Wednesday, December 30, 2009

what I want to know is....

Heard on the radio this morning that the Underwear-Bomber:
  1. paid cash
  2. had no luggage
On a normal transcontinental flight, what percentage of passengers pay cash and check no luggage?

60? 50? 1? .1%

I have to assume the percentage is *somewhat* low. Shouldn't this have been a signal that a *more-comprehensive* pre-flight search was called for?

Also, do we know if he bought a one-way or round-trip ticket?

Just curious...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What a difference 2 days makes

Last Sunday morning: walking along a cactus-strewn nature trail in the bone-dry, california desert.

Today: sitting in my portland living room, watching a snowstorm.

Monday, December 28, 2009

some vacation photos

Coachella Nature Preserve - Willis Palm grove

Big Morongo Canyon preserve - cottonwoods along Canyon Trail

Anza-Borrego state park - view from Wind Caves trail at Split Mountain

Borrego sunset 1

Borrego sunset 2 - our last evening, from S&D's terrace

when jokes turn cruel

Back in the days after the Shoe-Bomber, after it was decreed that nobody gets on a plane without taking off their shoes, I got a lot of mileage out of the following gag:

"At least he wasn't the Underwear-Bomber".

It was funny then, but, this morning, I hear that the Nigerian guy had the explosives sewn into his underwear.

Uh-oh.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

and we are now home

With a cat sitting on my desk, trying to be cute (and succeeding).

Had a splendid time in the Palm Springs neighborhood - went for some very nice walks in a variety of desert preserves, including a palm oasis near Thousand Palms and the colorful canyon trail near Morongo.

Thanks especially to S&D for their hospitality in Borrego - the bumpy drive and hike in the Split Mountain canyon was awesome, as the photos attest. Maybe I will get around to uploading one or two soon, but I am tired from the traveling.

We did have breakfast this morning at this very cool place. Quite retro, with photos on the wall of movie stars who stayed there over the years (Bing, Gable, Brando, Marilyn, etc).

heading home

2 pm flight today, from Palm Springs back to Portland.

Have spent the last 3 days with S&D in Borrego Springs. We went hiking yesterday to some sandstone 'caves' up in the Split Mountain area. Amazing vistas of the fabulous eroded wasteland - very remote feeling, except for the other 4-wheel drive vehicles and occasional motorcyclist.

Great sunset last night capped off a pretty good 10-day sojourn in these parts.

Still, as always, looking forward to being home and seeing the animals.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It drives me nuts

Listening to NPR morning edition today, as I frequently do.

They interviewed the proud mother of an Illinois soldier who had received multiple medals during four tours of duty in Iraq.

The guantanamo prisoners are coming to the nearby prison, and she said that bringing 'terrorists' there is a 'slap in the face' to her son's service.

Will someone explain to her that (unless the real reason is oil), her son's overal purpose for being there was to help establish our beloved (rightly so) principal that every accused person is both presumed innocent and guaranteed a trial?

Why is this so difficult, both for Mom to understand and for NPR to mention?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

it finally happened

We are here in Palm Desert for a few days, enjoying the sun and spectacle. It's actually totally pleasant.

We don't pick up our rental car for a couple of days, and it's clear that this area makes NO concessions to pedestrians, aside from sidewalks. There is a 'Marketplace' here at the resort, but one look at the $6 boxes of cereal made me decide to walk to the nearest grocery store, to buy provisions.

Alas, the nearest grocery story is a Wal*Mart, and I have NEVER been inside one of these, on some kind of principal. I walked there and did my grocery shopping, and I am happy to say that, yes, the prices are surprisingly low, and at least I didn't buy anything made in China.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

and now for something completely different

watch

times change

While wasting time, I happened upon this page, where Google is thoughtfully providing complete Life magazines, from post WWII America.

We got 'Life' every week, and I remember vividly the important stories of the day, like Vietnam, the Beatles, and LSD. However, browsing thru an old issue today, the ads caught my attention, especially this one, which, I remember, was a mainstay in the magazines of the day:



Yes, the good old days, when Americans were worried about being too skinny.

people I don't really know in the news

In the middle of the night, I was listening to BBC radio, as I often do when I can't sleep, and they broadcast a story about the ongoing controversy in Uganda, about the proposed anti-gay laws.

The BBC announcer reported that the situation had been made worse by the efforts of two American 'preachers', one of whom is Scott Lively.

Now that is a name I had not heard in many years, not so much from his Oregon Citizens Alliance days, but from another, more distant connection.

Scott's wife, Anne, worked at Blue Cross when I was there a long time ago, and I always thought she was a lovely person. In fact, she and Scott were invited to our wedding party - this would have been 1985.

As a wedding present, they presented us with a plant, now many feet tall, that still sits in the corner of our dining room (and had to get carefully moved out of the way for Thanksgiving).

He and Anne divorced years ago - I have wondered what it was like in that home - and today, Scott Lively is in the international news spotlight, for being one of the world's pre-eminent anti-gay crusaders.

This certainly does not approach the level of the "I knew him when" bragging I can do about Tommy Hillfiger, but, this chilly, rainy morning in Portland, it's the best I can do.

Merry Christmas to all. I wish I could believe that the savior of humanity has already walked the earth, but it's a stretch, given the evidence to the contrary.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

one man; one vote

Lieberman's - grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Friday, December 11, 2009

i've been down on Obama lately

Frustrated with the compromises on Health Insurance reform, and the continuation of the Afghanistan tragedy, but I must say that his Nobel acceptance speech revealed much about the man.

There can be no doubt that he is a remarkable individual, and that, despite the horrendous conditions under which he assumed power, and the determined opposition that will stoop to nothing to obfuscate and obstruct all efforts to move forward, we are very fortunate to have him.

I hope he lasts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

think back a couple of months...

During the height of the 'Death Panel' scare, I remember hearing, from several sources, this opinion:

"If you think that the disinformation campaign currently being waged by well-funded vested Health Insurance interests is incredibly brazen and shameless, just wait until attention is focused on Global Climate Change. What we will see then will make the Health Care debate look sane."

Aye, mateys, it has come to pass exactly as predicted.

Nothing significant will come from Health Insurance reform, and nothing significant will be done to slow CO2 emissions. Your grandchildren will live in a vastly different world from today, but, at least, there will probably be a few billion fewer (mostly non-white) humans around, so your internet access might be a little faster.

I really believe that we, as a species, are going to just let it all happen, because a very small minority of us are so damn greedy that all they care about is money.

There's an old story about a fabulously wealthy man who was asked: "You already have everything that anyone could possibly need. What more do you want?", and he answered, "More."

Monday, December 07, 2009

back from Bend

It was a lot of driving today (we came over Willamette Pass, to stop to pick up some of my mother-in-law's ceramics outside of Eugene - it's a long story), but it's good to be home.

Bend was incredibly snowy (almost a foot of powder fell Saturday night and Sunday) but today was clear and the roads were no problem. Here is a photo taken Sunday afternoon from our motel room, right on the Deschutes river:

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Heading to Bend

Karen has a hearing monday morning, so we're driving there for the weekend

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

sorry

Watched Obama's speech tonight, and I am sad.

We have been here before, and many more young people will die and become physically or psychologically maimed. The cost of today's decision will be paid for decades to come.

Did my ears deceive me, or is the main justification for not withdrawing now 'this is not like Vietnam'?

Why not take the money we would be spending on continuing this war (and paying for the long-term care of the veterans) and spend half of it building schools, bridges, medicine and water systems in Afghanistan, and the other half doing the same thing here?

What am I missing?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

we survived

Most of the out-of-town guests are gone, and the house is returning to normal, except that the refrigerator is full of little containers of odds and ends. It's slightly obscene, given the reality of most families in this world.

Not much on the schedule today - I'm doing the Yiddish Hour tomorrow (10 am PST - KBOO 90.7 FM in Portland, or streaming live on the web site.

The past couple of weeks have been incredibly busy, but everything that needed to be done was done, including lots of music, cooking, and cleaning.

I have about 5 books at my bedside, and one more on hold at the library. Some will have to go unread.

It's all unreal.

Monday, November 23, 2009

read an amazing book this weekend

Yes, I read the whole thing - couldn't put it down.

It's this. I can't remember who recommended it to me, but thanks.

Really, this was an aspect of the Franco period that I never knew about. Also, the author goes into the whole notion of secret Jews in surprising places.

These are families that have outwardly embraced Christianity for generations, but either still preserve the secretive knowledge of their origins, or, even odder, maintained certain rituals that can be directly traced back to Jewish practice, but have been altered over the years in subtle ways.

One thing common in many of these families is the lingering fear of discovery, and, in one chilling case, that fear was warranted. Apparently, in the 1920's, a number of families in the Netherlands were persuaded to come out and declare their Jewish roots. That worked great until the Nazis marched in 20 years later, rounded them up and killed them.

The families that did not reveal their Jewish past survived.

Once again, it proves the old adage that "I wouldn't be paranoid if They weren't out to get me."

new word for today (thanks to Ken Levine)

If you don't read his blog, you are missing daily entertainment.

