April 1 Wednesday
I'm not sure whether we had a good nights sleep or not. We were both awake for a few minutes at 2:19, but the next time I looked at the clock it was 8:50. This was going to be a travel day, taking the train north to Tarragona, where we be spending the next two days. since the trip would take over 4 hours, we needed to be up and at them, so we could walk to the station and buy our tickets.,
Our first stop, however would be back at the Taparia we ate at last night for some breakfast. It was going on 10 o'clock when we walked outside into the bright sunshine of a beautiful spring day. We were surprised how crowded the Taparia was for as late as it was. Then we remembered that in Spain they eat late at night and get up late in the morning, plus there is the siesta time during the middle of the day. Breakfast was so delicious, with fresh squeezed orange juice, great tasting coffee and warm bread with a fresh chunky tomato sauce. We don't know what it is called, but in any language it was wonderful.
Then it was over to the train station to buy our tickets. The train would be leaving at 11:10, giving us lots of time to pack and return to get in the security check line. The regional trains don't have security checks, but the express trains do. I would suspect it is because of the past bombings of those trains that have killed so many people. While I stood in line waiting for the check to begin, Linda went over to the cafe to buy our lunch
As the train pulled out of the terminal, we passed by the tall high rise apartment buildings and hotels that front of the coastline.
It is always amazing how fast and how quiet the trains in Europe are, and this one was no exception. As the kilometers sped by and we headed inland, the view out the window changed into one that was very similar to what we had seen just a few days before, but a continent away.
Our train was an express, but not one of the ones which only stop in the major cities. and though It didn't stop at every station, we still had some 12 to 14 stops before we arrived in Tarragona. It did have reserved seating and we were in car 7, seats 8 C and D, which put us on the east, or Mediterranean side. Most of the route was inland, but occasionally it would curve to nearer the Mediterranean. It is always interesting to look out the window when you are at one of the stations and see what the trains look like, which are generally much more streamlined than trains in the states. They also draw their power from overhead wires rather than use onboard diesel engines to generate the electricity for the motors.
As far as the interior of the train was concerned, it looked like many of the trains we had ridden last year.
Along with the countryside and the stations rolling by outside our window on Spain, so did the hands of the clock, and before we knew it, our stomachs were telling us we needed to fill them up. That was the signal for Linda to break out the sandwiches she had bought at the station in Alicante this morning.
As you can tell, those sandwiches were, to put it bluntly, tiny. Two bites and they would be gone, so it took all my willpower not to ask her the rest of lunch was, I knew we had agreed to eat less during this years travels, but this was ridiculous, there wasn't enough here to even have enough calories to offset what would be used to digest them. In other words, if I ate one of those bite sized bits, I was going to lose more weight than if I'd have forgone lunch.
Once we'd finished with our meal, something which took all of 15 seconds, it was time to sit back and enjoy the trip. What occurred next, was the train started passing through a series of tunnels, where in one of them I came up with the bright idea of taking a photo which showed the train next to us as we were in the tunnel.
We thought we had taken a photo of the train going the other way through the tunnel, so it came as a surprise when the photo showed two people very similar to us in the picture. I think you could title this: Reflections on the way Life should be. It was sometime after our self portrait that I noticed Linda constantly glancing towards me. Next she was holding her camera in such a way that she could photograph me as I sat in the seat. What was going on I wondered, when she actually took a photo of my midsection.
My first thought was to wonder if I forgotten to close a critical part of my clothing, something a quick check reveled to be in the normal upright and locked position. Watching my movements out of the corner of her eye, and seeing a smile begin to form, I inquired as to what was so funny. Her reply was one word long, "You."
Not having the answer I desired, I politely furthered the discussion with her, learning that she was intrigued by the way I held the camera ever ready to take a photo, but never seemed to use it.
The weather forecast had been for rain, and at the stations just before Tarragona, we noted that the weatherman was right on. It got us to wondering if we were going to be walking through the rain to find our hotel when we arrived in Tarragona. Linda said the forecast called for an 80 percent chance of rain, something we were not looking forward to have happen.
When at last we slowed for the Tarragona station, it was cloudy but dry, and it seemed luck was with us.It was easy getting off the train and negotiating the stairs and tunnels that lead over to the terminal building, though Linda did her best to go in the wrong direction every chance she got. It wasn't until we exited the station, and got out our maps, then looked at the way we were to go that the potental problem facing us was realized.
As the guidebook pointed out, our hotel was in the old town area, a place the Romans chose to build because it was on top of a high cliff. The important words being, "a high cliff". With a line of taxis immediately in front of us, and the town towering high above us, we made our decision and started walking towards the base of the cliff. we hadn't gone very far when a set of steps leading up and up appeared, and within minutes we were atop the cliff, looking down at the Mediterranean.
