Friday, August 19, 2011

Home Again, Again

We made it home to Montrose without any major SNAFUs. My sister Peggy and husband Tony picked us up at the airport. No lost luggage, no miscues at the arranged pick up point, and the next day, no flat tires on the drive to Montrose. (We did wake up at 2:30 am with a case of jet lag, but we bravely fought through the initial feeling of energy and stayed in bed til 6 am.) Fergus met us that evening at my sister's house and he was very happy to see us, but of course, he's happy to see anyone. We had some nice wine and a fine American dinner of steak, green beans and the best sweet corn I've tasted in years. Thank you Peggy and Tony for the beds and comestibles and the airport service. Thank you Amy, Dan, Mimi and Max for taking care of our buddy Fergus.

We have no plans to return to France next summer (but we'll see) due to lack of funds. It has been quite a run for quite a while. France, Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Spain, Hungary and Mexico were experienced and enjoyed.

If we can think of anything to blog about in the near future, we will. Otherwise, expect nothing and you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Animated Barcelona

Two young guitarists were seated at the steps of the Catedral de Barcelona. Their street performance of classical and flamenco guitar resonated throughout the plaza. While we were sitting listening, the plaza was a stopping point for numerous Barcelona fat tire bike tours, the site of a small flea/antique market, and hundreds of photo-oppers capturing the Catedral.

On our ramble down Las Ramblas, Barcelona's famous boulevard for promenading, we encountered the shadier side of street performances---the shell game. Three little boxes, one with a pea hidden under it, and the then the sleight of hand game begins. I've read that some of these con artists will have 10 to 15 'assistants' working the audience with them, putting money down and pretending to lose. It boosts your confidence. You find yourself watching several games, following the little boxes, thinking "I can win at this." And that's what they are counting on. But you can't win. They encourage you to participate, but I didn't want to try, and that's when the con artist suggested I stop filming.


The top tourist attraction in Barcelona is the Familia Sagrada, the famous Gaudi cathedral that is still unfiished to this day. The first stone was laid in 1882 and shortly thereafter Gaudi himself took over the project. He died in a streetcar accident in 1926 and the beautiful building was nowhere close to being finished. It was undone when I first visited it in 1972 and has come along by leaps and starts, but is not finished yet. Perhaps in 2030, they say. One thing that has changed are the crowds. It stands to reason, Barcelona being one of the top tourist attractions in the world, and Familia Sagrada the top attraction in town, that it would be crowded. The combination of the scaffolding, the tour busses, the lines, the construction fence, the traffic makes it a very unsatisfying experience. I am perplexed as how to make a decent photograph of the place, although I'm sure a great photographer would find a way. I didn't.

The line to visit the interior stretched around the block to the opposite side of the building and it was 9 :30 in the morning. I couldn't find a place to stand without a tour bus or a traffic light in the foregroound.

The older portions of the Familia Sagrada have a darker patina compared to the new stone and you can easily see the newer construction. In reality, it's unfair to compare my recent visit with the visit in 1972, it being enveloped in a cloud of haze, but I don't remember the crowds or the scaffolding as being objectionable.

We wandered along the Las Ramblas where performance art was going on. This lady I first mistook for a sculpture, but her blinking eyes gave her away. I took her picture just as some comedians were putting the devil's horns over her head. I missed the photo by barely a second.

The immense and bustling Mercat de la Boqueria along the Las Ramblas had a fish stall and a dish of fresh octopus was sitting on the counter. I took this photograph for Madeleine, who was squeamish about eating snails a few weeks ago. What about eating this, Mimi? Does it set your tastebuds on fire?

Speaking of seafood, last night at dinner we went to a nearby Neapolitan restaurant. I ordered "pasta with fruits of the sea". I was expecting a plate of pasta with some clams, mussels and a shrimp or two. I recieved this fabulous surprise; delicious pasta with a flavorful sauce, two of the largest shrimp I've ever seen, clams, mussels and a whole crab. I have to confess, being a boy from the landlocked Rocky Mountains, I never learned how to eat crab unless it comes in a plastic package. It was a struggle and I'm sure most of the delicacies were still on the plate when the waiter took it away, but "OH MY" was it good.

The "fruits of the sea" almost made me forget that I had been pickpocketed the day before on the Metro. We were aware it is a serious problem in Barcelona, and I unloaded almost everything I could from my wallet and left it in Leran. I lost two credit cards, ten euros, my driver's license and a filthy fifteen year old wallet. In what I thought was a smart move, I had shifted my wallet from my back pocket to front pocket. I guess they were smarter. It's a small price to pay for the freedom of being able to walk around Barcelona knowing that there is nothing further they can take from me. While filling out the police report later that day, we talked with some Brits who had also been victimized by thieves. On their first day in Barcelona on a three-week vacation, their motor home was broken into and driven off. They lost not only their money and credit cards but inside the vehicle was their precious dog. I felt lucky.