Friday, July 31, 2009

Paris Day 3: Eiffel Tower - Thursday

We caught the 8 am bus and express train again. It's most efficient to catch the express train after the early bus because there's minimal delay between the two and the express train skips the many stops on the way to Paris. However, I think it's wearing us out. We took the 14:30 train back today after seeing the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph. Maybe we are just falling back to our old sleepy ways after 6 weeks of generally more active lifestyles. I've found I can stretch for a while, but the bungy cord of energy always retracts.

Maybe, you realize the awe best when you try to take a picture of something several hundred yards away and you can't fit it in. Or when you are underneath it and can't see its entire width, nor all of the people lined up to see it. There are a lot of impressive stats, like how many hundreds of tons of steel were used, how many rivets were used, how many people work there now (620), how high it is (300 meters), etc. But the views of the city were what really impressed me. I hadn't realized how expansive it is. I saw the skyscrapers off in the distance (kind of like DC, where the tall buildings aren't downtown but in Arlington, Va and other spots). I saw the city of Paris instead a collection of winding blocks and dozens of almost randomly placed metro stops.

The lines were much better at 9 am Thursday than yesterday afternoon. The line for the elevator was about 30 minutes long, and Lara's worn out feet moved her into that line. My sometimes aversion to crowds, my growing predilection toward unnecessary physical exertion%, my very often need to read factoids, and my constant desire to save €3.50 moved me to the stairs line. I walked right up to the ticket line and through to the stairs. By the time I got to the second level, I had climbed the equivalent of 43 stories (if I am remembering right). But the factoid posters along the way gave me natural pauses. I also resisted my strong habit of taking steps two at a time. The weather has been extremely nice, so that made the stairs much more comfortable. A shopkeeper told us Paris was in the continental temperate weather zone, while Spain was in the sub-Saharan zone (see Seville blogs although the coast was much more livable). The only problem was knowing how much progress you were making. You are surrounded by similar looking steel the whole time. Am I 10 minutes or 20 or more away?
The first level was huge, with a couple of restaurants and theaters with information on the Tower. The name tower had made me think of a bell tower, where you can view all four sides by turning your body 360 degrees. That is not possible here. You take a long walk around the level with gorgeous views on all sides. It should be called the Eiffel Complex or Eiffel Really Big Thing and Stuff^ to denote its size. It's kind of like my initial uninformed imagination of the Grand Canyon as a ditch, just more so, until against my better judgment, we went to see it on Spring Break in college.

Back to Logistics:To complete the awe, there are free bathrooms before you pay and on the first and second levels. There are bathroom attendants, bored out of their minds, but they don't stare you down for tips or make you buy something (by contrast at the Army museum, there was a bathroom external to the entrance but you still must show a ticket unlike the tower). There are paper towels, which are nice on a Summer day when you don't want to blow hot air on yourself.
Anything magnificent here (and in a lot of places) must be surrounded by tourists, vendors, and beggars and pickpockets (and often in France impressive soldiers with machine guns, fingers not on but very close to the trigger). The Eiffel Really Big Thing and Stuff (ERBTaS~) was no exception. Almost immediately upon entering the area, we were aggressively pursued by a guy selling miniatures of the ERBTaS. From €1 up, you could have a memory forever. I was happy to have a €1 keychain, but Lara traded it for a bigger €10 desktop version after she haggled him down to €3.

The key chain guys move around quickly, often in packs and refuse to take no for an answer. They are so desperate to move this merchandise that it seems like they are in a movie in which they are being forced by a terrorist to carry around plutonium baubles that will detonate unless they disperse them by unloading them on tourists+. From the first level, I watched five of them run away when they saw a cop.

Also out in force are women in shawls who come approach you and ask if you speak English and then produce a note testifying that they are refugees. Given there are more French people here, it would make sense to have the note in French. Maybe the French are less charitable or less gullible. After the fourth women with the same plea, you start to get a little jaded and suspicious. A nein, dunke usually suffices.

We then headed to the Arc de Triumph and Champ Ulysses, a street with trendy shops. We were tired, so we decided to head home.
A quirk in the afternoon bus schedule gave us an opportunity to visit a new village. Aincourt has 4 stops and is the terminal stop of the 9511 bus that runs through our town. Our town has 2 stops, so a 4 stopper worthy of an express bus must be grand, right? We saw a lot of fields and then more fields and then a few cows. The last stop was a hospitality center, we gathered from our translation book. When we got there, we found a hospital center with nothing else around. Oops, maybe the hospital cafeteria has some good snacks? Fortunately, the next bus was a couple of minutes late, so we could catch it back to our village because L thought the hospital cafeteria wasn't going to be gourmet. The quirky schedule still meant we made it home faster than if we had taken the later direct bus.

Aincourt, I had such high hopes for you. You broke my heart. I am similarly stricken over Lavacourt, the village across the Seine from us. Less than a kilometer away on the map, it's a five hour walk because it's on a peninsula with few bridges. I can see the reflection of the street lights off the river, but I shan't ever swing off them as I belt out "Singing in the Rain." Maybe Creedance singing "Have you ever seen the Rain" fits me better. Gotta go and hook up the iPod with CCR to the portable stereo here.


Footnotes:% As a kid, my family took 6 mile walks for fun-volksmarches.^ Copyright 1967, Global Danpark Corporation, Durham, NC. All rights reserved.~ Acronym ERBTaS Copyright 1953, Global Danpark-Liberia and Global Danpark-Rhodesia . Most rights reserved (the important ones).+ Movie treatment Copyright 2009, 20th Century Danpark.

Resting and exploring Mantes Jolet - Wednesday

We returned to the Internet café by the train station in Mantes Jolet . There was a lot to do in an hour a half. I looked into connecting our house phone to France phone, and when we came home, I ran back to the village phone to test it and it worked! I wish we would have had this option in Italy and Spain, but we had no land lines there. Vonage offers free calling to France, so it doesn't cost anything to forward calls if you're on the right plan.

We also found a Hallmark, which had enough off color items that it could have been a Spencer's gifts. A bolangerie had excellent huge slices of flan with fruit. The bakeries in Spain and France have been one of the many highlights of the trip. Unfortunately they don't have any of the €1 chocolate eclairs here. Maybe that's for the best. I say this, but my German blood tells me it's never wrong to consume chocolate.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Internet access and call us!

So we found an Internet cafe near the train station, so we can occasionally communicate via e-mail. It will be easier to communicate with us over the phone. Our US home number now should forward to the cottage in France. This costs us nothing and costs you nothing more than calling a 919 area code number. We are six hours ahead of EDT, so 2 PM in NC is 8 PM here (a good time to call). It will also ring the house also if you want to call Sarah. Thank you Vonage.

Paris Day 2: Rodin and Army Museum -Tuesday

Again we caught the 8am bus and train-We toured Rue Cler. It was a little early for lunch, so we tried the Eiffel Tower a km or so from us. I saw the sign that said 30 minutes wait from this point and the line was 2 or 3 times past that point, so we decided to try again on a day more favored by museum schedules.

After a Chinese lunch, we headed in different directions. I went to the Army Museum/Napoleon's tomb. The tomb is inside a church where politics and religion are closely intertwined. A free with admissions audio tour does a good job of explaining this. On the ceiling, King Louis XIV, who commissioned the building to show his approval by previous kings and God, is shown giving his sword directly to God (no need for the church to be involved here). At one end of the church is a cross with Jesus hanging on it, and he faces the opening to the lower level where lies Napoleon. The tomb looks much bigger than the cross, so we know who's in charge.Christ calling kings to be his faithful servants is one thing, but this place gave the feeling that God was endorsing kings and generals. Although it's a very complex topic. I'm starting to understand some of my friends at church in their hesitance to mix patriotism and Christianity closely together. It's easier to see this odd juxtaposition in another country.

The Army museum was impressive. It walks through 1870 to 1945 to explain how many forces kept Europe at war. It was honest about France's shortcomings, such as not modernizing its military after the exhaustion and massive destruction of WWI to the point that Germany could conquer the country in 40 days. But it was also proud of its expatriate and resistance forces operating during the war. It also noted how Japan inability to surrender in battle led to horrendous casulties on both sides even on battles for small islands. This led to the decision to use the atomic bomb to avoid a gruesome mainland invasion. I had expected an exorciation of the US. I guess I shouldn't paint all of Europe with one broad stroke. The exhibit ends with a picture of checkpoint Charlie, showing not everything was finished.

L:We actually began our day walking down Rue Cler which is full of fruit and vegetable stalls, cheese shops, bakeries, chocolatiers and gourmet food shops. I loved it, but D. was less than enthralled. Then we went to the Effiel tower. After oohing and ahhing and taking some pictures we decided the line to go up was too long so we'd try again another day. It was not a complete loss, though, as we discovered free restrooms there!

I've been wanting Chinese food since Florence, and the neighborhood we were in afforded several options. It tasted like heaven to me even if it was not the best Chinese I've had. We've been dying for our variety of ethnic food we enjoy in Durham. Still no taquerias to be found, but I did find an Ortega taco kit at the store we tried for dinner last night. Something about it was just off, though. It might have been the Holland cheese that looks like cheddar but actually tastes nothing like cheddar. I know, I know-I'm in France. Why in the world am I eating Chinese food and what even at home I would consider sub-par tacos. Not to worry, we have already had crepes, baguettes, pastries, and soft cheese galore. However, we have yet to eat out at a French restaurant just because they are so expensive. Even your normal fast food lunch that runs you about $4 at home is 7 euros here, and that doesn't include a drink which is usually at least 2 euros. Even the cheapest set price menu for lunch runs about 16 euros. We will eventually have a fine dining experience or two.

