of the beach sections are often closed due to the threat of collapse.   Center is the sight of a recent major collapse.

The Melting Sea

THE MER DE GLACE is the largest glacier in the French Alps.   The question I wonder, is for how long?  Consider the following....

To reach the glacier and explore the ice cave, one starts at a far up the mountain valley.   One must take a gondola ride down to half way point, followed by a long zig zagging staircase all the way down the rest of the glacier valley.    Once there, one can enter the ice cave.

Every year, new ice caves must be dug, because the glacier (and therefore the caves) are continuously moving downhill.  But not only must new caves be dug, new stairs must be added to the bottom...because the glacier is shrinking away.

Here is a picture of the glacier the way it looks today, 2012, at "ground level":

Had we visited in 2005, just seven years earlier, we would have climbed down and back up about 100 fewer stairs, because here is the level of the glacier caves then...the two pictures are of a sign marking the level, and a picture of the glacier taken from the sign.   

Here is a perspective from 1990.  The sign, and the ice blankets in the background mark the distance to the caves.

  Here is another perspective from the level of the ice in 1990. Note the descending stairway all the way to the bottom left edge of the photo until it disappears out of sight.    

Finally, 1980.  Here is the level of the sign, then I turned around and snapped one from that same position in the direction of the ice.    Note the winding stairway and the barely visible cave entrance.

Perhaps if one wants to visit the ice caves of Mer de Glace, they should plan on doing so soon? 

Caves in a Sea of Ice

These pictures come  from the Ice Caves of Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France...which every year becomes smaller and smaller.   A cog train - the Montenvers Train - travels from Chamonix up the mountain slopes to a station. A gondola than travels back down the slopes towards the glacier, but not all the way to the bottom. The last 400 steps down are only navigable only on foot.  Every year more steps are added to the bottom as the glacier shrinks away.  

At the base of the stairs lies the ice caves, passages dug into the ice every year for adventurers who want to see the inside of the shrinking glacier.  The caves are illuminated by florescent lighting, which casts the ice in a array of colors.  

You are very welcome.   I usually sling mine over my shoulder anyway.

The ice caves are dug every year as they drift down the mountain slope.  The stairs lead into this years' carving, with the last three years visible to the left.

 There is a steady rainfall in the cave as the glacier melts under the summer sun.   It's not just seasonal melt that impacts this glacier either. The glacier is shrinking year over year- dramatically - one of the many tangible evidences that the planet is warming.