A Travellerspoint blog

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Well I never been to Spain
But I kinda like the music
Yeah the ladies are insane there
And they sure know how to use it
They don't abuse it, never gonna lose it
I can't refuse it

Those are the lyrics that have been going through my head since we scored tickets to Madrid. This Hoyt Axton song is one that I heard a buddy's father-in-law singing one of the times that we hung out. It is classical country and makes for a good theme song for this trip. Take a listen.

According to Anthony Bourdain, "outside of Asia, Spain is the single greatest place for culinary achievement in the world." When counting up "A Cook's Tour," "No Reservations," and "Parts Unknown," Tony has done a total of six episodes in the country. A seeker of all things delicious and awesome, he will remain a guiding light for Kelcy and I as we adventure around the world.

Over the summer, we got a Delta Airlines email featuring some really great deals. Looking through the list, Madrid stood out. I have always loved charcuterie and visions of jamón ibérico danced in my head as we pulled the trigger. The return flight on a 747 was the icing on the cake.

Needless to say, we've been going crazy these last weeks figuring out something of a plan. Whether it be poring over online articles or watching Youtube videos, we are all in and very excited. The place sounds about perfect with the culture basically revolving around eating, with endless tapas, vino, and rich history.

We have a rough idea of where we'd like to visit. At this point, we have accommodations for three nights in Madrid. From there, we'll take the fast train to Seville for some exploration. I recently got my International Driver's Permit and am planning on renting a car to get us from Seville to Granada with a stop in Gibraltar (and perhaps popping over to Morocco) along the way. From there, we are thinking of flying to Barcelona before taking the fast train back to Madrid for our flight home.

We've got 17 days and how and where we distribute them will depend on just about anything. As I always say, "There is nothing faster than a vacation."

Posted by bendurbin 15:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)


The day before we left went by quick, as per the norm. There was still so much to take care of and stuff we'd forgot we needed to do. At any rate, we got to bed at a halfway decent hour since our flight was to leave at 6:00 am on Sunday morning.

Getting up at 2:30 in the morning is certainly rough, but it was what it took at get us there on time. Lawrence picked us up from Dad's where we left the car. The whole drive was lickity-split since no one is on the road at that hour. Pretty much was the same at the airport, we breezed through security and had plenty of time to spare. I caught a little shut-eye while Kelcy got steps.

We flew through Atlanta with a sizable layover. During this time, we had some excellent food and watched the craziness that is the busiest airport in the world. You could see two active queues of planes coming in, one after another. Same went for planes taking off, from both sides, one after another.

We were in the International Terminal so there was plenty of plane-spotting to do. There was a cool Virgin A340 parked close to us that actually took off right out the window from me (I had the window seat on the 767-400ER and got a front row seat for the 4 engine jet on full-roast).

As any long haul flight goes, it is long. You do what you can to make it as pleasant as you can. Since we'd be landing in Madrid at 8:30 am and we're essentially taking off from Atlanta at midnight Madrid time, it made sense to get as much sleep on the plane as possible. This didn't work quite as planned as dinner took a bit. I was also watching movies which gets addictive. I did manage to snooze enough to make it so that getting into Spain wasn't a total nightmare.

Posted by bendurbin 05:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Precious First Times

As we got closer to land, breakfast was delivered. We were still a ways off shore but I was really glad to be woken up. On the flight path on the in-seat TV I could see land was fast approaching. I kept checking and checking out my window to see lights. Finally, they appeared. Europe!! I had never crossed the Atlantic and I have never been to Europe. It was a moment I won't forget.

About 45 or so minutes later, we were in our descent, cruising above the city of Madrid. It is quite spread out and you definitely get the sense that it is old country. The land has been inhabited since God knows when, been taken over by these people and them, retaken over, etc. It is sprawling and not dense, I'd say similar to LA.

We got through Customs easy as could be, without anything as a hello from the Customs officer. Just a stamp of the passport and we were through. We got our bags in the midst of a returning deployment of Spanish soldiers. A large group of awaiting friends and family was just outside of the baggage claim and would cheer loudly as each soldier came outside. It was really a special thing to see with all of the banners, signs, and tearing loved ones.

We had scheduled a taxi when we booked our hostel. We had arrived a bit early, so we were able to watch the soldier reunions a while. Soon enough, Kelcy spotted a guy holding an iPad with BENJAMIN DURBIN on it. We were off on our way.

Traffic was a joke but our driver wasn't going to deal with it. He blasted surface streets, back allys, and all sorts of cobblestone roads that would not fit a full size truck (we were in a car like Tasha's).

The hostel has an address, like everything, but to us used to a very structured formula, "Calle de Chinchilla, 1, Planta 1, 28013" looks a bit odd. Luckily I had checked it out via Google Street View to see what it looked like. I had to do some zooming-in and finally found a little sign up in a window about a Texas BBQ restaurant named simply "Ribs."

Generally the place doesn't allow check-ins prior to 2:00 pm. We were super early but the room was already available. We were very lucky. It would have been unfortunate to not be able to unpack what we needed and ditch the stuff we didn't just because of the wait.

The room is awesome. Small by US standards but it suits us just fine. It would be palatial in Hong Kong. It is basically an apartment with a kitchenette and dining room. It even has a baby sized bar and a bidet!

Posted by bendurbin 05:51 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Feeling Good

Well, getting up early didn't happen as planned. We did get up at 6:30 to realize that it was still super dark and that no one was even out and about yet. We pulled back the eye shades and curled up until about 9:30. We got up ready to go.

Our first stop was going to be the famous Chocolatería San Ginés for churros and chocolate. They happened to have a line out the door that was not even worth dealing with. In Madrid, they really split hairs over which is better and we decided to go with the one "not as good as the best" and found it amazing. When we got out of there, people we saw in line were still in line. What did we miss? Who cares.

We walked about, on a mission to check out more real mercados. We went to Mercado Aston Martin. Along the way we saw a super old school library that is currently being restored. It is astounding how many new buildings stand along side really, really old structures. Luckily they are being restored.

We walked around but it was still pretty early so things were uneventful. We still had a chance to check all of the cool things out, this was more of a market my style, raw materials along with the scents. We didn't buy anything since we were were stuffed from breakfast, but there was good stuff there if you wanted it.

We went on to the next Mercado San Fernando. It was about the same really, but we were in the mood by now for some drinks. Kelcy grabbed a brew and I opted for a "aperitif," which is meant to be an "appetizing" drink. It was made with vermouth, which they drop the "H" from. My "vermout" drink was quite delicious but I don't think it made me hungry. Come to think of it, all we are doing is eating so being hungry is something we cherish.

We walked more and more, saw a bunch of stuff. It is hard to imagine, but you see so much just from walking around. And when you think of it, when things were being built, the place was quite a bit smaller. So, it makes sense that when you walk around that things are close. You could realistically see Madrid's major sights in a few days, which is what we are staying for.

Along with the aging cool things comes the roads. They are built out of stone, almost every single one. I saw a skate boarder with a board in his hand and if I were closer I would have asked where he skated. There just isn't a place without the fear of taking a face to the ground in a millisecond because of a weird cobblestone. I have done that before on super smooth asphalt so I see what they are up against.

When we got closer to our pad, we stopped in at what is referred to as the "Razor Clam House" but officially called Bar Cruz. We didn't have the razor clams (my mom's fave) but we did get the calamares bocodilla (sandwich). The razor clams in Spain are like in Asia, different that what we think of. They are similar but just weird looking, all cylindrical. They may taste the same, but I haven't tried yet. Maybe I'll wait until Mom comes with me.

