Monday, September 13, 2010

Life in France...

Here's a bit of enthusiasm from a couple now moved to France:

Name: Lauren and Jack Herman
Age: 61 and 65
Why they love it: It's France!

I came here in 1994 before I got married and 10 years before I retired, saw the breath-taking view from the main road and decided that I would one day live here.

We sold our three-bedroom townhouse in suburban Washington for $385,000 in 2004 and paid $118,000 for the house in France. It was originally a barn built in 1842 that the previous owner restored. It has four bedrooms and two baths and stunning views.

I spend my time doing exactly what I feel like. I cook and make several types of jam each year. The lifestyle is much slower. People take their time to enjoy a good meal and stop and talk to friends. A neighbor stops and gives me eggs from her hens. Pastures surround us and some days we see sheep grazing there. Their milk is used to make Roquefort cheese.

The grape harvest, or "vendage," is coming up this month, and it's one of the yearly highlights. Every year we pick grapes for our wine producer friend near Bordeaux, and it's such a wonderful experience. We meet many people and reconnect with previous vendangeurs.

Living costs are generally higher, but with no mortgage to pay and our investments, we live quite well. Also, we know we will never be bankrupted by medical costs. We have coverage under the French healthcare system and are ever-so-grateful for that. Our experiences with the doctors and hospital here have been extremely positive.

from CNN, Retiring in paradise

Meanwhile, here at CC, now is the time for teachers to turn in class proposals, and time for everyone to sign up for the trip. The first price hike is on October 1...


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blog responses

Apparently, we're still working out a few bugs in this process.

Again this week, I heard that someone (Charity this time) had tried to post a response, but something glitched and it didn't work.

We really would like people to be able to chime in. So some of you try to post responses, to any of the blogs. If it works, great, you have become cyber-immortal.

But if not, please email me and Ken with details about what happened:

thanks, bob



Two new travel adventures.

ITALY When we first set up this blog for Columbia College, we talked about including experiences from various individual travelers. So, I'm going to try that this next week or so, depending on web access. I'm going with my niece Ashton and her mom Reggie to Italy. Ashton has traveled a bit here and there, a summer in London with jaunts across Europe, and she went on our CC trip to Egypt, but this will be Reggie's first time in Europe. I know she wants to see Rome, and we wind up in Venice, but I haven't pinned down at all what she wants to see. She keeps saying, "it will all be new." And so it will. Maybe I can capture some of what this is through her eyes. Me, I much like Florence, and love Venice. I hope we can get to Pompeii (or I'll sneak off while they indulge in a shopping marathon in Rome...).

This will be my 3rd trip to Italy, but I suspect I can still find things to enjoy. Perhaps better this time, as that first time we visit those longed-for places, we spend so much excitment and energy on the big sights, that often we are left hollow and disappointed when the actual place can't capture that movie moment. I'll be happy to see the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum again, but sometimes those accidental encounters, those curious people with improbable hair or a less probably story or quiet balconies with sun-wilted geraniums are what we remember best. Like those tiny red ants crawling through the Temple of Athena at Troy, taking very little note of the centuries.

FRANCE For CC, the trip next year will be to France, between the spring and summer semesters. We liked EF Tours (they didn't feed me French fries every night...), and we hope to have Liz with us, the same guide we had in Spain.

To find out more, go to and under the section Enroll Now, enter this number: 398567 For more details, email Ann Bledsoe (I can't spell her new name) at

I rewrote a bit of the tour company's standard trip, to elimenate all the "one-night-stands"--those get-up-at-6-rush-to-the-bus, tour all day, have dinner in a new city at 9pm and then leave for another city the next day. Exhausting. So, all 2 nights per city this time, with two nights in Paris at both the start and end.

And, Liz suggested that Biarritz would be worthwhile, so we moved a section of the trip there instead of Bordeaux. And I put in a day of free time at the beach. Though we have plenty to go see if that is too stress-free.

So go sign up, even now. It's only money. And probably get the travel insurance. Things happen.

Ah--I meant to text Pam and have her insist that her niece go along with CC next year, but that text didn't arrive in time. Some things happen too fast.


Friday, June 11, 2010

A Tour of Lisbon

May 29, Day 11

Ah, this may be my last blog post for this trip, though I may go back and edit a bit. Such as spell Taylor’s name correctly, credit Suzy as my flower identifier, figure out how to pull the text up next to the pictures on some posts. Those things.


In the morning of our one full day here, we had a guided tour, which ended about lunchtime, with some headed back to the hotel on the bus, some headed to the beach, and the rest of us dumped out in the center of Lisbon to go our various ways.

But first our lunch tales--

A group of us, 7 or 8, wandered away from the center, looking around, checking out menus. We passed quite a few places, but everyone seemed to shy away, for one reason or another. At one place we passed, Dennis looked in the window and said "ptomaine there!" We finally arrived at another plaza, a block behind the other. The group gravitated to the umbrellas and open chairs. No waiter appeared, really for quite a while, but we found menus—sandwiches, burgers, some fish, salads, all with a Spanish twist, and not cheap.

I waited a while, but then defected, with David following. We back-tracked from the umbrellas over to the "ptomaine palace," a side-street restaurant not much entered by tourists. I had seen a 2 foot wide skillet of some sort of burbling meat—pork, it turned out—to which a cook would now and then toss in more raw slices along one side, no doubt with his own system of what was cooked or not. I found a clear spot at the counter, indicated we would stand there, and the owner put out two paper placemats. I pointed at the stuff in the window, again gestured “two,” and soon we had our own sandwiches and a couple beers. There was a bottle of spicy mustard, which put out oddly shining yellow streaks, just right. One of my best meals in Spain, and for both of us, all for 6.30 euros.

We rejoined the others, who still hadn’t ordered, then went off to look for the Metro station we would need for the bullfight. Lots of wrong turns, then back to the group, still eating. We joined them for ice cream, strolled, met others for the subway, bullfight, etc. A pleasant afternoon on our own.


That morning, we had all piled on the bus for our official tour of Lisbon—with a local guide, who was a bit too enthusiastic (and loud on the speakers) for a morning without enough coffee. She meant well, but... So we heard about the black and rose marble that many buildings are made of, the 7 hills, “like Rome,” that Lisbon is built on, the damages from earthquake and tsunami back in the mid- 18th C., saw street and neighborhood names that are echoed in Brazil.

From the bus we saw a cathedral, a pink palace, various other official important sights, but all of these we couldn’t get to because of an unannounced military parade. I snapped some pictures of the military folk, not because they were so interesting, but because I suspected I wasn’t supposed to.

