Thursday, February 24, 2011

From Nogales to Todos Santos, Baja

Todos Santos, Baja is all about relaxation. At least from our point of view. We are, however, the first ones at the beach each morning, thanks to the pleadings of Fergus. We have more than several beaches to choose from, depending upon whether we want to watch surfers, walk on hard or soft sand, watch whales, or have an almost story-tale entrance through a pathway of palm trees. While we don't have internet connection at our trade house, we are nearly locals at La Esqina, a down-the-road coffee-internet-sandwich-wine-everything oasis place. Right now we're just posting some photos before we head off for dinner. More thoughtful commentary later.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Europe on $5 a Day, Yeah Sure

My "journal' records that I found the countryside between Lisbon and Barcelona very beautiful, meaning.....we caught a day train. I compare the scenery of Spain to that of Colorado, high praise indeed from me. We had hoped to get to see a bullfight in Barcelona but, alas, it rained and the bull fight was cancelled. To this day, I've not seen a bullfight. I remember being very impressed with Barcelona, even though Frommer's 1972 book Europe on $5 a Day seemed to be a little bit underwhelmed with the city. Since we couldn't see a bullfight we did the next best thing and wandered over to this unfinished cathedral called La Familia Sagrada. Of course it is known around the world today as Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece of architecture. It's a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the top tourist attractions in Europe. We, of course, had never heard of it before and I don't think many other Americans had either.

I write about the visit in my "journal" but save most of my words for our single evening in the section of town near the train station. We had found a hotel, one with a shower, although it wasn't in the room, I note. In my journal I remark, "Scott calls it a dungeon. The shower spray merely creates a fog - no water." I remember that shower to this day. The shower head was about eleven feet above my head, and with the water turned on full force misted individual atoms of water that clung to hair on my arms but left my arms themselves dry. By the time the fog reached the bather, it was cold as ice.
I remember broad boulevards with trees shading the wide sidewalks, and it seemed at the time that this had to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and one that was totally undiscovered. Even when we were at la Familia Sagrada, the place seemed to lack tourists. I'm sure this is not the case today.
As dusk fell we wandered out to find some food and wine. We came upon a type of establishment that you may have seen from time to time in Europe but I'd never seen before. In a window we saw a rotisserie grill with a dozen or more chickens slowly roasting away. The aroma was intoxicating and we were immediately hungry. We latched on to a chicken and had a great, almost free dinner sitting at the counter inside. As we were eating, I was propositioned. I was approached by what I called a "middle-aged cutie" who asked only 150 pesetas, a price that I noted "was cheap". Not a bargain, but cheap. I don't know what a peseta was worth in 1972, but I can tell you we went across the street to a wine shop and got a litro of white wine for 14 pesetas, a price I valued at 21 cents. Meaning, if my arithmetic is correct, the lady was offering herself to me for around $2.25. What a delightful city!
The wine shop into which we wandered also deserves some mention because I've never seen anything like it ever again. We wandered into this musty place that had along one deep stone wall, about 30 wooden barrels of wine stacked on top of each other, cobwebs in great abundance. Each barrel had a wooden spigot and the proprietor would pull a glass or a litro of wine of your choice, literally for pennies. There were maybe two or three little tables with a few chairs each. A couple of old Spanish guys in black berets sat there nursing their wine. It was absolutely everything I had imagined back home in Colorado when I dreamed of a trip to Europe. We even had a little conversation in my minuscule Spanish. There is no doubt, we should have stayed for a week or a month, not just an evening. This little neighborhood had everything....women, wine and food. And all of them cheap. Unfortunately, the Eurail Pass was calling us to the train, and after sampling only the food and wine, we left Barcelona the next morning.
From beautiful, seductive Barcelona, we took train along the Mediterranean coast to the city of Nice, France. The Riviera, the French Riviera, the Cote d'Azur, Saint Tropez, Antibes, the most famous coastline in the world. I mention in my journal that on the train ride I caught sight of the Pyrenees, and "they looked pretty big". One of the major complaints I had when I arrived back home was the mode of travel. While trains are a wonderful way to get around, they leave something to be desired. You can travel from the center of one city to the center of another, read, sleep and converse in style and comfort. You can travel along through the Pyrenees, see the Costa Brava and the Rivera through the window, but unlike a car, you can't stop and get out wherever you want. Perhaps, you can get off the train in some small village, but unless you brought your bike with you, you're on foot. I was at this point in the trip, having seen the awesome Pyrenees outside the window, frustrated by going from one metropolis to another metropolis, without experiencing what was in between.