At the Razor Clam we ordered brews, which came with tapas, which was jamon croquettes. They were awesome, as was the calamares bocodilla. Funny looking at the chalkboard behind the bar it mentioned that English was not spoken but they "promised not to make fun of you for trying to speak Spanish." Above that line, in Spanish, read that they DO NOT have WIFI and that you should talk to the people you're with. This is my type of place. By the way, reading Spanish is really starting to feel right at home. Understanding spoken Spanish takes a little patience but people have slowed it down for me and it is working well. Thanks Sandy High.

We ventured on and found ourselves at the oldest restaurant in the entire world (Sobrino de Botín). We were absolutely full but wanted to stop in for at least a drink. Kelcy opened the old door only to be told that it is only a restaurant, not a bar. Well, ok, at least we went inside!

We cruised on and had a beer here and there. $1 brews are hard to pass up, especially since they have restrooms which are really hard to find without as much as a receipt in your hand. I have read and heard it on more than one occasion that the US is the best in the world for having free and clean facilities for ANYONE.

We came "home" for a bit and after some tech struggles with this darned blog and future accommodations, left, we had a Flamenco show to go to! We wanted something fast and good and have some time left in Spain, so we decided on a Sichuan place doing "tapas." Why not. We got some Shumai, noodles, and Xiao LongBao. Nothing was remarkable, but definitely good and hit the spot. Spain doesn't do spicy so this soothed something I was craving.

After the Chinese-d event that was pretty "eventful" with our Miami based neighbor table (they had serious problems ordering in Spanish even though they were Cuban), we ventured on.

We had read reviews that if you don't show up early, all you see is iPhone video screens. We got there with plenty of time to spare so this would not happen. Soon enough, the show started and even though we weren't counting on anything really blowing our minds, it did. The amount of energy these dancers put in was astounding. Each was panting profusely at least twenty minutes after their stint in the spotlight.

We stopped in at San Miguel Mercado to grab a slice of Tiramisu, Kelcy's fave. While she did that, I grabbed a cocktail they refer to as an "apertif" consisting of Aprol, Prosecco, and a spritz of seltzer water.

The tiredness of the dancers affected us enough that we had to retire for the night. We got to the pad and called the parents to check before we hit the sack. Spain is crazy and we'll HAVE to wear earplugs because you have to if you want go to bed before 2:00 am. If you don't, you will be tormented by those still awake until everyone is asleep. That isn't a problem, us being old is the problem.

Posted by bendurbin 11:56 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Last Hurrah

We had another sleep-in morning. You'd think with siestas that we'd be ready for the day early. Not sure what is the case but it feels mighty nice to just snooze. We were finally ready for the day at 10:00.

We departed the pad and headed east on Gran Via. There was a plethora of huge old buildings. Lots of them were government, bank, or church related. Also there were museum after museum. That really isn't our bag, but I am certain they are cool. We saw one of the old "gates" to the city called Puerta de Alcala that is very close to the huge park called Parque de el Retiro. It is massive and on what I think would be on the same scale as New York's Central Park, but I haven't been there, so I can't say for sure.

We walked more, passing the Museo del Prado, a well known art museum. There was an inviting place near it that drew us in for breakfast. It was more like brunch, or even lunch, at this point. We ordered a small feast of tapas. It consisted of Papas Bravas con Aioli, Spicy Spanish Sausage, Fried Chiles, and Braised Pork Cheek with rice. To round it out, we got a cafe con leche and a brew. It was all really great but too be for us to finish.
We left and marched on. We didn't really have any sort of way to see where we were at, just knew that there were big streets that we'd recognize when we got to them. It is kind of like dirtbiking, your quasi-lost and just go until something looks sort of familiar.

We checked out a cool shop that had Christmas ornaments and magnets. We've been trying to get cool ones to put on our tree to make it our own instead of just generic ornaments that we usually have. I will take the magnet off of the magnet and put some sort of hole in them to make them ornament like. We got various dishes that we've enjoyed during our time here, like a jamon, or paella, or the calamari sandwich. Our tree should be looking pretty cool when all is said and done.

A stop at our local convenience store was in order to get a few bottles of water and a couple of brews for the room. When we went outside, we heard Sinatra's "My Way" playing fairly loudly. I asked if that was coming from a speaker, not really thinking that Kelcy would know, but wanted to let her know I was interested in finding out. It turned out to be a six-piece band consisting of three violinists, a guitar player and two that were strumming Cellos, on small and one normal. It was beautiful to listen to. We posted up in the doorway of a zapatoria and just enjoyed. The sound was the perfect soundtrack to our people-watching. We were the only ones clapping at the end of each song which felt odd, but the group was thankful none-the-less. I want to remember that forever.

We found our way back home and hung out a bit before heading out again. Kelcy was able to siesta but I was rollin' on caffeine so I took the time to get updated on the blog. The hostel does laundry for $7 so we took them up on that and dropped our dirties off with them. We're headed to Seville tomorrow so might as well go with a pack full of nothing but clean clothes.

Outside of the apartment and headed north for a change. We'd been that direction the first day but had been focusing on the area south thus far. We made our first stop fairly close, in the Time Square area. The Schwepp's Building has a rooftop bar that we went to check out. The elevators are almost entirely glass, including the doors (thankfully not the floor). It is crazy the feeling you get looking down as you are launching towards the heavens, and it gets even crazier when another car passes by in the opposite direction.

The bar was closed but it was still open to go out and check out. We basked in the views and snapped some pics. So many red-topped roofs as far as the eye could see. There is such an abundance of statues on the top of buildings. They are all old, so you know they were hand made. A sight to see for sure.

We braved the elevator and left the building. We walked and walked. We weren't super hungry and were sort of being selective about what we were going to eat. We hadn't gone on a metro yet, so we decided to plunge underground and check out a station. The ceiling hight is really short which is pretty different than any subway system I have ever experienced. We didn't get on the train, just popped up to ground level a ways down the road.

We walked and walked more, checking out fountains, statues, monuments, etc. It seems like there is something of importance every so often. What also is cool are the vehicles and motorcycles. Such a variety of brands I have never seen or heard of before. Same with the motorbikes, all sorts of "new to me" models. I have seen about 10 bikes that are like our Dakar and I haven't seen very many of them at home. A double-decker flatbed tow truck? Yep, saw one and now I want one.

We stopped in at the Mercado de Barcelo and had some brews which was accompanied by a vat of husked peanuts. I am talking like a bowl of peanuts that would have been at least a half of a pound without the bowl itself on the scale. They really make sure you don't go hungry when you drink. The market was closing down so we rolled on, pushing in the general direction of our place but again, didn't know exactly where we were and that is something I enjoy. How often have you been lost since you've had a smart phone? Right?!

We stumbled upon another market, this one with the same name as the one we "thought" we were at the day before, Mercado Anton Martin. What were we at yesterday? I will get to the bottom of it and report back. This one was like a combination of the uppity San Miguel but mixed with other the ones we'd seen the day before. It was really reminiscent of something we'd been to in Shanghai, where it was upscale dining, but you could buy a whole raw fish if you wanted to.

