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Barcelona:  Gone Gaudi

Barcelona: Gone Gaudi

No, They'd Rather NOT Speak Spanish

May 232015

Took the bullet train from Madrid to Barcelona, 386 miles in 3 hours. Now that is speedy!  Super smooth too.   Stayed at an airbnb very close to the Barcelona Football Club stadium, and since they were in the Champions League finals against Juventus (they eventually won), it was a pretty exciting place to stay. Highlights: catching up with a Norwegian friend of mine from the Univ Michigan PhD program who happened to be attending a conference in Barcelona that week, seeing all the Gothic and Gaudi inspired architecture, wandering La Ramblas, and having dinner outside every night. I did a LOT of walking in Barcelona. Also went to the Erotic Art Museum. Ha! Fun fact: did you know that Spanish is not the first language there? It’s Catala, which is a cross between Spanish and French.


The Basilica Santa Maria del Pi, and the venue for a wonderful traditional Spanish guitar concert.


The stage. One thing I love about Europe, all the musical concerts, of all varieties, held in acoustically fascinating churches. No photos during the performance!


Living statues. I’ve seen them all over Europe. They paint themselves up to look exactly like a statue, then hold a pose – seemingly without breathing – until you toss in some money. Then they interact with you. Maybe you’ve seen this genre a lot, but to this local boy it was new.


I couldn’t resist. The Erotic Art Museum was just BECKONING me from La Rambla. And the cross dressing Marilyn Monroe calling to me from the balcony, well I HAD to go it, right? Unfortunately, since this is a family blog, I can’t show you what I saw but let me tell you, it was thorough! Here’s a Picasso they showed, seems SFW enough.


When you’re on a journey like this, in Europe, eating becomes part of the adventure. Here is my Tapas menu…


And here is what I got. It’s hard getting tapas alone, you just can’t order 6 dishes and sample like you can with a dining partner. But I gave it my best effort.


And yes, excellent Spanish wine to go with that meal…In a warm active court.


For the sport minded, I went to football mecca, the FCB stadium. I didn’t go in, seemed like a lot of effort given the crowds, but since I stayed almost across the street, I could hear the crowds roar and fireworks go off when they won a game.


So one of the big deals in Barcelona is a church designed by the artist Gaudi. He was run over by a trolley car in 1920 but they continue to build “his” church, and this is it: Sagrada Familia. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Building and pretty astonishing. Had to get tickets two days ahead.


One of ,many colored stained glass windows.


Main Altar, with Jesus ascending to heaven.


Yellow, gold, blue, red, orange, purple…all colors show up the windows.


Ceiling, looks like vertabrae, right? That’s no accident. Gaudi’s main influence in desing was nature – trees,plants, roots, animal physiology. And much of this work, and other buildings and parks he designed in Barcelona show an almost faithful mimicry of natures shapes.


The organ, or a portion of the pipe part of it.

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Took the 5 hour bus ride ($30) instead of the 4 hour train ride ($80) from Granada to Madrid, and had a good time – the busses her are just dandy!    Stayed with a fantastic family right near the Minsterios Nuevos area, and I used the Metro EXTENSIVELY.   Highlights were seeing the Prado museum with all the official masterpieces, wandering around the Plaza del Sol, touring the Palace, and seeing the precise room and desk where the Spanish king abdicated his throne last year, and…a bull fight. Yep, I went to a bull fight. Cause, why not? I love the pageantry and even liked the fight, until they decided to kill the bull. Then it was just…not fun. I watched 3 of those things and then left. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy the ending, but I wanted to see if I could see what Ernest Hemingway saw as so noble about it. I did not. (I have a longish draft of the bull fight experience, but I haven’t finished it yet).


The Plaza de Toros of Las Ventas in Madrid. The energy before the bull fights felt like a football game. According to them, this arena is the “Mecca of Bullfighting” in the world.


The bullring shortly before the start. They tickets in the shade are more expensive than those in the sun, and you get to pick: Shade or Sun.


The ceremony is really the main thing I wanted to see, and I got it. All the toreros and matadors of the day, march in, followed by guys on heavily padded horses. The bulls charge these horses who stood their ground and didn’t seem to get all freaked out. That surprised me. As far as I could tell the bulls couldn’t hurt the horses.


Bullfighters prepping.


Matador practicing his moves.


This bull entered the ring and just kinda stared at the crowd. The toreros and matadors spent a lot of time trying to get the attention of the bulls.


Lots of standing around. At some point, the bull would get annoyed at the bullfighters taunting and charge cape. The audience was really into this, cheering, or even booing (well, whistling) if they thought a move was good or lame. About this time the trumpets would sound which meant it was time to start killing the bull. And it was at this point that I didn’t feel so good.


First noticed this in Spain but there are these street performance who post as human statues. I’m still trying to figure this guy out.. He holds this posiition for a long time. I stuck around 5 minutes and he was still doing it. Best I can figure is that he’s resting on some rebar thing that works its way up through the leaning chair and through his sleeve. I don’t know. Impressive, though!