As usual, food has distracted me. While D. went to the Army museum, I went to the Rodin museum. He's most famous for his statue The Thinker, but after seeing his other works, I'm not sure why. The Thinker is nice, but Rodin was amazing at capturing emotion and movement in his sculpture. I have always had a soft spot for sculpture, although only my friend Kevin never seemed to understand how I could be moved by how the sculptor made a tiny tendril of hair or made a marble robe look soft. Rodin worked mostly in cast bronze, a lengthy 10-step process where I have no idea how they got the bronze to ever look like the original plaster model. Still, somehow he did and the results were breathtaking. I think I have found my favorite sculptor. It was nice, too, because there were beautiful gardens with some of his larger works scattered throughout in addition to the building full of other sculptures.

The Rodin Museum is tiny compared to the massive fortress of the Army museum, so I had extra time while D. was reading all those little plaques. I went to Bon Marche, France's oldest department store. It was beautiful inside and I could have looked at all the beautiful things for days. They had 5 floors of clothing, furniture, china, gourmet food and tea, stationary and art supplies, books, toys, luggage, perfume and makeup, two cafes, and more. It was like having an entire mall, but in one department store. They even had an entire counter and set of jars just dedicated to buttons. It was a feast for the eyes, but all I really did was "lick the windows" the charming French way of saying window shopping or just looking. While the store may mean "inexpensive" as my guidebook tells me. I'm thinking that was true years ago, but with the racks filled with the likes of Chanel and Armani, that is not the case anymore. It was well worth the visit, though, and I discovered another free bathroom. We got a less crowded train on the way home, and a jovial bus driver, so I was thinking much kinder thoughts of the French after our second trip to Paris.

First Day in Paris : Notre Dame - Monday

I set the alarm on my watch at 7 am.
First let's take a break to talk about watches, an important early part of the blog. As you may recall, the €5 was too small. I attached it to Jenny's pool bag, so she could know when to come to dinner. When she left, she was not tempted to take this fashion accessory with her and dropped it on the kitchen table. The €3 watch was bigger. Too big, said L. However, the Spanish people proved her sadly mistaken. When a watchless person needed the time, they could see mine from 100 meters away and would ask or-uh? I would show them the watch because I can't say the time in Spanish. And the large digital display communicates across cultures. An German American do-gooder with a Chinese watch bought it in Italy from a Middle-Easterner saves a Spaniard from missing siesta. An international moment that repeated itself half a dozen times. Queue "I believe the children are our future." One part of the watch has already fallen off the front. It was just an aesthetic piece that was slowing me down.Now, I have my grandfather's Rolex, a generous wedding present from my brother Brian, at home in NC, but I was afraid to bring it with all of the guidebooks warnings of pickpockets and all, so it is locked up in an undisclosed location.

So I'll go into some details which are interesting to me but may seem a tad negative. Regardless we are having a good time on the whole of it. It's just the strange tidbits that come to mind first.

Back to-I set the alarm on my watch at 7 am. This turned out to be unnecessary because the church a few meters away starts its first ringings at 7:03. And ringing and ringing, not just 7 times. We did breakfast quickly thanks to Nutella, and we got to the bus stop a little before 8 am. 20 minutes later we were at the train station in Mantes la Jolie.

At 9:10, we were in Paris St Lazare, a train and metro hub. The trip cost about €9 each. For €37, we could buy a weekly transit ticket called the Carte Orange. We knew we needed passport photos to get them, and we couldn't find them at Mantes la Jolie, so we had to pay the fare in (later I decided we could have bought the cards anyway, oh well). When in Paris, we searched and asked all over. Even at the ticket office, the agent was not very helpful or friendly, just shrugging his shoulders when asked about the photos we needed for the pass. He also didn't know when we could renew the pass for the next week - Wednesday, Friday, maybe, who knows? Some people have been helpful, but the not my problem syndrome is quite alive here.

From the movie Amelie, I got the impression that these photo booths were everywhere, but times have changed. We eventually found a photo booth for €4 each. This booth was being serviced. The photo printing booth next to the photo booth, also out of order, convinced me to just take pictures with the digital camera, about 8 feet away, cut out our heads, and affix them to the cards. Later in the day, we stopped by a jewelry store Jenny recommended. It was close to a photo store, and €1, 15 minutes, and a borrowed pair of scissors later, we had passport pictures for our metro cards. An economic victory in a very expensive town.

To deny access to one of the most basic sensitive personal necessities of life is rude, Parisian rude^. It says, visitors go back to your own houses! Bathrooms are a nightmare here. Even American stalwarts failed us. Subway charged €0.50 even we had eaten lunch there, but the WC was broken. At Starbucks, we ran up the stairs as the cashier chastised us. L told him we'd buy something afterwards because she was in a hurry. He let us proceed knowing that we would run into coded locks on the door. I ran downstairs and bought a cookie and received a receipt with a bathroom code. I ran back upstairs to give L the code. When we left, I left the code on an outside table for the next person in need.

Hey, Starbucks!
An open letter from a couple in need of restrooms in Paris:
My household has spent thousands of dollars on your overpriced goods and even many hours on the other side of the counter selling them, partly because of your ambience and comfortable atmosphere. You've made your profit off of us.

Now cut us some slack and act with more dignity than a rural West Texas rest stop with no restrooms and small cacti. You may say this is cultural, but some cultures ignore hand washing regimes and do not properly refrigerate perishable foods. Do you follow the culture then? No, you follow a higher standard and do the right thing. And the right thing is not making someone buy a small, stale cookie for $3 when they are in need. Should a place that sells $4 coffee have lower standards than a place that will sell my dad a $0.30 senior coffee?
Yours truly,
Someone planning to buy hot drinks at McDonald's in the future

The day was not all logistics. We saw Notre Dame and the Memorial for the Deported, a tribute to those taken from France during WWII, especially Jews. We toured the Left Bank. L may have more details on that later. I've worn myself out expounding the lesser details.

L's contribution- we decided to have a low key first day since we had to figure out the Carte orange and buy groceries at the larger store in Mantes la Jolie. We took the Historic Paris walk in the Rick Steves Book. We toured Notre Dame but opted not to climb the 400+ steps to the tower. As D. mentioned we also saw the French memorial after being accosted by our first rude French person in charge of letting people into the memorial. As far as I could tell our blunder was not saying "Bonjour" to her. I had read that you needed to do that in small boutique stores, but to a security guard at a national site frequented by many tourists not informed of all of the French Emily Post seems a bit touchy to me.

Alter the memorial we explored the Left Bank a bit. We saw the Church of St. Severin. It was not near as large as Notre Dame, but had some beautiful stained glass of a more abstract variety instead of some picture of an unidentifed saint. We also explored a bit of the Latin Quarter which seems more filled with kebab places these days. We also went to Shakespeare and company bookstore. It's a very compact used bookstore and free housing for struggling writers. Many famous authors called the Store home, including Ernest Hemmingway back in the days when he was catching pigeons at a nearby park for food. It was interesting for history's sake, but it was difficult to actually find a specific book so I gave up trying to find reading material.

Anne has a nice selection at the cottage, but after reading the backs of all of her novels, I noticed her tastes run towards the tragic. I did find one I am reading now that did not outright promise ultimate betrayal.After the bookstore we took in Blvd. St. Michel of the obnoxious Starbucks and place St. Michel, a favorite square of the French for rioting. In the late 60s the cobblestones were finally removed and it paved. I guess they finally decided that it was not an inalienable right to brain policemen with pulled up cobblestones.

At this point it had been raining for a while and the French were making us grumpy, so we decided to run an errand for Jenny and head home. Unfortunately, the train was so packed that we had to stand the whole ride. One nice gentleman gave up his seat for a little girl, but the rest of them spent a lot of energy giving me the stink eye and looks of disgust anytime I accidently touched one of them as the train jostled us in the aisle around. My "perdon" apparently was not good enough. By the end of the day I was ready to wash my hands of Parisians. The people we have encountered in our small village have been very nice, thankfully. That night I was too tired to crepes again, so we just stuck a premade quiche in the oven. After a bath/shower (our bathing option I'm sure will at some point make it into Ds observations) and a restorative cup of tea I decided I should give the Parisians another chance tommorrow.

^And frankly, it makes a city smell rotten in certain parts.

Discoveries around the villages - Sunday

We woke up to see Vetheuil in daylight for the first time. On one side of the cottage is a large stone church. On the other is a a view of the Seine River (pronounced sane, according to an audio guide). The house is historic and has appeared in a couple of Monet paintings. The bed is in the attic with 4 foot clearance on the beams, so we decided to use the pull out couch on the first floor. It works well with nice lighting from a couple of windows and easy mid-night bathroom access, a feminine must. My only objection is the painting of a rabbit staring at us, giving us the stink eye. He knows about the rabbit's feet from our youth.

The village has a collection of houses and a handful of businesses. It is a few kilometers away from the next village, with very rural, agrarian areas in between (rednecks worldwide unite - they may eat brie here, but they still have lawns with cars of various levels of functionality in the yard, along with rusted debris and maybe a cheap above ground pool that is now more accurately described as a lagoon). It's a bit strange to be so rural and yet be an hour away from the heart of Paris. In Washington, DC, three hours out is still suburban with 7-11s on every corner (two of them with literally adjoining parking lots minutes away from 10 other 7-11s in Manassas, Va, at least an hour from DC). There is a village very close by, across the river. The absence of both a bridge and warm water mean you can't get there from here.
We headed to the Bolangerie, the bread store (stores seem very specialized here), which is only open at specific hours and not at all on Mondays. It was very fresh and tasty-we plan on being regular consumers of the chocolate bread. We discovered that of the three restaurants in town, one has gone on holiday for two weeks. It is common in France for entire small businesses to go on vacation at once. In two weeks, we will return to a house that is a 10 minute walk from a 24/7 Super Walmart where we can buy sun screen and microwave pizza with a special combo price of $9.99 at 3 am. And we will not be the only people there at 3 am. And we know people who apply sunscreen at 3 am (J+J :) The only thing you can buy here at 3 am, or probably 11 pm for that matter, are certain family planning devices from a machine bolted to the front of the pharmacy, or so I've heard~.