The problem was that now we were on top of the cliff, we couldn't tell from the map exactly where we were at. Bravely setting off away from the sea, we quickly concluded that most of the street signs had weathered away centuries before. Finally we saw a sign, got our bearings and almost before we knew it, popped out onto a large pedestrian plaza, and saw the sign for our hotel.
Again the hotel only had 4 rooms to a floor, though they were quite modern. This time we had an actual double bed, though the floor was tile and the room quite small. Still, for Euro 55 per night, who was complaining. As soon as we were in the room, Linda decided to take a photo, enhancing the picture somewhat by finding a somewhat life-like mannequin of an old guy to make it look more realistic.
Opening the window we found ourselves with a most interesting view, laundry hanging out to dry on the neighbors balcony which consisted of two white shirts,a white apron and a weeks worth of ladies colorful under garments.
Once we got unpacked, it was time to venture out, spending time getting acquainted with our surroundings, stopping first to take a photo of our plaza.
Returning to the room, Linda spent about an hour trying to get the beginning balances and accounts setup with the proper exchange rates in the Gnucash program she will be using to track our expenses. Next it was back out again for another walk, where we stumble across some Roman ruins just up the street in front of the hotel. We knew there were ruins, we just didn't realize they were this close.
We ate dinner at the restaurant inside the hotel, which was the Hotel Placa de la Font, due to a rainstorm raging outside. Unfortunately that was the only nice thing about the meal, that the rain waited until after 8 o'clock to start coming down. and that we learned none of the restaurants open before 8, thought the Tapas bars are always open. To put it bluntly, the food was terrible and other than the desserts, which were passable, the only decent thing was the wine that came with the meal. But even that was a blended wine.
Back in the room, I worked at the daily Journal, while Linda watched a TV program that was almost an exact copy of one she normally watches. In this scene you can see people who are dead ringers for Carlos, Bree and Gabby of Desperate Housewives, the only problem being they didn't have the right voice. These actors and actresses talked in Spanish and had a serious problem with their lines as they mumbled so much in delivering their lines that the words weren't in sync with their lips.
Looking back at the day, we could both agree it had been a typical day of traveling, some good, most of it great, and a moment or two that left something to be desired. The one thing we knew was that we sure were not eating in that restaurant again, even if we had to walk through a rainstorm to find another restaurant.
April 2 Thursday
Whether it was jet lag or something else, neither of us felt normal this morning. Linda was having some of the symptoms of a cold, while I was having a queasy feeling in my stomach, something that I hardly ever experience. It also meant that I was wide awake at 4 AM. As a result it was a day to not do much. Breakfast, a walk down the Ramblas, visiting the markets, buying some crackers and cheese, oh, and lest I forget, a chocolate bar for Linda, a take away lunch, rest, rain, and relaxing in hopes of returning to normal.
The way we felt made it very easy for us to adopt the Spanish time for eating, and it was 10:30 when we walked into a nearby Tapas bar for breakfast. Two cafés, Linda's plain,mine with milk and sugar, which were accompanied with chocolate crossaints was the right way to start the day.
Then it was back to the hotel to finish the Daily Journals and post it. It was also time to admit that I can't keep writing the Daily Journal the way I normally do, There simply aren't enough hours in the day to get in all the sight seeing and other things we want to do and still write in great detail about our day. A new home page article was written to explain this this, and then it was time to upload and check our email. Since the only place to connect is in the lobby, down we went.
Having felt much better for having been outside for the few brief moments, and deciding that the fumes being generated as they painted the hotel stairways were not helping either of us feel any better, we ventured outside again. A few blocks from the hotel we noticed an interesting building.
The end of the building was a mural, and moving closer to get a better view we discovered that much of the building had been torn down to expose some Roman ruins.
While I stayed back away from the ruins to try and see them all, Linda moved in quite close and managed to get in the picture I was taking. When I asked her what was so interesting about the sign she wanted a closeup photo of, she said it was the black cat. You can see it at the base of sign. We spend the money to come to Tarragona to see all the Roman ruins and she wants to take pictures of a cat.
Maybe it was descended from the Roman cats, but once again it was Linda being Linda. As we walked around, it would drizzle for a while, then stop, then start up again. It was most definitely not the type of day the Tourist Board promotes. It looked like it was just another day to the Tarragonans, as we saw this scene repeated over and over.
Down the center of Ramblas Nova was a market. At first we thought it was nothing but clothing, and we were just about to leave when Linda saw something that caused her to grab my arm and excitedly yell, "Look, look over there.