The word is to be applied to Sarah Palin's book: alibiography

Saturday, November 21, 2009

mary landrieu says 'yes'!

She will vote 'ay' in tonight's Senate procedural nonsense. It's small, but important.

Meanwhile, just finished reading this. Highly recommended. Thanks to RH for telling me about this book.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

don't look now, but...

Bad things are happening between Venezuela and Columbia, and this may be a very big story before too long.

Chavez is a wild-card down there, and I am afraid that matters are escalating towards bloodshed, which could pull in the bigger powers, who smell oil.

It's always, ultimately, about the oil.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

not raining

So, I guess it's time to confront the remaining leaves.

UPDATE: many leaves moved from yard to compost. What did you expect, announcement of a cancer cure?

Monday, November 16, 2009

it's karen's birthday today (Monday)

send her a note at kstolzberg@juno.com - she has a big brief due tomorrow and is stressing over it.

as for me, work is pretty lean these days but, fortunately, there are lots of music rehearsals and performances coming up in the next couple of weeks.

also, as I recall, we have having 18 people to dinner late next week, so we are starting to think about that. yikes!

here's a photo from Spain, that I am thinking about today:

The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch (1504), taken in the Prado, six hours after landing in Madrid, after flying for two days. The guard in the room wagged a finger and scowled at me. So it goes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

why isn't everybody saying this?

Am I just stating the obvious, but isn't the proper response to the supporters of the Stupak abortion amendment something along the lines of "Oh, I get it - you want the Government to come between a woman and her doctor."?


Saw the always-wonderful Craig Carothers last night at the Buffalo Gap. As usual, he appeared with a couple of other songwriters and they traded songs, and, as usual, the other star of the evening (aside from Craig's perfect songs), is the dazzling guitar wizardry of Tim Ellis' always-perfect accompaniment. Breath-taking.

Craig and friends are in Oregon for the next few days. If you've never seen or heard him, go.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

is our children learning?

Maybe the proper question should be 'what is our soldiers learning'?

Maybe it wasn't the best decision to make 'Defense Industries' (i.e. Continuous War) the basis of our economy (spreading the money across every congressional district), rather than investing those 400 billion dollars per year in Education and Health Care for all citizens.

Maybe then we wouldn't have (as many) paranoid dumb-asses loose on our streets.

So, is this is further proof that Obama is keeping us safe, or is not keeping us safe? I am confused.

Must.turn.on.TV.now........

Monday, November 09, 2009

Nibiru?

Be afraid, Americans! Notice how similar 'Nibiru' is to 'Obama'? Makes you think.

So the End is 12/21/12? I think the Mayans were off by a few days, and it really should be 12/12/12 -- Ben's birthday. Since the world ends 9 days later, maybe I should hold off buying a present. Must make a calendar entry...

Another triumph of Hollywood marketing - actually we saw the 'trailer' for that movie the other day. Didn't seem like there was a lot of time for character development, what with cars being swallowed up and tsunamis coming soon to a town near you.

And you were worried about the Ice caps melting by 2100 - be happy.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

dennis

once again, doing the right thing for the right reasons.

I think time will tell that the bill that was passed by the House this weekend was a disgrace and a failure, and ultimately a victory for the status quo, no matter how much lipstick they put on it.

All the noble ambitions of the true Progressives were thwarted, and the Big Guys are undoubtedly high-fiving to celebrate their effective bamboozlement. It's all very sad, but the saddest part is the claim of some great victory.

It's a tiny step, and, by the time the Senate/House conference gets thru with it, it will be even tinier.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

oh, untimely death!

I was never a major Michael Jackson fan (aside from 'Billie Jean', which I always thought was brilliant musically, until I understood the weird lyrics).

At any rate, we saw the 'This is It' movie last night, and I must say that the guy really was incredibly talented, and showed no visible precursors of a man about to be, well, dead. It makes it seem all the more like a case of medical incompetence, but I'll leave that up to the District Attorney.

Go see it, and, for two hours, forget about the Neverland sleepovers and bizarre surgeries. It's about Dance, lighting, and theater.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

back doing fun programming

Thankfully, my two remaining clients (others have been hit hard by the recession and have shelved further enhancements) have been coming up with interesting challenges, and I have enjoyed digging into code and user interfaces again, to create some cool tools and slick functions for them.

Really, there's nothing more satisfying than being in total command of the all-encompassing universe that is a software application. It compensates for the messier aspects of real life.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

politics in spain

Having read a lot about the Spanish Civil War, in preparation for the trip, I was dying to ask Spaniards about how Franco and his reign are now considered, but I never had the courage to bring it up, knowing that, in some areas, passions are still high.

On the last day, I did ask Liz, the English owner of the B&B about it, and her answers were somewhat non-committal, along the lines of "it is recognized that there were atrocities on both sides." She also mentioned that Tony's (her spanish husband) father was a Franco supporter.

Well, today on the net, I see this. Apparently, my sense is right, and the historical verdict is that the eternal glorification of Franco is not going to happen. It's sort of equivalent to the Russians pulling down the Lenin statues, although the US still has to deal, someday, with the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building.

Beautiful full moon tonight. Totally dark now (5:45 pm).

Did a lot of yard-work this weekend - knees hurt. Busy week ahead, with several music rehearsals and a birthday dinner coming up Thursday (we are going out for sushi).

Spain seems very far away now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

more rejected photos from Spain

Again, these are pictures that are not going to make my official 'show', for various reasons:

Girona - view from old city walls:

Optical illusion painting, from the Dali museum, Figueres:


Room in Alcazar, Segovia:


Roman mosaic, Empuries:



I have the official show down to about 200 slides. Had to cut out many that I wish I could have included, but I don't want the audience to revolt.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

what jet lag?

It took four days, but we are feeling pretty much normal for the first time, today. Funny how we adjusted to Spain time quickly, but readjusting to Portland time has been difficult. So many factors here, it's impossible to say why this is so.

Moving right along organizing my photos. I am up to the Barcelona phase and then I'll be ready to try them out on the usual suspects. Here are a few that won't make the cut to the official show, because they are duplicates of a better shot:

The cathedral in Segovia:

Girona:

Peratallada, from the terrace of our hostel:

The cloister at Tarragona cathedral:

Spires of Sagrada Familia, Barcelona:

Friday, October 23, 2009

jet lag is beginning to lag

We've been home for two days now, and things are starting to approach normal.

Still, I was awake from 2 to 5 this morning. Wonder how long that will continue?

Working on organizing my Spain photos. I promise I will never make you watch all of them.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

bye-bye, barcelona

We began the day holding about 102,75 euros and a metro pass with 8 rides still on it. The goal was to finish the day with 0 rides on the metro pass, and as few euros as possible.

We have apparently succeeded.

We took the metro to the big flea-market (Encants) where, last Friday morning, we bought a few chachkas. One of the more interesting stalls, though, was a guy who was selling a large number of original art pieces, by real Catalan artists. Many were framed, but he also had many pieces unframed. We had looked at a couple of items the other day, but didn't buy anything.

This morning, we attempted to find him again, amid the incredible bustle of the market. We did, and, a half-hour later, after much haggling, I am the owner of a small original semi-abstract oil by Carlos Alonso-Eugenia, born in Barcelona 1929 and now dead. The original price was 120 (the dealer said it would go for 150 in a gallery) but Karen, with flair and determination, got it down to 80. I am happy, and Art Man seemed content.

Next, on our way out of the market, she spied a decorative metal tray, with arabic writing on the back. The guy wanted 40 euros, but, since we only had 20 left, she offered 20. He scoffed, then, as we shrugged and walked away, he said 'OK'.

Now we were down to about 2,75 euros. We took the metro back to our neighborhood, dropped off our new treasures, then went back to L'Oronete, the neighborhood bistro where we had a great lunch on the first day. They take credit cards, so lunch was able to proceed.

For first course, Karen had the standard Catalan salad (lettuce, olives, assorted hams, etc), and I had a very delicious, hot, bubbly casserole of stuffed red-peppers in an eggy, cheesy sauce. It was major comfort food.

For second course, Karen had merluza (hake) and I had rabbit, which tasted like very good chicken. It was a delicious lunch, accompanied by white wine, good flan (Karen had a pear for dessert), and two Cafe Americanos. 21 euros, thanks to Visa.

Back at The Patio, we rested, then met the new couple just arriving -- from Portland! Small world. We chatted and it was nice.

By the middle of the afternoon, we were ready to go out for our final tourist swing. We took the metro down to the Liceu stop, walked thru La Boqueria, the large, touristy market, walked along the crowded, touristy Rambla, then into the quieter streets of the Old City.

The neighborhood just to the east of the main cathedral was the old Jewish quarter, and we walked its dim, quiet, cavern-like streets. The occasional marker confirmed that this was the place. I know my ancestors lived in Toledo, and I believe they ended up in Salonika, and Barcelona was the logical departure point for Mediterranean ports, so I imagined my ancestors strolling those streets, as their final days in Spain approached (quickly).