We went to the food court and were blown away at what we eat. Kelcy grabbed some sushi and ramen while I got a foie gras injection. I have no idea of foie just isn't a big deal here, but it is super cheap. $4 got me a piece of toast with a nice slab of the unctuous fatty goose or duck liver. I had to go back and get croquettes made of foie and mushrooms! It was decedent for days. We sipped good wine as we enjoyed the meal, talking about how great it was.

We left and found our way home eventually. We got packed and are ready for the train tomorrow which rolls out of the station at noon. I am hoping to finally use a phrase of Spanish I learned freshman year of high school, which is "la estación de ferrocarriles" or "train station." WAHOO!!!

Posted by bendurbin 14:02 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Giving Thanks to Who is Responsible

We got up pretty early since we knew we had to be out of the apartment by 11:00 and on the train at noon. We got ready and went out to the place we were planning on Churros and Chocolate the day before. It was good, but I think any place you order that, it is going to be fantastic! I envision being allowed to eat that as a child, I would never have left the house.

We got back to the pad and sadly packed up for the last time. We went down to the office and they helped us print out our train tickets and explained to us how to get to la estación de ferrocarriles. They were amazing with everything and we'd would highly recommend them, especially for $61 a night?! Come on!

We lugged our packs through the streets (like 3 blocks) to the Sol Metro Station. It took some messing up here and there but eventually got to where we needed to go with some help from an employee that spoke zero English. I am so grateful for what I thought was sub-par Spanish. We got to our correct subway line and hopped on. We were still kind of unsure about if we were going in the right direction because these trains were nothing like any we'd been on before with all the flashing lights telling you where you're going or where you're at. We had to wait until the next station to confirm that we were going the right way. Phew, we were.

It didn't take long and we were at the train station and went on inside. It is sort of like going to the airport, except you don't have to get there super early and you don't get violated going through security. all you've got to do is drop your stuff on a conveyor belt and pick it up on the other side. Cake.

We got there with plenty of time so we chilled at a bar. Soon enough, there was an announcement that our train was arriving. We went down the moving sidewalk and saw our rig, a bullet train. We were in Coche 5, which was conveniently next to Coche 4 that was the cantina. We sat down and noticed that half the train was facing one way and the other was facing the other. Hmmmmm. Were we going to be rolling backwards? Please no. Within minutes the trains on either side of us started to move, away from where we were looking. F! We are going backwards! Oh well. Not sure I had control of that when I was purchasing the tickets, but I will certainly pay more attention next time.

It took us no time to get into the countryside. It was crazy how it goes from metropolis to rural in no time flat. It was endless awesome. I starred outside wishing I was paralleling the train on a dirtbike. There were crazy rolling hills covered in what I think were olive trees, which would make sense with how they pound down the olive oil and actual olives. All sorts of little hills and cool dirt roads reminded me of a cross between eastern Washington's wheat fields and the filbert groves that surround Kelso Grade School's sports fields.

There were all sorts of cool old brick buildings hiding out here and there, some inhabited, and some not. They showed their age, every one of them. There seemed to be nothing new. It was awesome to see thousands of cool rock fences that are straight out of Shawshank Redemption (where he hid the money (sorry, spoiler alert)). I saw tons of cows, sheep, and pigs! I was wondering if those were some of the herds I had been eating from. Enjoy it while you can you tasty critters!!

Kelcy isn't the most un-carsick but it really wasn't a problem that we were facing backwards. I would have likely enjoyed facing forward more, like on MAX, but we could get up and go all about the train. I enjoyed the refreshments and the standing in Coche 4 for a bit. Oddly there weren't seat belts. Not sure if that is like every train or not, but I guess I will have to find out. Luckily this one did NOT derail like the one Aaron, Marty, and I were on in Thailand, which was insane.

We got to Seville a little early than the two and a half hours they were projecting. We all got up and it did not empty like an airplane (orderly). Kelcy and I had to fight our way into the aisle to get out. We did get out to find that almost everyone who was deboarding decided to light up a cigarette. Great. We were lugging backpacks, breathing heavily, overdressed.

We found our way to the taxi queue, half asphyxiated. In no time we were in a weird large Volkswagen "van?" It wasn't as big as a van but it had sliding doors on each side. He took us on the crazy narrow streets, bombing next to pedestrians on 12 inch sidewalks. It wasn't just him, we were following a line of them and there were more behind us! This is what we're going to have to get used to dodging as pedestrians.

We arrived at our new temporary pad, right across the street from the Catedral de Sevilla, where Christopher Columbus is entombed. Crazy how that worked out that we got here on Thanksgiving day. We have him to thank for having a Thanksgiving, America, or any inventions we are addicted to today including electricity, air travel, or this darned internet that I am currently fighting!! Without the melting-pot that came to be the place he paved the way for, we would not have been able to collaborate with all of the other people coming here to create the world we live in today. Those and the fact we are "currently" the freest nation to have ever existed. Thanks Chris!

That makes me think of a couple "self-described-as-cool" jokes." Why is the country-code for the USA "001"? Give up? Because we invented the phone. Why is the USA the only ones that can just use ".com?" You probably can guess what I am going to say. Because we invented the internet. I am writing this while using "www.google.es" from the "+34" country-code.

The place we're staying is really swanky, to copy a term from my hip cousins. It is old but retains all sorts of charm. We unloaded our "equipaje," aka 'luggage' in Spanish, another gem from my freshman year at Sandy. I'd like to take the time here to say gracias to Aaron for practicing with me as we watched the football games from the sidelines.

We ventured out into a whole new world. An OLD world. Everything is old. We're talking thousand of years old and it looks it. It is like Disney made it for one of their attractions like Aladdin or something, with huge bricks and carvings on almost everything. This place was settled, taken over, taken over again, and re-taken over. The history is so rich you'd really have to set aside some time to understand what went on in years past.

We walked and walked. There are orange trees everywhere. Like, everywhere. Over 40,000 are said to be mature in this area alone. For a lot of our first walk out it was raining. What I discovered is that the cathedrals, castle things, structures, or anything really, pump rainwater out like crazy. Whether it be a gargoyle or just a jutting-out ornamental pipe, the rain wasn't just rolling down the side of the structure. If I were a fair-weather traveler, I would never get to see how much engineering when into drainage. Being an Oregonian, I could piss on it raining, no big deal to me, or Kelcy for that matter. One thing that sucks though is that everyone else has an umbrella. I don't consider myself tall, but I don't think the people with umbrellas in their hands understand what level my eyes are at. One of Columbia Sportswear's slogans is "Umbrellas are for Amateurs!!" I didn't think much of that until being in Seville.

I didn't lose vision so we were able to still scope out awesome places to eat. We had some incredible food: Spanish Tortilla (omelette-like), seafood stuffed avocado, and other various fried fish and meat. We managed to have brew, vino, vermouth, Campari, Havana Club Rum (which I have been known to smooglé), and vodka.

We booked a ticket to see Christopher Columbus, and the rest of the insanely huge cathedral, tomorrow. We owe that ballsy SOB a debt of gratitude and I am going in super humble because I know just what it meant for the entire world.

Posted by bendurbin 15:06 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

The Long Arc of History

Up at the crack of 9:00, or so, we were getting ready for our Sevilla Adventura. We were to meet our tour group in the Jardines de Murillo at 10:45. We got some grub, consisting of pan con tomate and jamon from a nearby restaurant. We were nervous about finding the rendezvous so we basically pounded the food. Everything went better than expected because Kelcy had predicted the night before that we'd already been where we'd been told to gather.