This may be a long trip if she's going to keep seeing animals everywhere. I hope we don't end up like Tioga George and have to stay in Europe because she's adopted some animal that she just can't bear to leave. I also think all these animals were overloading her brain, because once again we found ourselves back at that cliff we had climbed between the railroad station and our hotel.
We then headed off to parts unknown to us but known in ancient times, stumbling across more Roman ruins.It's not hard to do that in this town, as it was the capital of Roman Spain, and is home to some of the best Roman ruins outside of Italy..
In the course of our wanderings, Sara N. Dippity decided that we should go through the old Roman wall and walk down to another era where we found the Mercat. Inside it was a cauldron of activity. Vendors in stalls filled with fresh vegetables of unbelievable size and perfection in shape. Meats of all types from pigs ears, dressed rabbits, to whole chickens minus only their feathers and innards, and virtually everything in between. Other vendors had everything that came from the sea, including many kinds of whole fish we had never seen before.
Even the outside of the outside of the market was special.
For our lunch, and 9 PM supper we opted to picnic, as much because of how we were feeling, which was much better, than anything else. The sandwiches were sublime, and the cookie was a special treat, being the same kind that Linda remembered from being in Germany last year. It was one of those things that make trips likes this so special in such little ways.
In the evening the sky opened up and we used the time wisely, though Linda may have been a little wiser than I. While I typed away, getting caught up on the Daily Journals, and getting in some rest, Linda spent the time sleeping. Or at least I thought she was sleeping until I downloaded the pictures from the camera and found this one.
I figured out how she took it without me noticing, when I realized that is her toe in the foreground, so she took it while laying on the bed pretending to be asleep.Once all the writing was done, it was time to upload, so back down to the lobby we went. After checking our email, Linda noticed her sister was logged on to her instant message service. What then took place was some sister to sister chatting. It was good for both of them and just goes to show that no matter where you are you can keep in touch if you want.
Tomorrow the sun is forecast to be out until late afternoon. We plan to get in a good day of sightseeing, so until then, adios amigos..
April 3 Friday
What a difference a day can make. For me, it was almost back to normal, for Linda it was a runny nose that was being semi-tamed by some Spanish nose drops. The weather was nearly perfect with temperatures in the low 60's under a sunny sky. We continued in our Spanish way of doing things, eating a late breakfast, which was followed by a day of visiting various sights, then ending with a late night meal of tapas.
The day actually began with a trip to the railroad station to buy our tickets to Barcelona, for our journey tomorrow.This was on of those,I said we didn't need to buy them early, Linda said we had to buy them early, lose, lose propositions. It was just yesterday, when she was in the grips of whatever dreaded disease she had picked up, that she was saying we would not be getting the tickets early. It was her statement this morning that we needed to get the tickets that convinced me she was feeling better.
If she was willing to walk down to the station and back up to the Ramblas, which are literally down and up, then I knew she must be feeling much better.
That's the first short set of stairs, then comes a long sloping sidewalk, then a steep set of curving stairs, followed by another sloping sidewalk that ends at the train station.There the agent told us to come back tomorrow and buy our tickets just before leaving. I didn't say anything to her, but II sure was thinking it.
After walking back up to the top, Linda wanted to take a stroll down the Ramblas. This surprised me, until she said the wanted a photo of the bronze sculpture that commemorates the building of the human towers, an event that takes place in Tarragona every two years.
Made of bronze, here's a detail of the base, with Linda's placing me in the photo to show the relative scale of the men forming the base of the tower. .
We continued to stroll down the Rambles towards the west, all the time within the new city as it is called. We then turned north, wandering through narrow streets of a residential area, until we came upon the old Roman wall that marked the old city. Deciding to get something to eat, went into a small coffee shop, and ordered our usual breakfast of cafe con leche y xcocolate croissant. It was a shop where no one spoke any English, yet between my limited vocabulary and some pointing, we ended up with exactly what we wanted.
Just around the corner we went back in history, way back to approximately 100 BC, and for the next hour we walked along the Roman wall.
If Augustus, who became Caesar Augustus, only knew what fun Linda was having with his likeness, I suspect she would have found herself, at the very least, a slave.
One thing about Linda, doesn't matter where she walks, if there are rocks, one is going to find its way into her shoe.
That the Romans were master builders there is no doubt. One look at how thy fitted the cut stones to both the irregular boulders and to each other leaves no doubt to their prowess.
Back in the old town area we witnessed an unusual sight, which was this motorcycle.
It turned out to the the super pooper scooper patrol. The hoses on each side were vacuum hoses with a water spray and brush nozzle. Since people walking their dogs and cleaning up after them is a major problem, we thought this attempt at solving the problem was different, to say the least.
One of the reasons why it was so easy to overlook those little piles of poo was because ones eyes are often focusing on the beauty that is everywhere around. Take this street with all the flower boxes high overhead.