Consequently it has been a struggle to get used to concepts like siestas and en masse vacations. A big struggle. It's not that we don't appreciate the beauty, the history, the different culture - it's that we want it all, those things and extreme convenience too.
The other affordable restaurant is the pizzeria. We had to take our paninis, which were good, to go because lunch hours ended at 2 pm. I got a "carte de fidelite" stamped, so our ninth order comes with a free pizza. Now I am truly a savvy local.
We walked 3 km to St. Martin, where the market is, to explore a little. It appeared closed, but when we asked a man about the hours, he opened it for us.

There are many English books in the cottage (Anne is a Brit). After perusing a book on the perils of Nutrasweet, which I don't like anyway because it tastes sour to me, I settled in on some books on France. I think L's Rick Steves guidebooks are great, but I found some books about actually living here and not just visiting.Live and Work in France (different from another book in the cottage, Living and working in France), was very revealing. For example, the annual TV tax is around $200 (used to fund the PBS type channels that a small percentage of the French watch), so that might explain why we don't have a TV. I guess this is not terribly uncommon in Europe. It's an example of the government deciding what is best. If this tax were imposed in the US, the races would come together to riot and burn down PBS broadcast towers and interrogating Lach Mi Sing to see where the money goes.

The book covers a lot of financial matters. Inheritance here is fascinating. Ascendants (parents) and descendants have very specific required inheritances, regardless of your intentions expressed in a will. The spouse does not automatically get everything, even if you say she does, though she gets rights to live in the house she may now no longer completely own. Throw in children from previous marriages and affairs and you have a Jerry Springer situations popping up at every funeral home. For example, if I died in France, my parents automatically receive 50% of my assets, now owning part of Lara's house and car (hopefully I would have to at least be a resident for these rules to apply; otherwise, I have instructed Lara to smuggle my body to a more libertarian country). I don't know why the government has to decide these things. The book said you can pay €1500 to switch contract systems to avoid some of these problems, but just writing down your intentions doesn't count for much.Another interesting legal concept here is "En Tontine," a system of joint ownership in which the death of one partner triggers 100% of the assets to belong to the other partner, regardless of inheritance rules. So your business partner has a strong financial interest in your death.
In describing the process of getting paperwork processed, the book notes 1/4 of the French work for the government and 10% of those have no discernible function.

There is of course national health insurance, part of the 20% payroll taxes for social security. However, you pay upfront for nonemergency services and are reimbursed later by the government. There are automation programs to shorten reimbursement times to 5 days, but I'm sure like any paperwork process, there are delays. (Hey, buddy, can I borrow a few grand for knee surgery? I'll pay it back soon). The reimbursement rate is only around 70%, so most people have to take out private supplemental policies to make copays more affordable. We've had health procedures costing thousands of dollars in the US with no upfront payment (part of the US's crazy system is that it's hard to charge upfront because they don't have much of an idea of what it will actually cost).

I find these observations fascinating not because I come from a perfect culture with perfect systems (B+,anyone?:), but because I find system analysis fascinating. Senior Analyst was my job title after all.
The book distinguishes greatly between the rest of the country and Paris. It calls Paris the coldest and most unwelcoming city to foreigners in Europe.

Which leads us to the next day...

Footnotes~Some of our wives are asleep at 3 am. Can't we also have a vending machine with twix and Cokes?

Airport Adventures - Saturday

We changed our tickets to fly Saturday to take advantage of the metro/train system in Paris instead of having to take a taxi. The bus doesn't run to our village on Sunday. Later we thought about this and a taxi instead of the bus from the train might have cost us €10, but hindsight is 20/40 (we both use prescription eyewear so we can't quite hit 20/20). Vueling Airlines (German, I believe, pronounced whirling) complicated our plans.

I spent a lot of time trying to phone the cottage owner, who was going to pick us up at the train station, as the flight delays grew longer. It turns out that on inbound international calls to France, you drop the first 0 of the 10 digit number. After half an hour and multiple calling cards, I read this in the guide book. Oh, the things you learn the hard way that you hope you can use again in life to amortize the sweat and suffering required to learn the lesson.

Our flight was three hours late, so our public transportation options dwindled as 11 pm approached. We looked at several rental car places. Then some helpful ladies at information at gate A found us a quote for a taxi, €120, which was better than we had expected (and with shuttles and trains the public transportation system could have cost us €60. The cabby was very friendly and played US oldies tunes. He had never been to our village, Vetheuil. Anne, the cottage owner met us at the house after midnight and walked us through it.


The End of an Era - The Chases Leave a Grateful Spain - Saturday

I enjoyed my last beach time on Friday just before boarding the bus to Huelva to get the one day, one way rental card to the airport. Through scouting the stops, I learned the secret departure time (unpublished wherever we looked;it's on those blank minutes on the Nixon tapes) to Huelva from Nueva Portil was about half past the hour, a little earlier at 3. I was worried because I wasn't sure if the bus took prepaid tickets like in Rome or coins like other areas of Spain. The driver made exact change, so the heretofore secret charge was €1.47. We could have asked people some of these details, but we are both stranger-shy, doubly so with the language barrier. I had asked one girl at the bus stop, "Bus-Huelva?" She sad Si, and I ran away feeling like the east side strangler for verbally assaulting a Spaniard. After the bus arrived in Huelva, I walked through a mostly deserted afternoon town to the Avis car rental, freshly open at 4 after Siesta (turns out there were lots of fun shops 15 minutes away from our flat-sorry Jenny and Jane) .
A very friendly women said this was her first day at Avis. This is actually the second time in a year this had happened to me. When Dustin needed his Budget truck (quickly so he could pack and leave that day), it took at least an hour as the neophytes called tech support for their passwords as we waited. Huelva was a small office without computers to automate the process, so things also went more slowly. She also apologized for her "horrible" English. At this point, I have discovered that people who have the skill level to apologize for their English are usually very helpful in English. (And if her English level is horrible, then my Spanish is akin to not recycling-for shame). She told me the rate was €18 with insurance, much lower than the €62 without insurance quoted to me on the web. I was as giddy as a school boy on mystery meat day at the cafeteria. A while later, it became clear that 80 was being pronounced a-tin instead of a-t, so the rate without insurance was still 62. Oh well, it's still 1/3 the cost of a cab ride and more reliable than 3 or 4 bus connections. I rejected the insurance because good credit cards provide this free when you use the card. We got a Seal Leon, a car I'd never known. It resembles a VW Golf, down to the switch blade key. The guy who inspected the car marked up the damage diagram with Xs everywhere for minor blemishes, tempting me to play bumper cars and ram it against every piece of concrete in sight without consequence, just like buying the insurance. Freedom brings responsibility, so caution was still the rule. The major problem was stalling the car.
A design flaw required me to pull the key completely back and then completely forward to restart the car. This means valuable seconds stuck in the incoming lane of traffic after stalling on an uphill left turn (um, theoretically). But otherwise, it worked great. €5 of gas made it the airport.We also cleaned Friday, sweeping and mopping to remove all of the sand which we had tracked in over 4 weeks. 4 weeks at the beach and other beautiful attractions in Spain and Portugal! And with a sister, an old friend, and a new friend! I'm still lethargic a lot of time, but this was a great place to have some terrific memories with terrific friends.

Footnotes: ^Grateful for our presence or for our departure? This depends on several pending court cases in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Liberia.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

We've Arrived in Paris!

We have arrived safe and sound in Paris, but still have to work out internet access.  It may be a bit before we can post to the blog again. 
And now it is time to sleep, as it is almost 2:00am.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Approaching the End of Spain Trip

We haven't posted much because we have been doing a whole lot -
recuperating from being busy and being sick. We have also been
relaxing and enjoying the beach. Thursday night we saw the sun set
shortly followed by the moon set. Saturday is the big day to fly to

Figuring Stuff Out and More Cultural Revelations

One of the needs for the Internet was to get the bus schedules to get
us back to Seville for the airport. The bus schedules seem to be a
state secret. They are not posted at stops or even at the station in
Huelva. Asking a ticket agent for a schedule just produced a lot of
anger as he tried to keep us from slowing down his line. But Lara
checked and the schedule is not on the web site either. A few days
this week, I have gone to the bus stop and just waiting for the bus to
observe times and how to pay. Then on Friday, I'll take the bus to
Huelva and rent a one way rental car to the airport. This option gives
us more predictability than taking 3 back to back buses and still
costs about a third of the taxi. This time we aren't splitting the
taxi four ways and we have a better feel for the area, so we can
explore other options.

It takes a really long time to figure out how a community works. Some
of this exploring is exciting, but a lot of it is frustrating -you
feel like you should know it or be able to look it up easily, like at
home. So much of the important information is undocumented - this
store is closed on Sunday, while this Internet café takes siesta even
though most don't, coffee shops and baked goods places aren't
necessarily open in the mornings (and hours tend not to be posted),
posted speed limits are wildly different from what the driver behind
you wants you to drive, etc.

Also difficult is to politely signal the waiter to bring the bill.
They don't just drop off the check and you pay whenever, a la Chili's.
They let you stretch out dinner to its second or third hour. Oh, how I
long for Panera Bread, where you pay up front so you decide how long
you want to stay and just disappear when you are done.

TV Revelations
The/Los Simpsons
Marge's and Lisa's dubbed voices are good but everybody else is horrible.
"To alcohol, the source of, and solution to all of life's problems."
Classic lines like this come back to my mind when they are spoken in
any language and any bad Homer impersonation.