We stayed in Nice in the Hotel Normandie in double room that cost us $6.00. Just for the hell of it I googoled the place and you can see it pictured below. A double room this spring would cost $78. This is the only place in my journal that I give the name of the hotel and the price we paid so this is the only time I can make this comparison.

We took the bus along the coast to Monaco to see the Palace and watch the changing of the Palace Guard. It's quite a spectacle, as you can see in the picture below. We were astounded by the number of tourists who also were on hand to gawk at the sight. We also wandered around the streets, I don't mention whether in Nice or Monaco, but we stumbled upon an open air market, the first I'd ever seen, "which had everything - vegetables, meat, clothes, kitchen utensils, and fruit". We went to a waterfront dive for couscous in the North African style. In this case it didn't mean the just pasta, but the dish with lamb or seafood and peppers and couscous. I mention that we got thrown out of the casino for lack of proper attire. By thrown out, I mean we were asked to leave by a man in a tuxedo. We were still frustrated by the amount of money we were spending. I note that I'd cashed a ten dollar traveller's cheque in the morning and spent the entire amount before we even paid the hotel bill. Imagine! Ten dollars in one day! We should have stayed in Barcelona.

Mais, oui, Monaco est tres belle. But obviously we could not afford it. It was too rich for our blood. And I know at this point we were looking at our stash and wondering how long we could stay.

We took a bus the Maeght Foundation, this strange and wonderful museum and saw modern art. Matisse, Giacometti, Miro, Calder, Kandinsky, Picasso, they were all there. Some people have a little trouble appreciating modern art and make jokes about how long it would take a monkey to come up with the same quality of work, but we came away impressed. We had a good but expensive time in Southern France. But our Eurail Pass kept us on the move, and to avoid spending precious dollars on accommodations, we caught the night train to Rome.

Rome was to say the least, confusing. I can remember getting on a trolley car one evening trying to get to the Trevi Fountain after dinner. The information listed this trolley as going to the fountain so we hopped on. The conductor argued and he wouldn't take our money or let us sit down. Did it go the the Trevi Fountain? Si, si, signore. He was reluctant to let us ride but we were determined to take the trolley. He finally relented, we paid full fare, we sat down, the conductor sighed. The trolley went one block, switched onto a siding and went out of service for the night. The conductor shooed us off the trolley car, smiled and locked the doors as we walked off toward the fountain.

Rome was the oldest city either of us had ever been to, and while breathtakingly beautiful, we were not appreciating anything; we were probably showing signs of travel fatigue and homesickness. I remember almost everything in Rome began to piss me off. Wandering down old, ancient streets we noticed the walls about to crumble. Flying buttresses were constructed out of telephone poles to hold up walls. And the pole buttresses blocked off the streets, which were dirty and strewn with garbage. It wasn't charming, it was depressing.