It may not have actually happened that way, of course, but it's easy to think so.

It was now late afternoon. We took the metro back to our neighborhood (using the final rides on our metro pass). We popped into the Internet cafe just around the corner, to login to Delta and print boarding passes. I paid the 25 cents for 15 minutes of computer time (significantly diminishing my remaining cash).

I got pretty far into the check-in process before Delta insisted on my retyping our passport numbers (which they certainly already have, and which I did not have on me). 13 minutes left!

I ran back to our room, grabbed the documents, ran back, completed the check-in, and printed the boarding passes. Of course, it printed 3 pages of garbage along with the passes, so that was 7 pages at 20 cents/page.

I now have about 4 coins in my pocket, worth less than 1 euro. Mission accomplished!

Back at The Patio, we chatted more with the Portland couple. I sold them my Barcelona guide-book (still with its Powells sticker) for 5 dollars (US), and gave them the unused coupons, maps, and other tourist info, that we will no longer be using.

It's now 6 pm. I have started my final packing. In a couple of hours we will go out for our final dinner (as long as they take Visa), and, tomorrow morning, Tony will drive us to the airport. We should be home before midnight.

As Karen and I were walking thru the metro on our way back, late this afternoon, I said something like '...and remember the time we went to Spain?'

She said, 'oh yes, I remember that trip - what year was that?'

Sunday, October 18, 2009

another barcelona day

We took the metro to the Rambla neighborhood, looking for another flea-market. The flea part was pretty meager, but there was a thriving, regular coin and stamp market, with dozens of tables serving the curiosity and competitive needs of many buyers and sellers.

It was quite a scene, and you definitely had the feeling that this has been going on for years, every Sunday. Didn't buy anything, although one table that specialized in (genuine?) Roman, Etruscan, and Moroccan coins was especially cool.

From there, we wandered over to the Cathedral neighborhood, via the 'Placa de George Orwell'. One of the books I had brought with me on this trip (have I not mentioned this previously?) is 'Homage to Catalonia', his ultimately blistering chronicle of his time serving in the Republican army during the Civil War, and, especially, his surreal time here in Barcelona. You should read this, if you haven't. Strangely, no plaque or explanation of why that plaza has that name. Does anyone know?

Following directions in Rick Steves' book, we found the tiny side-street near the cathedral, where you turn a corner and there, surrounded by buildings is a little, quiet space occupied by four original columns from the Roman temple on this site. It's quite eerie. The place is called 'Mount Taber' and is the highest point in the original Roman town.

A couple of blocks away and it's the 21st century again, with traffic and the bustling of tourists.
We hopped on the Blue tourist bus (remember, we bought 2-day passes) and rode it up to the 'Block of Discord', where 4 Modernist buildings, one by Gaudi, compete with each other. The crowds were enormous, but we peeked into one of the houses to see the interesting architectural details, before hopping on a Red tourist bus, to sit for a while.

This bus took us back to Sagrada Familia, which is where we first picked it up yesterday (was it only yesterday?). This time, as we approached Sagrada, we could see an astonishing tide of humanity. A lot of people milling around. We felt sorry for the people in the REALLY long line waiting to get on the Tourist Bus, because NOBODY on our bus got off to visit the church. It must have been a long, hot wait for a lot of people there today.

However, we sailed along, and it was grand, sitting on top as the bus winds its way thru the various neighborhoods. Our destination was the Park Guell, Gaudi's failed urban-living development, now a public park.

Lots of people here, too. That was an understatement.

Despite the crowds, we managed to walk uphill in the park to a reasonably quiet place, where we spread out our lunch on a bench and munched away, while first a hammer-dulcimer player and then a violinist played music for the folks (CDs available). It was actually very, very nice, and the park itself is a surreal Disney-land like experience, with more people than you can imagine.

After we ate, we spent a lot of time wandering the many paths, climbing high above the park entrance, to a great viewpoint overlooking the entire Barcelona basin. We could see for miles and miles and miles, the blue Mediterranean off in the distance, and landmarks like Sagrada Familia and Montjuic orienting the view.

By now it was almost 3 pm, and we'd been doing our tourist thing, once again, for many hours.

We got back on the Tourist Bus (luckily, no wait, and seats on top!) and rode around the Red route, as we had done yesterday. It was getting pretty chilly by the time we reached the stop near our home. We walked the few block to our familiar neighborhood, and now we are there, having had a cup of nice mint tea, lying in bed, me typing and Karen reading the thriller she picked up in Tarragona.

We will relax a bit, then head out for some dinner. Tomorrow is the last day of this trip.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

weather has changed

Writing this early Sunday morning from the terrace of our B&B, wearing my polar-fleece.

We are aiming for another flea-market today, and maybe more Gaudi stuff. We have seen so much art on this trip that it's a bit overwhelming.

Good thing our B&B (The Patio) is away from all that (about 10 blocks east of the Sants station).

Yesterday was our bad-food day, which is why the normal obsessive description of every bite was missing.

Time for some coffee.

more fun in barcelona

We got up early and were 8th in line at 8:45, at the Sagrada Familia. When the doors opened at 9, we headed to the lift, and were in the first lift to the top that day. The views of the city the immense scaffolding, the bizarrely-ornamented towers and facades, the workers casually strolling around at great heights -- it was all just right.

We stayed up there until the crush of arriving sight-seers drove us to the stairs down, and down, and down, and down, back to ground level. Dizzying and fun. Inside the under-construction nave, you can see the plaster forms and skeleton of the someday-to-be-finished cathedral.

In the museum, it was interesting to see a sequence of photos, going back to 1908. It's come a long way, but there's still plenty to be done. It was interesting to see, in the museum, some large sculptures from the original building, that had to be replaced in the 1990s.

From there, we bought the 2-day pass to the daunting Tourist Bus, which, actually, turned out to be kinda fun. The Red route took us, with great seats on top, across the northern section of town. We got out at the Pedralbes monestary, and found its 14th century nave filling with somber, well-dressed folks. A choir was rehearsing, and at noon, a service started, with choral music and what appeared to be a memorial service. We sat in the back for a long time, enjoying the sounds and the light streaming thru the lovely stained-glass.

Continuing on the Red bus, we got off at the palace containing the museums of Decorative Arts and Ceramics. We didn't pay any admission, and nobody asked us to, so we just wandered around. It was pretty interesting, and the building itself, and the grounds, were quite nice.

Eventually, we changed to the Blue Bus, and took its entire route, not getting back to the B&B until almost 7 pm. We were getting tired, so we only got out once, at the Miro museum, and its promise of total wackiness was fulfilled. What a wild and crazy guy - you have to admire vision and creativity like that.

We haven't decided where the Tourist Bus will take us tomorrow, but today was a lot easier than the past two, with more riding and much less walking. Then why are we tired?

Going out for dinner soon. Two more full days, and then we head home.

Friday, October 16, 2009

basking in barcelona

After a proper English breakfast (i.e. no ham), we set off for the local flea-market, which happens several times a week.

Navigating the metro was easy, and we soon joined the throngs, looking for treasures. We bought several things, Karenh once again proving that her haggling skills are superb.

After hours of examining everything in minute detail, we headed off for lunch, ending up at a neighborhood place for the menu del dia. I had a kind of casserole of mashed potato, cheese, bacallo, and paprika, followed by a bottifara (sausage) accompanied by a kind of eggplant fritter, a beer, and lemon ice-cream. Karen had a lovely salad with tuna, egg, olives ad a ham slice, followed by a grilled lamb chop that she pronounced better than the vastly-more-expensive lamb we had in Madrid, so long ago. I had a taste and, of course, she was right. 8,90 euros per person.

Satisfied, we walked the few blocks to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's astonishing, unfinished monument to obsession and religious experience. The crowds were preposterous, so we left the area soon, and headed, by metro, down to the old city, in search of the cathedral Santa Maria del Mar, which, rumor has it, is one of the best around.

It was closed for the afternoon break. We were feeling that we were striking out.

We walked the few blocks, through the dim, narrow streets, to the Picasso museum, which was actually quite fascinating, concentrating primarily on early work.

The rooms traced his development, with lots of biographical background. For example, there was one large painting that, at age 16, won second place (!) in a Madrid competition.

For me, the best gallery contained his many wonderfaul variations on the famous Velasquez painting we had seen at the Prado, 'Las Meninas'. Each brilliant variation was like a glimpse into a parallel universe. I loved it.

We returned to the cathedral - it was open and amazing. Begun in the 1320's, it is impossibly high and wide, with graceful vaulting soaring above the forest of massive pillars. There were 'a few' stained-glass windows, too, especially the western-facing rose masterpiece, from the 15th century.

After a bit we left, walked around the harbor, amid more amazing 19th century buildings, got a drink and some tapas, then returned to the cathedral, where we now sit, listening to a gorgeous vocal concert.

The voices of the two dozen singers are echoing soothing religious music, in this beautifully-lit, 14th century setting.

It's better than you can imagine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

barcelona!