The monument we waited underneath was to Christopher Columbus. It was a tall structure with a bronze ship with the names of Ferdinand and Isebella on each side. Flocks of parrots flew around and around, landing and taking off from the suspended boat. Huge palm trees and other tropical flora presented themselves in huge form even though it was far from a tropical climate this time of year.

Soon enough, a tour guide showed up and we were on our merry way. We started off checking out the residential areas. We learned of how they built homes to endure the drastic climate. In the summer it can climb as high as 116 °F and approach freezing in the winter. The houses typically have two or three floors and are made of stucco with tile adorning the outside. This provides insulation against the pounding sun or chilly cold. Most have a courtyard in the center which may or may not be open to above. During the summer months, families spend time on the lower floors where the temperature remains somewhat cooler and upstairs in the winter since heat rises.

Over the thousands of years the Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited, it has been claimed and reclaimed multiple times. We heard of the Christians, Muslims, and Jews that had lived there at any given time. There were invasions, assimilations, inquisitions, conversions, conquests, and reconquests. How it stands today is essentially Christian with all sorts of previous influences that ring throughout the city and the region as a whole. I guess that is how things go with land and time, invasions happen and they've been happening long since before humans could even document them. Things seem sort of stable on Earth at the moment but given the long arc of history, that isn't likely to continue. "The only thing constant is..."

We toured the Alcázar of Seville, a royal palace built for Peter of Castile but has history since 712 AD. It isn't anything that my descriptions can do justice because there is so much to it. So incredible and to imagine it was all built by hand. Such intricate carvings on every last thing. So many layers and meaning behind it all. The gardens were spectacular as well, featuring plants and trees from all around the globe. The Spanish were brazen travelers and brought back all sorts of things to the royal families.

From there we went to the Catedral de Sevilla, a gigantic cathedral consecrated in 1507. It was built on top of what was formerly the Almohad Mosque which was completed in 1248 to give you some lengths of reigns. Ricks Steves does it a whole lot more justice in this short two minute video. Completely remarkable, especially since the tomb of Christopher Columbus is housed within.

We got done with the tour and went back across the street to ditch our coats. It was nice and warm so we'd just need shades from here until afternoon. We got some lunch at a nearby place that consisted of octopus and beer. The amount we got for the the price made us cringe when we thought about what we just paid for it in Hawaii!! Eating and drinking are just so affordable and darn right good.

We left there and grabbed some more tapas. This time we opted for jamon croquettes, seafood paella, and stewed pork cheek. If you're opposed to swine, this really isn't the place for you. We've only seen a chicken dishes here and there and they didn't look all that great because they usually consist of being slathered with BBQ sauce. All of the items were great. Of course we had some drinks and kept on cruising about.

Where we are staying is very close to the only navigable river in all of Spain. We crossed a nearby bridge and walked the boardwalk on the other side until we got to another bridge upriver. We crossed and came back down to where we'd started. Everyone was out and about on with the glorious weather. We saw lots of river traffic, picnickers, fisherman, and all sorts of people just getting out for a walk. We are for sure getting the steps in today!

We were hungry again and cruised back to our 'hood since we wanted to go to our rooftop bar for a view of the sunset. Well, we got there before the sun went down, but because of the giant cathedral in the way, you'd have to get there at like 4:30 to see the sun fade away. We still had an incredible view of the huge religious structure looking like it was being lit from behind, having an awesome glow about it. We had drinks and looked about from atop our four story haunt (most buildings in the area are only as tall as four stories). A waitress handed us a flyer about a guitarist that was about to start playing down below in the main bar. Since we were starting to get a little chilly in just our shirts, we dropped down to level one.

The guy who was performing was a flamenco musician. He was all about it and serious. It was great to hear even though there were no dancers to make the evening complete. We stayed for quite a few songs but we were getting hungry! Neither the rooftop bar nor the downstairs bar were offering anything other than an assortment of nuts so we had to go out and about for some real sustenance.

We cruised down the road but got distracted by a large group of bands that had gathered around the bar we had eaten breakfast at. I am not sure what they are called in Spain but they reminded us of Mariachi bands. So many of them had capes with different patches from the various countries they'd performed and the ribbons they'd won. This was essentially a jam session that would be something like in Pitch Perfect when they were all competing, off the record, in the pool. It was magnificent, dinner could wait!

The bands eventually had to get to where they had to go, so we left too. We finally found the bar that we'd looked for the night before that served wine that is fermented with the orange peels of the trees of the city. We grabbed a couple of cups of that, which we found to be just crazy sweet, and ventured on. We went into a place we'd always seen packed to the gills before and found a table. We ordered shrimp skewers, fried anchovies, and oxtail. It was what we'd been waiting for!! The food thus far has been incredible but the oxtails alone are almost worth the trip. We will definitely be going back before we head out of town.

We hopped here and there for drinks after dinner, even having some Spanish gelato. We walked and walked. The city was abuzz since it was a Friday night. We rocked all sorts of streets and alleyways full of people of all ages out and about. The Spanish really know how to have a good time. I am sure they're not going to call it a night anytime soon but we're far enough away in our new accommodations to be buffered from hearing it. It is awesome how there is no apparent age guidelines to anything, you will see the whole spectrum anywhere you go, enjoying what you and everyone else is enjoying.

It was getting late and we were both pushing 25,000 steps so we were pretty beat and decided to call it a night. On the way back we couldn't help ourselves from stopping at a makeshift two-piece band of a violinist and celloist. One of the songs they played was "Hallelujah." On Maui, Prince has been learning this tune on the Ukulele while Reanne would provide the vocals. We wished they could have been with us to transform their duo into a quartet.

We got back to the pad and called it a night.

Posted by bendurbin 09:28 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Seein' Sevilla

9:00 seems to be our new hour to get up. We did it again and got going for the day. We are leaving tomorrow morning so we needed to get some laundry done. I Googled a place but getting there was more of an adventure than the map led on. One of the problems is that away from the hotel we don't get the internet. I was going off of screenshots and that proved unsuccessful. We eventually got there using Kelcy's data since we'd be calling her dad later anyway to wish him a Happy 70 birthday!!

We dropped off our wash and found a churros and chocolate place for some grub. They extruded the batter into the vat of hot oil right in front of us and coiled it around and around with what looked to be giant crochet needles. We had to wait until the piping hot dough and molten chocolate cooled as to not scold our mouths and ruin what would again be an intense day of eating. Delicious!

We'd been wanting to check out the Plaza de la Encarnación. It houses the Mercado Encarnación that sits below the Metropol Parasol, which is the largest wooden structure in the world. Kelcy, from afar, called it a waffle. I can definitely see that. We took a walk through the stalls of the market, aghast with all that is available. There were bunny rabbits hanging next to all sorts of feathered birds, ostrich eggs, crawling snails, and whole giant fish I can't even recognize. There were the normal stalls with hanging legs of jamon and wheel after wheel of cheese, sausage and other assorted fruits and veggies.

We went downstairs and took the elevator to the observation deck, which is atop the latticework structure. You can see for miles in every direction. We took tons of pics as we basked in the sun. You can really get your bearings from up high and I wished we'd done it sooner. I normally have a great sense of direction, but you put me on windy cobblestone streets that are as straight as Beaverton's without having enough room to get a general direction of the sun, well, I get kind of turned around.

