Sunday, July 29, 2018

Spain, July 2018

What follows is a Captain’s BLOG on my trip to Spain.  Although not many people will read it, It’ll give me something to look back on.

Note:  I’ll highlight some of the key places and phrases, like food that will take you to pictures that are just on that topic.  It will save you from going through all the photos in the album.  If you want to see them all at once, go HERE.
You can also click on a picture for a larger version.

Mari Lú went to Spain as part of the semi-exchange program through the high school.  We’ve hosted several Spanish students from Bilbao Spain over the years and Mari Lú has formed close relationships with them.  She speaks regularly with Paula via video skype.  Mari Lú wanted to extend her trip so that she could stay with Paula and Jeanette was traveling over there to walk the camino.  That would give the two of them a month in Spain, not a bad vacation.  Because of the way schedules worked out, Mari Lú would have to come back by herself.  It’s not something that I thought Mari Lú was ready for.  Although she has done some air travel, she doesn’t have the experience.  I’ve traveled to Madrid and to other locations south, like Toledo and Segovia and then via overnight rail to Granada for an overnight there and into Portugal.  The one place I’ve always wanted to visit was Barcelona before I checked Spain off the priority list mainly because of the pull of the Catalonian culture and fantastic architecture that the city is known for.  I’m into architecture and Gothic treatments are one of my favorite.  Jeanette arranged my travel so that I would fly into Barcelona, have a few days to explore the sites there, then join Mari Lú in Bilbao.  This would give me the opportunity to meet some of the families of the kids that stayed with us and a week in country to do some sight seeing and then fly back with Mari Lú.

Nothing Goes As Planned

Before I took Mari Lú to the high school to catch the bus with the other kids, I explained to her things rarely go as planned, and they never go how you envisioned it.  I told her to soak up and enjoy those moments, as those can be some of the biggest events of the trip and you will remember them for a lifetime.  You baggage could get lost, plane delayed or a missed flight, or an unexpected gift arrives at your door, the food is better than you envisioned, or you see something you didn’t plan on.  If it’s a problem, don’t get upset, enjoy, solve it, and move onto the next adventure on your itinerary of life. 

Little did I know I’d be getting a call about “things don’t go as planned” two hours later.  When Mari Lú arrived at LAX, the airline couldn’t find her ticket.  She needed the confirmation number for her flight and I told her and her teacher we would work the problem and figure this out.  We had two hours to do it.  I quickly searched all my email, then searched Jeanette’s email and couldn’t find a thing.  I called and messaged Jeanette, who was already in Spain, hoping she could come up with something.  Mari Lú was on the verge of tears and I continued to work the problem.  I called Mari Lú back to give her what I had.  I could hear the KLM agent in the background talking to someone.  Evidently they were able to contact the someone at the agency that set this thing up.  I hear “OK, yup, I see it now, I’ve got it.  Thank you.”  Problem solved, Mari Lú is on her way.   I then received a picture of her boarding pass for all of her flights.  Because her full name is so long, I figured the airline didn’t have an exact match to the passport, causing the problem.  I made a mental note to get the confirmation number for the trip back. 

Wednesday, July 4th, 2018

My adventure commenced on July 4th, 2018 at 0530.  My pal Joe gave me a ride to the airport and I do the usual security checks.  I had a boarding pass and was ready to roll.  This is where I met Conrad, a young man of probably 18.  He had finished boot in the Marines and was on his way to Tennessee for additional training.  This was Conrad’s first trip out of San Diego ever, and therefore, his first flight.  I told him to get a window seat and enjoy the ride.  He was behind me a few rows and I let the flight crew know that this was his first flight and told them to put lunch on me.  Conrad and I are both embarking on a grand adventure, filled with unknowns.

I sat next to some guys on the way to Cancun for a bachelor party and they gave me some choice Spanish phrases that would be used to describe Trump.

The layover in Atlanta wasn’t bad.  It’s a huge airport and since you never know what might be served on the transatlantic flight,  I decided to get a decent meal.  I also picked up a blanket for the journey as sometimes it can get pretty cold at 50k feet with an outside temp of -60f or colder. 

Both flights for today had free WiFi for messaging and tons of movies.  It’s been a while since I’ve done a transatlantic flight so this was a welcome surprise.  Once settled in, I popped a melatonin, a natural sleep aid, and fell asleep for about an hour or two.  They did serve a dinner on the flight that wasn’t too bad.  The flight was operated by Air France and they tend to have their act together.  I read and slept on and off on the way over but didn’t sleep that well.  I had an aisle seat that allowed me to get up and stand as often as I wanted but it also came with the usual bumping and jostling from people and service carts going up and down the aisle.  One of the books I downloaded was “Barcelona in Three Days”, a tourist guide.  I learned where I wanted to go and a few tips on getting around, booking passes to the hot spots, etc.