Meanwhile, our bus contorted through open streets, but just couldn’t get us walkable access. Not very secretly, most of us were tired of cathedrals and magnificence, so bouncing along in the bus snapping pictures wasn’t a disaster. And we got more time at a souvenir/coffee area down near the ports and monuments, which turned out to be my only shot at buying a Portugal t-shirt, in our ongoing rush. (And what a tragedy that would have been, having already been rushed out of Morocco without the requisite t-shirt, not to mention, they didn’t feel like stamping our passports! How would I even know I’d been to these places? Memory? Not sufficient without a cotton product.)

So, shots of expresso, shopping, a couple nice monuments of Portuguese explorers setting out to chart, dominate and pillage the world. Then back on the bus, headed for a castle. Never did catch the name, as I was trying to protect my ears by putting my hands on the blaring bus speaker over my head.

But the walk up the hill to the castle was a highlight of Lisbon for me.

At the bottom of the hill, one of those ordinary cramped neighborhood roads. But that’s where we entered the narrow street? Alley? The Arco de Jesus—steps and cobblestones, twisting up and right, and left, and steep up again. There was quite a bit of graffiti, often about the Pope, and strange pictures we couldn’t quite connect with. Doors and small windows were decorated, often with vines and flowers and pictures. The outer walls in many places were covered in tile that gave the illusion of being 3-D, even without our Avatar glasses. Balconies spilled over with bright geraniums, an occasional pigeon, a woman who shouted down sort of in English that we should be careful of pickpockets.

Every so often we would come to a level place with a view out into the harbor and the cacophony of roofs below us. People moved around, intent with their own lives, which I often didn’t feel comfortable photographing. Many were preparing for that night’s Festival of St. Antony--street booths were under construction for the oncoming party that would later fill the neighborhood with revelers, music, lots of wine, and what Liz recommended, the grilled anchovies.

At the top of the hill, our local guide told us some history, showed us the harbor panorama, then gave us twenty minutes to relax. A small cafeteria provided me with a late morning cheese pastry, a small bottle of red wine and a table in the shade. A brilliant blue peacock strutted in front of us, one who seemed just fine with dozens of camera stalkers.

But let me explore a tangent here, triggered by the presence of so many jacaranda trees, with their purple blooms, almost a signature of Lisbon, and Seville. These trees explode with their blooms, well before any leaves or greenery appear, so they look like enormous twiggy bouquets rather than healthy trees. And these trees are not native to the Iberian Peninsula, nor the Old World at all.

Like Seville seated on the Guadalquivir River, making it an Atlantic port, Lisbon has been one of two places here of intense exchange in that explosive meeting of worlds. There are acacias, honeysuckle, oranges, azaleas, magnolias, dandelions, poppies, familiar weeds, sycamores, geraniums—where might these have come from? We are witnessing an aggressively changed biosphere, beautiful, pleasant, but not necessarily healthy or balanced. Most of us will simply not know how to see this.

I’ve been to Yemen, where despite the fact that they won’t, just won’t, serve anything except tepid Nescafe, they all are very proud of the (perhaps borrowed) story of a Yemeni goat who chewed those strange beans and induced his owner to do the same, thus discovering coffee. Certainly worth a trip to learn that! (though that page-size Yemen visa in my passport has caused me a bit of travel-trouble...)

One book that could help us begin to see is Songbirds, Truffles, Wolves,
which I would have used to teach a St. Francis class on the Italy trip, but alas, the class wasn’t approved. No St. Francis for those folks. In any case, the author Gary Nabhan is an ethnobotanist who is also a lay member of a Franciscan group. For that book, he was making a walking pilgrimage through Italy, to Assisi, assessing the mix of world plants as he went. He had no luck convincing Italian locals that tomatoes were not part of their ancient Roman heritage, nor had they ever been simmered down in any Old World sauce before the 1500s. Nor would corn nor potatoes have been on any plate, not even in Ireland.

Would that I had his knowledge, and could with a glance tag everything I see, with the ease a 14-year-old can tag photos on Facebook. Someday, I need to do some sort of Environmental lit class on food, but even that won’t let me see as fully as I need to.

So much of the world remains invisible to us.

later, bob

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


We now have a picture slide show of different sights in Spain!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The North Atlantic, Newark and Beyond

May 30, Day 12

That last day—Brittany and Robert leaving on a 4:30 am flight, the rest of us headed to the airport a few hours later, the last-night-party crowd in sad shape, but all packed and present. Of course, the usual glitches, such as Chrissy misplacing her passport and needing to search her luggage in the terminal.

Then the easier daytime flight across the Atlantic and arriving in Newark--the seeming endless passport lines, waiting for luggage, Amy’s luggage disappearing, a train to terminal A, security lines, Fred and Dawn having a wild adventure working on getting a bottle of port bought in Lisbon duty-free onto the next plane, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, a Bud Lite with John, then me paranoid double-checking the gate, finding that the posted info didn’t match our tickets, more checking, then suddenly the whole group having to jump up and get a different bus back to terminal C.

But we boarded our flight and took off. I noticed another plane just off a runway surrounded by security vehicles, lights flashing, but haven’t heard of anything on the news. And by the window in this smaller plane, I actually glimpsed the copper-green sliver of the Statue of Liberty, the first time for me. I’ve spent time in Kuala Lumpur, but never NYC, which in my head is still the realm of The Out of Towners street gangs, garbage strikes, and Kitty Genovese. Friends have suggested I update this mental map. Of course, I was concerned for the Statue of Liberty, for I had just seen Wolverine slice through one of her rays at the end of X-Men on the previous flight...

Yet another bit of dissonance sprang up.

On the long flight, I had watched the post-apocalyptic Book of Eli, which suggested the tragedy of blaming Christianity and religion for the violence in our world. And I began re-reading Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, An Indian History of the American West, in prep for an Evening class:

It began with Christopher Columbus, who gave the people the name Indios. Those Europeans, the white men, spoke in different dialects, and some pronounced the word Indien, or Indianer, or Indian. Peaux-rouges, or redskins, came later. As was the custom of the people receiving strangers, the Tainos on the island of San Salvador generously presented Columbus and his men with gifts and treated them with honor.

“So tractable, so peaceable, are these people,” Columbus wrote to the King and Queen of Spain, “that I swear to your Majesties there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decourous and praiseworthy.”

All this, of course, was taken as a sign of weakness, if not heathenism, and Columbus being a righteous European was convinced the people should be “made to work, sow and do all that is necessary and to adopt our ways.” Over the next four centuries (1492-1890) several million Europeans and their descendants undertook to enforce their ways upon the people of the New World.

Columbus kidnapped ten of his friendly Taino hosts and carried them off to Spain, where they could be introduced to the white man’s ways. One of them died soon after arriving there, but not before he was baptized a Christian. The Spaniards were so pleased that they had made it possible for the first Indian to enter heaven that they hastened to spread the good news throughout the West Indies.