As we departed the complex, we went through an area that was being restored. The smell of wet paint along with the wafting smoke from the chestnut roasters and cigarette smokers would be enough to give students at our local college and universities enough to call in the SWAT team, at least according to my family members who have had the privilege to work with and for those institutions. Not sure how they will make it without the sterile environment they've become accustomed to. Crossing the street was a gamble as well and we learned it is safest to just cross with a group of Sevillians that have the same idea.

We wandered the cool alleyways and browsed shops in search of postcards and another Christmas ornament. There are always too many too choose from and we came away with enough. Postcards really do have the best pictures, another one of Kelcy's statements that rings true. It is easy to find the way back to our hotel because it is next to the tallest structure around, the cathedral. Very handy.

We dropped off our purchases and coats and skedaddled over to the laundry place. The gal told us the clothes would be ready by 1:30 but they close at 2:00. We made sure we got there in time. We were actually a bit early and passed the time at a neighboring bar having brews and figuring out a plan for the following day. We are going to be heading down to the town of Algeciras which is right across The Bay of Gibraltar from the town of Gibralter. We realized that it was almost 2:00!! I quickly went and got our fresh "ropa" (clothes). We went back to the pad to drop off the goods and book a room. Success!

We'd passed a "Michelin Recommended" place while on one of our jaunts. We went over to try what they had to offer. We got the Reconstructed Oxtail as well as the Truffle Mushroom Risotto. As per the norm, after we'd ordered drinks, tapas followed, this time a plate of olives. So very good. The main course was so tasty we were blown away, especially given that the whole meal with booze was under $30. Also cool about Spain is that tipping is done, but only super small amounts. If you got a couple of beers that cost $2.60, you just leave them $3. I have wondered if this is because people don't like coins under a full Euro.

We went back out in search of some things we'd heard of prior to our visit and were able to see from the rooftop viewpoint we'd visited earlier. One of the coolest was the Plaza de España. Yes, Seville has one as well, like Madrid. This leads me to believe that every city must have one. This one was huge with an absolutely gigantic building that is basically in a half-circle being book-ended on each side by tall bell towers. A large fountain was in the center that was sort of like in the intro to Married with Children. Tons of people were out enjoying themselves. There were horse-drawn carriages to go for a ride on or rowboats and surries to to rent. It was quite the happenin' place.

We walked the river boardwalk in the direction of our accommodations and we were getting hungry. It seems as though there are as many bridges in Seville as are in Portland. People were again out in force enjoying the weather. From what we've heard, winter is on its way so they might as well get out while they can.

We went back to the room for a bit to get packed so we wouldn't have to tomorrow morning. Shortly thereafter, we left and were out and about again, walking all around. Thousands and thousands of people were out as the darkness settled in. This is when things get happenin' in Spain. Eventually we got hungry again and stopped in at yet another "Michelin Recommended" establishment. We hadn't been in the area before, so score! Kelcy got the Bull Tail Stew and I got the Foie Gras on Toast with goat cheese and onion jam. I must say hers was the winner in this race. Mine was just overpowered with cheese and I ended up focusing on the foie and helping her with the portion she got.

We rallied on in search of drinks near our place. In the plaza near the cathedral was a large gathering of musicians. They were all dressed alike and must have been a marching band. We went up the street and grabbed a curbside table. I've been really diggin' on the vermouth and ordered a round. Soon enough we could hear the beating drums. The band was coming our way, like we'd hoped. There must have been at least a hundred members with all sorts of instruments. Music ability must have been the only requirement because there was obviously no age restriction going in both directions. They sounded great and we felt incredibly lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

We had some loose ends to take care of at the pad, so we went back. We got a car rented for tomorrow until Monday. We'll spend tomorrow night in Algeciras and drop it off in Granada. I got my International Drivers Permit in anticipation for this leg but I am still a little leery about driving alongside the Spaniards. Wish us luck!

Posted by bendurbin 15:31 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

I Bless the Rain...

We were up at 6:45, on a mission to be on the move most of the day. We finalized the packs, checked the room for out-of-sight belongings, and checked-out at the front desk. They dialed us up a taxi that was there in under a minute.

We rolled through the empty streets and shuttered bars and restaurants, all of which were teaming with life the night before. It was calm and that gave me relief. I was nervous to drive in city traffic with the crazy locals. We've been pedestrians and know how they work.

We got to Enterprise at the train station and we're in our new Opal in no time. We opted for the navigation and had the dude set it up. I really recommend one over here, even with GPS on on a phone. It got us out of the city pretty quickly, into vast countryside. We had about a two hour journey ahead of us and time was not on our side if we wanted to spend any significant time in Morocco.

During the drive, Kelcy researched ferry tickets. Our rental guy said to go to Tangier from Trajifa. We'd already booked a stay in Algeciras that had passed the time to cancel. With some sleuthing she discovered a ferry that left from our town and went to Tangier Med, about 45 minutes from Tangier. Lining up our schedule was the issue.

Given the best case, we'd get there just about 10:30. The sailing we could potentially get to was at noon but you have to arrive at the ferry terminal at least 45 minutes in advance. Could we do it?!

As it turned out, things did go well and we got to the room, which was already available. This was an enormous weight off of our shoulders because we could put stuff in the room and our valuables in the safe. We didn't want to pack anything unnecessary.

The front desk called a cab which was there super quick. We got to the ferry terminal in just enough time. A quick journey through security and Customs and we were on the boat. It was a large ferry, on the scale of something you'd ride in Seattle, but made for the Mediterranean.

We got situated in probably the best spot, at the forward most table in the Port side, ideal for seeing The Rock of Gibraltar (which you may have seen as The Prudential's logo), as well as viewing the north shore of Morocco.

The voyage was to be an hour and a half but the rough seas pushed it to two. The boat was rockin' and a rollin' which surprised me none since we'd been on the Diamond Princess for Marcia's birthday and that was a bobbing cork even being about ten times as big. Time passed aboard the vessel but came to a crawl when we reached shore. I took a second to snap a pic of Kelcy and my first steps onto the African continent. Another huge first, for both of us this time!!

We jumped through one hoop and through another. I'm not even certain how many times I was x-rayed. Eventually we did make it to where we could finally get out on our own.

Taxis are an option for getting to town but they aren't the cheapest. A Colombian family travelling from America who we'd been sitting near on the boat asked us to share a cab. Why of course! This beats taking the free shuttle which drops you off still a ways from town, according to Kelcy's research.

The ride to town was fantastic! The driver spoke Spanish like I learned Spanish. The family, being native Colombian Spanish did as well. I'd say I picked up on 65% of what was said, as opposed to the 15% of spoken I've been listening to in Spain. Reading it either way, cake, but having it sound like the way you had been taught makes a huge difference. I didn't realize this difference until this encounter. I was joining right in and it felt fabulous!

We dropped the family off at the train station as they were continuing onto Casablanca. We stayed in and were let out in the Medina (market) of Tangier proper. We lined up a pickup with the same dude with time and location, and a discounted rate, thanks to the Colombians report.

Once out of the car things turned sideways. A man who seemed to be buddies with our driver assumed the role of tour guide. No bueno. We've been swindled like this in Thailand by tuk-tuk drivers, I was in guard. He whisked us through all sorts of areas of the market like the original US consulate (which was the first in the world because Morocco was the first country to acknowledge us as a nation).

We were up and down hills, passing by locals dressed in all sorts of religious garb, it was Sunday. The man leading us brought us to a restaurant he assured would take care of us. Hmmm. Apprehension level is peaking. He left and we were stuck at a table with waiters bringing us appetizers.

