Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Our Catalonian Hotel, Spain

Now, back to the beginning of the Spain trip--The first hotel we had on our Catalonian trip is located in a park up in the rolling mountains about an hour from Barcelona. We had to turn onto a dirt road just after kilometer marker 8 of a winding mountain road. The entrance is non-descript and the drive down the driveway took a good three minutes. This place is not easily accessible. But it is quite beautiful, nestled away in the hills of the park. It's more like a cluster of buildings on a hillside than a hotel. The views are wonderful.

View from our hotel

Another awesome view

The place has a nice garden (the gardener gave us some veg!) and a gigantic bird coop that contains six chickens, a peacock, and a peahen.

Some of the chickens

The best shot I could get of the peacock

Jacob and Lucy were disappointed that the pool wasn't open yet (early May temperatures were hot enough for us but not for the locals) but they loved the outdoor seating in front of our cabin.

Our patio

Our quarters

Inside is quite spacious, with a well-stocked kitchen and living room. "Well-stocked" for the children of course means a cabinet full of toys!

The kitchen

The living room

The toy cabinet

Even better for Jacob and Lucy, the compound has multiple playgrounds, including a Foosball table and a ping-pong table. Neither game was as satisfactory as the swings and climbing opportunities the place provides.

Jacob goes head first down the slide

Lucy goes from swing to swing

Lucy pushes Jacob on another swing set

Lucy in the log cabin

Jacob and Lucy made up a game called "Alert." Every now and then they'd claim a storm was coming and they had to rush into the log cabin as fast as they could. They weren't done until they sealed up all the shutters. We heard them making storm sounds from inside. Obstacle courses were another favorite of Jacob's.

The biggest fun might have been the pony rides we did on Sunday afternoon, but that's a story for the next post.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Barcelona Playground, Spain

After purchasing tickets to see the inside of the Basilica Sagrada Familia, we had to wait about an hour to use the tickets. Luckily, a small park is across the street and we were able to kill plenty of time and use up the kids' excess energy.

Walking into the playground

The equipment was fairly standard. Lucy pretended to bake treats made out of sticks, leaves, and dirt. Jacob was able to make several obstacle courses through the playground. He had Mommy and Daddy time him. His goal was to finish in under a minute. Our counting was...flexible. He was quite successful.

Jacob crosses the hanging ropes

The hardest part of the course

Lucy also wanted in on the action and encouraged us to count slower as she ran the course.

She also encouraged photos

After a while she went back to baking treats for us. They were pretend treats and we pretended to eat them.

Carefully adding ingredients

Time went quickly and shortly we were off to visit the big church across the way!

Back of Sagrada Familia

Sunday, July 27, 2014

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

Today begins posts from our Spain trip back in May. This church is one of the last things we saw, but the most grand.

The Basilica de la Sagrada Familia is the most famous religious landmark in Barcelona. It is visible from many parts of the city and has been under construction for more than a century. The original 1882 plan was a simple, conventional Gothic church. A new architect was brought in, Antoni Gaudi, who let loose with his fervent and fabulous imagination. The church has a deliberately organic feel and look to it. Gaudi lived on site supervising the construction for the last 14 years of his life. He died in 1926. In 1936 many of his models and plans were destroyed in a fire started by partisans in the Spanish Civil War. Construction resumed in 1952 and has had a recent boost from increased attention (in part due to the Olympics) and increased revenue (thanks to charging admission to the church). The building is still under construction though the hope is to finish by 2026 for the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi's death. Work is progressing.

Our first sight of La Sagrada Familia

Under construction

The back of the church

The exterior has three main entrances--the Nativity facade, the Passion facade, and the Glory facade. The Glory facade is still being built but the other two are done. When we visited, tickets were sold by the Passion facade but entrance was through the Nativity facade.

Nativity facade

More of the facade--the Holy Family's life

The Holy Family

Passion facade--Way of the Cross and Crucifixion

More from Christ's Passion

We bought tickets when we arrived and had to wait an hour to get in. Pre-ordering on line might have been a better option but we didn't know when exactly we'd get there. The wait wasn't too bad. On our way in, we picked up the audio guides, which were very informative but a little hard to follow from spot to spot. A map would have helped out.

Jacob listens to the children's audio guide

The interior has plenty of light but the columns to support the church struck me as odd. Listening to the description I found out the obvious explanation. The columns look like tree trunks, splitting at the top and having a leaf-like canopy at the ceiling.


South aisle

The ceiling

The stairs to the towers also look organic, winding around in the corners of the church.

Spiral stairs

The main altar is a bit garishly lit by its baldachin but is otherwise the plainest thing in the basilica.

Main altar

Underneath the altar is the crypt, visible through small windows on the sides.

The crypt seen from upstairs

The crypt includes much more than the chapel we could see. After the obligatory visit to the toilet for the children, we found an extensive museum dedicated to the construction of the church. Several displays showed the interesting mathematical background to the design.

An explanation of some geometrical patterns used

The pattern of the church worked out upside-down with ropes and small weights

The crypt is where Gaudi had his workshop, the one that was burned during the Spanish Civil War. It is now a workshop again, with models approximating his design and model makers still working.


A model of the final appearance (1:25 scale)

Gaudi's tomb is also in the crypt though I did not find it. I did find a 1989 bust of Gaudi by Josep Maria Subirachs. He also sculpted the figures for the Passion facade.

Gaudi by Subirachs

I had mixed feelings about the church. My first impression was it was over the top with personal style, a style unique and off-putting. The more I learned about it, the more I appreciated it. I still haven't embraced the visual style. Perhaps on its completion my opinion might change or with more familiarity.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: Locke and Key Vol. 5 by Joe Hill et al.