Columbus and his Spanish sponsors have been much in view for us lately, in tombs and monuments, in the wealth of the great cathedrals, in the importation of species from the New World, as well as evidence of the great Portuguese empire, and it’s hard not to look back and wonder. It’s hard not to look ahead, and equally wonder, for we are the inheritors of all this.

But we arrived in St. Louis, everything except Amy’s luggage. We met our CC bus, and though on the trip I had forestalled Chrissy from rushing to American fast food in Costa del Sol and Seville, by saying that there they fried everything in fish oil and made the burgers with shrimp scraps, leaving Lambert Airport we almost immediately stopped at McDonald’s.


First Evening in Lisbon

Day 10, May 28

We left Evora and traveled the last few hours to Lisbon. We had long ago crossed the Spanish border, and the prospect of actually writing any postcards and using that stack of .78 euro cent stamps was vanishing. Alas, a downside of this blog-thing.

I managed to finish our play, going through my laptop battery twice on bus rides today and the day before, and exhausting Ann’s laptop 3 minutes after transferring the file to Liz’s jumpdrive. Check in, then me, David and Ann followed a hotel map to the Apolo 70 copy store, David sure of the way, Ann conferring, me just tagging along snapping pictures. Easy, efficient—much easier than Athens, which required 45 minutes of talking to one shopkeeper who referred us to his cousin through that alley, to another corner where there was a rumor of... and so on, and even easier that Fiji, where the sweet Indian lady looked at us strangely, like we might soil her sari, but got our copies made.

Then dinner, where we had a popular cod-hash, rice, bread. I sampled the vino verde, a champagne-like wine that I’m guessing is made with green grapes. And we got to sample port, in tiny thumb-size glasses. I never did get to try the recommended cherry port. Maybe another trip.

Then back at the hotel, there was the chaos of trying to get the whole group all together before showers, unpacking or nightlife, gathering props, finding a space—the hotel was quite certain this should not take place in their lobby-bar, though they were generous with scotch tape, so we performed in the street, just before twilight. The whole thing wasn’t quite perfectly organized, but it went well. A play, you ask? You know, the usual mixture of the Wizard of Oz, Don Quixote, Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Odyssey/Percy Jackson, with Moroccan rug salesmen, academic art wizards, street mimes, Interpol, the theme song to the Dukes of Hazard, and a chorus line. That sort of thing.

After that, a bit drained, I went with John across the street to a Chinese restaurant, where he got rice and jasmine tea for a queasy stomach, and I had my first Portuguese beer.

Later, I headed off with a group I thought on the way to have one quick beer at the end of this exhausting day, but after we had walked 15 minutes and then started heading down in the subway, I wished them well and turned around, by myself. All fine, except that I hadn’t paid too much attention to the one turn we had made, I had rushed around with the play and didn’t have the hotel’s card with me, nor as it turned out did I quite know the hotel’s name nor address nor phone number. Ah, you can see where this is going. I got lost.

Fortunately, I had paid attention to various billboards, like the hand painted like a bright tropical bird and a sign for an indigenous peoples exhibit. After quite a few side-streets, the evening ended not with the police, but a hot shower, cheap Spanish wine, and British TV.

I think I neglected to tell Ann or Liz about this...

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Lisbon Images

General view of Lisbon

Balcony and tile exterior

One of those sidewalks they're proud of

Just a good idea

Modern Lisbon

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Flamenco Evening

May 27, Day 9

Well, I probably didn’t give this a fair shot, but I’ve hated these dance/song nights in Ireland, Greece, and New Zealand. I put on one of my two long-sleeve nicer shirts, went along, got seated in the knee-to-knee cramped chairs, draped with sheets for some odd notion of elegance. The show started, the dancers stomped, the guitars twanged. I waited, far too long, for my complementary sangria, downed that, and got out of there.

I walked across the street to a local park. I liked the purple blossoms fallen across the sand--I think some of them are still withering/molding in that shirt pocket in my suitcase. Got homesick watching a guy bounce a ball against a wall so his dog could chase it. Indifferently watched children play. Walked the other direction to a hardware—clothes—soft-drink store, where the 10 year old son very imperiously helped out in the Vietnamese? Chinese? family business.

I bought a canned soda, a Kas Limon, and went back to the theater to wait for the group. Sat on the marble steps inside, watched the waitresses go out front for a smoke break before the next show. Listened to the stomp inside, which sounded like a football game with the crowd on wooden bleachers. And had the sour taste of the soda to remember the evening.

And so I have no pictures of strange stiff dancers. Probably others should say a bit more about the delights of flamenco...

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Bullfight in Lisbon

Day 11, May 29

We jumped off the Metro, and immediately heard the crowd at the big bullfight ring. But not, as we expected, the happy crowd. No, the shrill whistles and yelling all were from the group of animal rights protestors, carefully contained (protected?) by quite a few police.

We found everyone, got in line, the 8 of us (me, David, Fred and Shelley B., Taylor, Hyun-Ji, Chrissy and John). The ticket lady made sure to warn us that this wasn’t a traditional Spanish bullfight, but undeterred, we got our tickets. For this event, there was no assigned seating—which would have been a challenge, given the intricacies of sun or shade or part sun, the distance from the ring, the relation to the bull entrance, and so on, with tickets up to 100 euros apiece. But today, just 15 euros, find a seat.

And after rather lengthy opening parades and speeches by local politicians, and presentations and flags and marching bands, after all that—how to describe this. There was no matador, no horses, no swords, no blood. Instead, about 18 (if I counted right) guys assembled inside the ring, in and around this large wooden contraption, a vaguely triangular set of posts, perhaps meant to be an oversized bull. They lifted it, moved in unison, and then the bull was let out. After a few stares at the crowd, the bull charged this wooden contraption full of men, locking horn to wood, sometimes flinging it up, almost exposing the guys on the front row, more often spinning the whole contraption around at odd angles, so that the solitary “steering” man at the back was lifted off his feet.

The bull would back off, circle, charge again. Sometimes, the men would scoot forward, in a knee-bent shuffle and deep grunting chant, that echoed some of the Greek shield columns we would have heard on the film 300. People in the crowd cheered good clashes, murmured at feeble ones. Lots of guys on the stand-on-the-ground inside the barricade area had t-shirts with that same wooden device sketched on the back, celebrating the 2009 season, or other bullfight events.

Well, the wooden contraption part lasted a while, then they backed off, rested the contraption against the barricade, then dozens of young men just jumped in the ring, and began taunting the bull to charge. The point seemed to be personal bravado, being able to slap the bull’s backside, or touch his horns, or tap his nose. The bull would spin, sometimes kick, often make fast, fast charges that would send whole arcs of the players jumping over the wall, just shy of a horn. A few seemed crowd-pleaser show-offs. One guy in a green t-shirt apparently lives for his moments in the ring, making lightning dashes in front of the bull, making a good move, kneeling on the ground to await applause. A red-haired guy mocked the bull, pawing his feet at the ground, daring a charge.