We spent a couple of hours browsing the open air market there along the Tarragona rambla, before returning to the hotel, checking out, rolling our bags to the train station, and boarding the train north to Barcelona. It took about an hour, and was very pleasant, traveling along the shores of the Mediterranean.

We walked the few blocks from the Sants station to our home for the next 5 days, a B&B called 'The Patio', and it is just like home. Run by an english woman and her spanish husband, it is an oasis in a very big city. Elizabeth welcomed us, with lots of information about things to do and places to eat, which was good, since we were hungry.

We went to a neighborhood bistro where it was 'paella day' and ordered the Menu de Dia. We both had the paella for the first course, and it was pretty darn good. For the second, Karen had salmon and I had chicken (which was served with a piece of potato and a beautifully grilled sweet red pepper. On the menu, it said the inclusive price covered either water, a beer, or wine. I ordered a beer and a nice tall one arrived. Karen ordered white wine, expecting a glass, and they brought a bottle. We expected to be charged extra for it, but, believe it or not, it was all included. Chocolate mousse for dessert made for a VERY satisfying lunch. 20 euros - a bargain!

We walked the 10 or so blocks east to Casa Mila, one of the Gaudi treasures. The tour is quite worthwhile, especially cavorting around on the bizarre rooftop. Look it up. Really, a fascinating place, and a great introduction to Gaudi for us.

We took the metro back to our home, stopping first at a nearby grocery store to buy some provisions for a light supper, which we just finished. Four more full days here in Barcelona.

Not bad.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Last night in tarragona

We had a nice dinner at a busy, friendly Basque restaurant in the Placa de la Font, called Txantxangorri (just try to say that after a bottle of wine, I couldn't).

We shared a nice salad, with warm goat cheese, apples, bacon and walnuts, then Karen had an egg dish with mushrooms and foie (it's hard to say what that was), and I had cuttlefish in a mysterious, salty sauce.

The place was bustling, with a surprising number of tables occupied by women.

Instead of dessert there, we walked back to the hotel, stopping at a gellato place for a small, perfect cup of hazelnut ice-cream.

It's a lovely night, warm and happy. Time for bed.

Tomorrow we leave Tarragona to begin the final, Barcelona phase.

Some fun, eh?

on the trail to nowhere

Tarragona, like Segovia, boasts a Roman aqueduct as one of its many claims to fame. Naturally, we had to check it out.

After another meager, expensive breakfast, we found the bus and took the 10 minute ride to the 'Pont del Diablo' stop, beside a busy highway.

A 10 minute walk brought us to the aqueduct, but it (like much of spain) is under rennovation, so acces was limited and giant scaffolding covered much of the structure. What we saw was ok, if a 2000 year old engineering marvel is your cup of tea. However, compared to Segovia's, this "Devil's Bridge" is much less devilish.

The park had a network of trails, so we hiked around a bit, and it was pleasant, to say the most. After a while, we turned around, and made our way back to the bus stop, and the next bus was on time, to the minute.

Back in town, we grabbed a filling, cheap lunch at one of the always-reliable kebab joints, then went back to the hotel for a siesta.

An hour later we packed up a lot of stuff and returned to the beach, where we now sit. Karen just emerged from the surf and now it's my turn.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

it's terrific in tarragona

We got coffee and a nosh at a sunny outdoor café on the Rambla, and then Karen was hypnotically drawn to the massive outdoor market that filled the Rambla, offering everything from cheap cosmetics to socks and underwear, kitchen utensils, and lots of clothing, from cheap to surprisingly not-so-cheap.

We bought something for someone back home, then headed to one of the civic attractions, as mentioned in all guide-books and web sites: the walk along the old city walls.

Unfortunately, a large part is closed on weekdays, so the 3 euros apiece didn't buy us much. My recommendation is to skip it and head for the Cathedral.

For a bit more (3,80) per person, we got to immerse ourselves in art and religion spanning 1200-1800, and the free audio guides were very good, if a little too detailed at times. Great stuff, especially the amazing cloister, with its ingenious, varied carvings

By then, we were ready for lunch, and found the right place, downhill from the cathedral. It was a teeny bistro called 'La Teulas' and they did right by us.

For the first course, we both had huevos del plato, a casserole with two eggs, chorizo and tomatoes, baked and served bubbling, with bread.

Second course: Karen had a slab of grilled beef with herbed potatoes and I had a delicious creamy rissoto, with red peppers and other subtle additions

Time for tourism in tarragona

We did find the kebab joint we passed earlier and it was cheap, filling and actually good. Then we went to sleep. Sometimes, that's all you can do.

It's now Tuesday morning - we arrived in Madrid two weeks ago today, and, apparently, done a lot since then.

It's a lovely morning - a cool fresh breeze blows from the blue, endless Mediterranean, and there are both coffee and Roman antiquities in our future.

What could be better? See ya' later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

too tired in tarragona

Yes, our room is nice, overlooking the Mediterranean, but our energy is very low.

We walked around the neighborhood just a little, and sat on a bench on the Rambla, watching the parade of locals and tourists, while brushing off the persistent flies.

It's after 6 pm, and we haven't eaten much, but enthusiasm for another dinner of Spanish food, after 8 pm, is waning. We did pass a turkish kebab place earlier - wonder if we can find it again.

There's a McDonalds a few doors down, but I just can't.

time to tarry in tarragona

The train ride south from Figueres took about 3 hours, but we have found the hotel I reserved *months* ago, and I am sitting in the lobby, waiting 20 minutes for the perfect room to be ready.

Karen is sitting by the pool, soaking her feet. Tarragona looks like a beautiful place. We'll get settled and then check it out.

But first, a shout-out to friends: Kim, Barbra, Jane, Steve, Gail, Teri, and everyone else (you *can* leave a comment once in a while, you know), we miss you all.

Now, perhaps, a stroll by the Mediterranean...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The day of three 'onas'

Dinner was at 9, as usual, and was very good, as usual.

We were the only native english speakers at the table, but the charming young woman sitting across fom us had enough english to converse.

Even better, her significant-other, from Barcelona (whose english was pretty much limited to 'very good'), went thru my Barcelona guide-book with enthusiasm, circling every recommended site and restaurant.

This morning, we take the train south from Figueres, passing thru, in the course of two hours, Girona, Barcelona, and Tarragona.

I believe these are all the major onas. Let me know if there are others.

The end of the (bike) road

After a fine breakfast with the other guests, we scoffed at today's suggested bike-route for our tour. Who needs another 40 km of remote back roads, enchanting old villages and natural park paths? We have nothing to prove.

So, we slowly rolled along the area bike paths, winding our way into Figueres, by way of the little hamlet of L'Olvia, which we made a point of visiting in honor of the 19th birthday of our friend, Olivia.

In Figueres, we found the Rambla, much busier today than we found it, a week ago. We sat for a while, enjoying the scene, before picking an outdoor café for lunch.

It was mixed. I had a nice seafood salad (creamy dill dressing) and an unexciting-but-ok paella (will keep trying and comparing), while Karen had a nice fried turbot, accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and peppers, which she liked. Too bad the waiter was surly, but we got what we needed.

We headed back the way we came, again passing L'Olvia, ending up cycling the last km back to Baseia, arriving around 4.

We emptied our bicycle bags, took off our sweaty bicycle gear and clothes, and said goodbye to the bicycle part of this trip.

Total ridden: 204 km - not bad for a couple of baby-boomers going to seed.

We hit the swimming pool for a bit, then I lay out in the sun for a long time, reflecting on the following:

1) we did it (the biking)!

2) we are off to Tarragona

3) it's still 4 hours until dinner

4) there were over 20 flies crawling on my legs

5) my family has come a long way - driven out from Judaea by the Romans, driven out from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs (did you know my family lived in Toledo, until 1492?), driven out of Russia and Poland (by the Russians and Poles, obviously), only to have found a happy home in Upstate New York, USA.

I grew up there, and moved to Oregon in 1977, but that's another story.

The point is that it's great to be back in Spain, now that the Inquisition is over. I am having a much better time here than my ancestors did, when they had reached the end of their Spanish road.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ok, ok - so 'killing' was hyperbole

Still, would you have spent your valuable time reading a blog post entitled 'the minor discomforts of the jews'?

Honestly, though, yesterday's bike ride was difficult, considering the distance, rain, disorientation at times, hypoglycemia, and the final, mind-numbing 12 km.

We did have a pleasant evening last night. Can Navata is quite full of guests, mostly Spaniards. There is one English couple, and our hostess thoughtfully sat us together at the end of the long dining room table, where we had a nice chat about our bicycle holidays (they are doing one from a different UK company, so we compared route maps and guides).

As Karen is quite involved in the current US debate on Health Care reform, we also discussed the British NHS, its benefits, problems, and evolution. We all agreed that the US system is absurd. But you already know this.

