Thursday, May 31, 2007

These are a few of my favorite things

It's the little things you notice that you either miss about home or love about the new place. Here are a few that I've been noticing the last few days.
  • Trash cans are virtually nonexistent.
  • Non-caloric sweeteners of any kind are virtually nonexistent.
  • No one has heard of soy milk, certainly not at tea and coffee shops.
  • Bikes and motorbikes are everywhere. 100% of the bikes are major clunkers. The moto drivers are in suits and stiletto heels.
  • Street mimes are everywhere as are the acoustic and classical stringed instruments serenading all of us and the day itself.
  • Gelataterias are a prevalent as Starbucks.

May 30--Marseille

We were in Marseille yesterday, May 30. It's 7:30 a.m. now on the 31st and we're getting ready to disembark to spend the day in Florence. It's midnight in Chicago and even earlier in Tucson and Eugene! Hard to believe.

Marseille is the largest port in France, and the second largest city in France. Seems to be more of a working class, port city leaving the culture to other more interior spots. We didn't do any major shore excursions today. We did take a bus from the boat to the edge of town, about 15 minutes away. We wandered the streets and had a cup of tea at a tea house enjoying the Mediterranean air and vistas of tile roofs, citrus trees, and the sea.

The French are a proud people, proud of their country (hope that quality can be redeemed in the US at some point). It's interesting that, at least in Marseille, there are fewer English speaking people than we found in Barcelona. Is that a difference of the working class town v haute culture of Barcelona? Or is it that the French are more ethnocentric and could care less if you/we don't understand them. A kin to the American arrogance of--"you're in France, speak French!"

Did a little workout at fitness land on the boat, my first time in any of our three cruises. Won't know till tomorrow if I nuked myself on the recumbent bike. It would be nice to have a little flexibility to do some gym-type workouts when I can't be on my own bike.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Little Things

It's the little things that make the fabric of life; it's also the little things that are easily lost as big gestalt impressions become that which we more easily take home for keepers from such travel experiences. So before they get lost from my memory....

La Ramblas, the main drag in Barcelona's Gothic neighborhood, also where our one star hotel was located, was packed like kernels of corn on the cob with kiosks. But not your ordinary American shopping mall kiosks. I had never seen a kiosk full of birds including pigeons, chickens and roosters! Pretty amazing to see the kiosk keeper open his kiosk about 8:00 in the morning and the roosters would start cockadoodling to great the morn.

Starbucks doesn't open till 7:30 a.m.!!

Lunch is from 1:00-4:00.
Dinner is from 9:00-12:00. Hard to find a restaurant to serve dinner before then.

The streets look like pedways and most of the time are just that. But occasionally there is a car or taxi or delivery truck. How do they gain access? Well, those posts that we have in our forest preserves that block motorized traffic are on the equivalent of garage door openers. So the posts recess below street level. You must purchase something to be able to have access to the controlled access streets.

Our ship stateroom has a window! Never knew how excited we'd be to have a window. Hard to go back to an interior room after being able to see outside!

Monday, May 28, 2007

To Barcelona--No Jet Lag

Kirk and I will be on our Mediterranean Cruise From May 29th to June 11th, something we´ve been planning for years. Thanks to an over-the-counter homeopathic and a Hammer Nutrition product, REM, I was able to sleep on the plane and was jet-lagless flying non-stop from O´Hare to Barcelona.

Our plan was to arrive in Barcelona a couple of days in advance of embarkation so we could get to know Barcelona a bit. We arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Peninsular, a one star wonder, about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. The room consisits of a matress, no springs, two wooden folding chairs and a folding table. No dressars, no TV, no phone. The room is lit by three 40 watt bulbs. But it does have a bathroom in the room. We´re lucky about that as the other floors share a shower and toilet for about 10 rooms. We´re so lcuky because we´re on the 5th floor which is one floor beyond where the elevator (lift) travels. This elevator is a 1940 vintage, maybe earlier. But, for our purposes it´s quite sufficient. We´re out in the city except for sleeping.

Lunch on Sunday at an Egytian restaurant around the corner and then off to explore our neighborhood by foot. We´re just off the main drag, Las Ramblas, which is bubbling with life of a penultimate cosmospolitan city. We bought a 10 ride pass on the Barcelona equivalent of the CTA and took off for parts of further reach. We poked around the Barcelona Cathedral which was started in the late 13th centruy and finished about 80-100 year later. Amazing gothic structure, watched a humongous water fountain show, that puts the Buckingham fountain to shame, when the sun went down so the light display was more brilliant.

The apartment/condos are wonderfully decorated with window boxes over flowing with flowering plants; the streets are narrow, but not as narrow as Paris, but everybit as meadering and non-grid-like as Boston. They´re paved in a way that make an American think they are ped ways. Always surprises you when a few cars and a boat load of motorcycles seemingly race down the streets. Motorcycles/scooters are definitely the most efficient means of getting around. They´re everywhere and parked 2 and 3 deep on the streets and sidewalks.

Hard to find food that is dairy, gluten, and meat free around here. I think I lived on Clif Bars brought from home the first 24 hours. Finally found an organic, vegetarian restarurant tonight. I was in heaven.

I wish I were as good a walker as I am rider. I feel like a major league pitcher who only has so many pitches in his arm after which his form and performance begins to deteriorate. I have only so many steps in me before my back, feet, and legs wear out. We must have walked 6 miles yesterday and 6-8 today. I´ll be glad to see the ship tomorrow.

Today we spent nearly all day regaling in the wonder of Gaudi´s Sacred Family Cathedral and his contributions to the Park Guell.

I won´t be able to add pix until I get home, but I got some good ones to capture the wonder of these grand works.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Brevet or Bidet Hmmm

We recently had a house guest for the weekend and there was much talk about the then upcoming brevet series I planned to ride. French was not his primary or second language so he kept getting brevet and bidet confused. One of the definitions for a bidet is "a small horse, a pony," thus "a vessel on a low narrow stand, which can be bestridden for bathing purposes." I will be riding a recumbent during the brevets. but the bathing part I'll save for the Super 8 Motel afterwards.