Eventually, one of the specialists (I assume) at tail-grabbing would make a dash and grab the bull’s tail. If he could hold on, he would spin round and round, his feet surfing in the dirt, his taut arms just out of reach of the circling horns. This tail-grabbing usually had to take place several times, but when the bull tired just enough, the crowd in the ring would literally pile on the bull like some rugby match and the 20 or so of them hold the animal still. As far as I could tell, this was “winning.” The men would turn loose, scatter, steers would be let out to lure the bull out of the ring, and the next round would feature a new bull.

No blood, and each round would go about the same. Such an odd event, it’s hard to frame it well. Obviously, there were many culture-codes at work which I couldn't see. And this was an event that whole families attended. One father near us kept trying to slip his 6 and 7 year old sons down to the just-inside-the-barricade seats, but a stadium cop came over and had them return to the less-cool seats (though he let one boy sit there for a few minutes while they talked. No doubt he'll be charging bulls too in 10 years.) Certainly a high-testosterone challenge (no women ventured to jump in the ring, or even seemed ready to challenge this domain—and I was glad Chrissy had on sandals and didn’t have to be dissuaded). And it seems disorganized, at first, the men in the ring just running at or past the bull, with no preset order.

But then, in another way there was an elegance to this. Remember those Jack London stories, the ones set with pre-historic tribes in the far north? I recall one where the tribe set about hunting down a wooly mammoth, there at the end of the last big ice age. They had no grand weapons beyond a few stone spears, and were tiny and slow compared to that great beast. But working in harmony, in a group that just wouldn’t stop, they exhausted the beast and fed themselves. I felt some of this in the loose fraternity of bull-runners there in Lisbon.


More Seville Images


Hyun-Ji on a coffee break

tapestry, with the dog

Columbus' tomb in the Cathedral

Seville at night


Toledo images

Couldn't seem to get blogger to put these in the other post. Huh.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Evora, Portugal

May 28, Day 10

Evora officially has three attractions—the remaining columns of a Roman Temple of Diana, a church where Vasco de Gama came to have his flag blessed before he planted it in India, and, it is the world center for cork production. If you have ever opened a bottle of wine, likely you have touched these bits of tree bark from Evora. I think I heard Liz say Evora produces 70% of the world’s cork. Not sure about that.

But Evora loves cork! In our walk down the hill from the Temple, cork products are the main features. Fred bought a cork hat, which looked and felt like tan leather. There were cork purses, wallets, bracelets, postcards, shot glasses (2 of which I need to be shipping to friends in Norway), key chains (a cork rooster for Michael Polley, who collects key chains—I’d suggest the whole world start shipping him quirky key chains...he may someday retire and open a key chain museum), cork umbrellas, bookmarks...

Halfway down the hill, I had lunch with Fred and Dawn at an outdoor cafe, with a surly waiter who didn’t seem happy about this sudden rush of Americans. He dropped a few plates of the Portuguese equivalent of tapas on the table, grunted, “you pay for what you eat,” and disappeared for quite a while. There were little meat pastries, fried something meaty, a plate of “salad” relish, sweet coarse bread. Eventually, we got a bottle of white wine (Fred’s table, after all), and a large tureen of gaspacho—cold tangy soup, with tomatoes, cucumbers, bread chunks, and ice cubes. Great stuff.

Never got the olives I ordered with lunch, but an odd thing—our surly waiter brought out this list he asked us to sign. Triple columns, numbered lines, now on the back, with a list of names. But not just an “I was here list.” It was a list of Bills. Billy Carter, Bill Me Later, Buffalo Bills. I have no idea what this was about—bill fetish? pun-challenge? the only way our surly waiter had to engage his customers?—but he smiled when he retrieved his list, and we did tip him.

After lunch, we had a bit of free time to wander around. it’s a small place. I was about to be bored, but then I decided to take a little more responsibility in my experience. I sat on some marble steps at the edge of the town square, there at the bottom of the hill, and started taking notes.

I was in the Pracade Giraldo, the plaza at the center of the town. In front of me is a marble fountain, the gargoyles mid-level trickling water from their mouths, a woman in a blue maintenance uniform cleaning. A local man came by and scattered bread crumbs for the pigeons. A couple strolled by, each one leashed to a very self-satisfied pug. A sleek black dog ran across the plaza, daring his human to whistle him back. The street and plaza itself are paved with regular 4-inch square stones, set at a diamond angle; the sidewalks set with irregular stones, which are delightful to look at, less so to walk on. Cars race along the narrow one-way streets. Local folks are unconcerned with the lethal possibilities of every blind corner.

At a downhill street, before the plaza, I had been fast-walking, unimpressed, when a sweets shop caught my eye. I went in, stood at the counter (usually the cheaper option), had a stainless steel cup of rice pudding thick-topped with cinnamon and a cafe (expresso)—for 1.80 euro. A sign on the wall, in Portuguese, French and English, said, not No Smoking, but No Smokers. The locals were polite, and didn’t quite stare at me. Walking uphill to the plaza, a trough with three of the same gargoyles tricking water—for hands? for the thirsty? And 4 stone basins with indifferent pink geraniums.

The plaza itself is enclosed—businesses on the ground level, apartments in the 2 or 3 stories above. Most have balconies, a few instead have ornate windows. On the building behind me—a church?—there is a weather vane with a rooster, as Pat pointed out. Later, we’ll find there is quite a story with these roosters in Portugal. But that’s later. In the center, there are tables with umbrellas, outdoor spots to several cafes.

But in front of me, in front of the fountain, there is the slightly greater than human size torso of a marble statue. The arms, legs and head are missing, and it lies on the ground, pink marble matching the fountain. I would guess it part of a statue of Diana, but there is no sign, and it is part of some story you can’t know without a human storyteller. So, Evora.

One must make a decision to see.


The Mezquita

May 26, Day 8
On our way from Costa del Sol, we stopped at Cordoba to tour the Mezquita. Our itinerary urges us to “walk through the forest of 850 red-and-white candy striped columns [should say arches] and view the brilliant Byzantine mosaics.” It adds, “the most fascinating part of the mosque may be the 16th century Christian Cathedral which sits in the middle, disturbing the architectural harmony.”

I didn’t get to hear a lot from our local guide, partly because of the crowd and acoustics. There was some long involved tale about the leader who fled here from Syria, recruited regional tribes, took power, and then built this mosque. Because of his own politics, he built the mosque not facing Mecca, but parallel to his home mosque in Syria.

Interesting architectural details here. The guide talked about the various marbles and granites that made up the columns, the subtle differences in sections of the mosque added later, and then the Christian revisions. There are two columns made of fluted alabaster. The guide demonstrated how this material is translucent, which she connected with some spiritual principle. She did the same with John’s fingers, showing how they also let light through. (I had intended to use this later in our play, with a flashlight behind John’s head, but alas, that detail didn’t get worked in.)