Everywhere around you is the old and the new. Here, on the right is the 2000 year old Roman wall,while on the left, apartments rise out of a section that was destroyed during one of the many wars that the city went through over the centuries.
For having not felt the best the past couple of days we were setting a pretty torrid pace, and later in the afternoon it caught up to Linda.
There were more Roman ruins and a wonderful museum that filled out the rest of our day, then it was back to the hotel until the 8 o'clock hour rolled around when we could go out to eat. We found the food at the Tapas bar next to our hotel to our liking, when during the meal we heard drums. it turned out to be a procession that was part of the Holy Week celebration.
It was another day where we seemed to be in the right place at the right time. That's what makes travel so much fun, not what you plan to do, but simply what happens.
April 4 Saturday
Travel day, but with a difference.The lovely blond, Appalachian hill girl wife lived up to her heritage. Setting the alarm for 6 AM toallow us an hour to get ready before we needed to leave at 7:15 to walk to the railroad station to catch our train to Barcelona, she forgot to change from the, set the alarm mode, to the, wake to alarm, mode. When my eyes opened at 7:08, I let out a yelp, and from that moment on, it was no need for any electric lights, that woman was moving so fast the friction was generating all the light we needed.
While Linda headed for the railroad station to get our tickets, I tried to checkout. When the clerk didn't have the bills to make change for my 50 Euro bills, we dashed over to a nearby cafeteria where the transaction was completed with me being the only English speaker. The correct change in hand, I made a beeline for the station, only to be unable to see Linda in the distance. As I paused at the top of the steps leading down to the station, I finally saw her in the distance. The problem was she was behind me, not in front of me. Seems she had taken a wrong turn, but what really made it bad was that we had walked this way at lest 5 or 6 times over the past several days.
Women and their sense of direction. We did walk down the steps together, bought our tickets and made it out on the platform with time to spare. All of which allowed us to stand and watch a beautiful sunrise, which wasn't how we thought the morning was going to turn out a half hour ago. Something else that was impressive was that in our rush to pack and leave, we didn't forget anything, which was a minor miracle in itself.
Right on time the train pulled into the station and we, and many more people than I would have thought would be traveling early on Saturday morning, climbed aboard to head north towards Barcelona..
Our comedy of errors for the day was not yet completed, because when we arrived at Passieg de Garcia train station, John & Judy who we would be traveling with over the next several weeks were not there to meet us. We waited and waited, but even though they said they would meet us, and Linda had sent the map of where we would be, we never saw them, no matter were we looked.
While this is actually a photo of Linda in line to use the WC, even then she was looking around for John and Judy. We finally decided to walk to the hotel, which resulted in our going in the wrong direction and turning a 10 minute walk into an hour long one. It was also during this time that we discovered that the map showed the Passieg de Garcia Metro station, not the train station, and as it turned out, the Metro station was where John and Judy had waited for us before also heading back to the hotel.Though in their case they went in the right direction.
We eventually made contact, right in front of the hotel, and within minutes were in our room. a room which is best described as a cute little room, with emphasis on the little. But for the price we paid, and for a room right on the Ramblas, it was a great find by Linda. Soon the four of us set out to eat lunch, and using a Rick Steves recommendation, had a wonderful lunch at a hole in the wall tapa bar..
Linda didn't do as well as the three of us at eating mystery foods, foods that often times were from the sea, or cheese made from sheep's milk. Never fear about her going hungry though, especially when there is a chocolate shop across the street from the tapa bar.
Then it was off to explore the area and tour the Cathedral, where there were many opportunities to see beauty. Linda especially liked the stained glass, including this tiny window that looked down on a crypt under the alter, where according to what we could read on the huge white marble slab, Pope John Paul did something in the 1990's..
What caught my eye was how the church had gone modern. No more lighting a candle without putting any money in the box. Here you put the money in the slot and an electric light, fake candle came on. Is it the honoring of the Saint, or the collection of money that is more important? I know what my answer is, I'll leave yours to you.
Outside, Linda and Judy jumped to the head of the line and and led John and I with unerring accuracy to the Chocolate Museum. Having merely had their chocolate cravings reinforced, our next stop was at a chocolateria for whip cream topped triple hot chocolate with churros which we dipped in the thick chocolate. Talk about good, even I was impressed, though from the look on John's face. he was ecstatic.
Here is what all the smiles were about.
Then almost before we knew it, it was time to eat dinner, which varied with each of us, but John and I pronounced the Paella magnificent. it was day full of surprises, all of which turned out to lead to happy times. it brought back the words of Ben Cameron, our Rick Steves tour guide from last year. "If what happens doesn't meet your expectations, change your expectations." We had, and it had turned out to be a wonderful day.,
April 5 Sunday
We must have been tired after our adventures in missed connections yesterday, because neither of us moved during the night and it was 9 AM until we were up. Breakfast was included with the room, and as you can tell, Linda was really enjoying the automatic coffee machine, getting both a cup of cafe con leche and a cup of expresso.