"Can we see a menu? Hold it with the food, we are not sure we want to eat here," I explained. I think he could sense that we were not feeling right about the deal and tried to reassure us that things were good here. I told him that we wanted something small because we want to try different things throughout the town. He agreed to $15 for both of us which included the apps, soup, and two entrees. Really not a bad deal, if they follow through and don't try playing games.

Out came the large bottle of water. Great, is this an up-charge? The food was really good consisting of tajine chicken over couscous that was fall off of the bone and flavorful as could be. The other entree was seemed like a large samosa filled with seasoned chickpea. It was like having a falafel ball surrounded by puff pastry. It was fantastic. We scarfed it up and headed for the door. We weren't waiting around for them to just bring more and have us pay for it. I gave our waiter the cash and all seemed good, until another one of the lads volunteered to take us through town. I had to tell him repeatedly that Kelcy and I wanted to be alone on our journey, even going as far as to say it was our honeymoon. We left and I felt better. In actuality, I didn't necessarily lie to the man. This is our ten year anniversary of our honeymoon where we spent Thanksgiving in the Bahamas.

We blazed the streets, smelling the wonderful spices and fruits. There were far less meat vendors that I would have expected, perhaps because of the dietary practices. Leather-goods were abound which stands to reason, Morocco is known for having the best leather in the world. There were also plenty of shops hawking fake handbags. This always catches of the attention of my "newlywed bride." The difference between here and what'd we'd seen in Busan or Hong Kong was that they were out in the open. In our previous experiences in the counterfeit trade, the vendor would only have look-a-likes out on display and take you through a series of hidden alleys and false walls to see the goods.

We walked downhill, towards the Mediterranean Sea. Crossing the wide road without cross-streets was a challenge but we made it. While strolling along the waterfront, a rain cloud began to empty its load. We were far from anything resembling a roof. We hurried west towards what looked like a museum which was still far away. Kelcy spotted a double-decker "hop-on, hop off" bus. As things would have it, 5:00 was was just about to strike. They were getting ready to embark on the tour of the city. This wasn't in the plan, but screw it, we'd be dry.

We paid for the one hour tour and climbed aboard. We were given headphones and guided upstairs. We were leery because the sides were open air and it was rather windy. To our surprise, the front portion of the bus rooftop area was covered with a windshield and side window panes. How perfect. We plugged into the sound system and were off in moments.

The bus is like what you are envisioning, giant. There was only the glass between us and our environment. It was crazy and exhilarating to be up that high, seeing everything, including the near-miss with every turn the bus made. Countless tree branches hit the bus up where we were at and everyone in our path, even the sidewalk, got out of the way. We used the whole road and some places, the curb. It had no business being out there in the traffic.

We went by so many sights with excellent narration from a prerecorded audio track. It would have taken us a long time to see what we did if we were hoofin' it. One hour went by really fast and we were back where we started. What a way to ride out a squall!

We cruised the street along the Med and stopped in at a bar for some grub. We ordered the Tajine Kefta which consisted of fifteen or so meatballs in a tomato sauce with an egg in the middle. They tasted familiar with the mint, like something you'd get from a Lebanese place. I guess that makes sense since it is sort of the general region and I am totally guessing anyway. We could only get through half of them, partially because they came with a bowl of bread that was delicious with the sauce. We ate slow and nursed our beers, watching the locals go about their business as daylight drew to a close.

I went into pay as Kelcy used the restroom. The sink portion of the restroom was open to the area I was standing and I saw her getting a napkin from an older lady as she finished washing her hands. I then went in and the same lady turned on the light for me since the men's room was dark. After washing my hands, she had a hand out with her palm up with a coin in the other to show me what I apparently needed to do, tip. Ok. I reached in my pocket and gave her the 2 Moroccan Dirham coin I got in change from dinner. She gladly accepted it and almost ran through the dining area out into the street. That was odd. Even stranger was that when we passed by our table, a guy was sitting in my chair, finishing what we could not! How is that not perfect for our huge issue of waste!

We left and meandered up the hill to our rendezvous point. We were hoping to recognize the driver in the dim light. That wasn't an issue because he saw us and came out, ready to go. We hopped in and bucked up. I think he'd be the one to pick if you needed to get to the port in the shortest amount of time. I also think that the other drivers knew this because he was honking and passing where there didn't seem room. It was dark and wet and could have ended badly more than once. Interestingly, we lost our lead of the other drivers when we stopped in at a petrol station. That is something new, but also really different to see. To us, getting gas is another brainless activity but when travelling, it take on a whole new meaning.

We were soon at the port and ready to start the long process of getting on the boat. We walked around the building, checking out the pictures. It was a fairly new facility that was enormous. It was also the receiving docks for countless new vehicles. We got through the Customs procedure and were on the boat. We left fairly promptly.

The ride back to Europe was definitely faster than it was going thanks to calmer seas. We passed the time with me walking around having beverages while Kelcy slept. It was raining as we got to our first port of call, Gibraltar. Apparently this was not a direct ferry ride. Whoever and whatever bound for this destination debarked the boat and we were on our way to the other side of the bay. I asked a ferry worker gal about what was going on since I had missed the announcement because I was on the back deck watching the awesome hydraulic ramps be deployed and retracted. Holy cow, she laid into me. I guess I needed to hear and understand the general announcement regarding what was going on and from where I was at, I could do neither. At least she was yelling at me in Spanish and sort of cute. Even passengers who overheard the exchange called it "ugly" and "impolite." Had it been a Brit I would have lost it because they sound like they are educating you even in friendly conversation. It bugged me but I figured it made for a good story if nothing else.

I went to a vending machine and got a brew because I could. I had only done this before in Japan and have always loved the concept. I had to wait about three minutes to open it because it came down from mid-machine just like a sack of chips. Even after I waited I still got sprayed!!

We docked and made our way off the ship. Customs was a breeze and we were soon outside looking for a cab. As luck would have it, one showed up right as we breached the doorway. The rain was coming down so incredibly fierce that any sort of time spent in it would have resulted in a complete soak down. If we get that sort of rain in Oregon, it is for less than a minute, if that. I have only been in that type of situation in other places and not what is considered the Rainy State.

The cabby was friendly and told us that the rain was a blessing. Funny since the Toto song "Africa" was playing in my head the whole day because we had been to Africa!!

Posted by bendurbin 08:02 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Viva España Riviera!

The view out of our window was downright nutty. It was a gorgeous sunrise coming up just to the south of the Rock of Gibraltar. In the foreground were a dozen container loading cranes lining the edge of the harbor. I completely dig huge ships almost as much as planes and this was quite the site to see. I wish there'd been some movement because watching them load and unload cargo is like a symphony. Not only that, there is a huge amount of calculating that goes into each and every move. Weight means something as you know if you've been on a small boat and leaned over the side.

Once presentable, we made our way down to the lobby where a breakfast spread was waiting. We got our fill of tortilla (the omelette style), cured meats and cheese, chocolate croissants and tons of great juice. Today was our day to drive the Spanish Riviera on our way up to Granada. If you were to drive straight there, taking highways, it'd be just shy of three hours. Our plan was to take the whole day and run the coastline.