I liked the descriptions of the mosaic bits that formed the midrab, which google won't define for me, but seemed to be a specifically more holy place in the mosque. Our guide said that some pieces were layered glass-gold-glass; the blue sections were lapis lazuli; and so on, with precious materials coloring each section. And there is an interesting display of plaster casts of the signature marks of the many, many stone masons who worked on columns and arches.

And then the Christian parts, later additions sprung from the changes in empire. Our guide coyly told us how the 1745 earthquake only cracked the Christian sections, suggesting that these architectural barbarians got what they deserved. We saw a towering St. Peter holding the keys to heaven. We saw a huge painting of Frederick I, in his re-conquest of Spain, dressed in the armor that the much later painter knew and with the halo he wouldn’t be sainted with until five centuries after his death. (Perhaps there’s hope for me yet. Remember me in the year 2525...)

Our guide lamented how much had been stolen by Napoleon’s forces as he conquered his way across Europe (I heard the same thing in Malta, how much had been stripped from the cathedrals there, as Napoleon worked his way to Egypt).

And then in the center, that cathedral added in the 16th century. Our guide lamented how this destroyed the symmetry of the whole mosque, how it interrupted the view of the red-and-white stone arches receding in planned perspective. But perhaps by this point in mosque-cathedral saturation, I didn’t share her lament. I felt some relief from the so carefully planned symmetry. I liked the sudden sky-looming openness at the center.

Then back on the bus, when I started draining my laptop battery, working on the play--and on to Seville.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Off Schedule

Yesterday (5/26), on our way from Cordoba to Seville, I got Liz to stop the bus for a short break at a small hotel/gas station along the highway. Nothing spectacular, but just such a relief to be off-schedule even for these few minutes.

Inside, we found the same kind of roadside place that would be selling walnut bowls along I-70, and a restaurant with 3 local guys vaguely astonished at this surge of strange visitors.

We tried the tapas--those small portions displayed in a glass case at the bar, then scooped up in 5 inch shallow bowls. Robert got the pork-in-brown sauce which we had the night before at dinner. I asked, but couldn't make out what the white stuff was, so I got it anyway. It turned out to be what they call Russian salad--some vegetables, perhaps lumps of potato and tuna, and a lot of mayonaisse. Great stuff. David got a plate of churrozos--spicy sausage chunks drowned in oil. And a round of Alhambra draft beer. A perfect afternoon break from the bus.

Just now, I ventured out for a snack. I didn't wind up with expresso, but picked a second outdoor cafe in the Plaza de los Venerables--an open space filled with orderly cafe tables, postcard racks bright and inviting, Spanish fans on one wall, a display of colorful skirts, and an out of place Ben and Jerry's.

The waiter asked if I (just) wanted tapas, and pointed me to the no-tablecloth table, a bare plain table that wobbled on the cobblestones. From the list of tapas, I didn't choose the "Spanish raw ham," nor the "Manchego ewe Cheese," nor "Small croquettes of ox-tail." I was tempted by the "Chick-peas Andalusian style," and could have gone for the baby squid, or the squid, or the sliced hake. But I stuck with the Seville veal stew (I know, I know--not PC), and the Sevillian Olives and a glass of red wine. The olives turned out to be pickled along with chunks of green and red peppers, lemon peel, and whole cloves of garlic, which I peeled and ate along with the rest. 2.40 euro each for the tapas, 3 for the wine, and .90 for the bread I didn't order, but ate anyway. Very nice.

Meanwhile, a group of 4, then 6 German tourists arrived. I heard "trinken," "olives" in English, and soon they had a few snacks and large glasses of beer. Not long after this forward expeditionary group, there was a crowd surge from one of the narrow corriders that make up the old city, and 25 more Germans arrived. They all chose to sit under the umbrellas of the adjoining business, the one that had the tables already set with olives and glasses and napkins. The guitar player over at the side went back to work, the volume of the plaza increased, and the head waiter at my place glared out at all the business he had lost. I felt vaguely guilty, as if he blamed me as the jinx, rather than the bare tables he offered.

I finished my wine, and left the Plaza to its odd cacaphony of Spanish chords and German verbs.

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Seville in Bloom

Thursday, May 27

This is our first full day in Seville. We got to sleep in past 7, had an almost leisurely breakfast, then started the morning's activities. A few folks stayed at the hotel, under the weather, or some, like John, "churched out," or someone else who was "burned out on cathedrals," or Taylor, waiting successfully for his cell phone to be shipped from Costa del Sol, where he didn't pack very well.

We're staying in the city center, the old city. We had a short walk through the Murillo Gardens to the bus. Impressive, lush--American magnolia trees, one still in bloom, but with corded trunks some 10 foot thick, pink and white azaleas reaching 8 or 9 foot tall, lantennas growing as a woody perennial, not as a quick summer flower in Missouri, and trees whose name I didn't catch, full of crayon blue-purple blooms hanging down like clusters of paper lanterns. Other trees from Asia, eucalyptus from Australia, white doves released by Argentines in 1929--now both a nuisance and a spectacle. Not a native landscape, but rich. We are in Oz.

Our bus took us past various pavilions built for a 1929 Spanish cultural exhibition, which I think didn't quite take place because of hard economic times. Glad we're past that kind of chaos. The Peruvian pavilion catches the eye with its mahagony balcony, a white dove perched on it as we passed. The American pavilion had once been our consulate here. The Colombian is topped with a stone-sculpted pomegranate, split open to show its red seeds. (And pomegranate = granada in Spanish, I think I heard). But the Spanish pavilion was, obviously, the most elaborate--an impressive facade surrounding a large open circle, stone pillars, four ceramic bridges into the center, and 48 ceramic benches, each representing a Spanish state, with its history and contributions set in mosaic--with the addition of the not-actual, but necessary extra that features Don Quixote.

And of course, the open area filled with gypsies, some selling fans and shawls and trinkets, others agressivesly pushing sprigs of rosemary at everyone, "free," but requiring then a donation.

Back on the bus, we returned to the center, and toured the Alcazar, a Moorish influenced building that echoed the Alhambra, and served as a palace for various dynasties since the 14th C. I was most impressed with the Ambassador's Room, where the King received Columbus on one of his returns.

Others can write more details about this palace. I did stay and snap pics of sections of the enormous tapestries near the exit--enormous, hmm, 30 by 50 foot each? Full of scenes of struggle, travel, conquest--and a dog.

The rest of our morning we spent at the Cathedral of Seville, the 3rd largest in the world. Rich, elegant, but being just a bit "churched out" myself, I most enjoyed the tomb of Columbus--bronze statues of 4 soldiers bearing the body, over the marble tomb itself. There is some dispute whether Columbus rests here, or in the Dominican Republic. Our guide said that DNA tests prove that there is at least 150 grams of Columbus himself here.