I am not now much into Jean Claude van Damme(sp?), which is
unfortunate since his movies are not dialogue driven and are played

Other observations:
We overlook four tennis courts, which are next to the pool. Tennis is
most interesting to watch when the players are skilled enough to host
a robust back and forth game. Most players aren't that good.

The sunset is different from night to night and from time to time
within the night. Describing it in prose or poetry is beyond me, and
capturing it in photography is beyond our cheap digital camera. Like
many sites, the size and less than bright light limits our abilities
to bring the memories back.

Spanish roads actually have yield and stop signs, a major improvement
over the continuous flow of Roman roads. However, the obsession here
with traffic circles is unhealthy. The road to hell is slower and more
confusing than it ought to be because it is paved with traffic
circles+. When a road has no intersections, a traffic circle
anticipating a future road and intersection seems silly. When the GPS
tells you to take the fifth exit in the circle, did it count that
small driveway this time? And who has time to worry about that when
someone is exiting from the middle of the circle while cutting you
off? When a circle is so busy that you have to put multiple traffic
lights around it and in it, you've missed the point (and try crossing
that circle as a pedestrian). But they circle away, like a middle
schooler taking a pre-scantron test.

Many people here know no English, but more importantly, many know a
little and are willing to try, with some gesturing. We greatly
appreciate this hospitality.

Love of Ham
Andalucia is a big ham region. So is North Carolina, with more pigs
than people (roughly 10 mil vs 9 mil, I think). But we don't go crazy
in NC and put entire salted legs of ham, including the feet, around
every turn of every grocery. These legs can cost €300. Who needs that
much meat? Jenny* pointed that some centuries-old salt preservation
methods have run their course and can be replaced by refrigeration.
But the love persists: the Museum of Ham is a large store, featuring
you guessed it. Ham sneaks into many menu items. Usually with a lot of

Seaweed makes a regular appearance on the beach. Wednesday's super
high tides pushed 10 yards of it, shoreline to dunes, 4 inches thick.
It makes quite a slippery, squishy-noise impression. Some people pay
for this treatment; I'd pay to have it removed. It does not smell bad
yet. I had feared the smell would be unbearable, but it wasn't very

The mosquitoes have made an appearance. Raid makes a Glade-like plug
in that could be popular here due to the unpopularity of window

The pool and play areas in the complex courtyard mean children make an
almost constant din of joyful noise. This is very enjoyable to have
close to home. Half the fun of the beach is the sight and sounds of
kids as they play in the waves and sand%.

+How fast and unconfusing the road to Hell ought to be is a regular
topic at Duke Divinity School. Enroll now, mention the coupon code
"Global DanPark, " and get 5% off tuition. Use the DanPark Platinum
Excel Happy Fun Visa card to pay and save another 3%, with preferred
lecture seating. Note to CA consumers: this is not an offer nor a
guarantee of credit; it is instead a guaranteed credit offer.

*So she's the racist ham hater, not I

%The other half is Sodium Benzoate, used as a preservative, and 3% juice.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Motherland and Morocco

I regret that it has taken so long to report on some of what we have seen, but we are just starting to have time to catch up.
Lisbon was another beautiful city. Dana said it reminded her of San Francisco, and I have to agree. It was built on seven rather substantial hills with an active harbor, cable cars (they call them trams), and they even have a bridge they modeled after the Golden Gate bridge. Our hostel was in a fun part of Lisbon, with nice restaurants and shops. Before my trip was told I had to try the octopus. So, I decided to be adventurous and ordered an octopus salad that night for dinner. I thought it was delicious and just tired to ignore the suckers. I think they used baby octopus, so they weren't very big.
We also went to a place where they let you sample wines from different regions of Portugal and then you give them feedback on the taste and the bottle and label design. It's done by like the wine council of Portugal. However, if they really knew how to embrace capitalism, they would also sell the wines they let you taste. Most were too dry to my liking, but there was a dessert wine made from Muscat grapes (a grape NC is also famous for and also makes great grape tart) that was really good. Later, Dana and I also got to sample some Ports at a store. They were both good, too.
I am certainly not a wine drinker but they seem to have a greater selection of sweet wines here that I actually like. The sangria has been good, and I have never liked sangria at home. Likewise, they have a drink here called Tinto de verano which is red wine with lemon soda added. It's very good and very cheap- less than a euro a liter in the store. It has been fun to sample some of the local wines as well as the local food. I realized that while D. may talk about toilets a lot, I just talk about food! I'm taking note of what I eat so I can recreate some of it at home. I wish I could pack my suitcase full of olives; the Spanish olives especially are good. The Portuguese have the best seafood dishes I've had so far, though. I was excited about trying the Spanish paella, but the cataplanas of Portugal are way better.
But again, I have wandered into Foodland and have stopped describing the sights. The next morning we went on a very hilly historic walk of old Lisbon. We saw the outside of the Se and Sao Vincente, two very beautiful cathedrals that were unfortunately both closed to the public at the time. Dana and Jenny saw an old Moorish fort while D. And I took a snack and sit break. We are kind of all old fort-ed out. Every town here seems to have an old Moorish fort and a cathedral. Each is a little different, but there is enough similarity that D. and I are starting to pick and choose which ones we want to see. Not to worry, we will see Notre Dame. We decided to forgo the art museum and instead head home early so Dana could get in some more pool/beach time before she left in the morning.
I believe I already mentioned that we stayed in Marabella the night before Tangier, Morocco. So we had to get up early and drive to Tarifa. Dana and I had tried unsuccessfully multiple times to book a tour in Morocco. We considered just not going, but in the end we decided we would try to find something when we got to Tarifa. Once there, we spotted a tour agency that Rick Steves had mentioned. Good old Rick saved the day again. The agency quickly booked us on the 1pm tour, and we were off to the ferry. It was a huge ferry with multiple levels, two cafes, and a duty free shop. Still, the Straits if Gibraltar were as rocky as their namesake, so we all felt a little woozy. I made the mistake of going down a flight of stairs and down a hallway to use the restroom while we were in motion. Sea legs I do not have. I about fell over multiple times. Eventually we made it to Tangier. First, they loaded us in a bus and gave us a tour of the more modern part of the city. I was surprised at how beautiful and big it was. I always imagined Morocco as a very dirty, gritty kind of place. Then they let us off for 30 second camel rides. It was clear this was just set up for tourists since there was no desert and no other camels to be seen elsewhere in the city. Still, it was fun and my camel was kind enough not to spit on me. I don't see how people ride them very long. That space between the humps is not very comfy. After our camel ride they took us to a Moroccan restaurant where we had a vegetable soup, kebabs, and a chicken couscous. For dessert we had mint tea and a pastry called honey cake similar to baklava. After lunch we saw the old Medina, which was the gritty Morocco I had pictured with people harassing you to buy something constantly. They took us to a rug seller who showed as some amazing but expensive rugs. Although Dana did show that you could talk them way down, but where would I put it in my luggage? We stopped at more shops and eventually ended up at a "pharmacy" that sold spices and an assortment of cure-alls. Dana and I thought it was a bit like a frontier cod liver oil salesman. It was entertaining thought I think he managed to insult most of the group before he was through.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

New discoveries, even after 3 weeks of discoveries - Saturday / Sunday

Who gets a summer cold while on vacation? Who gets a summer cold at
all? I haven't a cold in the summer since 1956 (the red fever, I think
they were calling it+). The answer: we get summer colds. Jenny got it
earlier. It started as laryngitis for her. For me, it started by
lowering my voice by an octave (the frequency is low enough that PETA
believes it interferes with whale migration patterns^).

I have been using lots of lozenges and avoiding the heat. This is the
perfect time to sit back and relax in front of the TV. However, most
of the Spanish TV is not clicking# with me, with the Spanish and all.
The one exception was the tail-end of a terrific movie in which a kid
who was forced to perform in a school play as a dancing cactus
transforms himself, behind some dry ice, into a disco dancer, followed
by a food fight. This action speaks in all languages%.

So we spent several hours searching for video stores and internet cafes
in Ponte Umbre to find an entertainment pipeline. We found one on the
edge of town just as we gave up and were ready to go home. But the
computers didn't have USB ports to use for downloading movies.
However, I got to talk to my parents cheaply over skype.
When we went home, we had dinner and I posted some blogs through
g-mail using my PDA. I had to buy a so-so tart to get the access code.
Then I started back and looked into Sisters café. It had not just wifi
but 2 computers for €1.50/hr. Later it turned out to be €1.50/half
hour. So close for so long yet so far. Now we can download movies or
stream them there for cheap. It looked like two sisters ran the place
because they were arguing with each other with an intensity reserved
for sisters or any Italian group&. Because the sisters were arguing,
an older gentleman explained the rates to me. Later I used the
Internet for an hour only to discover neither computer could connect
to our USB drive, so another hope for entertainment was dashed.

So we are back to the TV. I watched the tail end of a movie (spoiler
alert?) in which a chimp snowboards down a mountain, grabs a girl as
they both fly off a cliff, pulls a parachute open, and smiles and
makes cute chimp noises the whole way. School of Rock dubbed into
Spanish loses a lot of Jack Black's magic with someone else's voice.
The Simpsons also loses a lot without Hank Azaria as Apu and others
(if Apu has an Indian accent in the original, he should have an
Indian, not Spanish accent when dubbed). However, the visual gags are
still in English, like "Welcome to Winnipeg. We were born here. What's
your excuse?"
Back to the Disney Channel, which features some English programs. We
are not talking about classics, like the Little Mermaid and Wall-E. We
are talking about a girl, neglected by her family, who calls upon Al
Rocher, the weatherman, to help her in a babysitting situation-not a
classic even if it was actually Al Rocher's voice. The infomercial
channels were initially amusing, but they are very repetitive.
Eventually, the vibromax stops being an exercise farce when it becomes
a sad commentary on how society thinks it can jiggle its way to beauty
and health. The lottery channels, which would be very illegal in the
US, encourage, cajole, and then stare you down in silence~ to get you
to call a pay number (not a 900 number because 900 is oddly the toll
free area code here, but it seems to be the same idea). The pay
number gives you a chance to win several thousand Euros. Amusing
personalities, but ultimately sad, it's like QVC, but they take your
money without shipping any smiley perfume or jewelry to your house.