Why were we the only guests at Can Massa last week, and seeing a full house this week? Tomorrow, October 12, is a Spanish national holiday - Columbus Day (just like home). How odd that that plucky Genoa sailor ended up being so beloved in both Spain and America. It makes sense for both countries, of course, since his successes were the basis for America's exaggerated sense of self-importance, and Spain's glorious 100 years of relatively unchallenged plundering in the New World. Things didn't go so well for Philip II after 1598, as I recall, but that's another story.

Karen is still in bed - I am down in the hostal library, enjoying the wifi on the netbook (much easier than tapping out these blog entries on my phone). She is pretty sore from yesterday's ordeal, and thinks her fingers will be permanently numb. Don't know what today will bring yet.

Tomorrow, we take the train south from Figueres to Tarragona, where the saga continues.

In another hour, it will be time for 'the breakfast of the jews'.

The killing of the jews - part 2

I could tell you about the nice dinner of assorted tapas last night, but you don't care, right?

You will remember some days ago, when we cycled thru the hamlet of Matajudaica ('The killing of the Jews'). There wasn't much there. It's the thought that counts.

It is now Saturday afternoon, around 5. We left Peratallada at 9 this morning.

We cycled north, along quiet roads to Gualta. It was cool and cloudy - Karen said it was going to rain on us. I hoped for the best, an annoying trait, under most conditions.

At Torroella de Montgri, we crossed a bridge over the river Ter, known to locals as 'The Bridge Over the River Ter', since it was built under Franco in 1940, using slave-labor supplied by defeated Republicans, back when Republicans were the good guys.

We got a little lost, following the complicated bike route thru the busy city, but eventually reached the outskirts and the countryside, when the rain hit.

Around Albons, we got drenched. Nothing to do but pedal on.

We reached the coast at L'Escala, and the rain clouds were already breaking up. By the time we got to the archeology museum at Empuries, the sun was shining and blue sky warmed our very damp clothes. About 25 km completed at this point.

We were getting tired.

We toured the extensive Greek and Roman ruins. This was the major settlement on the spanish coast, way back when (200 BC, to be more precise).

The museum had a lot of artifacts, some surprisingly obscene. Uphill in the Roman town, there were some interesting mosaics - the Rich really knew how to live (nothing new about that).

The public latrine sort of reminded me of Cycle Oregon, but that's another story.

By now it was well after noon, and we had many km to go, and energy was beginning to flag.

We cycled north along the coast, and, most fortunately, found a bustling restaurant in Sant Marti d'Empuries, across the square fom the old church, where a tumultuous wedding was taking place.

We needed that meal - we were only slightly more than half way.

We had a giant mound of steamed mussels, salads (mine with smoked salmon and Karen's, tempting the gods of Lactose Intolerance, with goat cheese). Also a beer, a coke, and two coffees - 35 euros.

Fortified, we resumed.

We biked along dirt roads thru a natural park, on and on under the hot sun, faithfully following the detailed turn-by-turn directions.

At Sant Pere Pescador, we crossed the river Fluvia, and began the final 12 km to Baseia.

Getting tired reading this? Just imagine living it.

The final couple of hours were mostly along uneven dirt roads, through farm-land, far from recognizable habitations. We did pass thru a couple of little towns, energy depleted and butts sore, and finally made the last turn for the final 1.1 km to Can Navata, our home for the next two days.

50 km today. We are beat, but were happy to see our bags waiting.

Karen hit the bed. I went immediately to the small swimming pool which, months ago, I had spied with Google Earth.

The water was cool, but I was ready for it. After a while, I got out and stretched out on a pool-side lounge-chair, where I have been laboriously tapping this out on my phone, while flies are crawling all over me, and I'm doing this All For You.

Dinner at 9 pm. Now, I must rest.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday afternoon in Peratallada

We cycled about 30km, returning about 12:30, hot and hungry.

We went first out to the beach, with big views north and south, big waves crashing, and big, dark storm clouds all around.

The amount of actual rain was minimal, as we rode rhru a vast marshy area, planted intensely with rice.

We contined north to Gualta, where we had hoped to find a café. Alas, none was to be found, so we headed back south, along quiet farm roads.

We were tired by the time we got back to the room. After a shower and a brief rest, we walked the ten feet back to 'El Pati', for their 12 euro menu del dia.

First course: for me, very nice pasta with pesto; for Karen a bowl of lovely pureed-vegetable soup (carrot, leek, and squash - we asked). Second course: for karen a chicken leg with mushroom sauce plus a baked potato; for me, a casserole with an eggplant, stewed in tomato, onion and bits of meat, plus a potato. Also, good bread, a bottle of water, a bottle of beer, and a coffee. Total: 30 euros.

Karen took the netbook out to the terrace, to work.
For me: nap.

Tomorrow we leave Peratallada and head north - the longest ride of the trip: 50km. It is a little daunting - better have another great dinner in five hours!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Friday morning - Peratallada

We agonized over the choice of restaurants last night (yes, it has come to this).

Settled on 'El Pati', because I had read a glowing review, and its back entrance was eight feet from our room.

It was amazing - the place itself takes 'charm and elegance' to new heights, and the chow was ok, too.

The teeny olives, fresh bread, vegetable puree (for bread-dipping) was a great appetizer. We also had a bottle of the house white, which was, shall we say, yummy.

I had bacallao (salt cod, a catalan staple), nestled in a comfortable bed of rattatouille (sp?). Karen had a duck leg, garnished with an amazing scoop of seasoned rice and what appeared to be a spiced orange slice.

Don't forget dessert - little chocolate wafers atop licorice ice cream, with a splash of whiskey.

During most of dinner there was just one other couple eating. Later, two more parties arrived.

You get the idea.

It is now early morning, and I am sitting alone in the main plaza. Our breakfast should be ready soon, then I think we will go for a bike ride.

Hmm - most of last post was truncated

Lunch, overpriced as always, arrived, but we were happy to get it.

The route to Llfranc was challenging, but the final 1km descent to the beach was exciting, as long as we didn't think about the return.

It was beautiful there, sunny with waves crashing on the golden sand. We lingered until we felt mostly recovered from the morning ride.

I had taken two wrong turns - the turn-by-turn directions a little ambiguous in places - but eventually found our way. A very nice stretch took us on a dirt road through a peaceful wood, but there was traffic to contend with around Palafrugell.

We retraced much of the morning route, taking time for a much-needed break (and impossibly-expensive refreshments) in Pals.

Got back to peratallada around 4, very sweaty and pretty tired.

It is now almost 7pm, and the restaurants should be opening soon. I'm very hungry.

Tomorrow, another shorter ride. Regards to all.

Mid-day thursday - on the Mediteranean

Oops - no spell-check at the moment.

It was a twisty 20 km to the beach at Llafranc, but we made it. Rain threatened the whole time, but it's now mostly sunny, as we sit at the outdoor café of the Hotel Llevant, drinking coffee and waiting for lunch to arrive

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wednesday afternoon in Peratallada

We reluctantly left Can Massa (town of La Pera) this morning, since our rwo-day stay was so wonderful, with friendly hosts, superb dinners, and spotty-but-appreciated wifi.

Today's bike ride took us first uphill to Foixa, then down onto the flats again.

We passed by Matajudaica again, before climbing to Ullestret, where I had another flat tire. This time I checked the inside and found the little thorn that had been my doom.

Fortunately, we found a quiet outdoor café, and had two coffees each, after I changed tubes.

We continued to Palau-Sator, then on to Peratallada, where we easily found our hotel. Our room is very nice, and our bags were in it, which is even nicer.

Once again, we are the only guests at a place that can handle a dozen. The lady in charge let us use the washing machine, which was appreciated.

We did a load, went for a walk around the tiny town, got oriented and got lunch. Clothes are still on the line drying.

The town seems carved out of bedrock and has little twisty passages. The ancient bell-tower is nearby, as we sit on the *very* peaceful terrace and watch the birds swirling by.

There are many fine restaurants here, and they should open in a couple of hours.

Alas, no wifi, so this won't be posted for a while.

THE NEXT MORNING

Aha, an early-morning stroll led me to someone's wifi, which I am poaching, sitting b the side of an ancient street.

We had an ok dinner, and, although I slept well, karen says she didn't, and we are hoping to do over 20 miles today, before returning to Peratallada.

Looks like another nice day - a little cloudy but breaking up (8 am). See ya latter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's more than just 'dinner'

We never had a proper lunch today, which might explain our brain-dead arrival back in La Pera.

We spent most of the late afternoon getting clean, relaxing, and getting caught up on email and (dare I say it?) work.

By 7 we were definitely 'getting hungy' and after a very brief stroll around the hamlet of La Pera, dinner was served.

And what a dinner. First of all, realize that we are the only guests (a crowd is expected later in the week). We sit outside in the peaceful yard, at a tablecloth-covered table for two, and are served a fish-soup with pasta, a salad of greens, sprouts and white asparagus, fresh bread (both white and wheat), and an amazing platter of green asparagus, fish, shrimp, clams and mussels, in a subtle sauce.

Oh, did I mention a bottle of cold, sparkling white wine?

For dessert, fresh pears and a peach, with yogurt and honey. And herbal tea, with a final shot of honey.