Several left from there to go visit the semi-traditional Arabic baths, the hamman. "Semi" because these are not sex-segregated, and are not in the nude. Swimsuits and massage. A few of the guys instead went to a military surplus store, and others are off to an old bullring, now a museum.

And I'm about to go look for an expresso.

bob in Seville

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another day, another continent

Tuesday, May 25--

Our excursion from Costa del Sol to Morocco made for another very long day—a couple hours of bus ride to the port, not much waiting around time, since that bus driver took us slightly to the wrong place, an hour on the ferry, another bus, two border crossings, and of course, reversing all that to return to a late dinner. But still, our afternoon there gave us a good slap-in-the-face introduction to North Africa.

We had a lively guide who knew how to put on a show, including his claim to have 3 wives already, and his flirtatious, funny, just-shy-of-sexual-harassment proposals to Ericka. When her brother, Steve, offered to barter for her, our guide gallantly said there weren’t enough camels in all of Morocco to buy such a beauty. (In Egypt I was offered first camels, then a whole silver shop for my niece. Might have been a good deal).

We stopped for quick camel rides, 1 euro a ride, without the problem we had in Egypt of being semi-kidnapped and having to bribe the camel guide to let us return. I didn’t need to repeat this experience. (I’m still working on trying out all modes of transport—car, bus, train, planes, ox-cart, camel, elephant, hot-air balloon. Still haven’t made it onto a dirigible. Is there still a dirigible at some of the MU football games? Can anyone sneak me aboard?)

Robert has already written about the markets, the open-air stalls in the winding streets which create a kind of community very different from our more rigidly separated lives. What seems a barely-contained chaos to us is highly structured, personal, traditional. And we were much out of place, taking pictures that were sometimes resented, sometimes welcomed, rushing in our long string through the close walls, our guide, his helpers, and several security guards in dark sunglasses and leather jackets making sure there were no “problems” with this lucrative tour.

And so, we rushed through the markets (I managed to buy a couple loaves of bread to pass through the group, but no time to pick up a bag of dates or select from the dozen different mounds of olives), stopped for a Berber woman to dress Ericka in a traditional costume, saw the locals kick too-slow cats out of their way, saw no dogs at all, and listened to our guide’s very good explanations of the market and the principles of Islam. For instance, he talked about each district in the market having public access to water, a Koranic school for very young children, and a mosque. We also learned the outer facade of buildings may be very plain, while once past the outer door, each household is oriented inward, toward a central courtyard, and often very richly kept for generations.

And so we arrived at the rug shop, certainly, yes, plain outside, but huge and ornate within. We were quickly ushered upstairs, and a new show began. The head salesman, at least for English speakers, explained the quality of the rugs, their Persian style, the way to examine both sides, how they will not burn with a lighter, the value of such an investment. Then he began unfurling rugs, the largest first in a dramatic fling, then more and more. When he finished, he began asking who might be interested in each rug, and at the slightest hmm... a rug would be stacked at the lucky person’s feet, for later pricing. Well, this took a while. It was an early day without sufficient coffee for me, and I nodded off a few times. The same for Ann and a few others. But rugs did pile up, and several people made purchases—and from what I could tell, these really are high-quality rugs. In some richer life, I might bring home a Tree of Life or one of the brilliant red rugs.

While all these negotiations went on, I tried on a white gellaba (traditional loose robe) downstairs, and felt ready to walk onto a movie set, but at 180 euros, well, no. And just as well, no pictures of me in my gellaba have yet surfaced. Then the group began to disappear down through the market for dinner. I saw Kelly still in the dark corners of the rug-domain, and then Dennis leaning over the balcony upstairs, so I waited on them. They had been almost ready to buy, but were about to turn them down, when the real pressure began. The sales folk weren’t at all happy to see me, and tried to steer me away. Fortunately, we managed to escape and find the rest of the group.

Lunch consisted of soup, beef-kebabs, cous-cous with carrots and chicken, a coke, sweets and hot mint tea. A nice touch was the cake and candles for Kristina’s birthday.

Our last stop was at an apothecary shop. The main, um, doctor, showed us various remedies—sniff this bag of black methol for lungs, snoring; rub orange-and-something-else oil on your temples for stress; an aphrodisiac; skin creams and musks. A quick demonstration and quick sales, while Robert and Kelly got back massages, and Chrissy and Liz had henna designs painted on their arms, the thick paste “dried” with a shower of glitter that spread everywhere by the end of the day.

And then back on the bus, through the two borders—while the poor people on the ridge above stared down at all of us.


Granada, and the Alhambra

May 24, Day 6
Ah, but it’s not really May 24 just now—it’s Sunday morning and I’m back at the Heidelberg in Columbia, in my corner booth with both sunlight and electricity, having the buffet breakfast—all-American mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, pulled pork... This all keying in to Liz telling us one reason for the immense popularity of pork in Spain. Back after the Moors had been pushed out, and the King and Queen—Columbus’ patrons—had kicked out all the Jews, with that low-pressure choice leave, convert or die, eating pork in public was one way to demonstrate good Christian loyalty. The more slabs of ham, the less likely to visit the friendly folks of the Inquisition. And the Spanish do like pork. I could have gotten an appetizer plate of “raw ham” somewhere we stopped, but couldn’t quite get past that American injunction, never eat undercooked pork. Might have been in religious trouble there, but the bacon bits in the green beans and that second plate of pulled pork should keep me out of religious dungeons.

But Granada...

Strangely, one highlight was a transportation glitch. We got off the not-bullet-train in Granada, in our transit from Madrid to Costa del Sol, and the bus hadn’t arrived. It had a fan-belt problem somewhere, and as the minutes drug on, Liz urged us to go look for a cafe. That failed, but even better, I found supermarket. You know, a non-restaurant food place for real people. Suddenly we’re off the menu, and there were mounds of plums and bananas and pears, stacks of bread, cheese, and no longer 8 or 10 euro bottles of wine, but decent wine for 1 or 2 euros. Much of the group made pilgrimages over to this amazing Spanish invention, the supermercado.

Granada is itself a beautiful city, but the focus for our tour was the Alhambra, a massive Moorish palace built among the hills where cold water could flow down. It’s hard to describe all the aspects of this place—started in the 9th Century, expanded for the last great Moorish rulers over centuries, a Christian palace added later. So there are Renaissance courtyards and gardens, strangely mixed with Arabic mosaics and arches. One small courtyard centered around a small pool, bordered by orange trees in bloom. Whole rooms, walls and ceilings, are carved with intricate lacy patterns, the remnants of brilliant blue and red still showing faintly.