While she was mostly drinking her breakfast, something that would later come back to haunt her during the afternoon search for a watercloset, I was enjoying a more traditional breakfast of ham, bacon, eggs,croissant, and real Spanish style olives, not the vinegar laced green olives that found in our US supermarkets.
Then it was time for a morning stroll along the streets of Barcelona. With its wide boulevards reminding us of Paris, the buildings showed a very interesting mix of architectural styles.
There were more modern buildings mixed in, but mostly they were styles from years gone by. One section has such varied styles it is know in the guide books as "The Block of Discord", and though we were somewhat confused as to exactly where it was and which buildings were its centrepieces, this one was typical of what we were seeing.
And then there were the buildings by Gaudi, and it is not the female image on the scaffold screen hiding the building under renovation.
A balcony railing on another of his buildings gives an indication of what his style was all about.
Along the streets are spigots where you can fill your drinking containers, something that we got used to during last year's trip. The water is always so cold and refreshing, and remindsus of how in the US it is all about making money on bottled water, not on letting people enjoy our cities. The more we travel, even in our own country, the more we have come to see that there are so many things that we are never exposed to if we never visitother placesl.
The line of people in the background of that photo are waiting to tour one of Gaudi's buildings. We continued on, our destination the Sangia Familia, another of Gaudi's buildings. We could tell we weren't the only ones who were headed in that direction, finally entering a park which was thronged with people, many of them carrying yellow palm fronds.
When at last we got close enough to see the spires of the Cathedral, it was one of those, you have to see it to believe it, moments. Photos simply can't do justice to how unusual, or maybe the word is weird, it is. Note that the odd thing in the photo is the Cathedral, not the female in the foreground, I think..
A closeup of the front of the building.
Then we realized what was going on, discovering we were in the midst of a gigantic outdoor Palm Sunday Mass. We also learned that the palm fronds were being smashed into the ground to to wipe away bad memories, though my conversation with the young man I asked was in terrible Spanish on my part and broken English on his part. With all the Palm Sunday activities going on, and the line to enter the Cathedral already out of sight around the corner, we opted to wait until our next visit to Barcelona to tour the inside.
After a stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe, we walked through residential neighboorhoods on our way toward the port area of the city. We had no real plan, simply to enjoy whatever it was we happened upon. That was when we saw this arch, which in turn marked the entrance to a park where an exhibition had been held in the late 1800's.
It was here, that when reaching into my shoulder bag, I discovered the chocolate bars we received at the chocolate museum yesterday where definitely not M and M's, deciding to melt where they were at instead of in our mouths. On a better note, it was unreal just how many people were out, the sidewalks and Rambalas being very crowded.
Back at our hotel, we introduced John and Judy to our European equivalent of our 4 o'clock peanut time, which we call our 4 o'clock beer time, though as John pointed out, we did have peanuts on the table also.
Later it was an evening meal on the Ramblas, a time to just kickback and relax in preparation to our train trip north to Girona tomorrow.
April 6 Monday
A day to travel by train to the Spanish city of Girona, stay were Lance Armstrong and many other world famous cyclists have stayed, Walk the ancient cobblestone streets and narrow alleys of a 2000 year old city, Explore wall that surrounds the old town area, buy some wine coming straight from the barrel and into our empty plastic water bottles. Stopat a small shop for picnic supplies where the owner spoke not a word of English, then end the day with something that a guide book can not supply.
There was no rush this morning, no time schedule to meet, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast once again at the hotel. Here is Linda beside the automatic coffee machine.Push the button, it measured the coffee beans, then ground and brewed them in just a few seconds. There were some 8 different brews it would make, though I tended to like the cafe con leche. As for Linda I believe she tried and liked them all.
Our hotel was one of three in the building we were staying, something that we sure don't see in the states. After retracing our steps of two days ago, well just a few of them, and with the ladies leading, we descended the 20 or so steps down into the train station for the hour or so long trip north.
Once in Girona we disovered a curious fact. The old town has steps, hundreds and hundreds of steps, all of which only go up, or at least it seemed that way.
Girona was also the location of the "The Banks of Discord", or it probably seemed that way to John and Judy as they tried to obtain money from an ATM. Lets just say that there are many types of machines that hang on the walls of buildings in Girona, including some that are actually ATM machines. The problem was they were all in Spanish until you stuck your card in, when the menu of languages would pop-up on the screen. Without going into the details, it appeared that one time we were trying to get a phone card refilled. But then just think of never having experienced something like this, what fun would that be.
