Saturday, July 18, 2015

Surprises and Random Encounters -- in which I throw in a lot of unrelated photos

When you travel, you expect to be surprised. That's, after all, the whole point of flying fourteen hours half-way around the world, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, taking lukewarm showers, and pounding the pavement in 104-degree heat with no sunscreen. It's a lot of work (and expenses). If all you get is merely what you expected, then you may as well have stayed in the comfort of your home or treated yourself to many nights out at top restaurants and spas in town. Fortunately, that never happens.

Some of the best memories of our trip were not planned at all. For example, we stumbled upon the elaborate changing of the guards ceremony at the royal palace in Madrid. It only happens at noon on the first Wednesday of every month, and we arrived just as the regal pageant got underway. Hundreds of royal guards and horses participated in a carefully choreographed ceremony to the music played by the marching band.

This is not a photo in Italy. This is, however, a roman coliseum in the city of Nimes in southern France. We saw it because our connecting train was cancelled due to a train workers' strike and we had to wait for the next one. Instead of feeling like I lost an hour during transit, I felt like I got handed an extra hour on a roman platter.

Sometimes, there are surprises of a different nature...

which, my children assure me, can be just as thrilling and Instagram-worthy, if not more so... 

like seeing exotic cars all lined up in a row and riding concept cars on Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

While riding the train to Versailles, a musician came onboard and began singing to the handful of passengers in our car. There are, in fact, musicians everywhere in Paris. Many play in the metro tunnels, some with classical instruments, others with more modern or even unconventional contraptions. All lend a pleasant surprise to your coming and going. All invite you to stop, linger, and enjoy the moment--for a few spare coins, which you are in no obligation to give. But we often gave (and gladly!).

Performers in Spain have other talents besides music. This street performer had us baffled as he floated effortlessly above his motorcycle.

Here's a lovely view of the street from our humble apartment in Barcelona, which we had not expected.

And here is the view from our luxury hotel in Madrid, which we had not expected either.

Here we discover that you can buy potato chips wrapped in Barça insignia.

...and Starbucks can take on a palatial façade.

And a fine table setting can be found anywhere!

Of course, a survey of surprises and random delights wouldn't be complete without food. On our trip, Sam discovered that he likes steak tartare. If you have no idea what it is, google it. (It's the stuff Mr. Bean tried to stuff into some lady's handbag at a restaurant.) My all-too-curious husband also enjoyed a delectable dish of lamb brains. Yes, you read that correctly. Incidentally, it was pretty tasty.

On the tamer side of things, we discovered eggplant chips were a wonderful appetizer.

And an octopus tentacle can make a fine entrée. By the way, entrées in Europe are not the main courses as we know them. They are, instead, starters. Surprised? Just to clarify, this tentacle did make a satisfying main course.

Finally, I'll leave you with this mural tucked in an alleyway in Barcelona. Behind every door like this is a fine boutique or a gourmet candy store waiting to be discovered. All it takes is a willingness to wander off the main thoroughfare. You will, mostly likely, lose your way and forget which direction you came from. But then you might be thoroughly happy with what you find instead.

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