This is very good, but we are thrashed and ready for bed. Tomorrow we pack up and cycle to Peratallada, while our bags get transported to the next guest house.

Not bad.

Bicycling - day 1

Back at Can Massa by 3, after a grueling 32 km, with very hot sun and unfortunately-frequent hills, especially toward the end.

The final 4km, returning to La Pera were, thankfully, downhill. Karen went immediately to lie down, in our darkened room.

The route took us thru autumnal countryside - little villages and harvested fields, along minor roads. There was one long stretch of dirt/gravel where, of course, I had a flat.

It was easy to fix and get moving again. I especially wanted to take a photo of one teeny town we passed, Matajudaico (translation: the killing of the Jews). It was pretty peaceful there today - other days, not so much.

We stopped for a short break in Cruillers, at the base of the silent 11th century tower, before cycling on to Monells, where we had some cold drinks in the charming old square.

By now it was getting pretty warm and our energy was fading. The stretch from Monells to Madremanya was brutal.

Tomorrow, the route is only 24km, and should be much less hilly. If not, we're doomed.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Oops - forgot to mention

Not only are we way out in the country, at an antique farm-house, but they have wifi.

Monday afternoon - still in girona

We lingered at the café all morning, nobody bothering us about using the wifi and just sitting.

Karen worked on a case, while I people-watched and did a little wandering, just so I could say that I have walked across all the bridges.

We exchanged some dollars at a bank, walked around the old city, looking for our new winter home (a fixer-upper, of course), and, for the third time, found ourselves at Le Bistrot.

THREE HOURS LATER

We had a big lunch - salad, main, dessert, wine and coffee. I would tell you what I had, but it was treyf.

We returned to the hotel, grabbed our bags, and rolled 'em to the train station. The 12 minute ride to Flaca brought us out to the country, where we were met by the owners of the rural hotel where our bike ride begins.

Not only is the place incredibly charming, but we are the only guests and the bikes were actually waiting for us.

It's all too easy.

Leaving girona today

We must move on.

It's monday morning - we see little kids going to school with little backpacks, holding a parent's hand. We see businessmen, looking serious.

You can't tell that everyone was up past midnight in the cafés. No doubt they will do it again tonight.

We checked out of the hotel and strolled the three blocks to the plaza café where we've repeatedly enjoyed their wifi.

At some point this afternoon we take the train to the small town where we are met by the owner of our first hotel on the bike tour, which begins tomorrow.

We have fantasized about moving to Girona. Enough said.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Delights of Girona

After our coffee, we headed to the Sunday flea-market, where we bought assorted presents (you must wait), then headed back into the narrow alleys of the old quarter.

The Jewish museum was free today, and was quite interesting, not skimping on details about the ultimate tragedy of 1200-1492, with escalating persecutions and indignities leading up to the final expulsion.

I bought a CD of jewish-sephardic songs. We'll see if it's interesting enough to play on KBOO!

We found the path, through beautiful gardens
, to the old city walls, which you can follow for a great distance, punctuated with frequent towers, with sweeping views of the city.

The walkway took us back down to the river, where we found the perfect outdoor café for lunch. Karen had grilled tuna and I had a large plate of pasta with clams, calamari, garlic, onion and tomatoes, in a sauce of olive oil and squid ink. And a large beer, of course!

We are now back at the same café where we breakfasted, enjoying an afternoon coffee and the wifi (which, by the way, is pronounced WEE-fee).

Lovely day. We like Girona very much. Now, to drink that coffee!

Sunday morning in girona

Heard a local band play great music at an outdoor concert last night, then returned to our favorite restaurant, Le Bistrot, for another wonderful late night, light dinner.

Now, church bells are ringing, as we sit in an outdoor café. Karen is on her 2nd coffee, checking her mail on the netbook, while I am patiently tapping this into my phone.

We have a full day to wander around girona, which is a place full of delights and scenic surprises.

This is all very nice.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Saturday in girona - not! (a surreal experience)

We woke up expecting to have a leisurely day in girona, when I realized that, shockingly, the Dali museum in Figures is closed on sundays, so it was either today or never.

We grabbed stuff for the day and needlessly rushed to the train station, where there was plenty of time.

We wandered thru the town and found the museum without problems. It's a trip thru that madman's twisted world.

Paintings, sculpture, bizarre visual tricks, perverse whimsy - all there, designed by Himself.

Worthwhile seeing - glad we didn't miss it.

Caught a 4 pm express train back to our girona hotel room.

Weather - sunny and warm.

Flamenco and folk music concert tonight. The fun never ends.

Friday, october 2 - to Girona

We had breakfast in a neighborhood joint near our Madrid hotel. We had the sense that the regulars were well known. Fresh-squeezed OJ, good coffee, and a couple of greasy, totally-mysterious churros, slender and curved, without sugar. I saw one guy dipping his into coffee - I guess that would improve the experience. Had to try 'em.

We did our final packing, the pre-arranged shuttle picked us up and we got to the airport by 11:30.

Now the surprise. We were flying on a discount airline, and the pre-purchase rules were very strict about carry-on weight limits. Imagine discovering that our main bags were 19 kilograms over the limit, which would cost 20 euros/kg, or over $300 extra.

Our carry-ons were permitted 10kg each, so we had a frantic 20 minutes, transferring as many heavy things as possible to our carry-ons, with the knowledge that they had both weight and size restrictions.

We got everything pretty close to the limits and the check-in lady cut us some slack on the final 3 kg.

We got on board, the only english speakers we heard, surrounded by spaniards (who resumed their loud chatter whenever the flight announcements shifted from spanish to english).

At the Girona airport, we took the pretty-cheap bus to the central station, then rolled our bags to the hotel, stopping on the way for a cool drink at an outdoor café.

Hotel Ultonia seems fine - comfortable room and great location. We settled in and relaxed for an hour, before heading out. We are just 5 minutes from the river and old city, and it is absolutely charming.

Posh stores line the Rambla, and the narrow, canyon-like medieval streets are wonderful.

We made our way up to the majestic, ancient cathedral an hour before closing, paid the 5 euros apiece and were amazed to have it all to ourselves. We spent time in the rooms-of-treasures, admiring the many 13th, 14th and 15th century paintings, tapistries, and gold-and-jewel encrusted ceremonial objects.

The main nave is immense, and we walked thru the dim, cavernous space, while appropriate classical music echoed. Nobody else around, so I disobeyed the stern 'no photos' injunction.

It was great standing in front of the gleaming high altar, knowing that those wacky
medieval Christians had built their church directly on top of the previous temple, erected way back in the 2nd century by those incredible (and persistent Romans) .

The ticket-seller at the cathedral recommended a restaurant that happened to be one that I had also noted, in my many hours of internet research. We found it.

It was the best restaurant in the world.

The setting, outside on a quiet side-street with steps leading up to an amazing ornate carved façade, was perfectly gorgeous, and the food, wine, dessert, coffee, and service were perfect. Finally and uncharacteristically, it was, compared with othe meals so far on this trip, cheap.

We are going back there for lunch.

Full day in Girona planned for tomorrow. Looks promising.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Thursday night in Madrid

Yes, before the ballet, we had drinks under the fabulous rotunda at the Palace Hotel? It was quite posh, and rather shocking to get the tab for karen's $20 mojito!

The ballet was modern and exciting, as was the Opening Night crowd. Afterwards, we went to a nice neighborhood place for a late, light supper (omelet with shrimp and a glass of champagne).

We got up early thursday, and took the crowded metro to the bus station, and then found the bus to Segovia, getting there around 10:30.

We walked to the astounding aquaduct and tok a couple of quick photos, before heading up into the old town, in search of breakfast, which was successful and horribly overpriced (but the espresso was strong and yummy, as always).

We found the main square and paid the 3 euros (each) to enter the immense cathedral, where we spent over an hour checking out the many bizarre chapels, altars and genuine old art, all with its rather singular purpose. The cloister was especially nice, with the expected rich Treasury room, filled with gold, silver and crystal goodies.

We continued downhill to the amazing Alcazar (look it up), where we toured the many restored rooms, with ornate ceilings, great stained glass, many suits of armor, and sweeping vistas overlooking the city and surroundings (we paid the extra 2 euro each for the privilege of climbing the narrow, winding 152 steps to the top of the tower). The Alcazar was a great thing, worth seeing.

We were getting tired and trudged back to the magnificent aquaduct, where we spent over two hours taking pictures and eating some pretty darn good Turkish food (plus a large, cold beer).

It was a long day and being a tourist is hard work. We got the 5:30 bus and pulled into a bustling Madrid by 7. After more Metro madness, we are back at our peaceful haven.

Made a bunch of Skype calls and are now ready for bed. The wifi seems to crap out each night at 10:30, so I will post this in the morning.

We fly to Girona tomorrow early afternoon - on to the next phase!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday, still in madrid

Karen wasn't ready to get up until 10:00 - I was awake at my normal 7am (which is odd, when you consider that my body-time should be 9 hours off).