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

I arrived Barcelona on schedule at 0830 local time, quickly ran through customs, picked up baggage and hunted down the bus that was recommended by the AirBnB dude.  Once at the Plaze d’Espania, I took a short walk to the end of the street and grabbed a few pictures and then grabbed a cab for the apartment.  I performed a recon of the city block around my to-be apartment scoping out restaurants, grocery stores and other services and assessing security (which wouldn’t be an issue given I was right next to a large police station).  At 11 I met the caretaker to drop my stuff off.  She was very nice and showed me how things worked and answered a few of my tourist questions.  While I chatted with the caretaker, I built a general itinerary and schedule for the places I wanted to hit.  The book I read on the way over advised that I get tickets online since a lot of the places sell out during the tourist season.  They limit the number of people into the popular monuments and what time you can enter.  This ensures that it’s not a total mob scene.  Jeanette wanted to join me at Sagrada Família on Friday and I purchased tickets for the three of us and loaded it into my itinerary.  I changed my shirt and with tickets for my primary objectives loaded onto my mobile,  a general ground plan in my head, I began my assault on the city.  First stop La Pedrera (AKA Casa Milá) via La Ramblas.

On the walk over to La Pedrera, I intersected la Rambla which took me to my destination.  It’s the “main drag” of Barcelona, with lots of street vendors, upscale shops, sidewalk cafes, and various acts in the evening.  It’s closed to major traffic and it’s super popular with tourists, like me. One time up La Ramblas was kind of enough for me me.  It was crowded with tourists from all over the world.

La Pedrera or "The stone quarry", a reference to its unconventional and rough-hewn appearance, is a modernist building in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It was the last private residence designed by architect Antoni Gaudí and was built between 1906 and 1912.  This is one of Gaudi’s earlier works before he became rock star famous and it was a designed for a local large residence for Pere Milá. One of Gardi’s trademarks was his drive to integrate nature into his designs.  There is an incredible amount of thought that he put into his designs which results in interesting artistic choices and detail.  My best description of Gaudi is that he was a sculptor of buildings.

I had an audio guide which was very helpful to fully appreciate what I was seeing and guide me through the structure.  The outside is certainly unconventional but the inside is where all the fun is.  I started out in the atrium which has multiple design elements and then went up to the roof and worked my way down.  While in the atrium, the guide suggests that you just stand there taking it all in, not to be in a hurry.  This, as it turns out, allows you to notice all of the various design elements that were implemented.  The longer I was there, the more I noticed.  

Next was a short elevator ride to the roof.  The rooftop chimneys as sentinels with helmets were cool but the most shocking view to me was the attic and how he made all of the curves come together.  The structural architecture and the way he implemented curves and open ceilings was astounding.  I felt like I was inside some sort of beast.  I didn’t realize until later that he drew up the designs while in his workshop at Familia Sagrada.  I’ll need to do some research on Gaudi because I’d like to know where or how he learned structural engineering.   One last and interesting fact from the guild is that initially people hated the building, calling it a pile of rocks.  Eventually public sentiment changed and today the Cantelonian’s are extremely proud of the building.  I’m thinking that this structure may have been one of the many works that helped elevate Gaudi to celebrity rock star status.  You can read more about the structure on Wikipedia here. 
(All my pictures of La Pedrera HERE)

On my walk back to my apartment I decided to go into the large mercado that was just off of La Rambla.  I wasn’t planning on having dinner so early but I went by a tapas place that was right next to the butcher shop.  I was salivating heavily.  I ordered a small steak and a tapa thing along with some wine.  I made friends with a couple from France and Algeria sitting next to me. We had an excellent time talking about travels, Spain, Barcelona, etc.  They were super nice.  Somehow our meals were very late.  The waiter came by and apologized and said that the printer at the grill quit working and ate our orders.  He deals with a lot of tourists who would not have been happy.  I explained to him that I was totally fine with it and was in no hurry whatsoever, I’m on vacation...  He was kind of taken back by my easy going attitude. Given the number of tourists that he deals with, who at times are probably jerks when there is a screw up like this seemed unexpected.  He comped us some fantastic fish tapas and other food and we chatted with him for a while.  The meal was excellent and my friends and I both wanted pictures of the outing.  So far, my first day in Barcelona couldn’t have gone any better.... WOW, what an introduction! 

I walked around some of the side streets off La Rambla for a while and then down to my apartment which was actually off of Carrer nou de la Rambla. 

It was a very hot and sticky day in Barcelona so I was happy to get back to my pad with air conditioner and was ready for a shower.  Before my shower I thought I would lay down and read my personal email... Two seconds later I passed out and came two about two hours later.  WOW, I was tired.

Friday, July 6th, 2018

Today’s primary objective to to join a tour of the Gothic Quarter and then head over to Park Guell, another Gaudi work.  I managed to give myself a blister on my left foot the previous day in my sandals, a port choice of foot gear.  I’ll take it easy today on my feet. 

I woke early and decided I would pop out of bed and get over to the Gothic quarter before the rest of Barcelona choked the streets.  I had thought about this earlier and given the low angle light, and minimal people it should be fun, and it was.  I stopped at a cafe and had a quiche and some coffee.   This place will be my favorite breakfast stop while I’m in town.  It’s off the beaten path, the people are OK with my shitty Spanish, and the food and coffee are great. 

It was enjoyable watching Barcelona wake up.  People stay out late in Spain so early morning photo shoot is the best option, and I got a few good ones.  I really want to do this more often but it takes a certain amount of willpower after you’ve been out partying the night before.  I strolled by Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi and then found an outdoor cafe to have a coffee and relax.... Mmmm, the coffee is great here. 