We were staying in a two bedroom furnished apartment in an 800 year old building.
The living area was quite spacious, and for two couples traveling together it was inexpensive, the cost of the apartment being only Euro 240 with tax for the two nights, or Euro 60 per couple per night.
There was one slight drawback, but only if you looked at it the wrong way. There were 11 flights of steps to climb whenever you came in or left, but what do you expect with a building that is eight centuries old, besides there were not that many steps on each flight as you can see.
We spent the afternoon exploring this wonderful old city, and walking along the top of the wall that served to protect Girona's inhabitants down through the centuries. I found these arrow slits which opened in different directions to be particularly fascinating, wondering what tales this section of the wall could tell if it could only talk.
While I was thinking of battles, Linda was thinking about how the defenders did other things, such as how they might have relieved themselves in the midst of the battle without getting an arrow shot into their you know what..
The wall followed the hills of the town, resulting in significant amounts of climb and descent to walk its entire length. It also allowed for unique perspectives.
After stopping for some fabulous ice cream, we went shopping, first stopping in one of those small, hole in the wall, type grocery stores that are so common in Europe. The proprietor was an older woman who spoke no English, but still we ended up with fresh bread, several types of unknown dried meats and also a big chunk of cheese.
That still left one item we needed for our dinner, and a stop at the local wine store took care of that need.
Those are plastic water bottles filled with wine, which came from the barrels in the wine shop.
We had one more unique experience that happened to us before the day was over, which was watch some of the men of the town practice for the Good Friday service that would held beside the Cathedral. Since Girona had been a Roman town, they would be reenacting the role of the Roman soldiers.
Since it was practice, they were not dressed in the full regalia of the Roman soldier, instead only carrying their spears. We watched them march for over a half hour, it brought to life the fear they must have struck into the hearts of their enemies as they marched with such percision to the pounding of the their drummers and the slamming of the wooden spear shafts onto the stone walkways. For a history lover such as I, it was a dream come true. It was Sara N. Dippity was once again doing her job.
April 7 Tuesday
Another day in Girona with a plan to visit the local museum but most importantly, to sample the fine foods Girona has available to the traveler. Of course while others slept, the coach sanitary engineer was already wide awake, doing her thing. The requirements might be different,but the job is the same, as you can see from the fine job she is doing of washing our clothes in the kitchen sink.
Breakfast was eaten on the Ramblas, and the chocolate croissants were gigantic. We finally decided they were regular croissants which had cut in half and then great globs of Nutella were spread on the halves. Combine this with cafe con leche and it is just about as good as breakfast could ever get..
Later as we walked around town something unusual caught my eye. When it comes to computers, I'm a Linux guy, but Linux is something that definitely takes second place to Windows in the US. Not so in Europe, as this window display so graphically shows. Maybe there is something to the stories about how much of the rest of the world not liking the monopolistic ways of the American, Microsoft. Equal shelf space does not mean equal usage, but it does show that Microsoft may not be all they think they are.
The local history museum proved to be a treasure trove of wonderful exhibits, including doing a masterful job of showing the evolution of art through the ages. Both Linda and I were taken in by this smiling Madonna and child.
Or how about this early grave marker. Not early in the US sense, early in the European sense, meaning it dates from the 500's. That's not 500 hundred years old, but 1500 years old. Things are simply on a different time scale over here than in the US.
Another interesting display i discovered were these Lipsanteques, with are small containers holding the bones of the dead. Displayed in a cabinet where the crosses from another cabinet could be seen reflecting in the glass, it made for a poignant moment.
As we left the museum, a light rain began to fall, yet in the narrow and dimly lighted streets and alleyways of the this ancient city, the juxtaposition of the old and new seemed to fit together perfectly..
For dinner we once again had Paella, which we agreed was good,not nearly as good as we had in Barcelona, though we had to admit that wine was one of the very best we had consumed to date. Then it was back to the apartment to get ready for our move into France and the run up to our canal boat adventure. As you can see, John and I had a good time talking about the days advntures.
And while we were discussing just how awesome our travels had been to date, our ever resourceful spouses were going over what would be next.
April 8 Wednesday
We leave Spain today, traveling by train to Beziers, France which is near Port Cassafieres where we will pick up our canal boat on Thursday. Hearing from our landlord that Holy Week travel can be very heavy, and that it begins today, we opted to leave a little earlier than necessary, just in case it turned out to be true, it wasn't.
Adding the latest page in the 800 year old history of that building, we closed the door and began our walk to the train station. It had rained during the night and the cobblestone streets glistened in the early morning light as the sound of the little wheels on John and Judy's bags echoed through the archways and off the walls of the buildings..
