Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Other travel blogs of mine-France and Spain 2004

This trip I took in February 2004 with 2 friends. It was the last trip I took for a while as shortly there after, my father died leaving me with an extremely messy estate full of lawsuits and my mother, who had severe Alzheimers. I was afraid to leave the country due to having to be on call constantly for her.

Night 1: Fly all night trying to sleep with the aid of Jan's inflatable pillows. Sue hacks all night due to her cold. Try to take advantage of free wine. Jan and Sue think the cabernet tastes like tannins and vinegar. Karen likes it though. Jan pulls out a knife in mid-flight. Oops..I guess those scanners don't catch everything. Knife hastily discarded in CDG trash.

Day 2: Paris!!!! Leave luggage in large train lockers once we find them and set out to explore Paris in the snow. Latin quarter, Notre Dame. Eat lunch at a creperie (Creperie de Cluny) where they seem especially nice to us. Cidre is great! Buy provisions-baguettes, fromage and vin for our night train to Madrid. No place to sit in train station except an adjacent smoking café. Drink even more café. Fortunately it is tasty. The night train. We share a 4 person sleeper room with the sweetest Spanish woman, Ursula. Looks vaguely like Penelope Cruz. She has lived in many countries, is a historic preservationist (Karen in 7th heaven), gives us numerous hints for Madrid, work son Sue's Spanish pronunciation. We want to adopt her. She takes the subway with us until we have to change. The night train was hotter than hell. I get up to pee to find the toilet overflowing. I try to carefully crouch hanging on for dear life while the train makes a series of hairpin turns through the Pyrenees. While my seatmates sleep, once it is light, I head for the cafe with its big windows and coffee and watch us go through mountains, snow and walled villages. I manage to order completely in Spanish. I read a Sevilla guidebook but a Spanish woman tells me to skip Sevilla and stay in Cordoba instead.

Day 3: Madrid: Still cold but no rain or snow. We stay in the gay district Chueca in a hostal-La Dolcevita in a historic building up 4 flights of ricketedy, dark stairs. Pack light!!!! We were attracted by their use of IKEA lights-3 blue stars-in each room. Its charms stopped there but it was clean and cheap. They have free internet but it is monopolized by the manager’s child. We see the major sights-Puerta del Sol and Plaza Major. Beautiful Beaux Artes buildings everywhere. The restaurant Ursula recommended doubled its prices since her last visit. Find a hole in the wall instead. In Spain, very few people could speak English versus France. We were very dependent on my 3 month self-study program. Yep we were in trouble. I get the national dish-churros and hot chocolate. The chocolate is as thick as pudding and you are to dip the churros in it (greasy, fried dough). Jan and Karen got salads-a wiser choice. I later find a fruit smoothie place to get some badly needed vitamins and fiber. We go to El Prado-the state art museum-their version of the Louvre. A plain building and much smaller but we were fascinated by their Bosch and Goya exhibits. As the temperature drops, we walk through Parque El Retiro-sort of a Madrid Central Park. Lots of blooming primroses and ornamental cabbages. Lots of fountains and statues everywhere. We return to rest at the hostal. Spaniards don't eat until 10, which we never could adjust to. We go to a local tapas bar, La Taberna de Pelayo, thinking that they may serve them earlier. Yes they do but not before 9. The tapas owner was very nice and English speaking due to living briefly in Berrien Springs Michigan. She was very poised and pretty reminding me of Jo. Anyway, she went out of her way to accommodate us-preparing us special drinks, giving as Rioja tastings, keeping Karen happy with olives before the kitchen officially openned. It was a gourmet tapas place-the tapas were not typically Spanish but very tasty. I wish I could duplicate some of them. Eat Crema de Catalonia for dessert.

Day 4: We walk 2 miles dragging our luggage to the train station down the Gran Via and the museum route. It was a very scenic walk though and didn't involve the dreaded stairs of subways. We take lots of pictures of incredible buildings and statues. We spend the morning at the Reina Sofia Museo. Cost 3.01 euro. Spanish early 1900s art-specializing in Picasso and Miro. Guernica must be 20 feet long.
At one we take the AVE train to Sevilla. The train station Atocha is full of palm trees -a stark contrast to the Paris station Austerlitz, which we referred to as Auscherwitz with its crumbling cement and no place to sit. We happily eat lunch as the train goes 180 mph through olive groves. Sevilla is beautiful with the streets lined with orange trees. Muy bonita!! Not very tasty oranges though as Jan found out. Our hotel (Hotel Londres) is very nice-the owner calls me -sooTHAna. All Cs and Zs are pronounced as THs in Spain as opposed to Esses as they are in Mexico and my Spanish CDs. It sounded like everyone had a bad lisp. Spanish shoes are hilarious. Very long and very pointy toes extending everyone's foot a good 4 inches. Shoe stores are "Zapaterias" and are unbelievable plentiful. Our rounded toes made us stick out even without us opening our mouths. We are adjacent to the old historical district-a huge maze of twisty streets 6 feet wide that we were lost in numerous times. Buildings are beautiful-usually white covered with colored tiles and wrought iron. Very ornate. The architecture is much different than that of Madrid with a heavy Moorish influence .We stay 3 nights and walk for miles. It was always sunny and we were able to eat outside comfortably though with coats on. In the mornings we get cafe con leche in glasses. All drinks cost a euro apiece-coffee,wine,sangria-water- less than half of Paris prices. Fresh squeezed orange juice cost a little more-zumo de naranja-but was very tasty. We do have paella. One night we were the only customers due to us insisting on eating before ten and the Spanish owners have us try lots of new things. We spend a lot of time one morning looking for a flea market only to find junk. We go to open air pet market where they sell everything-ornamental pigeons with iridescent pink and blue feathers- and all breeds of puppies. We spend alot of time pursuing ceramics in the Triana district and my previous light load becomes much heavier. There are cardboard gypsy (gitanos) encampments along the riverbanks.