Again, you say, get out there and explore Spain - that's your
entertainment. But coughing and sneezing makes me hurt, and adding in
heat and sun just makes me hurt more. I have taken a few excursions
while trying to stay cool. Walking right along the shoreline has sun
but reasonable temperatures. And the end of the sunset at about 10:30
was an amazing horizontal rainbow of stratified purple hues. As the
sun continued to retreat, I lay down to be surprised as the stars
slowly peaked out of the darkness.

+ I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist party,
under my name or any of my pseudonyms.

^ I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the PETA.

# No pun intended nor desired.

% The exception is Tonga, in which it comes across as a tad trite.

& I'm not making a dig at Italians. I find the tone, texture, and
rhythm of a good Italiano throwdown to be art.

~In any culture, I think this stare and silence communicates, "You are
so stupid for not getting in on this great deal. Your inaction and
lethargy are costing you money. Take control of your life and call
now." Ultimately, as it has been said, the lottery is a tax on people
who are bad at math.

The Fair - late Friday

Last weekend, we noticed a lot of activity late Friday and Saturday
night on the main road in Nuevo Portil that runs by our complex along
the beach. At about 10 PM, we set out for the street festival. There
were a lot of young families, some booths for shopping, bounce houses
for kids, some music and dancing. It was especially nice to see the
kids enjoying themselves (I am still getting used to the idea of kids
out until midnight, but it seems to work). I took a brief trip to the
dark beach to see a lot of stars (an even better view now that the
moon is rising late) while Lara called her parents from a payphone.

Friday, July 17, 2009

More sights, less toilets

Or, a somewhat complete repudiation of the proceeding posts with some
mild agreement and perhaps repitition in our memories of the past

So while my blog posts are not as funny as D. 's I'm told that some of
our readers would like to hear a bit more detail about what we saw
with less detail about our bathroom facilities. So I thought I would
try to fill in some holes in our blog. First, a bit of detail about
some of the cities we visited:
Cadiz- Our guidebook tells us this city is the oldest city in the
west. It was also where 75 percent of colonial trade went, so it was
once a very rich city in the 1700s when most of the city was built. It
is also on the coast, so all of this comes together into a beautiful
city-my favorite so far of the trip. It had a lot of old world charm
and was a lot cleaner than the old cities of Italy. We also had the
best tapas of the trip here at "the fat lady who makes you eat" Of
course with a name like that, how could it be bad?

Marabella- This was my 2nd favorite city and we hadn't even planned on
going here. While in Cadiz, Dana and I spent a good deal of our time
at an Internet cafe trying to find someplace to stay in Tarifa- the
port city in Spain where you take the ferry to Morocco. the closest
place we could find a hostel with a vacancy, however, was Marabella an
hour and a half away from Tarifa. This turned out to be a blessing in
disguise, though, as Tarifa
a turned out to not be much to look at unless you were a windsurfer
(at least a dozen shops expressly for that with most of them next to
each other). Marabella is a small coastal city in the mountains with
amazing views, adorable shops, and a mouth watering bakery. Plus, our
hostel owner spoke wonderful English and had a sweet Portuguese water
dog and cute basset hound puppy that kept things lively.

Granada- This is where we saw the Alhambra, so Granada has thousands
of tourists every year. Because of this, the town had a much more
touristy feel and less charm. Plus, it was much dirtier than the
other Spanish cities we visited. On the up side, Dana found us an
amazing hotel for hostel rates here, and the Alhambra had beautiful
gardens I wasn't even aware they had in addition to the impressive
Moorish palace they are known for. The Sierra Nevada mountain range
that Granada sits on top of was also stunning and reminded me of the
Rockies- we even saw snow on some of the peaks. The city also brought
us our worst tapas but was saved foodwise by the amazing 2 €
superburger I happened upon at a kabob place. It also had a great
bakery. D. has developed a particular fondness for a pastry here that
is like a chocolate filled croissant with sprinkles called a
neoplanita, so we are on the lookout for them now (also 1 €).

Malaga- this City didn't leave too much of an impression on me. Okay
tapas. Kind of touristy but not overly so, and cleaner than Granada.
It was most note worthy for its clever use of white fabric suspended
across the entire width of their main shopping street to provide much
needed shade. Andalucia, the southern-most part of Spain where we
have done all of our traveling, is essentially a desert in summer.
Unless you are near the ocean where there are some nice breezes, the
region generally has temperatures in the 9Os and even to 100 degrees
in some of the cities. So any shade can be a welcome relief.

Which brings us to D.'s hellhole- Sevilla.
Sevilla is famous for being the hottest city in Spain and they also
used the same fabric shade technique. However, it wasn't quite enough
to make up for the 100 degree heat. For us girls the city had other
charms. It had a lot of the same pluses that Cadiz had scenery wise
and the best shopping we'd seen yet. Plus, their bakery had this
chocolate roulade dessert that was to die for and refreshing lemon
ices. It was also the first Starbucks sighting I'd had since we left
the U. S. It was 5 € for my usual drink or about $7, so needless to
say, I did not get my toffee nut mocha frappicuno fix. So, hellhole
might have been a bit harsh, but it was very hot and I think D. is
getting a little tired of our shopping excursions.

Madrid- Jenny was going to get a better deal if she flew out of
Madrid, and Andrea told us it was his favorite city in Europe, so we
told Jenny we would take her to the airport and see Madrid. I could
see why Andrea liked it- it had an active nightlife and a bustling
feel. He had said he had liked the atmosphere, but had kept saying
that wasn't quite the English word he was looking for. I think he
meant "energy." It was my least favorite Spanish city. It just felt
like many other big cities like NYC. It was crowded,the traffic was
awful, and the people were rude. Plus, they are a candidate for an
upcoming Olympics, so everywhere you went, something was under
construction. Graffiti seems to just be a fact of life in Europe- D.
suggested there must not be some of the U. S. laws that require
property owners to paint over graffiti. It was especially bad in
Italy, but I had noticed less of it in Spanish cities so far. Madrid
was covered in it, however. There were lots of city workers picking up
trash, so an effort is being made to keep the city clean. It was the
most modern downtown we had seen. It had a couple of old plazas that
the guidebook said were the highlight of the city. Puerta del Sol was
under construction and Plaza Mayor was full of tourists, beggars, and
freak show acts. You know how occasionally in a city you will see a
"silver" man pretending to be a statute? We'll this plaza had him, a
juggler, 2 accordion players, a sub-par flamenco dancer, a trumpet
player, some sort of ghoul all in white, a goat head whose coat was a
cape of metallic streamers, and a table of three severed heads with
the middle one winking at you. It made dining alfresco a bit
unnerving at times. Plus, our waiter skewered himself on part of our
umbrella, causing blood and what I'm sure was cussing (Senora
Rusch-Mills did not cover those words). Jenny offered him a band-aid,
but he assured us it was nothing. He went on to gesture/say that if
his whole hand had been chopped off, then he would accept the
band-aid. Dinner was good, though, with a chopped vegetable salad,
calamari, and ham and cheese croquettes. We also had some of the
city's famous chocolate churros on the way back to the hostel. They
were good, but not near as soft and fresh as a Costco churro. Costco
really knows their churros.
The next day Jenny and I took a tour of the royal palace. It was
amazing. Silk and crystal and stucco and inlaid wood - Oh my! The
chandielers alone were worth the admission price. The two of us might
tarried a bit too long dreaming of place settings and balls because we
got a late start to the airport. Then we got lost, stuck in
construction and traffic, and what the GPS said was a 15 minute drive
took us an hour and 45 minutes. Jenny got to the airport just an hour
before her flight, which not enough time to make her flight. Luckily,
she got on standby a flight 2 hours later. She had a 4 hour layover
at JFK so hopefully she still made her connection to Raleigh.

Back to Nuevo Portil - Friday

We took it easy with some grocery shopping, relaxing, and beach time
for me. We also got to eat L's fabulous and amazingly and
inexpensive cooking again (Jenny calculated it to be around a couple
Euros a meal compared to easily €6 at just McDonald's).

I couldn't let the laptop issue go. I had the right adapter and cable
to plug the laptop into the TV, but it still wasn't working. I decided
to disconnect the cables from the built-in monitor, and I got a signal
on the TV. Lowering the resolution and shifting the laptop into black
and white got a good picture (black and white just captures the
moment+). Now the problem is content. On the laptop, we have about 20
minutes of clips I captured from the satellite while doing some tests
a year or more back. Funny clips, but not brilliant enough to
repeatedly amuse us. The Internet signal, with its shows and movies,
is a block away. The monitor is here. The DVD drive doesn't work.
Hopefully we can download something at an Internet place with
computers and bring it home to watch.

Off to see the sunset.

+ 16 Candles reference. Come over to our house and watch it again for
the first time when we return to reclaim East Northeast Durham.

Madrid - Wednesday/Thursday

We decided to make a trip out of dropping Jenny off at the airport.
The six hour drive had a mix of desert, orchards, and mountains. Close
in to Madrid, the mountains in the distance line the freeway on both
sides. A fun moments was singing along with Jenny to John Denver's
tribute to West Virginia and its mountains, "Country Roads," on the
radio while driving through the mountains to Madrid.