Emerging from the narrow streets of the old town, we crossed the bridge which spans the river,and could only marvel at the bright colors and contrast between the grass, river, town and sky that was spread before us.
I had also come up with a way of solving any language problem, should it come up while buying our train tickets. Careful to get in a line other than the one for the lady who didn't speak any English, we still ended up at her window, but my solution worked perfectly.
It was better writing out the number 4, rather than trying to say it, or using my fingers to indicate four. In Europe one is your thumb, not your index finger as in the states, and four is the thumb and three fingers. Here I am practicing it, but only with limited success.
After a breakfast of cafe con leche and croissants at the train station it was all aboard for the French border.
The train had obviously seen better days, but while definitely showing a good deal of wear and tear, still it was very roomy and comfortable. It is unreal, how much about public transportation we could learn from the Europeans..
On the train we found a paper which had a photo of the Roman soldiers which were taking part in the Holy Week festivities in Tarragona. It gave us a glimpse into what we were going to be missing on Friday night in Girona. But then again, on Friday night we would be on the canal boat so a newspaper photo would have had to of sufficed anyway.
But while we traveled North, and while I was trying to read the the local paper which was in Spanish of course,the ever resourceful Linda was reading something else, The map of Beziers, as she did not want to get lost trying to find our hotel, the aptly named Hotel Terminus..
After crossing the border, buying our tickets for the French train, and arriving in Beziers, all Linda's planning as to what streets to take and where to turn really paid off, since we found the hotel with no problem. Of course the fact it was directly across the street from the train station may have helped.
Then after a brief rest period, it was off to check out the city. We quickly discovered the section of town across from the station and down by the river was more like Istanbul than a town in France. But after a climb to the upper section of town, we were soon engaged in one our favorite European pastimes.
In a way you could say each of us was doing something we enjoyed individually, as well as collectively. Once our thirst was quenched, it was time to take a stroll down the streets, looking for a place for dinner. We quickly discovered that 8 o'clock was the magic hour and it was about 90 minutes away. To make matters worse, the ladies discovered a chocolate shop, where we help revive the French economy.
We ended up having an early meal at a Donner Kebap, which was John and Judy's first experience with this wonderful Turkish food. Then it back to our hotel where I worked on the computer, as this would probably be our last Internet connection for the next 10 to 12 days. Linda also did her thing.Something tells me there is no way we will be getting lost once we are on Canal du Midi tomorrow afternoon.
April 9 Thursday
During our walk to a cafe for breakfast, we came across the local vegetable market.
It was nothing special, yet it was. Things are just different here in Europe, not always better, not always worse, just not the same as what we are accustomed to in the States. Small pleasures that we find in unexpected places. People doing their vegetable shopping in the early morning sun in a small town in the south of France. No doubt the way it has been done for more years than we can imagine.
The boat base was about 20 kilometers from Beziers, but getting there was easy. We just walked across the street from the hotel to the train station and got a cab.Our driver spoke a little Italian, a little German and little English and a bunch of French. We had a great trip, and he pointed out a place where we should dock the boat and walk to a supermarket to stock up on supplies at the best price.
The Port Cassafriese Le Boat base was full of boats, so we knew we were at the right place. It was also well signed making it easy for us to find the office.
Even better was the young lady who helped us with all the paperwork for the trip. I also think the remark that was made about how the stones in the ring on her finger matched the color of her hair, also help put her in the right frame of mind to help four slightly bewildered Americans.
Right next to the office was a restaurant, the kind that is unimposing in its looks and location, just like so many in Europe, But one that serves food we can only dream of getting in the States. Rather than bore you with all the photos we took of the fabulous meal, here's the label off the bottle of wine that accompanied it.
We had just finished our meal when the fellow who would be giving us the instructions on how to operate the boat came out of the office. He turned out to be an Irish chap,with a ready smile and a joke a minute.He and John had a number of anatomical similarities, as you can tell from this time when they were comparing the relative merits of the degree of facial hair they were sporting. Or lacking, depending on which part of the head they were discussing.
Our boat was a Clipper, and while it wasn't new, it didn't have any holes in it either. Over 30 feet long with two cabins, one forward and one aft, a diesel engine, galley and heater. It also had both an inside and an outside steering position, and it quickly aquired a Captain, John, whom we soon nicknamed Capt..Bligh. One experienced deckhand in Judy, and two, don't even know which end of the rope to hold, deckhands, in Linda and I.
After selecting our bicycles and stowing them on the bow, it was time to load our provisions on board.We had preorderd a minimal amount of water, bread and cheese, along with a few other French necessities which would hopefully hold us over until we could find a grocery store along the way. As you can see, the ladies overcame numerous obstacles in seeing that we had our food aboard..