Scott, being a good Irish boy, wanted to see the Vatican and so we ventured forth on April 14, 1972. We saw La Pieta, which is absolutely marvelous. You can't help looking at the marble and wondering how anyone could take cold stone, a chisel and a hammer and make folds of cloth look so soft and pliable. We climbed up into the cupola for a fantastic view. A view of what, I can't remember and my journal doesn't say. Was it a view of the interior of the Vatican or a view of the city of Rome? Or both? Does anyone know?
A little over a month later on May 21, a disturbed Lazlo Toth took a hammer to the foot and other sections of the sculpture. Pieces flew off and were snatched up as souvenirs, including Mary's nose. It had to be reconstructed from pieces of marble from the back of the sculpture. And now there is a fence around Michelangelo's masterpiece and you can't be as close as you would like.
We'd barely scratched the surface of things to see in Rome, but daylight was burnin', time was wastin' and our Eurail Pass was scorching our wallets. We packed up after two days in Rome and headed for Vienna where I had an old girlfriend and an even older cousin.
To Be Continued

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Europe on $5 a Day

As I look through my old passport, I see that I arrived in Luxembourg, on the 22nd of March in 1972. It was a trip that had been in the planning stages for about a year and a half. My good friend Scott and I were taking a class in European History, and at about that time we decided it would be fun to make a trip to the continent when we were done with college. We had each bought our own copy of "Europe on $5 a Day" and we perused through it, imagining all the great places to go, the beautiful women we would meet, the wonderful cafes and bars, and in my case the incomparable art museums. I was an Art major, you see, and I was excited to see some of these great paintings and artworks in person, that I had seen so many times in art books.

In any case, we decided upon a plan to leave for Europe in the spring of 1972, before the prices went up for the summer. I found the stubs for the American Express traveller's cheques that I bought, and apparently I took about $750. I had remembered the figure as $1000, but there is nothing to substantiate it. I cashed the first $10 checks in Denver, Topeka, and Elkton, Indiana, blown on gas and food on our drive to New York, our jumping off point. Scott and I had spent the fall and winter working and saving money for our trip, Scott as a door to door Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman, and I, as a office furniture delivery driver.

I took my traveller's cheques, a three week Eurail Pass for which I'd paid about $125, and a few clothes stuffed into a red nylon backpack. My mother had told us that European boys and men didn't wear blue jeans so we didn't take any. However, my mother was wrong. Of course we found they were worth their weight in gold, or French Francs, anyway.

We flew on Icelandic Airways and the flight included a two or three hour layover in Reykjavik at the airport, in the middle of the night. I can always honestly report that I've been to Iceland, but all I ever saw there were airplanes on the tarmac.

I can vaguely remember many things about the trip, but as I look through my "journal" those memories are not present. My "journal" is, at best adolescent, and at worst childish. Here's my summation of our time in Luxembourg. "Scott and I walked around Luxembourg - over and under a fantastic bridge - found a cheap hotel, had dinner at the train station, barbecued chicken, got drunk and went to bed." Sounds just like Robert Louis Stevenson, doesn't it? (I think that's the bridge, pictured below.) As I peruse through my journal, I find the words "Got drunk and went to bed" fairly frequently.

We hitchhiked out of Luxembourg the next morning heading for Paris and points beyond. Scott and I looked relatively clean cut and no one could possibly mistake us for hippies and dope addicts, so we had a pretty easy time getting rides. Then, across the border, somewhere near Spincourt, France, we were joined by an English lad by the name of Peter. He was very exotic, wore a long black wool overcoat and had long shaggy, curly hair and a scraggly beard. Peter's overcoat had numerous pockets inside and out and he kept bringing forth emergency rations, maps, pencils and even a flask. Because we were now three, and he looked like shit, we never got another ride. My journal says we walked 10 km to Verdun where we bought bread, cheese and wine, and caught the train to Paris. In our hurry, we bypassed the cemetery full of American soldiers killed during WWI. I would have loved to visit the cemetery and see the battlefield, but we were on foot, new to this travel business and didn't speak a word of French and had no idea how to find a tour. This was not the first interesting place we'd ignore; we were more inclined to see the inside of bars and cafes than a battlefield. But, someday, I'll see Verdun.