Once again we had traffic adventures. At some freeway exits, the
traffic splits into three directions, only one of which is labeled
with an exit number. That got us a little lost. Heading into
construction which diverted us from our path into a tunnel, where the
GPS signal vanished, got us more lost. But we eventually found the
Hotel Cervelo and parking.
We explored the city for a while and then looked through a half-dozen
sidewalk cafes, all on the mayor's square. The square was full of
crowds and street performers, from a faux American Indian in plastic
(not pleather, plastic) pants to trumpet and accordian players to TWO
faux Mickey Mouses making balloon animals to a guy playing a
disembodied head to a streamer covered faux goat to jugglers to silver
covered man to an aspiring flaminco dancer. Both Jenny and I
independently commented to L that at some point it stops being
charming entertainment and becomes a freak show. Again the question
comes up: how do you create something historic, wonderful, worthwhile,
and popular without it being overrun by tourists, post card and
trinket shops, heavy traffic, and aggressive beggars and pickpockets?

The next morning, I slept in while L and Jenny went to the Royal
Palace. The hostess at the hotel said the airport was 30 minutes away.
Again traffic and the cursed one way streets conspired against us (you
can see the street you want, but you can't get there) , and it took us
1.5 hours and a lot of effort. We luckily chose terminal 4 for Iberia,
which was a completely different exit than the other terminals. We
don't have a cell phone, so she couldn't tell us if she made her
flight. We called her after lunch,hoping to go directly to voicemail,
with her phone turned off during her flight, but she picked up,
having missed her flight. We stopped at another payphone on the way
home and confirmed that she had a seat assignment for the next flight.
So we learned a frustrating lesson to leave tons of time for

We stopped at Monasterio 2/3 of the way home to discover restaurants
there didn't start serving dinner until 8:30. I guess people here
don't have sugar lows. This led us to continue on and find a nice
pizzeria on the outskirts of Seville. We sat at an Ikea table within
view of the Ikea store sign. The Ikea chair was real wood, unlike the
plastic chairs that seam to dominate the reclining landscape here, so
my broken chair count remains at 3. I am not the heaviest man in
Europe, but I feel like it when chair collapses into the sand as I
attempt to enjoy the sunset at the beach.
Back to the pizza, it was good and the waitress was very friendly with
good English. There were no street perfomers, but there was a band
playing in the park across the street. Maybe practicing is more honest
of a description than playing. I guess it's boring to play exactly the
same note with each instrument. Slight variations in pitch add some
creativity? But it had a charm of its own, and they didn't even ask
for tips.

Airport and Tires - Monday

We left at 4 am to start Dana's long day of traveling from Seville to
Lisbon to Philly to Indy. She plans to work Tuesday morning. Wow.
After dropping her off, I returned to Cartaya at 7 am, when the tire
mechanic opened. I had been nervous about traveling on the spare, but
we had been too busy to get to the mechanic during its brief hours. It
turns out the hours were even shorter than I believed. At 7 am, the
shop next door opened. I investigated and realized the hours I had
written down were for that next door shop. The tire place had no
posted hours, a common trait here. Surely, mechanics open early,
right? I had some time to finish up editing of blog entries. Two
hours of time. So the hours are 9-3? Some consultations with the
Spanish phrase book and twenty minutes later, I was ready to go.
Pointing to the translation in the book seems to work better than
sounding out the phonetic instructions. Sounding it out just results
in weird stares and rapid questions in Spanish.

Somewhere on the way home, the yellow warning "!" on the dashboard
went out and the consul diagram showing a map of the tires now showed
4 tires instead of 3. Life is good.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An explanation for the posting schedule

Sorry/pardon/scuzi for the drought of posts and then then the flood.
Driving instead of public transportation has a lot of advantages,
especially for five people, but a disadvantage
is less downtime for writing and editing posts. (He edits this stuff?
What doesn't make it in?) We are still working out the Internet
situation, with limited access and a mostly dead laptop. The only
close cafe with internet access often plays loud dance music and it's
hard to do anything when all you can hear in your head is the techno
beat. Yet we survive, without a constant stream of friend updates or
even an English newspaper to help me wake up. I guess we'll have a lot
to sort through a lot of stuff later.

Lisbon, Portugal - Saturday and Sunday

This was the trip to the motherland for Dana and L, whose grandfather
is Portuguese. The hostel was more sparse this time. We had to rent
towels, and it had shared bathrooms without those mini-soaps you
always get at hotels. However, the location was excellent, close to
the metro and shopping districts. We split up again, and I was able to
look around some and then rest at the hostel for a while before I
headed out again, which makes exploring much less tiring. I discovered
a 5 story shopping mall, which turned out to be very handy as a
shortcut when we regrouped for dinner. One side of the mall has an
entrance on level 1 while the other exits on level 5, so using the
escalators saved us about 50 vertical feet of walking. The city is
very hilly. The next day we took a tram after the hills defeated us as
we saw sites .
Dana planned a good itinerary for us to see several beautiful cities,
and I enjoyed it, but I am ready to have a block of unscheduled time,
and L is ready to be off of her exhausted and bruised feet. We'll see
Madrid on Tuesday/Wednesday and drop Jenny off at the airport there.
After that, we can look forward to a lot of pool and beach time. The
Disney channel has a few hours of English each day, but that's all we
have for electronic entertainment right now. We might have to work on
that because we can't spend all day in the sun.


We traveled 90 minutes to the city of Seville, ate lunch across the
street from the giant cathedral, and dropped off Jane at the airport
for her trip to London. It was a shame to see her go, but I'll think
she'll enjoy her further adventures. We exited the airport the back
way to avoid the freeway slowdown we saw in the opposite direction.
The GPS directed us to what looked to be some sort of military
Some personal history: a few years ago I drove down a freeway that
went through Fort Bragg, NC. For security purposes, part of that
freeway is only open to military people. I didn't know that and
thought it was a through road. I was told to use the U-turn exit to go
back off base. I got confused and started toward the wrong exit and
the guards started raising their guns.
Which somewhat explains my reaction. I don't what Spanish words would
be on a sign that meant, "We shoot unauthorized vehicles," and I
didn't want to find out. So I panicked and shifted into reverse (after
a long learning process, I now have grasped the strange grasp shift
up, then first becomes reverse method of the Renault). Jenny, who had
come to see her sister off to the airport and not to see a vehicular
disaster, stopped short of panic but made it evident that reverse into
oncoming traffic was not a good idea.
I shifted back to first, drove past the guards (they may have been
loiterers for all the concern they showed), and made a U-turn toward
Seville. The non-freeway route had enough traffic circles that I
started to feel a little motion sick.

Hellhole. It's a word I don't normally use, but it kept shooting into
my mind. Durham is hot, but it doesn't have as much of the "everything
is paved over so we are walking on top of one of those pizza stones
for the oven" feel. The girls went touring and shopping. I like to
walk around and explore cities and at some point I found myself out
and about at that the magical (evil magic, sorcerical?) time of day
when the sun's angle seems to deny any shade to the whole city. I
went to the tourism office, which has free Internet for an hour. Two
friendly ladies greeted me, but I was told the Internet computers were
closed until 5 pm, when a third lady would return and help me. Those
computers?-I pointed to ten vacant computers with very nice air
conditioning (a lot of Internet cafes lack A/C). Yes, closed until 5
So I decided to see the cathedral. After walking around it twice in
the sun looking for the entrance, I heard someone comment to a friend,
"Yeah. It closes at 4." I thought of retiring to the car, where it
should be cool at two floors below ground. But some sort of strange
temperature inversion kept it hot and muggy there. On the way back,
we hit a lot of stop and go traffic and high temps, so we had to shut
off the A/C to avoid transmission problems .
I think we just hit the city on the wrong day, so I 'll reserve judgement .
It was very nice to eat dinner on the cool veranda back at the apartment.

Wednesday - Tarif / Morocco

I saw Africa in the distance. That was enough for me. I am crazy, so I
am the only one of us willing to drive on these crazy roads. I needed
a rest from driving and sight seeing. The ferry and tour cost €65.
The gorgeous Mediterranean beach with a nice thatch umbrella was free.
I figured that I could simulate free Coke refills by just reordering a
lot, given my savings on the ferry. But then I recalled the scarce
bathroom situation and recanted on the soda fiesta. The girls enjoyed
the tour, but as a developing country, the big M is known to cause
intestinal distress. It did not disappoint (even though they were
careful to eat at the right places). I had an Alfredo pizza not at all
like an American Alfredo with on on unexpected but good egg on top.
We will eventually post pictures of the girls on camels and more.
On the way home, we drove through a large park without many cities or
exits. We finally found a large restaurant-somewhat classy yet
deserted with a couple of junked cars
in the front lot.
"Where are you from?" the waiter asked. USA, we replied. "Very many
kilometers from America." I guess Americans don't frequent this part
of the Mediterranean. We pulled out the translator book to decipher
the menu. Bull meat, no. Iberian secreto, okay, embrace the mysterious
adventure (could be unicorn ribs, who knows?). Venison, why not? The
waiter wants to make sure we understand, so he says, "Is Bambi. No,
Bambi's mother." Okay, we say. Deer kill a lot of people in car
accidents each year, so despite their cuteness I am not particularly
fond of them. It was decent and tender, but cuteness and texture
couldn't make up for the sauce. The Secreto, however, was outstanding.
Dana's Ag knowledge revealed the secreto to be a thinly sliced pan
fried pork chop. Maybe it was marinated in unicorn salsa to make it
secreto .
We got home at about 1 am. I kept awake as the driver, but I was tired
enough that my contacts were drying out and threatening to leap from
my eyes. There's some sort of special magic when a car is packed with
four women, all with heads back and mouths dropped open. This magic
was the view in my rearview mirror as you drove in the dark listened
to American songs punctuated by Spanish songs and commercials. I guess
you can't expect scintillating conversation every minute of a road
trip (exception: the foodcation to Williamsburg / Richmond circa
2006). A good time was had by all, and the late night was worth it.