We walked over to the fabulous Reina Sophia museum, stopping at a little joint for pan tosta and espresso (two each).

The museum has a great collection of modern stuff - you can really see that something revolutionary happened between 1890 and 1920.

The big draw, of course, is 'Guernica', which fills an entire wall, and is accompanied by several dozen studies of the many figures in the finished mural.

It is clear that Picasso went into a creative frenzy during this period. In the same room as the mural, they had a half-dozen photos, showing its several stages of completion. You can see Pablo changing his mind on some components as he worked.

There were also several nearby rooms with photos, posters and drawings related to the Civil War - very sobering.

All in all, I liked this museum more than the Prado.

We found a sidewalk restaurant in the plaza in front of the Reina Sophia, where we had a variety of sandwiches - ham, anchovies, and mackerel, on crunchy fresh bread, washed down with a large beer (me) and mineral water (KG).

We are now back in our perfect little room, enjoying the bird-chirping in the garden outside our windows, cooling our jets before we attend tonight's premier of a modern ballet at the Zarzuela Theater (dress-up time). I think we will have a pre-ballet drink at the historic Palace Hotel, just around the corner. Hemingway drank there (the son of a bitch).

We are liking Madrid.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dinner happened

We made our way thru a very light drizzle to a restaurant that had been recommended both by Rick Steves' book and a colleague of Karen, 'la Posada de la Villa', near the bustling Plaza Major.

It's in an cool building that goes back to the 1600's, and, since lamb is a specialty, we had lamb.

Amazing - slow roasted over wood and straw since 8:00 this morning. The word 'tender' is insufficient. As someone with district anti-meat biases, I was, surprisingly, murmuring in appreciation.

Of course, the roasted veggies, succulent olives, fish croquettes, fresh bread and superb rioja helped, capped with mint tea.

We found our way back to the hostal, thru the streets swarming with diners and revelers, and are finally ready to call it a night.

If this is an indication how this vacation may trend, I say 'bring it on.'

Night, night, everyone.

settling into Madrid

Madrid day 1

It was a *very* early departure from Portland Monday morning, and a quick 5 hours to JFK, where we had a 2 hour layover.

While hanging around by the gate, we amazingly ran into a couple of guys that we had met and actually had spent quite a bit of time with last December in Oaxaca. They were enroute to their Seattle home, after a vacation in Greece. We all agreed that it was a very odd coincidence.

The flight to Madrid left pretty much on time, and it was completely full of mostly-young Spaniards - very little English was audible in the hubbub. It was an 8 hour flight, and sleep wasn't happening, due to the movies, chatter, announcements, cramped seats, and frequent interruptions for dinner, drinks, and snacks. Travel fatigue was setting in.

When we landed in Madrid just after 7 am (Tuesday), it was still pretty dark, and we had been largely sleepless for a long time. Customs was a breeze, our bags showed up quickly, and it was easy to find the shuttle service I had reserved, to take us to our hostal, which I had reserved many months ago, thanks to recommendations from Rick Steves and TripAdvisor.

UNFORTUNATELY...

The hostal building and the one next door are both under rennovation, with workmen plastering and banging away. Our room was teeny, airless (one very small window, which had to be closed to keep construction dust out) and very noisy, with a bathroom that gave new meaning to the word 'cramped'. We were tired and dirty, but the WiFi was great, so we got caught up on email, and showered, and headed over to the Prado, a very short walk away.

I had purchased tickets in advance, and we waltzed right in without any delay whatsoever. We headed to the Cafe, and ate a couple of little sandwiches, before attempting to deal with the amazing art collection.

We spent over 3 hours, before burnout hit big time, even though we took it easy, stopping for soda and espresso halfway thru. Highlights included the 'Garden of Earthly delights' and other Bosch works, Albrecht Durur, Velasquez, Reubens, Goya, and a zillion other european masterpieces. It's not my favorite stuff, but pretty darn impressive, despite the crowds. The galleries go on and on and on.

By the time we agreed to leave the Prado, exhaustion was with us. Still, we didn't want to give in and sleep too early, so we set off walking. It was overcast and mild, and the streets were busy with walkers (tourists and locals) and construction zones.

We hit a couple of the big plazas, and even walked thru the 'Museum of Ham' restaurant in the Puerta del Sol (hundreds of hams on display, for the obvious eating pleasure of the masses). We ended up taking a break at an outdoor cafe in the Plaza del Angel, before returning, with dread, to the ominous Hostal Cervantes.

The workmen and the dust were still going strong, and, even though we were REALLY tired, we had to make a change. The owner said that there were no other rooms that were better, and the workmen's schedule was going to be 8 am thru about 2, then again from 5 pm to 8 pm every day. It was really intolerable - the place was just not going to work.

He said his brother ran another hostal 'just around the corner'. He called and they spoke for a minute. He said there was a room that would be better and gave us directions. We hastily repacked everything that we had previously unpacked, paid him 25 euros for the use of his awful room for a few hours (seemed like a lot) and, feeling totally adrift, burned out and on the verge of disaster, lugged our bags down to the street and around the corner.

When we got to the address, we were dismayed to see and hear guys-with-jack-hammers actively engaged on the street directly in front. It seems that most of Madrid is under construction this week. We tried to buzz the hostal, but the hammering was so loud we couldn't hear the response.

This was the low point of the day.

Finally, we got in, and, surprisingly, found that, not only did the brother have a room facing away from the street, but it has a large window facing a lovely, peaceful garden with birds chirping, has a ceiling fan, a large bathroom with more big windows, and pretty comfortable beds, for the same price as the original place, and the helpful owner even called to arrange a ride to the airport for us, Friday morning.

We unpacked - this time for good. We had finally arrived. We were totally beat.

It was about 4:30 pm. We both snoozed for an hour. Karen is still out.

In another hour or so, we will get dressed and head out for some dinner. Life is appearing to be very good. Thank you, Hostal Armesto.

Thanks for Skyping, Steve. Now you know 'the rest of the story'.

Monday, September 28, 2009

it's happening

Made it to the airport and thru 'Security Theater', and heading for the departure gate now.

Madrid, here we come.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

12 hours to go

mostly packed. now, the question is, shall I try to stay up all night? seems unlikely.

Thanks to Dave, for setting things up so that any calls to my cell phone go automatically to voice mail, which generates an email to my normal inbox, with the message attached as a WAV file.

Pretty darn cool.

tick tick tick...

Boarding passes are printed for tomorrow's flights.

My CDs and announcements are ready for my radio show, in 2 hours.

My bag is mostly packed - I just need to decide if I am going to tempt Fate and ride my bike over to the station. What would Lance do?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

sitting on my back steps

Karen and I just got home from seeing the film 'Julie and Julia'. It was charming and Meryl Streep can certainly do everything.

It's about 10 pm, and the night is cool, but not chilly. It was a beautiful portland day, and I am happy to be here.

The moon is more than half full, and my old, crippled dog is resting his chin on my leg. We are happy in each other's presence.

I have a radio show to do tomorrow morning, and karen is upstairs, beginning her final packing.

I can check in for the madrid flight when I get up.

Zacky nudges my elbow. I rub his tummy.

It's all so peaceful - so normal.

final countdown

two days to go - time to make last-minute packing decisions...

Friday, September 25, 2009

blast from the past

I especially liked the smug tag line of this 1981 TV news story - as if networked computers would ever threaten the newspaper business...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

a grave responsibility

So, we leave Monday morning for Spain, for 3 weeks.

Attention robbers: Ben will be here the whole time, with Marsha, our loyal pet-sitter, coming by a couple of times a day to take Zacky for a drive.

Long-time reader(s) of this blog know that Zacky is quite debilitated by DM, and it has progressed to the point where he gets around by slithering around on his butt. His hind legs are almost useless, but he still moves pretty well in his cart, and, as always, loves attention and meeting people.

He has been my good buddy for 10 years.

This morning, I took a shovel out to our pet cemetery and dug a hole, just in case something happens while we are gone. If not used sooner, it will be used later.

My t-shirt is dirty and soaked with sweat. I dug with mindfulness. That is all I can do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

acorn update - it's getting interesting

So, the Republicans applied their brutal political pressure to get a majority of Congress to pass the bill intended to put ACORN out of business. The high-fives must have been a stirring sight to see, as they congratulated themselves on, once again, bamboozling the Democrats.

Mission Accomplished.

Today, however, not so much. It seems that, once again, the Law of Unintended Consequences has struck, and the corrupt idiots in the GOP may have just derailed the military-industrial-complex gravy train.

Yes, wishful thinking, I know, but a boy can dream, can't he?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

drat (UPDATED)

Was helping out my cousin in Florida with Skype, when the webcam on my pretty-new netbook crapped out with a 'USB device not found' error.

Unable to reinstall drivers - it appears to be a known hardware problem, that means the netbook needs to be returned for servicing.

I don't think so, unless they have a walk-in facility in Portland, since we are heading off on vacation in 6 days.

Grrrr. It was working fine until it stopped working.