We arrived in Paris long after dark and the three of us took the first hotel that had a room. We thought it an anomaly, but the prices quoted us were much higher that the prices listed in our Frommer's "Europe of $5 a Day" guidebook. Definitely a precursor of things to come. However expensive it seemed to us then, now it seems cheap. We paid $3.00 each for our room and I complained about it in my "journal".
In the morning we ditched Peter and found a room at the Hotel St. Germain des Pres, where my sister and her husband had stayed several months before. I call it expensive in my "journal" but unfortunately I don't mention the price. We had a fine lunch at the Restaurant de Beaux Artes. My "journal" reports we had a brush with culture shock. "The menu might as well have been in Russian for all we could make out. We took a stab and got veal and it was 'delisioso'. After a few carafes of wine, Scott found he could suddenly read the menu like it was printed in Coloradoan. Anyway, it was a terrific scare to be stood over by the waitress, stuttering and pointing and hoping it's not raw crawdaddys."

We visited the Jeu de Paume, the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, and I guess that's all the industrial tourism we managed to do. I rave about the artwork in the museum, Degas, Manet, Monet, Sisley, Van Gogh and Lautrec are mentioned by name. I report encountering a lot of "crooks"; one had the nerve to charge us five and a half Francs for two cups of coffee.
We got drunk, of course, with some young French guys. "One spoke English and the other could mumble in two languages." Just like an American, I guess, complaining about the natives not speaking our language with any fluency.
We took the night train to Madrid which saved us from spending money on a hotel or pension. We loaded up with food, wine, and water. I remember the quality of the trains went to hell as we crossed the border into Spain. I write about the numerous stops in every Spanish village, the age of the train cars, and the fragrant odor of our Spanish travelling companions. My "journal" doesn't mention this but I remember an hombre removing his shoes and socks and we immediately began fighting for the seats next to the window.
We spent several days in Madrid, mostly killing time until we were to meet up with Scott's dad in Estoril, Portugal. We paid $3.00 for a room, which must have been agreeable, since there is no word of complaint in my journal. We went to the Prado and saw "Velasquez, Tintoretto and Reubens, a Rembrandt". We ran into some girls we met on the airplane, Chris and Mary from Minneapolis, and naturally, got drunk with them.
My main memory of Spain, apart from the Flamenco dancers, is that we were in a country led by the dictator, Franco. He of the Spanish Civil War, buddies with Hitler and Mussolini. A living dinosaur, really, a man from a different age. He died about three years later in 1975, and as I recall, the monarchy resumed.
We were beginning to understand that Arthur Frommer's estimate of $5 per day was hopelessly optimistic. The only way we could stay below a five dollar limit was to spend nothing in the bars and cafes. We were two 24 year old single guys and we would have given up almost anything before we'd give up our evenings in the bars. And if you're in the bars, you're gonna drink.

Again we took the night train, and we arrived in Lisbon, Portugal. We took the train to Estoril which was a rather ritzy resort town, at least by our standards. After we found a room in a private house for a few days at 60 escudo per night, about @$2.50 American, we went to the beach and got some sun. That evening the Portuguese folks invited us to watch TV with them. The western "had Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark and Hugh O'Brian and others with Portuguese subtitles. Conversation was in broken Spanish about color TV and the beach. Robert Wagner got the girl." Through the magic of the internet, I can surmise we were watching Broken Lance, from 1954. After the movie we went out and got drunk.

We found Scott's dad. He bought us breakfast, lunch and dinner and took us to the Pena Palace near Sintra in a limousine. It was the first castle I'd ever been to, and fascinating, but sadly the tour was in Portuguese so we missed a lot, as you might imagine. The next day April 10, we caught a train to Barcelona. We used our Eurail Pass for the first time, meaning we were now on the clock. The pass expired three weeks from the first usage. This was good and bad. We travelled cheaply, and on better trains, but we had this horrible anxiety, feeling as if we were wasting money anytime we were not actually on the train. For the next three weeks we were ramblin' guys, sleeping and eating on the train, moving like fugitives from justice. Barcelona, Nice, Rome, Florence, Vienna and Amsterdam went by in a flash.
To Be Continued