My great uncle Jack, my grandma Jean's oldest brother who was raised in the yellow house in downtown Sandy (Beth's current home), managed to wind up in Gibraltar. I think because of that, I have known about the Strait of Gibraltar since before I can remember. He was a brilliant man who went into the Army during World War II. There he found himself completing test after test after test after test, as he described to us. The quantity of people taking these examinations along side him grew smaller and smaller. He was finally placed on a top secret project that we know now as RADAR. Seems crazy to think about a time where that didn't exist, but he was one of the members the development team. After his stint in the Army, Jack worked for Boeing as a troubleshooter, a broad-spectrum solve-all dude that could figure the problem out, essentially their Winston Wolf. He retired after God knows how many years, never having taken a single sick day. He was devoted and a great man and one of my heroes (except for the sick-time part). Below is a picture taken of Gibraltar in 1942, before we had RADAR and had to find enemy planes with spotlights.

Looking out from our 6th floor window at the busy streets below, I got nervous again about driving unnecessarily. Gibraltar was not on our route to Granada and it isn't even in Spain, it is a territory owned by England. Another reason I wanted to go over there was because its home to one of the coolest airports in the world. After going through Customs, you drive across the runway of Gibraltar International Airport. How many times could I ever say I had driven across a runway with the exception of municipal airports like Three Rivers. Kelcy kicked me in the ass and we went for it after we checked out of our pad.

The streets were nuts but I started to find my groove. The directions from the GPS were helpful, but to an extent. You really had to be on your game about everything and have decisions made well in advance. We circumnavigated the bay and soon enough found ourselves stopping to hand over our passports to the Brits. A quick glance was all it took and we were on the friggin' runway!!!! I wanted to stop SO BAD!!! Or at least open my door and drag my foot on the tarmac. I kept my composure and had Kelcy snap at least 80 pictures. Insane. The only thing that would have been better is if we had been right there to witness an airplane takeoff or land. This airport doesn't get the traffic of normal international airports and it stands to reason, the area it services is very small and only a small amount of airlines utilize it (British Airways, EasyJet (British), and Royal Air Maroc (Moroccan)).

After the excitement of the flat asphalt, as it were, we were in awe of the gargantuan chunk of limestone. Remarkably it is pretty much straight out of the water to an elevation of 1,398 ft. I don't think the Barnes' house is even that high up and they are how far from the ocean? The face is pertnear sheer. On the way up you can see carved out areas that must have housed something in its past, perhaps lookout perches. Its size cannot be compared to the other biggest monolith I know, Beacon Rock, on the mighty Columbia River. While Beacon is completely spectacular and dwarfs all around, it is a measly 848 foot plug of volcanic basalt.

We came close to the bottom of England and turned back north. Another pass across the airfield and we were back at Customs, getting checked by the Spaniards this time. We were good to go. They have you run a gauntlet of concrete dividers sending you east, then west, then east, then west, with each jog getting longer and longer. My guess is this is an attempt to slow would-be truck assassins and that makes sense these days. On our last leg out east, the long one, we saw a jet cruisin' our way. Are you kidding?! I made my own parking spot and we jumped out of the car. A Speedbird (British Airways) A320 was coming in hot. I was goose-bumped out as we filmed it in unison. You really have to see the airport from above to understand how cool it really is. I think Jack was doing that for us although I KNOW he'd have preferred it be a 737. There's only so many strings you can pull from up there. Here is a picture looking south with Africa in the distance. Photo credit: Kelcy with her really long selfie stick.

We got in the car and marched forth. It would take some time for me to de-numb from such a group of events but that worked perfectly in dealing with the crazy drivers we were encountering. We put the GPS heading to Motril, Spain and pointed the car in whatever direction it told us to. We were headed right for the big-boy Interstate like highway. Scratch that, we want to stay by the water! We went through town after seaside town, all built for leisure. These were setup for summertime, sporting great beaches and endless hotels and restaurants. Only a portion were open during this time of year but that wasn't what we were over here for in the first place. The weather was divine and the tourist census was low, a perfect combination!

I was getting more comfortable hanging amongst the rowdy drivers as the kilometers passed. I think that throughout the entire day, If you were to total up the amount of traffic circles I have been through in my life, which I assure you is plenty, that number would probably be less than what I did in this journey. Don't get me wrong, they are ingenuous, but repetition gets to you. I learned a lot about right-of-way and I am a lot sharper of a driver now.

We loved going through each little beach village, all having Christmas light decorations hung above the roadway. We'd have love to seen them at night. Every block or so there was a stringing of ornaments that were probably four foot square, if not larger, it was tough to tell from our Opel Corsa that was basically at ground level.

I spotted a place called Flor De La Habana and had to stop in, since we were getting hungry anyway. I am a sucker for anything Cube. The cool thing about the place is that the food was pretty much from Spain, at least what we ordered, but the bread was Cuban! That is the best bread you'll ever have in case you haven't had it.

On we went, until Kelcy spotted a crazy small beach parking lot behind some dumpsters. "What? Where?" I asked. She explained and I was soon doing a U-turn in the street. I darted in and parked in the nearly vacant lot. Why was it vacant? Because it was behind two dumpsters of course. We got out and I changed into my thongs and rolled up my pant-legs. I must have looked like George Costanza going to save a whale as I trounced out into the Mediterranean Sea. Holy cow, I wasn't expecting it to be as cold as the ocean at home. Perhaps I am being harsh, but how was it not remotely not-cold? I flashed back to when Joe and I were younger when Mom just said it gets better once you are numb. A summertime visit couldn't move the temp gauge all that much, it doesn't anywhere else. Enormous bodies of water don't just flop back and forth with a huge spread. The air temperature, on the other hand, gets out of control which makes any water you can jump into incredibly inviting.

We were still about 65 km outside of Motril and the road started to get curvy and slow. We had to have the rental car back by 8:00 so we needed to make a decision. We made it and headed north. In the grand scheme of things I am glad we did because when we got into Granada it was just starting to get dark. We filled the tank at Repsol (the Chevron of Europe) and barley found the place at dusk. We turned it in and cabbed it up the street to our hotel, a nice place near a lot of the main sights of the area.

We went out in search of good food which is an easy mission anywhere in Spain. We started out at a Levantine place and had a gyro, which they (and the Canadians) call Doners. It was really tasty. Unfortunately they didn't server any beverages with booze so we headed up the street. We stopped in at Los Diamontes which our hostel attendant suggested. We ordered some Alhambra's that were icy cold. Without asking, as it is here, tapas were delivered. An order of fried anchovies. So good to go with brews! We're not talking about getting a can of sardines from 7-11 and frying them, we're talking from the ocean. Our beers were about empty and we were asked if we wanted another. Of course, we couldn't say no since you brought us food! We got another round and with it came another round of tapas, this time mussels. Wow, those aren't an everyday thing. Surely that was it. I ordered another brew since I can drink them at a decent clip and with it came a plate of sauteed mushrooms that were fantastic! Ok, really, we have had enough already! We were FULL.

We walked on and checked out a lot of the Arabic shops selling all sorts of cool crafts. What caught Kelcy's eye were chandeliers. My good friend Micheal and family went to Venice, Italy recently and got one so it isn't unreasonable of a thing to consider. We had a drink and baklava and headed for home. We stopped in at a store for some water and I ended up with a liter of Havana Club Rum for a whole lot cheaper than what I pay in Canada.

We got back to the pad and called it a night, tomorrow we're headed to the Alhambra and that is going to take a substantial amount of steps.