Locke and Key Volume 5: Clockworks written by Joe Hill and art by Gabriel Rodriguez

The Locke family drama/horror continues. Tyler and Kinsey find a new key that allows them to travel back in time. They can't change any past events because they are insubstantial there, but they can observe and learn more about the keys, their ancestors, and what's in the caves under the house. This set up makes a nice way for both the readers and the characters in the story to learn the back story, going back to colonial times when Key House was first used and the secret of the caves first discovered. The tragic circumstances of the colonial-era Lockes repeats through history, especially with Tyler's dad and his friends in the 1990s. The father's story fills in a lot of blank spaces and is extremely interesting and well-told. The modern story doesn't move much further ahead but the background story is so compelling that I didn't mind at all. Having answers to questions is very satisfying.

As usual, the art is top-notch. The style doesn't change with the changing times, which is good. There are some yucky bits (this is a horror story, after all) without being too extreme. The only thing I'm sad about is that there is only one volume left in the story. It looks like things are coming to an exciting conclusion. Volume 6 is coming soon!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vacation Bible School 2014

Before we left England, we signed Jacob and Lucy up for a vacation bible school in Maryland. We found Weird Animals at St. Augustine Church in Elkridge, Maryland. It ran from July 7 to July 11 in the mornings. I dropped the children off just before 9 a.m. and picked them up at 12:15. Naturally, they didn't tell us much about what happened each day. They gave us the usual story. Jacob said, "Yeah, it was fun. We did stuff. We sang songs."

We had two things going for us to get information out of them. First, we had a CD of the songs they were learning each day. Their learning included some choreography, which I saw demonstrated at pick up time. And then at home, they gave a performance on Saturday:

The other thing we had going for us was my volunteering for two days. I was in the science room. Each group of children (divided by grades from kindergarten to 5th grade) came for a half hour of activities. We did little science experiments that tied in with the theme for the day. Other rooms had crafts, snacks, story time, etc. So I knew the structure of the day and could ask more specific question on what happened each day.

On Friday, they had an evening worship service. The children sang their songs and the deacon had some readings and a short sermon. After that, the ice cream social was in the parish hall.

VBS-decorated parish hall

On the back lawn, they had a petting zoo and pony riding. Lucy was excited to participate in both.

At the petting zoo

Petting a goat

The rabbit got away

Lucy rides a pony

Jacob was not so interested, so he played on the parish's playground.

Jacob hangs tough

The kids enjoyed the whole event very much and are looking forward to next year. So am I!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

150th Anniversary of the Monocacy Battle Retreat, Ellicott City, Maryland

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Monocacy. The Union soldiers lost and retreated through the town of Ellicott City on their way to Baltimore. The July 12-13 weekend commemoration included reenactors at Mt. Ida (an estate dating back before the American Civil War) and in the city itself.

We started our morning at Mt. Ida, arriving right at 10 a.m. when things were supposed to start. As with most reenactments, if one arrives early one sees little. A small group of soldiers had some tents set up and an area for cooking but no activities had started. They played a little bit on their guitar and banjo but didn't have much else to offer.

Jacob by the tent

Lucy too shy!

Another tent with canteens!

Ready to make some coffee

Down the hill in the city a troop of reenactors were demonstrating military maneuvers on the main street. More importantly, they were demonstrating how to load and fire their weapons. The captain of the troop gave a lecture about the steps involved in using their rifles. They didn't fire since too many people, cars, and buildings were around. They marched up the street to a more empty area.

Telling the crowd about Civil War weapons

Not the best pose by the captain

At the top of the road, they demonstrated various firing techniques. The first was a full volley, where everyone shot at the same time. The captain stood behind the troop and shouted orders at them, mostly to be heard over the noise (battlefields were especially noisy).

Ready, aim...


The captain explained that often with two lines of soldiers, orders would be for the front line to fire and then reload while the back line fired. This system increased the frequency of fire, hopefully adding some intimidation to the attack. A soldier could typically fire every 20 seconds with a Civil War-era rifle.

Front fire

Back fire

Lucy didn't last long with the loud noises going off (we noticed some of the soldiers had ear plugs!). Jacob lasted a little longer, but not much. Going back to the main thoroughfare, Lucy and Mommy discovered a Civil War-era surgeon who was discussing medical practices at the time. With him, coming early paid off because we had a good ten or fifteen minutes with him by ourselves.

Civil War surgeon

He told us that the medical schools of the time rarely had cases where surgeries were performed. A school with 100 students would typically have 50 surgeries a year, meaning the students participated in a surgery every other year. That's why they had the surgical theaters, where dozens of students looked down from a gallery at two or three guys performing a procedure. Once the war happened, surgeons were performing dozens of operations a day (mostly bullet removal or amputation). Many surgeons dropped out after the first year because of the stress but the ones who stuck it out became leaders in the medical field because of their level of experience.

He also explained a few procedures but I won't go into that detail. Jacob and Lucy asked questions about his equipment and the bullets. He explained how the new rifle technology (making the bullets spin to increase accuracy (called rifling), among other things) increased the level of casualties. In the Napoleonic era, after shooting two or three times, a round ball shot from an unrifled gun could go in any direction and not very far. Civil War rifles were much more reliable over much longer distances and repeated fire, resulting in many more injuries.

Of course, the biggest killer of soldiers in the Civil War wasn't being shot but getting infected. The surgeons would often perform procedure after procedure with no time to clean their instruments inbetween. Soldiers often spread diseases like pneumonia in their close quarters. Not a good time to be in the army.

We thanked the surgeon for his interesting stories and were soon on our way to find some lunch.