I met my guide for the tour of the Gothic Quarter.  It turns out that I’m the only one in the “group” for the day.  One of the reasons I chose this tour guide is that she has an architecture background and is a city planner.  Bianca customized my tour knowing that I was into Gothic architecture and into architecture in general.  I don’t think I could have found any better tour guide in the city.  We got along well and the pace was exactly how I liked it, lazy and not hurried. 

We ventured past the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, but we didn’t go in.  We did enter Basilica Santa Maria Del Mar, where, if you look close, you will notice that one of the stain glass panes has the FC Barcelona football (soccer) club coat of arms within it.  Barcelona, as it turns, out, also worships their football team.  We then meandered into the Born neighborhood to see a little more modern Barcelona and how the locals shop and live.  It’s old and an interesting area with lots of small streets, cafes and other shopping.  We stopped at a cafe where I got something cool, as by now it was starting to get toasty. 

We ended at a place where they had originally planned to build a large shopping or industrial area but found ruins below.  We parted where I caught a cab to Park Guell.
(All pictures of the Gotic Quarter HERE)

Next up is Park Guell, Gaudi’s park.  It is a bit off the beaten path and recommended by the guide books.  Being a Gaudi fan after seeing La Padrera, I was looking forward to it.  I grabbed a sandwich near the park as I awaited my time slot to enter.  I purchased tickets in advance via the internet which is a must since most of the landmarks are sold out.  Also, for the ones that I purchased, you have to enter at the time slot that you purchased.  I think they do this in order to control the flow of tourists.  This is a good thing given the number of tourists that flood the entire country, doubling it’s size.  I’m guessing Barcelona gets the most of the tourists and then Madrid.    Barcelona feels more like a city of tourists and a few locals.  OK, back to Park Guell.

Park Guell was conceived by a British businessman / developer (hence the name “Park” and not “Parque”).  The idea was to create a park like environment for homes for the upper class.  He collaborated with Gaudi to design the park and a few structures.  Unfortunately, at the time it was too far outside of town to get services like water, sewer and roads, so the project was eventually scrapped and donated to the city. 

I bummed around the park for a while but was not wholly impressed.  If you are pressed for time, I wouldn’t recommend this excursion.  I’ll ask my friend Renata what she thought of it.

I went into the neighborhood of Gracia and bummed around a bit.  I wanted to find a small pub to watch the World Cup match of Uruguay vs. France.  I had lost track of time so I was only able watch the last 15 minutes.  The bar was in non-tourists area, filled with city workers and a few other locals watching the game.  It was a boring final 15 minutes.  France won as I predicted but it was a sleeper.

I definitely wanted to watch the Brazil vs. Belgium game that would be on at 8PM local time so I decided it best to get back to my own neighborhood while I could still navigate.  I’d take a shower and head out in search of an appropriate venue for dinner and a game.  This game was most likely going to be a hell of a battle.  Most restaurants, pubs and tapa bars had the game on so finding a place that had the game running wasn’t going to be a problem.  I really wanted a decent glass or two of wine so that will fit heavily into the search.  The vino tinto that I had at the bar in Gracia was pretty bad. 

After a quick shower I headed out.  I figured I find a place as I walked up Nou de la Rombla but nothing caught my eye until I turned left on La Rambla.  The wine list there was extensive and they had lamb!!!  The prices weren’t too exorbitant given it was right on the main drag with max tourists, and hadn’t filled up yet given it was early for dinner (Spain doesn’t start dinner until after 9PM).  I was able to secure a table right in front of the big LCD screen and ordered some wine and some mushrooms with lamb to follow.

The wine was outstanding and the mushrooms were out of this world.  They were heated up in olive oil and garlic and were a perfect pairing for the wine (notice I pair the food to the wine).  I was right about the game, the fireworks started 5 seconds after kickoff with drives and shots on goal immediately thereafter and throughout the game.

As the game went on, it got pretty loud in the the restaurant and it was a lot of fun.  I was rooting for Brazil knowing that Belgium would probably be victorious, which they were, 2 to 1.  I will add however, that one of the Belgium goals was scored by Brazil.  The lamb was very tasty and I ordered “Crema Catalana” for desert.  WOW, WOW, WOW, the Crema Catalana was fantastic. 

After dinner I took a walk to burn off some of the calories I just ingested and then headed back to my apartment.  Jeanette and Mari Lú would be coming into Barcelona in the morning and we would probably have a full day on Saturday.

Saturday, July 7th, 2018

I wanted to get an early start and hit another part of town as the sun came up.  My head hurt a tad from the night before and I had stayed out pretty late.  I nixed the early “watch Barcelona wake up” and headed to my designated breakfast place for some more quiche and scrumptious coffee con leche. My left foot wasn’t much better either, temporing my enthusiasm for a venture back into the gothic quarter.

The girls arrived at the apartment via the same route I had taken from the airport.  They got settled and we headed out so they could get a bite to eat and some coffee.  The core objective of the day was Familia Segrada.   We stopped at my favorite breakfast haunt so that they could fuel up and I stopped by a pharmacy and did some repair work on my foot, which turned out well. 