Soon we were underway, with plans to cruise towards the Mediterranean, though we would never be close to the Mediterranean itself, and spending the night in the small town city of Marsellan. At first we passed by numerous boats moored near the base, and while John piloted our vessel, it looks like I'm hiding my eyes from the impending doom of crashing into one of those boats, but really, I was just putting on my hat at the moment the photo was taken
Once clear of the base, it was open waters and scenes like this.
We successfully passed through several locks, something that was far easier than we anticipated,with the first one being a lift of only one foot. The day was beautiful beyond words, and it wasn't long, only several hours before we saw something else other than just the canal.
When we discovered all the berths in town were filled, we headed back up the canal, found a likely looking spot, drove two steel stakes into the bank at each end of the boat and tied up for the night. Think of it as RV boondocking when the campground is full.
Going below, we turned on the heater, and filled the table with bread, cheese, ham and wine. It was exactly like we had expected it to be, and we were looking forward to the next 10 days. There may be some colder weather and rain in the forecast, but as John pointed out, "A bad on the canal is far better than the best day anywhere else." Based on what we had experienced so far, it looked like those were very true words.
April 10 Friday
Our destination today was near Beziers, where we had stayed two nights ago, but in a different world. After a simple breakfast of coffee, boiled eggs and bread we cast off. The canal du Midi is old, having been built in the 1600's, but it is the very thing that makes it so appealing. Take this bridge for example, we were soon to learn this not the typical style of bridge we would encounter, rather it was the old stone arch bridges that were more typical.
Once we had been underway ffor a time, Capt..John turned the helm over to me. You'll have to excuse the use of all these unfamiliar nautical terms, but the Captain runs a taunt ship and so the use of the language of the mariner was slowly being ingrained in each of us. He wasn't really like that, but it sure was fun teasing him that he was. You can see here that he is giving me instructions on how to properly maintain course, suggesting that to smash the boat into the canal bank is not only bad seamanship, it is also hard on the boat.
Within minutes we were under an ancient water diversion structure, the cut stone blocks only inches from our heads and the steady hand of yours truly on the wheel.
There may have been storm clouds in the air, but the contrast between them and the fields along the canal was something seen only in the brochures, so you had to pinch yourself to be sure they were real. Andin this case it was real, and we were experiencing it.
We also began working on our locking skills, fine tuning our outstanding work in our desire to become the top rated crew on the canal. While I manned the foredeck, the ladies handled the aft section of our vessel. As you can see, as we entered this lock, I was all in readiness to do my job.
Once we were well trained on the locks, it was time to put all our skills together, mooring along side the canal, going ashore and walking to the supermarket our taxi driver had pointed out to us yesterday. As the Capt. manuvered the boat close to the shore, all hands were at their assigned duty stations and the ropes were perfectly placed in anticipation of our glorious landing.
It only took moments to realize our wylie Capt. was testing his crew to their utmost.
What you are witnessing is what in the movies is known as the hardening of the crew. To us it was more like time to mutiny and hang the Capt.. from the yard arm. The only problem was there was no yard arm on the boat, plus it was all we could do from falling in the water and drowning. Maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but I'm hanging on the rope and Judy, while she is fighting her way out of a blackberry bush.
Being the dutiful crew we were, when the Capt.. yells jump, we don't question his wisdom we just jump. We also don't say anything when he, in exasperation wants to know why we jumped into a thorn bush, at least loud enough that he can hear that is. We were also beginning question his comments about a bad day on the canal being better than a good day anywhere else. It looked liked he'd drunk to much saltwater in his days and was starting to hallucinate.
We eventually escaped the clutches of the brambles and soon had bags and boxes of provisions to stock the ship.We even discovered the boat came with a built in wine cellar, which the Capt.. had the forethought to adequately stock. That act also quelled any thought of mutiny as the crew eagerly began to look forward to their daily ration of grog the Capt..would surely dole out.
Deciding to more closely check out the banks of the canal, I discovered that they use one of the products from my former life, coir to line the banks anywhere construction has recently taken place. Personal note to my former co-worker Carl; With the construction market so depressed in the US, you might want to have Bruce send you over here to boost sales, plus it would give you a chance to play on some new golf courses..
With the crew still not living up to the the Captain's. expectations, he came up with a new plan to spur us to ever greater degrees of excellence. Confiscating our beer, he began tossing it to the canal keepers as we passed through their lock.
The day was coming to an end, and it was time for our aperitif, wine and cheese, which will be the replacement for our four o'clock peanut time as we travel the Canal du Midi.
Dreams, the stuff of dreams, Life, lived with a capital L. This is what it means to travel, to adventure, and just think, we still have over three more months to come.