Day 7: Eight hour train ride from the southwest corner Sevilla to the Northeast Barcelona. We are in a smoking compartment and it’s crowded. I threw up the night before on maybe bad paella and am train sick. I can’t eat all the stuff we got at the El Cortes Ingles the night before. My seat companion though is very interesting. He openly smokes weed on the train despite the presence of a policeman. He reads marijuana horticulture magazines next to me but is very nice and helpful with our very heavy luggage. He claims that Barcelona is not Spain. Very handsome but his strong body odor on top of my nausea stop any lustful thoughts. The outside view is boring-central Spain is a barren wasteland. We do go on the Mediterranean coast for a while which is beautiful. In Barcelona-our snotty cabdriver drops us off blocks short of our hostal saying that this was the address I told him-not true. The hostal looked prettier in pictures than in person but is clean and has starched sheets. A bad waiter cheats us in several ways. Never eat right on the Ramblas. I was too sick to eat much and don't have a good impression of Barcelona. While Jan uses an ATM, a youth comes up and says "Give me money" Fortunately took no for an answer.

Day 8: Sunny and we have a full day of exploring. Nice grandmotherly waitress in our local breakfast place “La Granje”, We then walk through their version of central park with beautiful fountains and their Arco del Triumfo. We explore the gothic district with its dark twisty lanes. Good souvenir shops. The city is full of thousands of Danish soccer fans drinking liters of beer wearing their team's jersey. Their team loses. My labmate later fills me in with the details of the Barcelona-Brondby rivalry. A huge farmer's market (La Boqueteria) where Jan buys all sorts of exotic fruit. Fascinating to see what other people eat-especially the strange sea creatures. A walk along the Mediterranean, lunch in a bocadillo place and then to the Gaudi park-Parc Gueul. We see a pair of bright green parrots flying through it. Natural residents or pet escapees? We explore the park alot more than I had with Jo previously and then take a tour through one of the Gaudi (La Pedera) house. The man was a genius. We walk past more Gaudi buildings then while exhausted, have a Brazillian cafe on the Passeig Gracia while the sun sets.

Day 9: A Talgo train to France. Unbeknownst to us, the French train system has a terror alert with some radical group threatening to detonate a bomb along the tracks unless they get 5 million euros. So they looked at our passports at the border-usually you can cross borders in EU countries without a stop. The train goes along the Mediterranean past numerous flocks of flamingos in La Camorgue. We stop in Montpellier in southern France for lunch (Yam’s) outside on the town's square. Very nice salads, hit the local bakery and then board a TGV for Paris on a double decker thankfully smoke free. We got from the bottom of France to Northern France in 3 hours. It is drizzling in Paris and a pain negotiating stairs with our ceramic laden suitcases. We had opted for cabs in Sevilla (no choice there) and Barcelona but too expensive in Paris. We go to our soulless but practical (and free as part of our package) Ibis and are too tired for too much exploring. I buy bad street food that I couldn't eat. On the TV, they have a show in almost every language. On a Portuguese variety show they feature Dustin Hoffman-they must have paid him plenty-who stupidly repeats in English how in love he is with the hostess and how he wants to marry her while the camera repeatedly flashes to his real wife and the Portuguese laugh hysterically when it is translated into their language. I also watch the Paris fashion show-very strange-while Karen reads and writes in her diary. Jan has her own room that at the last minute, she was able to obtain.

Day 10: Rain was forecasted but it missed us fortunately. A full day of exploring Montmantre, the Marais with its special shops and the shopping district to visit their best department store with its beautiful luxury items that we had not seen before. We eat hot roasted chestnuts-have a full lunch in a nice brasserie. We do the full Champs d'Ellyses walk stopping at some luxury shops to window shop. I eat very rich apricot sorbet and Jan buys incredible glace fruit and candies. At night, we eat at a local Algerian restaurant. Our waiter is very nice and keeps giving us free hot mint tea to keep us there.

Day 11: We have time for a walk in the morning and the sun finally breaks out. We accidentally go by "Les Deux Moulins" which is the cafe that Amelie worked in. Some Japanese tourists are eating the "Amelie Breakfast". We go in ourselves but are repelled by the thick cloud of cigarette smoke. We visit the nearby cimetiere Montmantre and see Truffaut and Berlioz graves. We walk in the sleaze district past sexshops and it's time to go to the airport. This involves 4 changes of transport, numerous staircases and turnstiles and one very crowded train. We are there 2 hours before the flight leaves but the ticket person says we are late and need to board now. I am singled out for full luggage search. We rush through their weird plexiglass tubes going every which way with moving sidewalks. Think Jetsons. Karen misses her dutyfree shops and then we just sit. Apparently their idea of boarding now is different from mine. We watch School of Rock and 8 hours later, we are home-home to the bottomless cup of coffee and water and free toilets that have more than a trickle of water.

I come home to find my mother is still locked in a psych ward of a hospital. At the nursing home, she became very aggressive, hitting other residents and tearing things apart. They are trying to find the right medication to sedate her but without any luck. She recently dumped a vase of flowers over another patient's head. They have no idea where they can place her even assuming they can turn her into a zombie. She can't go back to the nursing home. My father thinks he will bring her home but he won't be able to take care of her. I get up at 6 am Sunday morning to take Naomi to E. Lansing for more basketball. No rest. I was finally able to run for the first time in 2 weeks yesterday.

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