One room, facing an arch and a long outdoor pool, was built of 8-sided geometric tiles. The ceiling was formed of hundreds of shaped pieces of wood, in 7 concentric rings, to show the seven layers of heaven. Our large tour group had divided in two, and my half-group’s guide was Nick. In this room, he began to talk about the natural appeal of mathematic structure to the human mind, how such structure engages our sense of order. Alas, Ann was not in this group.

Another small sky-open courtyard was in itself rather plain, but at the center set another working fountain, still gently flowing with very cold water from the springs far uphill. After a loud tour group of Spanish women left, Nick urged us to listen to the sound of the water, that the sound of water is the sound of life, the basis of life. This space would have been meant to invite quiet contemplation, the rim of the basin where the water spilled out evenly on all sides once inscribed with mystic poetry. (And I thought of my across-the-ocean dogs, our nightly walks to the creek, which always has its own voice, a different voice every day, even when it is silent.) Fred B. was much taken with Nick’s sense of how the architecture itself invites reverie. I can’t think of a good edition/translation, but I suggested he might look at Rumi’s poetry someday.

Well, there is a great deal more to the Alhambra, which others need to describe. I perked up at the literary link—a plaque on one wall inside the palace dedicated to the American author, Washington Irving (you know—“Rip van Winkle,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—that guy). In his travels through Europe, he had lived for a while in Granada, haunting the then-decayed and nearly abandoned palace. His 1832 book Tales of the Alhambra inspired interest and sudden tourism, which led to the palace’s restoration. Irving remains a celebrated literary hero in this dusty center of Spain.

Amy was intrigued by Nick’s odd accent—which we eventually determined was an ex-pat Swedish. She revived a bit of her college Swedish lessons and chatted with him, and is more dreaming of a school trip to Scandinavia. I’d vote for that, though wish it could include a week in Iceland on the way. So much world to see.

Outside the palace are the extensive gardens, including the sculpted-labyrinth hedges—grown of some kind of cypress (?). Evie and Roger kissed over rose bushes, and everyone posed in a green archway with a long fountain behind, or at the garden wall overlooking a panorama of the city. There was enough garden we could have walked for hours along the winding paths.

And leaving Granada, in the hillsides not facing the palace, the caves are full of gypsies, who cover the entrances with canvas or plastic sheets, and make a home.


Excursion to Toledo

May 23, Day 5

We visited Toledo as a day-trip out of Madrid. The medieval capital sits above a winding river, with a Roman bridge (I think I heard that), houses of the rich outside the city, old city walls, and the seeming chaos of winding stone streets. A hot day, it made sense of the decorated cloths that hang through the center of streets—sunscreens, or equally a break from bad weather.

In the Cathedral itself, we couldn’t take pictures, a shame, since this was one of the early, over-awing visits. (Great place for others to chime in with their impressions!). I much liked one ceiling vault which combined painting with sculpture that spiraled up to a scene of heaven. Strange depths and illusions in that.

Then there was the barred Cripta, which led to some dark-tunneled depths we couldn’t enter (but why should I be surprised? All these years, and I’ve still never gotten to visit the tunnels under Columbia College...). And the Sacristia, full of ornate robes, vermillion and gold and jeweled, stiff elegance from generations of bishops. And just before that, another room lined with paintings—so much that it’s hard not to be flippant: a Titian, a Greco, a Caravaggio, a Rafael, another the first 15 feet inside the room. Dennis noted that beyond church figures and saints, so many paintings would retell stories from the Bible, that other way to teach (just like Online now wants us to be more visual and multi-media in our courses.) Thorough Christianity—though one almost wishes there had been a century of sincere, devout pagans in the middle of this, to tell some of the world’s other great stories.

I much liked another chapel inside the Cathedral. This one had wooden choir seats on both sides, with bishop’s chair elevated between the two rows. The chairs were the most interesting—each carved with unique facings, hand-rests, backboards, with unlikely figures—a unicorn and maiden on one, two demons quarreling on another, deer, trees, gargoylish figures, and a sleek dog. I really wanted a photo of the dog.

Still in Toledo, we also visited another chapel where Greco’s “The Burial of Count Orgaz” decorates a high wall—a surreal, to me, flow of spirits and watery ascension. Lee and Abby should probably talk about this in more technical art terms.

And a visit to a sword-maker (that “Toledo steel” thing) and a demonstration of making the black-and-gold damascene jewelry and plates, which led, inevitably, to a gift-shop full of earrings and pendants and swords, and the only “free” toilets anywhere nearby.

We ended the evening back in Madrid at the Museo de Vino, not a museum at all, but a nice restaurant where we had a tapas dinner.

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The Prado

Sunday, 5/23.

We got up early in Barcelona, to get through morning traffic to the train station. So early, the hotel gave us a cold breakfast in a sack, and no coffee. Big point loss for that hotel.

But the train--we rode the high speed bullet train to Madrid. Fred R. kept watching the digital velocity display--and we did finally top 300 km/hour. Smooth, fast, efficient--so pleasant. Hard to believe we won't do this in the U.S. One woman in our group wondered--"they have so many good ideas here--why don't we?" Huh.

Later, we loaded up and bussed over to the Prado. We focused on Spanish artists in our very brief visit, though the collection there is extensive. Lee, one of our art pros, will have lots more to say here. Me, I enjoyed the "black paintings" from Goya's kitchen wall, especially the witches, and the iconic image of Saturn devouring his children. I also liked the painting of the dog's head, sticking up just behind a sand dune, barking at empty space.

Later, we zipped past a collection of Velazquez's jesters--the dwarf, the "simpleton" shown with the gourd, others. I rather liked the one we didn't stop for, the Bacchus, crowned and shirtless, at the center of a peasant crowd. And we spent quite a while with the intriguing Los Ninos--the artist himself looking out at us, his subjects mirrored in the background. And then a quick room of El Greco's religious paintings, the unreal images, flames dancing from the heads of apostles--the "tongues of fire--, strong colors, El Greco himself painted in as a disciple in one place.

But no stop is complete without our human drama. This time, Kelly left behind. Liz stayed to find her, and met us not too much later. We drove past Madrid's center--a huge medieval plaza. There was a protest going on. I could read the in-English sign, "Stop All Animal Abuse," but don't know more about its focus. We also cruised past the church where Simon Bolivar married his Spanish bride, and past the Museo de Jamon, which is not a museum at all, but a trendy restaurant. Our local guide said the Japanese tourists often stop by and try to pay an entrance fee. Ah, cultures.

We had stopped at the Royal Palace for a photo op (and to give them time to catch up). A huge palace, no longer an actual residence. The curious thing, we got out, and the nation's military band, gathered at the main entrance, at that noon moment began to play the score from Phantom of the Opera. Shelley and Fred were delighted--they have seen productions of this several times. Shelley said this made the whole trip for her. But then, she will be saying this several times more.