UPDATE: an hour later

After reading a bunch of posts on various sites about this problem, I found one guy that said to simply press your thumbs firmly on either side of the camera. That did it! No driver reinstall was necessary.

Full speed ahead!

acorn

Can there be any doubt that the driving force behind the persecution of this group is that the GOP simply can't stand the notion that it assists and registers minority folks?

Meanwhile, did you happen to see this? If you only attend to mainstream media, I'm guessing 'no'.

It's racism, hypocrisy, and sheer meanness.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

why we are doomed

Yes, I know it's a gorgeous Sunday morning, but first I read this.

Then I heard Mitt Romney's 'quip' at the "Values Voters" conference (it got a big laugh):

Democrats have “been confusing global warming with the heat they’ve been taking at the town halls.”

See, it's all a big joke.

ha ha.

Friday, September 18, 2009

probably too late for me, but there is hope

thanks to Ben for passing this on.

But, then again, if I lost the excuse of color-blindness (which has been quite convenient my entire life), I'd be forced to admit that, in fact, I simply have no sense of style.

In other news, watch the first 5 minutes of this.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

fairly incredible

this

watching the dollar sink...

against the Euro, as we are just 11 days away from Spain.

I did buy 150 euros last month, so that was something, but it's a drop in what we'll be spending over there.

On the other hand, I went to a local coffee place (that shall remain nameless, except that it was a local, non-franchise business), bought a cup of black coffee and a fairly minimalist tuna sandwich, and the bill was a shocking (to me) $7.50, so I need to recalibrate my expectations, both here and abroad.


Now for Health Care and Max Baucus:

The pharma, insurance and banking companies seem to have gotten their money's worth from their contributions to him.

I think it's clear now that our method of campaign financing is at the root of all the problems affecting our society. We've known this for years, and it's impossible to change, without a wholesale turnover of just about every member of the US House and Senate (except Dennis Kucinich).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

sisters folk festival - wrap up

Ah, three days of great performances and surprises. The town of Sisters has the logistics down pat now, and everything is smooth and welcoming.

We saw Susan Werner perform three times, and, since she and her buddies were staying at our motel, we had several nice one-on-one conversations with Susan and also with the incredible Trina Hamlin, who said she'll be coming thru Portland next February.

Also, back at the motel last night, we went out to the quiet grassy area adjacent to our back patio, and there was Kelly Joe Phelps and his musician friends, drinking many beers and relaxing after the evening's performances, and Kelly Joe's was mesmerizing.

We left Sisters for the long drive back to Portland around 12:30. Traffic not too bad, but there were plenty of folks on the road. We pulled into a Rest Stop on I-5, not too far south of Portland, and along came Susan Werner and her crew, on their way up to Seattle, behind schedule. We talked again briefly - it was fun to show Trina the copy of her CD that I bought, and that we had been listening to on the drive.

Tired now - time to eat some rice and veggies and maybe do some laundry. Two weeks from tomorrow we fly to Madrid. Yikes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

sisters folk festival - night 1

Great kick-off to the weekend last night. Highlights in the big tent were Susan Werner (fabulous, as usual), the Quebe Sisters (amazing swing fiddles and vocals), and, the big surprise, a hilarious and brilliantly-entertaining set from Beaverton's own Todd Snider.

It's now early morning in Sisters, at our motel a few blocks from the center of town. I've had my coffee and web-catch-up, and it'll soon be time to head off for a full day of workshops and performances, with temperatures expected in the 90's.

Check out Todd Snider's stuff on the web - wonderful, quirky songs and a hysterical, deadpan, stoned-hippie performance. Who knew?

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11/01

I was on top of Steens Mountain, listening to the wind gusts and looking out over hundreds of square miles of sunny, peaceful Southeast Oregon. I was doing my first CycleOregon.

I heard about the attacks at the first rest stop on that day's ride, which was a short 35 miles. The news was fragmentary, but it was clear that a major disaster had occurred.

I got into camp around 11:30 am, and, an hour later, boarded one of the buses that took riders to the end of the road, overlooking the steep, eastern escarpment. It was grand and exciting.

That night, there was a discussion about terminating the week-long ride, and many east-coasters, I heard, actually did leave the ride (it must have taken them at least 2 days to get from there back to Portland, only to find the nation's airlines still shut down).

I finished the ride and, back home, slept for a couple of days before I had the chance to see ANY of the now-famous videos of planes crashing and burning, and towers collapsing. I was spared the pornography of media-frenzy.

Even today, I associate 9/11 with this place, not Ground Zero.

stupid panels!

Olbermann strikes again.

Bravo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

cause for optimism

no, not Obama - Google!

although, now that I think about it, Obama gives one hope, too.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

down for 'maintenance'


Yeah, right! Joe, we hardly knew ye (fortunately).

meanwhile, in Istanbul...

Yikes!

And last night, I had a very brief Skype chat with Baris, our Turkish tour guide from last year, who was waking up in Istanbul. He didn't say anything about the rain, but it was a quick chat.

nailed

Is there any doubt now, that Barack Obama is a truly remarkable figure?

This was a great speech, and those damn Republicans who sat on their hands, either smirking or snarling, ought to be ashamed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

the kids give me hope

Heard on the radio this morning that a group of school-kids, somewhere, is planning to lie down in the halls and protest, if they are NOT permitted to hear Obama's speech.

The phony GOP meme (President speaking to children = insidious doctrination) certainly worked on the idiot parents, but failed to appreciate that the surest way to get kids to do something is to tell them it is forbidden to them.

See also the Garden of Eden story - a classic in the same mold.

We had a splendid time camping with friends over the weekend. Cove Palisades State Park is a remarkable place - how did it take me over 30 years to get there?

Here is a photo Dave took on his iPhone, on our big Sunday hike (Deschutes River on the left; Crooked River on the right):


Next weekend: Sisters Folk Festival

September 27th: hosting the Yiddish Hour on KBOO fm (10 am PDT)

September 28th: to Spain, mainly on a plane.

Friday, September 04, 2009

wrecking

In the old Soviet Union, the common charge used against 'enemies of the State' (i.e. dissidents) was 'wrecking', and normally carried a 10 year sentence. It was frequently-used and pretty effective.

The concept, obviously, is that people who intentionally sabotage the will of the society must be eliminated. The problem, of course, is that 'wrecking' is in the eye of the beholder, and the motives of the accuser of 'wrecking' do matter.

Now we come to the absurd notion that the President's upcoming address to the school-children of America is an insidious, fascistic plan to indoctrinate them, and must be opposed. This nonsense is spreading, as the brainwashed have received the message and they have sprung into action.

I envision the Republican operatives who thought this one up sitting back and laughing their asses off. Mission Accomplished.

These people are 'wrecking'. Intentionally finding every possible opportunity to sabotage, to distort, to inflame.

And, yet, few voices are publicly raised to accuse them. Where is our Zola?

Back during the Cold War, I remember a book by J. Edgar Hoover (don't get me started) called 'Masters of Deceit', all about those dastardly COMMUNISTS and their insidious plots to infiltrate and corrupt our precious, virtuous America.

Today, the Masters of Deceit work for Rupert Murdoch and others. Their mission is to wreck, and they are getting away with it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

more obsessive-compulsive behavior prior to Spain trip

I have found endless opportunities for obsessing about teeny details surrounding our upcoming trip. One is phone service.

Both of us have AT&T, quad-band SmartPhones. I have obtained unlock codes for both, so there should be no problems with them working over there. The question is: on what carrier?

If we make no changes, we should be able to connect with a compatible network, and would pay $1.29/minute, keeping our own numbers. If I call Karen (like we get separated and lost), both sender and receiver get charged that amount.

AT&T has a $6/month plan, that takes that charge down to $0.99/minute.

I found a commercial SIM card where the charge is $0.27/minute, but there is an up-front charge of $60 PER PHONE.

How to evaluate all this? Excel to the rescue:


So, it seems that, staying with AT&T, the break-even point with subscribing to their 'Global Traveler' plan is 40 minutes used, and, even after that, the benefit is negligible. I guess the value of their program is for folks who plan to use hours of phone time, not minutes.

BTW - we will use Skype to call the US, either free (computer-to-computer) or ridiculously-cheap (computer to land-line/cell). We plan on using the cell-phone network over there ONLY to call each other, if we lose each other.

The yellow line (separate SIM card, for a Spain phone-carrier), is significantly more expensive than either AT&T option, so that's out.

My decision: don't sign up for the AT&T $6/month plan, but, once we're there, talk to people and visit local vendors to possibly buy a Spanish SIM.

Whew! Now I can go back to fretting about other logistical minutiae.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

public option health care rally in portland

Nice crowd downtown this morning. The master of ceremonies was a very casual Attorney General John Kroger:Enthusiastic crowd - lots of union folks - lots of creative signs:

Main speaker was Wendell Potter, the former Cigna PR flack, who publicly apologized to the crowd, for his years serving up lies on behalf of Big Insurance. He was eloquent and insistent that everyone do everything they can to confront the mis-informed, and keep the pressure on the lawmakers.