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is a large unfinished Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The church has been under construction since 1882,  started under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. In 1883, when Villar resigned,[4] Gaudí took over as chief architect, transforming the project with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms (I wonder if Gaudi drove him crazy with his design ideas which were way ahead of his time).  It’s expected to be completed in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.  This was the crowning achievement of Gaudi and he spent the rest of his life living on-site and working on the project.  He knew it would never be finished in his lifetime (or several lifetimes).  Although a lot of drawings were lost during the callus destruction of a civil war, enough drawings and models survived to support the architects that continue his work to this day which started again in the 50s, supported only by donations. They continue to use Gaudi’s style of creating models that help shape the final decisions for various sections but today they use 3D printers.  Given the status of the building and importance of this work, I guessing it’s tough being allowed to work on such a masterpiece. 

The initial view of the outside of the basilica is shockingly massive and filled with unimaginable detail, something that I’m starting to get use to with Gaudi.  It was fairly hot and I was hoping for a quick entry into the church.  We did an orbit of the outside and then headed to the entry.  I hadn’t seen any pictures of the inside yet but I know from my time in La Predera that it was going to be quite a treat, but I wasn’t fully prepared for what was to come. 

Upon entering I was gobsmacked, and started to tear up (I spoke to another man who had the same reaction by the way).  I was overcome by the massive structural beauty that was presented inside.  From the stain glass to the unique tree-like structures jutting up to hold the ceiling combined with the incredible detail everywhere.  The use of space was equally astoundingly and it is a masterpiece of architectural majesty.  I’ve visited massive churches all over France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and Germany, and nothing compares.  Maybe it’s that this Cathedral doesn’t follow the typical cross / tried and true design, while it still leveraged gothic structural engineering to achieve it‘s height, it’s a complete departure from the norm.  I wondered how it holds all that weight up (actually one time it didn’t, and a tower came down).  In Goudi’s time there were no structural engineering colleges, computers, cranes, or steal reinforced concrete. 

I find it interesting how catholicism has inspired so many artists.  Gaudi was a bit of a detail freak and and devout christian.  There was symbolism all over the place, inside and out.  Although he used gothic architecture, he hid the flying buttress within the structure and then departed from any typical gothic style church.  I could probably go on and on about this and never do it justice.  There are lots blogs, video, books, etc that are written on this masterpiece.  If you have the opportunity to get anywhere near Barcelona, you’d be crazy to miss this landmark.  If you do go, don’t miss the museum in the basement.  There you will learn more about the history and the evolution of design it went through.
(All pictures of Sagrada Familia HERE)

I wanted to catch the England Sweden game so Jeanette and I went over to the London Bar to watch it with some Londoners.  It was fun to see the game there with the brits.  At one point, after a screwup by England, I asked if this is where I yell “bloody hell” at the TV.  I was told “yes” and I let 'er rip. 

England eventually won the game much to the pleasure of the patrons.  Before they left, they sang “God Save The Queen”.  I wish I had caught that on video.

 After the game we went back to the apartment and then out to have dinner, watch the second  game and stroll the main drag in Barcelona, Las Ramblas.  We ended up at a pizza / paella restaurant.  The food was pedestrian but it’s the first paella I’ve had since arriving.  I was extremely happy to see Croatia send Russia home, as I really didn’t like the Russian style of play and I was still pissed Russia was able to stall Spain for 120 minutes to win in a shootout.
(All pictures from Barcelona HERE)

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

On Sunday, we had the day to laze around, finish the laundry and bug out by 1100.  The first stop was a luggage locker place that would free us up to tour the city until our flight left.  Given the condition of our feet (Jeanette was still in pain from the 100+ miles she hiked), we opted for a bus tour, which, as it turns out, a good way to get to know the city.  We opted for two different routes and then it was back to pickup the luggage and head to the airport. 

There was a massive statue by the sea of Christopher Columbus pointing out (with a large orange life vest on his arm).
#OverheardInBarceloa.  As we passed the statue of Columbus pointing out out toward the sea, the guide said “Some say he is pointing to America but if that were the case, he would have never gotten there.”  My statement was that he may have thought that was the direction when he set off until his wife shouted from below decks “Dammit Christopher!  I told you to turn right back there.  What are you trying to do, get us lost?”

The Barcelona airport was hot as hell.  They don’t cool their airports so I was uber uncomfortable as it was hotter in the airport than outside in the shade.  We had plenty of time to get a cold drink since when you fly with Jeanette, you always arrive in plenty of time. I think the flight was delayed about an hour but it was an easy smooth ride to Bilbao.

When we arrived in Bilbao I thought I saw someone remove my backpack from the overhead so I focused on trying to catch him or her.  I never did and turned back and found my bag on the plane.  OK, I was awake. 

Josu, his wife Nives, Paula, Jose, and Anna all greeted us at the airport.  We were scheduled to stay with Josu and Nives for a few days and then with Jose and Mari Cruz.  Josu (a Basque name I think) was very fluent in English and was quite the conversationalist.  Mari Lú was scheduled to go to Paula’s house for the whole week so we parted ways. 

Of course Nives had a meal ready when we arrived and we ate in the back patio where it was cool.  Josu opened some wine and we ate and talked until 2AM.  Our quarters were top notch and I slept like a baby. 

Monday, July 9th, 2018

Josu and Nives took us out to San Juan de  Gaztelugatxe a really cool little church that is on an almost island.  I say “almost” because it’s connected by a small sliver of land.  It has quite the history and has seen it’s share of battles.  It’s quite picturesque and of course I took plenty of photos, like the one to the right.  The hike out and back is probably a total of 3 miles and not too difficult.  It was warm and very humid.  (All pictures of San Juan HERE)

We had Lunch in Bermeo, a short drive away where we ate outside overlooking the marina.  The food was great along with some local white wine.  Josu refused to let me pay.