Mirabella -Tuesday

We drove to Mirabella on the Mediterranean coast to stay at the Hotel
Berlin, featuring two dogs and very friendly innkeeper. The inn is on
a pedestrian only street, so I wanted to park on a side street to
unload our luggage before heading to the parking. When in Rome… Well
here the Romans park everywhere, including the sidewalk. So I pulled
onto the sidewalk to temporarily park. Howls of protest erupted from
the rest of the car. I didn't expect a sort of Spanish Inquisition.
Even in Spain, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. Jenny's frown
and more in the rearview mirror drove home this might be not be a good
idea. In their defense, I was very close to a shop door and,
remember-just close to-which you always are on narrow streets, a young
child. We chose a parking garage instead. I do actually need back seat
drivers to keep us safe. Finally we gave up and parked at a garage and
carried our luggage from there.
We walked through a huge shopping district on our way to dinner. It
was pushing 10 PM,
still an acceptable dining hour here. Some of us were desperately
hungry, while other could not help the urge to peruse the sidewalk
shops. Unfortunately, the GPS can avoid toll roads but not shopping
roads. We found a good cheap restaurant. Dana's ordered the gestapo
soup order instead of geauzbaucho (sp?) but was quickly corrected. .
In other news, we found a place in France! Our houseswap person
dropped off the face of the Earth, so we needed a cheap rental. It's a
cottage on the outskirts of Paris. Kudos to Lara's searching skills.


We started our 3-day, 2-night mini-trip within a trip in Granada. We
got to the hotel after a long drive to and in the city. It was very
difficult to find the hotel. Once we got there, the receptionist
explained the parking garage was close if walking but not close while
driving due to one way streets. She gave me a map and said follow the
arrows to the garage. A car blocked the first part of the route, so
the arrow plan failed immediately. Even with the arrows, the unmarked
streets would have made navigation difficult. The streets are
sometimes marked with a plaque on the side of the building and
sometimes not at all. Sometimes the plaque is instead the name of the
building. It's hard to tell even when walking what street you are on
and where you want to turn. I've seen the same road change names five
times in a mile. Again the GPS, when it finally found satellites over
the tall buildings, saved the day. The construction, the one way
streets again, etc. had me arriving back at the hotel 25 minutes
later. It seemed like record time with the narrow, hilly streets,
dotted with pedestrians, which kept me in first gear a lot of the
time. The streets are filled with impatient drivers behind me, crazy
mopeds swarming around me, and pedestrians stepping in front of me.
As the crow flies, I had traveled about 100 m for an average speed of
about 1.5 miles/hour, the land velocity of a man with a walker, with
the basket in the front full.

We took a bus up the hill to Alahambra, a castle fortress with a
history involving the Moores-(the Mooks as the George would say around
the Bubble Boy). The Gardens were the nicest parts, with copious
flowing water and fountains and plants growing over trellises to
provide some wonderful shade.

We eventually had to run into the stereotypical German tourist. He was
seated with his camera pointed when Jenny walked across his camera's
line of sight. "Dunkeschon," he ironically scowled. Jenny answered,
"Excuse me" in German to let him know she understood. (Avoiding
stepping into people's pictures accidentally is a full time job in
touristy areas. But with the advent of digital cameras, it shouldn't
be a big deal). We went back to the very nice hotel, which Dana told
us was not really a hostel because of its amenities.
Which brings us back to toilet technology:
the hostel toilet and some others featured a bifurcated flush button
for deciding how much flush you need-the small button for you know and
a big button for you also know.


Ignore this post (and other?)

Disclaimer : Lawyers from Global Danpark Ventures MDZ -r instructed me
to disavow the previous entry because it did not play well in
Southeast Hong Kong and other areas. The post inspired what I like to
call "friendly discussions," but some overly anxious people would
label them "riots." We apologize for the misunderstanding, and we are
looking into replacing the classic 1986 Honda which was set ablaze
during the friendly discussions. Even friends sometimes have fights.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Learning from (and criticizing) other people and SpongeBob

A few cultural observations: (not judgments - other countries are not
necessarily evil, just severely misguided and ignorant like a 16th
century man trying to ride a bicycle whilst smoking a pipe with
substandard tobacco+ . And don't even try to think they don't have the
same view of us, but even more so because they smoke a lot of leaf
over here, with vending machines so the kids with spare change don't
miss out).

In Cartaya, the people like to stay up late.
Saturday night, we saw hordes of people walking up and down the main
street, including many families with young children. Now this happens
on Atlantic Avenue in Va. Beach and A1A* in Miami. But this was near
midnight. Kids' internal clocks must run very differently here because
an American child up late is a tantrum waiting to burst like a
Mentos/Diet Coke experiment% turned up to 11.

Store hours here confuse us. Some are rarely opened and even then are
interrupted by siesta. We tried two supermarkets Sunday evening, and
they were both closed. Mornings are no better.The coffee house does
not open until 4 pm, well after it is needed. The New Irish Coffee Pub
turns out to not be Irish (just a smidgeon of English and no Gaelic),
not to be much of a pub (no Fish and/or Chips-really?{}), not to be
much of a coffee house (a coffee place not even open before noon? It's
like a vegan restaurant that serves rare steaks),
and it often has loud dance music with no one dancing. But it's got
Internet. Yeah! We love you.

Very few people use sunglasses despite the constant sun. It's another
that makes stand out as foreigners. Strong sun screen is also harder
to fino and more expensive to get, with the preference being 2 and 8
SPF, maybe with cocoa butter.

American music and culture is everywhere, luring you into you thinking
you are home until you realize no one can understand you. I made my
first all-Spanish order at the McAuto (McDonalds drive through): dos
hamburgeresa con queso e uno patitos pequina, which I think is 2
cheeseburgers and 1 value fry. The drive through lady had to come out
to my car to understand me (very nice of her I didn't know they could
leave the safe room). Obviously it would be easier to order the dos
combo meal, but spending $8-9 at McD seems wrong. L successfully
ordered cucumbers and lettuce in Spanish at the tienda. There are a
lot of tourists here, but not many English speaking tourists or
locals. Jenny says this is good sometimes because you don't want to be
in on every stranger's
intimate conversations while on the beach. People are generally
friendly and willing to play the communication art of intercultural

I mentioned before my discomfort at both removing my shirt at the
beach and also at being the only shirted one at the beach. A conundrum
the guidebooks didn't cover. I forgot to mention Jenny's reaction to a
guy across the pool. "Wow, he's hairy." Then she looked at me,
remembered my appearance, and giggled.

High School musical 3 may be everywhere in Europe, but American
culture's prevalence does not include Spongebob Squarepants. This is a
shameful cultural deficiency. L's kindergarten class choose to name
one of the class fish Spongebob (the more squarish one). Good behavior
parties came with Spongebob viewing time. But here, there is no
pineapple under the sea.^^

The understanding of American Indians in Europe seems to be a little
off. For example, sitting in a church plaza in a coastal town playing
Celine Dion music on a wooden flute for tourists while wearing a head
dress is not anthropologically correct. These guys may have been
Samoan, but they didn't look like anyone I had seen in Oklahoma. Then
they played "Unchained Melody" from the movie Ghost. I was close to
asking them to play "(I've had) the Time of My Life, " but I got shy.
Hundreds of years of suffering and exploitation, and a flute with
headdress with overvwrought music disturbs me? I don't know. In
Prague, the Czechs went camping in teepees. What now? What movies are
you watching?

Keep it classy, EEUU, what they call USA over here, I think. No
rallies chanting
EEUU!, EEUU!, but not death to America! either.
*Beachfron Ave - Another Vanilla Ice reference
{}Trigger reference
%Search for it on youtube. It's pretty spectacular.
+Substandard tobacco may be better than good leaf because you'll smoke
less of it. This statement has not been evaluated by the Federal Drug
Administration. The feds don't read this blog yet they are trying to
destroy it because I push McDonalds too much.
^^Full Disclosure: I own a substantial amount of stock in
SpongeAmerica LLC's parent company through my Liberian subsidiary,
Global Danpark Ventures West-Far East. I have executive produced three
SpongeBob on Roller Blade tours (for smaller warmer markets where the
" SpongeBob On Ice" concept doesn't work. It is much classier than it
sounds. Of course, kids love it, but we also get busloads of senior
citizens and a substantial number of low to medium security convicts,
for the redeeming social message. It's really heart-warming how the
different types of crowds mix and learn from each other. "I can see
SpongeBob live even if I go to prison. Cool!" said one adorable eight
year old).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cartaya an Seville - Thursday and Friday

Thursday was uneventful with time on the beach and at the pool. A
walk at dusk on the beach was especially nice.
I have noticed I am almost the only person on the beach to wear a
shirt. I am still not ready to unleash upon the European public my
hairy German body, complemented by a large American belly. This
should be a safe place because here the ability/desire to wear a
speedo or small bikini is not correlated to age, size, or body type.

The small room air conditioner
in the living room became very useful during the hot afternoons. In
the evenings, it was still cool enough to eat on the balcony. Also, I
found the secret northwest passage, actually at the northeast corner
of town that shaves a few minutes. My quest for efficiency spurred me
to find the route the cabby took, which was wasn't on maps or GPS. The
route has helped some and gotten me lost at other times.