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Granada:  Palaces and Olive Oil
May 102015

Decided to wimp out and fly from Casablanca to Malaga, Spain, with Royal Air Marac, rather than go back through Tangiers.  Once in Malaga, I caught a 2 hour bus on to Granada.   Loved the location of my hostel/hotel/airbnb/boardinghouse/whatever. Right down in the old town.  Highlight was seeing Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage site, at dusk, (and getting tickets eventhough online it said they were sold out for 6 weeks), and taking an Olive Oil tour, complete with olive oil tasting and tour of groves and old school factories. Did you know that Spain makes 40% of the world’s olive oil, far outpacing Italy and Greece, each with about 20%?  I thought not!      I really liked Granada. Perfect contrast to Morocco.


Downtown Granada! At the end of this street is where I had my breakfasts, usually at 9:30 when the shop JUST opened up. I love hanging around European Old Towns before the tourists show up.


Another street before the tourists. Notice how SHINY an CLEAN the walkways and streets are. This is something I noticed about many countries I visited this year – so much decaying concrete. Granada was the opposite.


Random street singer. He was pretty good too! He’s sitting acros from the big cathedral.


Okay, Alhambra is a UNESCO site and a huge complex of Moorish influenced palaces and gardens, high atop a hill overlooking Granada. As I said, I managed to get daily “rush” tickets even though the online store said they were all sold out. I was given a 5:30pm entry time, which annoyed me at first. But since the sun set at 8pm, I enjoyed Alhambra in a beautiful dusk.


Interior Courtyard.


Interior wall, covered in stone carvings.


Detail of wall stone carving.


Lots of doors and windows with this amazing design, all different patterns, materials and other elements.


Okay, that’s it for Alhambra.  I have LOADS more pictures but if I’m going to get all these things posted, I must move on! Next the Olive Oil Tour!


This is a 300 year old olive tree. The mountains in the background are the Sierra Nevada. The wall is pretty old too.


In the old times before modern machinery, local families would dump their olives in these vats, each family was assigned its own vat.


A donkey would get strapped in and turn this wheel, which would do the initial crushing of the olives, pits and all. It would end up as a paste which….(next slide please)


…get spread out on these pads. The pads would then be stacked up, maybe doze of them, and then…..(next slide please)..


This lever would be pressed down with increasing pressure, to squeeze all the oil out of the olives. This was the much desired “first press”. After the oil was out, they would press it again later for oil to be used for cooking oil or medicines or lubricants or whatever. When it was all gone, the olive (by now pretty dry) paste would be used for fertilizer or animal feed..


This is an olive oil tasting! Just like a wine tasting only, uh, with olive oil. I was surprised how different the oils tasted side by side. You ate a slice of apple between tastings to clear your palate. Not in the picture, a basket of bread to dip into the oil.


A part of the lore of this small ancient olive oil producing village is that the water that runs out of the Sierra Nevada mountains and nourishes the olive oil trees….is also the fountain of youth. So here I am drinking my way to immortality.

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Gibraltar:  Getting to Rabat

Gibraltar: Getting to Rabat

Cross the Straights of Gibraltar

April 182015

I was on my way to Rabat, Morocco to start my assignment with International Volunteers HQ but the is no direct route from Albufeira to Rabat.  For some reason, the market doesn’t exist. The next best way to do make it happen is to take a bus to Seville, spend the night, and then continue the journey the next day. So it was a very brief visit to Seville, but I had a very nice outdoor meal, and it was nice to see signs and speak a language that I kinda know.

In the morning I took that 3 hour bus from Seville to Tarifa, on the straights of Gibraltar. Then I had to hike 15 minutes “thattaway”, which was kind of dicey since my mobile phone didn’t have any working GPS, on account of the international Lebera SIM card I bought in London didn’t do roaming well. Anyway, I found the ferry, boarded, and enjoyed the ride over. On board, they have one Moroccan clerk processing the passports of all several hundred passengers. I was looking at the end of the line, and decided that I did not want to spend my voyage in that line, so I went out on deck and enjoyed myself. When we docked, I went to the line, and sure enough there were only 3 people left. So I got in line, got my passport packed and then headed out in to…..Morocco. Immediately was fleeced by the only taxi driver I could find quickly who would drive me to the back up train station on account of the main station being renovated for the next 12 years. Missed my 1:30 train to Rabat, borrowed a phone from the ticket clerk and called Samad, my connection in Rabat, and told him I’d be on the next train. Eventually I made it. My first inkling of what the next 3 weeks would be like.

I’m sorry I didn’t have much time to take good pictures…I was moving a lot.


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  • Barcelona:  Gone Gaudi

    Barcelona: Gone Gaudi


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  • Madrid:  Where I Go To A Bullfight…and Leave

    Madrid: Where I Go To A Bullfight…and Leave


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  • Granada:  Palaces and Olive Oil

    Granada: Palaces and Olive Oil


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  • Gibraltar:  Getting to Rabat

    Gibraltar: Getting to Rabat

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