 After lunch we head to the cave at Santimamine.  This was a bit of a bust as you could no longer go into the cave and can only watch a video about it in a very hot house.  It was only in Spanish, and I was trying to stay awake from the food coma and heat.

After we got home,  Joe Su saw me sitting on the upper patio relaxing and working on my BLOG.  He showed up a few minutes later with a bottle of Basque wine and then a plate of cheese.  His hospitality was off the charts.  What followed was a nice light dinner cooked by Jeanette and Josu, and then conversation that ranged from life, to science, politics, food and wine.  We were up till 2AM the night before so I was starting to crash when midnight rolled in on us. 

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

The cool thing about staying with people that live in the area is they know the cool places to check out and, in our case, take you to places you wouldn’t normally go to.  In addition, you get to see how the local residents live, eat and shop.  Today it’s back to Santimanine to see the painted trees, Bosque de Oma.  Oma forest is a work of art created by Agustin Ibarrola, a Basque sculptor and painter.  The story goes that the artist decided to use the forest as his canvas.  However, when the owner of the property returned he didn’t think it was cool that some dude just painted on his trees.  The owner’s attempt to sue the artist failed and then the threatened to cut all the trees down.  At some point the local government stepped in and bought the property as it was slowly growing in popularity. 
(All pictures of Oma HERE)

After the hike we had a beer with lemon and some octopus. 
Lunch in Garnika which was fantastically awesome.  The wine list was a book and the setting was perfect.  It was Ana’s a recommendation.  I failed in my attempt to intercept the bill and lost the argument with Josu.

We returned to our home base for some R&R and then the semi final World Cup game.  France and Beljum are about to play and I’ll have to pick Belgium as they have been very strong. Although, France has had the most consistently fast counter attack during the cup. I sat in the massage chair with a glass of wine and watched the game....

Hmmm. I’m glad I didn’t put money on the game, I was dead wrong.  France won 1-0.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Nives had to work and we were going to tour Bilbao, leaving Josu to have the day to himself.  Josu took us to the metro station and we headed into Bilbao.  I wanted to see the Guggenheim and Jeanette wanted to do some shopping (she’d already been through the Guggenheim).  The building itself is a piece of art.  I enjoyed a few of the exhibits and there were a few that I just didn’t get (never did understand the paint splatter on canvas).  There were some very creative pieces, like the giant shoes made from silver cooking pots and the “phone bank”.  Jeanette met me shortly after I exited the Guganheim where I purchased the most expensive ice cream cone of my life.  We sat in the shade while I finished the ice cream and before I got up to leave, I realized I’d created a bit of my own unique art.  I’ll call it “chocola ou concrete”.  

We bummed around Bilbao and intended on doing a bit of a tapa crawl, which is about having a short beer, a tapa, and then onto the next place.  The first place was busy but relaxing.  They had a little Ray Charles playing in the background and people were in a good mood.

We took a train to another section of town and crossed the river on a gondola large enough to hold cars.  We met Coldo’s parents who hosted Juan when he was in Bilbao two years ago.  We had a drink and exchanged stories.  Rather than put us on the Metro back to Josu’s place, they insisted they drive us over.  Our visit was short but it was great to meet them in person. 

Josu drove us over to Jose and Mari Cruz, Paula’s parents, for the next part of our trip.  Supper was quite a spread.  Jose spoke a little bit of English and Mari Cruz none at all.  Paula is completely fluent of course but we got along just fine with Jeanette’s Spanish and my using Paula and Mari Lú as interpreters.  My skills at google translate were also handy :)

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

I woke to a thunderstorm.  This was a very nice treat and it means that the weather will be just a tad cooler. 

Today Jose and Mari Cruz took Jeanette, Mari Lú and I to San Sebastián.  The town isn’t far from the French border and is very nice.  It was a rainy and very pretty trip over.  Back in the day, San Sebastián hosted the vacation homes of the elite, which drew in others, making it a very upper end destination.  The old part of town is typical old style Spain with narrow streets and of course, they are lined with shops.  Jose suggested we take a guided city tour in English so we book one and set out.  The one unplanned event  in this case... rain.  Mari Cruz handed out umbrellas which was a good thing, because it poured.  Several of the stops were inside churches and monasteries so it wasn’t too bad.  The tour was very informative and the history of the city was very interesting.  I didn't mind the rain at all.

Just as the tour ended the rain stopped.  We linked back up with Jose and Mari Cruz and walked to the more modern side of town where Jose had a restaurant picked out.  What followed was a 6 course meal and wine.  It started with bacalo, a cod, in a couple different sauces...mmmmmm.  Jose knew I was a meat lover and this restaurant didn’t disappoint on that front either.  It was cooked medium rare and a bit salty, (which I like).  It reminded me of Brazilian pecenia style meet.  It was out of this world.  In addition, they had a cider room.  You get a glass and then turn on the spigot and let it start running and then put the glass under it.  The idea is that you should put the glass far away to get it to bubble a little.  They had several kinds of cider and it was fun.  It was low alcohol content and refreshing. 