On Friday, L and I headed into Seville to pick up Dana. We found her
without incident and headed home in the 100° heat. Freeways in this
region occasionally stop, become city streets, and then become
freeways again. There was a lot of stop and go traffic. The engine
started revving to 5,000 RPM without speeding the car up in any gear.
And there was a nasty smell. We exited to a gas station, and The
engine itself was not registering a high temperature, but something
under the hood was very hot. I checked all the fluids and everything
checked out with no leaking. So I guessed that lots of air
conditioning at low speeds (not enough air to cool the A/C), and high
temperatures must have be too much for the car. So we started with no
A/C, which was miserable. Dana melted a frozen water bottle on
herself trying to cool down. We gradually reintroduced A/C at higher
speeds, and everything worked okay.
In our last adventure, our tire had been deflated. While at the gas
station, I inflated the tire, and I eventually saw the one inch slit
where the air was coming back out . Our tire deflator was actually a
tire slasher. I'm not normally an angry or violent person. However, to
paraphrase a popular yet often perverse movie, if I could catch the
guy who did it would have been worth it for him to have done it. I
think the tire can be patched.But who can patch the grudge in my soul?
(Queue tears and a Whitney Houston song).We are consulting our house
swapper for advice on patching the tire. I am trying beach time and
good company for patching me.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Intro to Cartaya from L (and D)

I'm standing here on our terrace watching the sunrise on the 1 side
and the beach on the other. The view is simply breathtaking.

I adore Durham, but am still not sure why someone from a beach resort
in Spain would want to come to Durham for the summer and leave all of
this. I thought about taking pictures of the apartment, but they look
exactly like the pictures already on the blog. I have to say though
the pictures she sent of the beach and area do not do them justice.
The ocean is a beautiful blue and is warm enough to swim in although
so far I have stuck to the pool. They also have tennis courts, but a
racket is not something I was going to pack with my paltry weight

I already like Spain better than Italy if for no other reason that
they have toilet seats. It's also cheaper and there are more wide open
spaces. I didn't expect Spain to be as pretty as it is. Plus, it's
nice to know at least a little of the language.

The first day we basically just went to the beach and ate dinner from
all the wonderful food our host left us. Monday, we went to the
grocery store which turned out to be like Super Walmart. I love lots
of choices normally, but in a foreign country, I discovered that just
means more reading with my meager Spanish. Still, it was a successful
trip. We ate some fresh seafood at the bar by the pool, and life was
Yesterday, D. and I went to explore Huelva and found it a
delightful mix of old and new. The center of town has churches
Columbus prayed at just a few blocks from a Burger King. It's nice
because you get all the charm of a centuries old downtown with all the
modern conveniences like Aldi, a bowling alley, and a multiplex movie
theater on the outskirts. Huelva is the biggest city close to us-about
fifteen minutes away. Cartaya, the city we live in (we think) is about
the same distance, but much smaller. I say we think because we might
also be in El Portil or Nuevo Portil. All the municipalities make
things confusing apparently even for our cab driver from the
airport,who ended up relying on our GPS at the end.

On other news, it seems the laptop D. received free 3 years ago,
because the previous owner thought it was dying, might have actually
expired. That's bad news not only because of the loss of the laptop,
but because now I'm not sure if we will be able to upload any more
pictures, and blogging and getting the Internet are a lot harder on
D's PDA. If you hear less from us and the blog isn't visually
stunning, we apologize now. Plus, now I am getting a little worried
about the PDA which was also a gift from someone who had already
proclaimed it dead. Luckily, the beach is here to help me forget my
Interesting would be an understatement - Faro, Portugal on Wednesday

So after a few days of beach lounging we decided to take a trip to
Faro. Portugal. We woke up late and decided to go while eating lunch
at 12:30. Promptly at 2 pm we left (3 women were involved). We are
only about 40 min from Portugal and only about 30 min more to Faro.

How much would you pay for the "services" of not letting the air out
of one of your tires? In Faro, the answer is €1. As we were parking in
the free parking lot, a man "showed" us an obviously empty space. He
asked for "compensation for his services." This is the second time I
ignored a guy like this. Apparently this time I (D) should have
brandished a shotgun (remember, put it in checked luggage only unless
flying from Somalia, or Liberia, or Texas). There is a general
feeling that if somebody tries to help you in tourist places, they
want to rip you off (This is actually mentioned in the guidebooks.
It's like the squeeqie guys in NYC that implicitly threatened to break
your windshield if you didn't pay them to pour dirty water on your
Moving on:
After an afternoon of lots of sun, little water, lots of girly
shopping, and getting separated from each other without cell phones,
I returned to the car to get L some water and I noticed the back right
tire was flat. We cruised into town at 120 km=72 MPH, so we would have
noticed a flat if it had been present on our arrival. Then
"compensation for his services" came to mind. It was still hot and we
were hungry, so I left the tire changing until later.
We found a nice restaurant with guidebook recommendations. However, it
didn't open until 8:30 PM (Spain time-Portugal is an hour earlier), 45
minutes from then. After a disappointing tour of other places, we
returned at 8:30. The food was excellent, the waiter was friendly with
some basic English, and the company was excellent. At 10:30, I left to
the change the tire while it was cool but still light out. I put on
the iPod while changing the tire to make it festive. I was done in 3
to 4 songs. Thankfully,
it was a full size spare. I maneuvered down some very narrow
"authorized vehicles only" streets (how can I know for certain if
that's what the Portuguese and symbols meant? - when in doubt, play
the ignorant American and proceed to pick up tired fellow travelers
and to leave deflating services behind).
Dinner was still not done when I pulled in. We did not leave until
11:30. Again, it was good and not fast food, but three hours? It's a
different pace of life here. And a later at night type of living.
-D and L

Traveling to Cartaya, Spain - Sunday, a busy day

First a flashback to earlier in the trip: I had done a lot of planning
to get us to the airport. The Albano train came too late (as I
discovered on my first trip to the beach), so I planned a walk 10 min
to town/bus to Anginina/metro to Ponte Lungo/walk one block to
Tuscalona/train to Airport. This train was half price compared to the
central Termini airport train and seemed to be just as or faster than
the normal Davinci train . I had visited the stations to know where
to go. We bought the tickets, so we could hop on the train quickly.
The master plan was set.
Back to Friday:
We were being productive and washing clothes while baking dinner. The
super duper washing machine has an integrated water heater that goes
up to 200° F and spins at at least 60 RPM. So it pulls a lot of power,
and the electricity to the apartment stopped. We don't have a phone,
so I climbed the hill to the pay phone and called Andreas with an
Italian-English phrase book in my hand. No el-eth-ech-tr-ch-ta in
apartment, or something like that. He understood apartment, came over,
and flipped a hidden master switch by the time I got back.
Then he asked what time he should pick us up to go to the airport.
What about the master plan?
The car was much better, especially for luggage. I had even looked
into renting a car from the closer Campucino airport, picking up our
luggage and dropping off the car at FCO, the main airport for €50.

But still, the master plan pleads to followed. Oh well, sunk cost.
Move on. And Andreas explained the buses were inconsistent and
retardo, which turns out to mean slow and is not a slur.
Back to Sunday:
Andreas picked us up at 8 am, and we
were at the airport in 45 minutes. Security was slow, but we didn't
have to take off our shoes. A small amount of dignity is restored to
the common traveler. We flew Vueling airlines, a discount carrier. A
cheap airline - they charge for everything from luggage ($5 a pound if
you are over the 44 lb limit) to water on the plane.
We passed the weight limit, and everything went smoothly.
We arrived at Seville on time and discovered totally free carts. Not
that important, but a nice welcome. We found Jenny and Jane, who
joined us from Durham via Paris. It was very nice to-meet up with some
English speaking friends.
We headed toward the taxi stand. The driver explained we would need
two taxes for the four of us and our luggage. it would be €320 split
four ways instead of €160 to Cartaya. We hemmed and hawed and thought
of taking the 3-bus, 4-hour bus ride instead of the 1.5 hour taxi
ride. Then he told if we put the luggage on top of us, one taxi would
work. So we crammed in with 40+ lbs of luggage on our laps. I followed
along the route on the GPS, and it clocked the driver at 90 MPH at
times. The GPS was very helpful in directing the taxi driver the last
few miles. We got the keys and were amazed at how nice the apartment
with an ocean view was.
After some resting, beach time, and dinner, we decided to go exploring
by walking around town. We got lost and misunderstood the directions
to the market. We saw official looking traffic signs pointed toward
Carefour, a supermarket. It turned out the Carefour was several
kilometers outside of town and we gave up. Then Jenny remembered we
had a car here.
Here's where it got interesting. We found the car in the garage
downstairs. We clicked the electronic card to open the car and got in.
There was no ignition key slot. It turned out the electronic card
could be inserted into the dash to unlock the ignition. The gear shift
was a 6 speed manual transmission with reverse to the left of first
instead of under fifth like I am used to. I experimented and could not
get reverse to work. Oh, well we could figure out reverse later I
thought. In fact, reverse wasn't invented until 36 years after the
automobile was invented. The model-T was designed to do Tokyo-drift
style serving U-turns. Now I sometimes pull off a skidding 180° turn,
but not on purpose (these facts are from Wikipedia might not
technically be "true"). We proceeded to the gate, which started
opening toward us. I was trying to figure out the other features of
the car and didn't notice the gate heading toward us. Jenny let out a
squeal from the back seat, which brought me back to reality. Now I
need reverse! Fortunately, neutral rolled us back enough to avert
disaster. We eventually found Carefour, which was out in the country
and very large but closed for the day. No 24/7 Super Walmarts here. In
the parking lot, I tried to figure out reverse. I started to realize
that you must shift to neutral, pull up on a special part of the gear
shift, and then shift to first. First is then reverse. Shift into
neutral and then first is just first again. This is a five hour plane
ride away from intuitive, but I guess the advantage is that it would
be very hard to accidentally shift into reverse.
That's part of the adventure, we like to say.