On to Toledo.


Last Saturday

Well, my apologies that all of us are behind on posting. Liz, our tour guide, cleverly left off the times on the early version of the itinerary we started with. There are quite a few early mornings, fast breakfast, immediately to the bus or train, a full day of walking and sights, and dinner often at 9 p.m. Sometimes that involves leaving in the morning, sight-seeing, traveling to another region, and then getting to our hotel by 8:30 pm., quick check-in, fast jog to dinner. All good, but a little rushed. And our hotel in Costa del Sol didn't have wi-fi, which collapsed all our high-tech sensibilities.

So, catching up...

On Saturday, 5/22, our excursion to Montserrat. A beautiful, if again coffee-deprived ride into the northern mountains--very different landscape than we would see later when we headed south. Rivers, winding mountain roads, lots of grafitti on bridges and overpasses, mostly having to do with the Catalonian difficulties with the rest of Spain. Though there was one nice triple-mansize grafitti of Bart Simpson on a slab of concrete near one river.

History bits--that the Abbot of Montserrat sailed with Columbus and became the first vicar of the New World. That, our guide claimed, the statue of the 12th C. Virgin at Montserrat, whose image appeared in the vision in the cave to simple shepherds, had weathered from its original white, and now is the Black Virgin. The line to go kiss the icon was too long, so I didn't see it directly, but the postcards show her quite black. The part I somewhat doubt is that here they claim the notion of the Black Virgin of Montserrat directly "caused" the image of the dark Virgin in Mexico. I've heard alternate versions which talk about the vision of the Virgin of Guadelupe by a humble Native in Mexico. I rather more like this American-continent version, which stresses the synthesis of the Native world with the "alien" Catholics. But alas, I'm not a historian.

And yes, if you read Kristina's post, the walk out of Montserrat was lined with vendors of local foods--I bought some honey, a block of quince jam, John got some strong, tasty goat cheese. All good. But not enough coffee!

Free time! Afternoon off in Barcelona. We had lunch at a cafe beside a hostel. Cheap, and delicious. Taylor and John had sausage sandwiches, I had pork, with a dish of fresh olives. Nice, though John was somewhat offended at the no-sound, America-critical music videos playing on the big screen. Later, walking around La Ramblas, souvenirs, the street full of interesting people [I didn't encounter the "Elephant Man"--I'll leave that for someone else to comment on...]. Tried the Xocolate amb churros--thick chocolate, somewhere between syrup and hot chocolate, in which you dip deep-fried, sugary donuts shaped like oversized Twizzlers. It's a customary food here. Interesting. Not something anyone health-conscious should develop a taste for.

We visited a big department store. Not so much of interest there, though while John shopped for his girlfriend, I browsed souvenirs on the 5th floor. Lots of trinkets that reference Gaudi, authentically or not. More strange, a row of statues, bobble-heads without the bobble. Instead, each figure has dropped his or her pants, and is "sqatting down." The figures represent political figures from Spain I didn't much recognize, various soccer players, and then the Americans--Mr. Obama, Hillary Clinton, some Republicans... Just odd encountering such political commentary in the form of tacky souvenirs.

A nice day, despite swollen feet, various blisters, not enough coffee...

Chrissy's quote of the day: "We're all falling apart!"


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Moroccan Trip

Hello Everyone!

What a trip to Morocco! It was such an eye opening experience. First we took a bus ride from Costa Del Sol and a ferry ride to another bus past the Moroccan border. Although the ride seemed to take forever, it was definitely worth the optional exploration of another country. Most of us seemed to have expected another country stamped into our Passports, but we were all surprised to not see anything.

On the way to the city of Tetouan we were all excited to partake in the camel rides. The camel seemed like such a serene creature. However, they are generally very mean animals.

Soon after arriving into the city of Tetouan we were heavily immersed into the Muslim culture found within the narrow streets and villages. A pungent odor of fish and meat permeated through the air and life was busy for most of the merchants trying to sell their products to us. The goat cheese and bread was absolutely phenomenal!!! After walking through the village for awhile, we were introduced by our tour guide Michael Douglas (aka Abdul) into a home owned by a local carpet merchant. Poor Erica!! All the guys were hitting on her and wouldn't leave her alone.

Entering into the home revealed the most beautiful tile floor with intricate patterns and rugs hanging from the inner terrace of the building. The city was such a wonderful experience that reminded me of my own culture and my mom's heritage. My grandma would have been very proud to have known that I visited a predominantly Muslim city rich with cultural heritage and identity. After visiting the country, I am curious to visit other parts such as: Marrakesh, Fez, Casablanca, and Tangier.

Thanks Liz, Anne, and Michael Douglas for your wonderful time and excellent experience.

Photos of this experience will be posted as soon as I return to the states.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 3

Since Bob has pretty well covered all that we have done in the past two days I will start with day 3… and just for the record; yes my jaw did drop when we saw the cathedral. The cathedral was BEAUTIFUL even with all the construction that was going on and all the preparation that was being put into it being consecrated by the Pope in November (however we were not sure on if it was November this year or next). The outside of the church was under like I said a lot of construction but words cannot event describe how magnificent this place was.

Today started off with a later morning with an hour bus ride to Barcelona Montserrat, which is a monastery located near Barcelona. The mountains that surrounded the monastery were rounded and made us question that how in nature could that happen? A lot of people chose to go to the top of one of the mountains in a “tram” that took about five minutes to rise to the top. Once at the top you saw this magnificent view of the Spanish country side. Some chose not to ride the tram and toured more of the monastery itself and even lit a candle for loved ones for a blessing. On the way back to the bus, many stopped and picked up fresh cheeses, honey, and meats that were located along the sidewalks. Once we got back on the bus we had another hour long ride back into Barcelona for some it was a free afternoon and others it was an opportunity to go to the Picasso museum. I had gone to the Picasso museum yesterday and WOW… It was amazing to see how his work progressed throughout his life time. From some of his very first pictures that his father showed him how to create to some of his later works that the family had donated. The museum consisted of about 11 rooms and had different periods of his life and the different works that he created at those times. I got a discount for being under the age of 25 and only had to pay 6 Euros instead of nine which saved a little bit of money. Today, however, I took a trip to the beach. Relaxation was needed sense we have been going nonstop sense we took off on Wednesday. Laying out in the party cloudy skies and watching the Mediterranean just relieved the stress level just a bit. We ended our last evening in Barcelona with a buffet meal at the hotel (they had meat that was not fish! Not that fish inst appealing to some participants but I am not one of them). We are all gathering in one room for some reflection and some laughs about our time so far here in Spain and can’t wait for the next place which is Madrid and Morocco in the morning. I am not really sure how a 4:30 wake-up call is going to work out but I will push through! Check back tomorrow for more

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