When we came out, it was clear skys and everyone was out and about.  We walked back to the older section of town, strolled around and hung out.  I hiked up to the top of the hill to get a better view of the area.  I got some nice shots of the larger city and then headed back down.  I went up one side and down the other.  There were multiple paths down and I ended up a ways from the crew.  I eventually linked up with them and we headed back to Bilbao.

We had a light supper, relaxed and talked.  I got to meet Borja, Paula’s brother.  He was in his early 20s, and goes to school in the area studying graphic art.  Since he gave up his room for me, he’s staying with his aunt.  All in all it was a nice day.
(All pictures from San Sebastian HERE)

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Today we head to Burgos, a small town located a little more than 1.5 hours away.  Since Paula promised to study hard on Sunday, she and Borja joined us.  The primary destination is the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos, aka “Santa lglesia Catedral Basilica Metropolitana de Santa Maria de Burgos”.  It’s construction began in 1221 following French Gothic patterns.  During the 15 and 16th centuries, it went through some very large changes, with the addition of spires, the main facade, the Chapel of Constable, etc.  As best I can tell, Burgos was the center of power for a while so each new royal family wanted to leave their mark and ensure they had a place to be entombed.  Because of all the additions, this cathedral is known as the church within a church, multiple in fact.  Yup, it’s big, really big.  It was fascinating  walking through the massive compound with one interesting and unique chapel after another.  It provided an opportunity for endless number of pictures.  I asked Jose how this cathedral ranked in size to others in Spain.  He said that they don’t rank them in size but in architecture.  Evidently it’s ranking is #2 in Spain.

Mari Cruz and the girls decided to take a break and have lunch while Jose took Borja, Jeanette and I to an old seminary that is still in use.  It started out as a nunnery centuries ago and was run by a very strong willed nun who only answered to the pope.  It was a very interesting set of building, complete with a gothic church that held the some of the oldest stained glass in existence.

We eventually linked back up with the others and had a sandwich and some adult beverages.  I was finally able to pick up the tab here but only because I was able to grab the ticket before Jose.
(All pictures of Burgos HERE.)

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

Today is a free day.  We’ll hang around for a while and then take a trip into Bilbao on the metro.  I decided to take a walk and ended up going to the top of a nearby hill.  I was never able to get to a point where I was out of the forest and was recalled by Mari Lú and Paula who wanted to get going so they could do some shopping.  I was told departure time was 1300 but at some point that was changed.  There was a couple of cute farm houses on the hike that looked quite inviting.  For today’s excursion, Mari Cruz decided to stay behind and work on the paella that would be dinner.

We took the car down to the local metro stop and then the metro.  It’s difficult to find parking in the city and probably easier to drop into the center of town.  Mari Lú and Paula hit the clothing stores before they closed at 2pm and Jose took Jeanette and I to some stores to pick up some wine for tonight and to take back to San Diego as well as some select ingredients for Jeanette’s spice rack.  I love the grocery store where we got the wine, you can buy wine and power tools on the same floor!!!

We stopped and had a glass of wine at a tapas place and strolled around.  We eventually linked back up with Paula and Mari Lú.  Although the clothing stores closed at 1400, the makeup stores didn’t... bummer they were loaded down with booty from the day’s shopping and quite pleased.

When we left, Mari Cruz was chopping mushrooms and stuff for paella.  On our return the cooking had started.  Jeanette was quite interested in the learning the recipe and I got in a quick nap.  We had dinner, probably at 6 or so.  The paella was fantastic of course and the table had pork blood sausage, veggies, etc.

After dinner we headed out into the local town for a quick bit of shopping and a glass wine since the mission to get some saffron and other spices wasn’t complete.  It was nice and relaxing. 

After we got back, I was a bit surprised that the kitchen was fired back up for the last meal of the day.  The sun doesn’t go down here till 2100 so it doesn’t seem that late but I asked if they were trying to kill us with food.  Paula informed me that yes, they are, it’s the national sport of Spain.  :).  I have never consumed so much fantastic food on a trip. Well, maybe while bicycling in southern France in the late 90s.

Sunday, July 15th, 2018. 

Jeanette’s flight leaves at 7, and our’s doesn’t leave until 10.  Jose insists that he take Jeanette at the crack of dawn and come back and take Mari Lú and I after he drops Jeanette off at 5. Jeanette felt we should be at the airport 2 hours early but the gate agent wasn’t checking anyone in until 90 minutes prior.  Our departure was delayed by about an hour.  I was a tad concerned that we would be pressed to get to the next gate in Paris Charles de Gaulle if we had to hike a long distance.  Also, I was hoping to pick up some St. Emilion wine from duty free if possible.  As it turns out they delayed the boarding of the aircraft by an hour so we were fine and the wine was easily had at a decent price from the duty free.  Mari Lú and I skipped purchasing food, knowing there would be some on the plane and we didn’t have any time to waste... or so we thought.

I was surprised to find that we needed to go through passport control to leave and enter France but it was a quick look for wants-and-warrants, a stamp, and then they loaded us onto a bus for a different terminal. 

Now we are on the plane.  As I sit here writing, Mari Lú and I have been on the plane for 2 hours and the latest info is that it will be another 30 minute delay while they “fix a pipe” (is that a code word for fix an oil leak?). We will most likely miss our connection in Minneapolis now unless it is delayed, but who knows, we may get stranded here.  An interesting tidbit... There are three toddlers in the seats behind me and a couple next to Mari Lú in the row in front of me.  They haven’t started screaming but I expect that will eventually come, especially when the iPads they are using run out of batteries.  There is of course the sibling poking and shouting on occasion but it’s been at a minimum.  He he, this flight hasn’t even pushed back from the gate and it’s already getting interesting. 

More delay... Now a guy has the game on his phone.  Wooo Hooo.  We are watching  the World Cup Final on cell phones until we takeoff but I’m afraid the the pilots will be watching the game and the delay will be even further.  In addition, I’m wondering if the maintenance guys will be working at all given the game has started.  The plane is a bit old and the passengers are restless about it’s condition.

My dream was to watch the World Cup final in France but this is not how I envisioned it.  The two French guys next to me with the phone were very serious fans, very little reaction when France scored.  But comedy ensued when the kids surrounding a phone to the left of me broke out in ruckus excitement and applause.  On the phone to the right, France was putting together a set play from a foul near the box, on the phone to the to the left, France had just scored.  The guys to my right were very unhappy campers.  For one, they didn’t want to know the score and hadn’t planned on watching it on the plane but at their destination, and secondly, now they were watching behind the game.  The atmosphere was celebratory, the flight crew was also checking in on the game and the time passed a bit faster. 

About 3 to 3.5 hours now on the ground and we get the word from the flight deck.  We are deplaning and will have to catch a flight tomorrow.  I figured this was all part of the experience (reference my admonition to Mari Lú at the top) and I lived my advice.  Where as other people were very unhappy, I high-fived the flight crew as I walked out saying “WOW!  That was fun!  Let’s go this again tomorrow!”.  They got a kick out of it. 

Next it was back in a line for customs to enter France... wait, we never left France!  Oh well, we aren’t going anywhere today.  I said out loud enough for for others to hear me “What!  This isn’t Minneapolis?  Is this a French joke?  I don’t like French humor!”.  I got a few laughs and it lightened the mood.  I use humor as a antigen for stress.  As we were waiting in line for passport checks, France scored another goal.  One of the passport officers in a booth jumped up and started beating on the glass and celebrating the goal.  Police and other workers were doing the same.  The French workers are jazzed. 

For some reason I let Mari Lú go to a different agent than me.  After being checked she came over to me.  I told her to continue to go to the other side of the check and wait for me.  I didn’t want the agents freaking out that they hadn’t checked her.  She misunderstood because when I went through, she wasn’t there.  I freaked a bit but figured she would go to baggage claim with the others in the group.  We were told “go to 8”.  I assumed it was for baggage claim 8.  After winding down the hallway, lightly directed by Air France workers, we arrived at the baggage carousel... it said 32.  There was no Mari Lú, and I figured 8 would be a long fucking ways away.  I was becoming more uncomfortable. 

Next I find myself leaving the secure zone and into the general population without my daughter.  This is all cool and funny until I lost my daughter.  I started asking around, asked through a window at the baggage area where I was told the baggage people were on strike.  I didn’t have Mari Lú’s European phone number so I texted Paula, told her the problem and asked her to call Mari Lú. Then it was back to information, then back to the baggage area window where they found an Air France person that spoke a little English (my French is possible if I’m asking for wine and the bathroom, after that, not too good).  She explained that it was “area 8, huit”.  OK... where is that?  Now I’m trying to figure out how to get one floor up and it’s not obvious, all while trying to stay calm and “work the problem”.  Once I reach area 8, there is Mari Lú happily chatting away to another group of Americans, laughing, etc. 

Job #1, get Mari Lú’s phone number.  OK, back to having fun and a positive attitude.  Given my delay, we were almost the last in line.  The people in front were a husband and wife from Montana, returning home from Norway I think, and the lady behind that Mari Lú was talking to was a lady traveling alone.   After about 45 minutes, the line was  moving very very slow as just a few Air France agents tried to book new flights, hotel and some food vouchers for 200+ people.  Mari Lú and I hadn’t eaten much all day so I went out in search of sandwiches for us while she held our place.  My French got us some sandwiches and more water.  I picked up a bunch of different bags of cookies.  There were a lot of kids in families in line and I thought this would ease the burden... plus I didn’t want to eat in front of others without offering something.  The cookies were well received by everyone.

During our wait in line at the terminal, France won the World Cup.  The entire terminal exploded in celebration.  Air France agents and other workers were punching the air, whooping and applauding.  You could hear the rest of the terminal celebrating as well.  OK, this is what it’s like to be in France when they win the World Cup.  It was an unexpected experience. 

After 2.5 hours we reached the ticket counter.  Rather than bringing a frown, I offered them cookies.  I guess my positive attitude paid off because eventually there were three people trying to figure out a way to get us home.  I offered to rent a car in LAX if they could get me a direct flight there.   I didn’t say anything else and just let them do their magic.  They tried the direct to LAX,  and a connection through Amsterdam but no luck, there were 4 long-haul flights cancelled that day and everything was booked solid.  They booked us on a flight from Paris to Minneapolis the next morning and redid our flight to San Diego from there.  There was no seat selection, we get what we get.  I wanted an isle but didn’t bother to ask, figuring I was good just getting on a plane.  We left with boarding passes, an overnight kit, vouchers for a hotel and a free bus ride to the Santa Fe hotel at the Disney resort... oh, and some food coupons for tonight and the next morning.   Most passengers didn’t get a boarding pass and had to return to ticketing the next morning.  I had zero complaints.  They seemed to work hard for us and we had a plan and lodging.

The next challenge was trying to find the bus.  Charles de Gaulle is big, we are tired, and it's confusing to us so it took a while.  It was fun stressing about hoping to not miss the bus.  It turns out that we had to wait for the driver to show up at the bus and we were kinda tired of standing in line.  My quick option plan to check-in to a hotel and then give Mari Lú a tour of Paris via taxi was quickly crushed when I found out the hotel was in an industrial area a long way from the action.  It was past 11pm when we got to our room and we were just too tired from being up and traveling since 6AM.  I scrapped that plan and prepared for bed.

The hotel was funny, to me at least.  It was a good replica of a Santa Fe, New Mexico hotel and landscape, complete with paint scheme, crosses, and southwest Indian kachinas.  It was combined with the theme from “Cars”, a Disney movie.  I went over to the store that was still open and picked up a couple of clean shirts for us to wear the next day since we didn’t get our luggage.  Turns out, the little kit we were given had a white t-shirt in it. Oh well, we had cool Incredibles shirts with style baby.

I sent an email to the crew at work letting them know my return was delayed, showered and tried to get some sleep.  There was no air conditioning but a fan in the ceiling.  Interesting thing was, no matter how fast it turned, it did nothing since the blades had zero angle to them.  I opened the window and it took a while to nod off given the continuous honking of car horns in the distance celebrating the recent win. 

Monday, July 16th, 2018

We had to catch the bus back to the airport at 6 AM so it was up at 0530.  We quickly got lost coming out of our room for about 5 minutes and then vectored in on the pickup area.  There was a fucking massive crowd of people with no organization and no bus.  The bus did arrive but no way was it going to get all these people.  Mari Lú and I did catch the second one and we were on our way. 

Once at the airport we used our vouchers to get some more food and fluid.  We sat on the floor and people watched for a while.  Some of the fluid went right in the trash because we couldn’t get it through security (oops, didn’t think about that when I bought it).  Departure was delayed an hour I think but it was a newer aircraft.  I had high hopes this would be the one out of Dodge.  Mari Lú hooked back up with the lady from yesterday and was busy chatting away as we waited. 

We are boarding!  As I approach my seat, I realize karma was throwing me flowers and doing me a solid.  The seat has a exit door in front of it, then a bulkhead.  Unlimited legroom, and I have a window seat which means no getting bummed every time someone walks by.  As others boarded, one lady stopped by and thanked me for being so positive and up-beat yesterday about what was going on.  She mentioned that it really helped her get through the stress she was having over the situation.  Another couple of people stopped by and thanked me for the cookies.  I’ve always told Mari Lú and Juan that when you send positive energy you get positive energy back (unless the person is a jerk).  It made me feel good and it’s a reminder about how much we affect others when we don’t even realize it. 

When the plane pushed back from the gate, there was a sigh of relief from all the passengers, most of whom were on yesterday’s cancelled flight.  We taxied for what seemed like ten miles and then we were on our way home, 9+ hours.  I slept a bit.  I couldn’t find my melatonin so that was a bit of a bummer, I was on the European time zone and it was still morning there so no sleep for me.  My seat was awesome but those seats next to large doors are always cold and I was uber glad I had my fleece blanket.  The guy next to me was a highly introverted Russian who teaches theoretical physics.  A strange but nice gentleman but very little conversation and he didn’t know what to do with my sarcasm so I turned off the sarcasm generator which is pure torture for me .... ha!  The one negative was of my own doing, I let myself get dehydrated over the last two days and I had a massive headache when we landed.

The line at customs in Minneapolis was long and crazy.  It’s a sizable airport with several  international flights coming in.  Our time at customs was easy and we got a bonus, our bags showed up.  Second phase of customs with bags was easy and then we were dumped into an area where we had to re-check the bags and go through security again, which was sort of crazy since we never really left a secure area. 

I was crazy thirsty and picked up some water for us, which we quickly slammed.  We had five hours to kill in Minneapolis so Mari Lú got some fast food that she likes and I went into a restaurant where she joined me.  I watched the local baseball team get their asses kicked and slammed multiple glasses of nothing but water.  I wanted some wine but knew this would only make my condition worse. 

The flight to San Diego was about 4 hours.  I watched a movie, read, and caught a bit of shuteye.  Baggage was quick and Jeanette was waiting for us on arrival.  Ahhh, home, my own bead, now if I could just sleep.  Mari Lú said she didn’t want to be in any lines for a while.

I took a full accounting of the events of the last week and a half and our two day trip back from Spain.  It was a long two days but it all worked out and we had something to talk about.  Our Spanish hosts were as about as hospitable as anyone could be.  In fact, I’m embarrassed, as I’m not sure I could be as hospitable as these people were to us.  It’s a lesson for sure.  Given the flight issues, I’m not sure what the hell would have happened if Mari Lú had been by herself on the return.  I saw an Air France crew with what looked like other kids coming back so she probably would have had some support.  Now that she’s done it, seen how to handle a couple of difficult situations and international travel, she’s more prepared.  If she can bring the positive energy when things get tough, she’ll kill it.

I’m going to through some flowers to you.
The context was that Joso was about to give me a compliment.  I love this saying.

-- Christian (Chris) Claborne

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