Posted by bendurbin 14:56 Archived in England Comments (0)

Opening the Pomegranate

We woke up in Granada, the land of the pomegranates. The city's name actually translates into pomegranate and there are trees bearing the fruit all around. It is also the land of ringing bells. You're only ever 15 minutes away from having an idea of what time it is.

Our Alhambra tickets, which we'd scheduled our whole trip around, were only good today and there's no getting new ones since they are always booked out months in advance. It is a gigantic fortress complex and palace dating back to 889. The crown jewel of Alhamba is the "Nasrid Palace"
and our scheduled entry was for 11:00 am. The whole place opened at 8:00 so we had a little leeway to take our time.

A couple of pieces of pan, one coated in tomate and the other in tomate, jamon, and queso, paired with a cafe con leche and condensed milk and we were good to go. We hopped a taxi to the top of the hill and grabbed some tour headsets and we were ready for our adventure into the magnificent.

There is absolutely no way to describe it in any sort of way that hasn't been done better by someone else. Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown is the best but there isn't a free YouTube clip of it (watch it though!). Rick Steves does a nice small video.

After five plus hours, we had pretty much seen it all. We were there that long because we wanted to be there that long, it is that good. The hydraulics alone made me abuzz with questions. How on Earth could all of this water be pumping throughout the whole crazy complex, spouting up through a thousand fountainheads without electronic intervention?

The answer? Snow and gravity, just like how Portland's pumpless water system was engineered by the badass Isaac Smith in 1893 and is truly "Forest to Faucet." When you go to Dodge Park and see that pipe hanging above the Sandy River, you are seeing what Portland is about to drink in about an hour. There isn't anything but the Earth's "pull" bringing that luscious liquid into local homes to hydrate the organic gluten-free vegan pasta they will eat with a nice slice of Tofurkey.

We handed back our headsets and grabbed a taxi for town. Instantly we were at our place, it happened to be right down the hill. We went out to grab some drinks and food. We went up the street to see the river that supplied all of the water for the Alhambra. It was gorgeous with little bridges and doves swimming around. We stopped in at a place along the water and it, to no surprise, came with tapas, this time being French fries and bagels with jamon. We finished up and moved on. The streets on this end of town were quite narrow and we had to duck to avoid vehicles now and again.

We went and got a falafel pita and baklava from the place we'd eaten before and liked the staff. And for $3? Come on!! It was delish! We moved back to the Los Diamontes bar. We grabbed brews and got fried calamari and fish! It was excellent. Since Kelcy wasn't quite done yet, I ordered another brew and thus came the mushrooms! Holla! My mind has been on full record mode since we got here so I am taking all sorts of mental notes on how to recreate these dishes at home.

We moved on to a place that finally had vermouth. For some reason it isn't as prevalent in Granada and I have gotten a bit of a thirst for it that must be quenched. We went to the restaurant that is across the side street from our hostel. When I say across, I mean from where I was sitting at the bar, I could see our living room windows. They poured the lovely beverage out of a Larry Payette style wine barrel with an old-school spigot. It was great! This, of course, came with a plate of food, this time being amazing pancakes with eggs and ham. It was like you took a pancake and stuffed it with a ham omelette. I am not at all sure how they could have done such a thing but I am sure as shit going to attempt it at home because it was fabulous!

I finished my drink before Kelcy finished her brew so I ordered another. With this round they brought out braised pork with potato chips. Oh my goodness was it good. We both wished we were hungry because we could only get through half. It was so flavorful and rich. Even just the liquid on a chip was worth another visit. I am no slouch in the kitchen and it left me wondering what the holy heck they must have done to coax that goodness out of the meat.

We had to call it a night because we couldn't even be there without having to stand up, we were that full. How can the USA not find a way to make it cost effective to just hand you great food while you keep ordering more and more drinks? Between the three bars with all of the food included we were out $18. Completely insane.

Posted by bendurbin 01:49 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Seeing a lotta Granada

With nothing pressing, we rounded up our dirty clothes and went out to find laundry service. The hostel's front desk pointed out a place nearby but when we got there it either wasn't open or didn't exist anymore. I guess a little more research is in order.

We grabbed breakfast at, according to a bar tender where we'd eaten the day before, a place that has best churros and chocolate in town. It was another small place with a giant vat of hot oil with a dough extruder aimed right into it. They came out sizzlin' hot and we enjoyed the incredible view of the Alhambra while we dipped them into the lovely liquid.

Kelcy found a laundry place and screen-shotted the route in order to assist us on our mission. Within minutes we were there. It wasn't one where you drop off your clothes, you actually had to do it yourself, oh the humanity! We loaded up the washer and went out venturing while the robot did its work. We strolled through a different area than we'd been the day before. There seems to be a fountain or a statue around every corner. Their significance? We're not sure but they sure are nice to look at, as are the bollards that line the streets which are each topped with a pomegranate.

We moved our laundry to the dryer and put enough coins in for 40 minutes. This time exiting the lavendaria we took a right to see what that we could find. We walked uphill and pretty quickly came to the end of the road. On the right was Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo, a twelfth century palace, and on the left, a supermarket about the size of a small Thriftway. This situation right here exemplified how we travel. On one side, there is a super cool old ruin from a thousand years ago and on the other is a run-of-the-mill grocery full of all sorts of crazy things you don't see at home. Decisions, decisions.

Since we had time, we decided to do both, going to the palace first. It was amazing, sporting a glass floor revealing the archaeological dig below with all sorts of historical gems from the past. Seeing the structures made me wonder what year the very first brick was made. 7500 BC is what I found with a little help from Google. So amazing they can endure the test of time.

Above the ancient ruins was an art exhibit. We went up to check it out to find all sorts of cool sculptures created from old motorcycle parts. I could dig that. My favorite was a scorpion with a reversed exhaust pipe for a tail.

Neither of these features were very long so that gave us plenty of time to wonder the supermarcado. It was glorious! There were all sorts of delights that had me swimming in culinary creativity. The variety in the meat and seafood section alone was stunning. So many cuts you'd only ever heard of and parts that you'd never seen in our local stores at home. There were all sorts of olives and canned fish. We snagged some of each to sample so we'd know what to pack when we return home. Yep, it is now looking like a third checked back is in order.

We went back to retrieve our garments. There was a folding board that really made everything seem nice and pressed. We ditched our cargo at the pad and were off to the place we'd had breakfast, al fresco in the middle of Plaza Nueva. Our same waiter seemed glad to see us and was quite playful, one damn hard worker for sure, keeping everyone happy while dashing back and forth to the building to bring food or return dishes.

We ordered a couple of brews while basking in the sun, the morning chill was fading and it was getting warm. Out came the beer as well as a plate of meatballs with fries. These weren't normal meatballs made from beef, we suspect pork. They were scrumptious and the sauce was perfect on the fries! We ordered the Tortillitas de Camarones. We obviously didn't look close enough to the word that looks a lot like "Tortillas" because they certainly were different than what we were expecting. They were like flat fritters with tiny shrimp mixed throughout. The inside was soft with the outside being crunchy. This may very well be my favorite dish of the trip so far.

We sat talking about how good they were and our incredible view of the Alhambra above, reflecting the sun off of its sheer face. I ordered another cerveza with which came Paella. It was loaded! There were six clams, a few small shrimp, some chunks of chicken, and a couple of scallops. It was tender and delightful, the waiter's jovial musings added to the atmosphere and made for such a nice dining experience.

We crossed the street, to our hostel side of the road. This was at Stop 3 on the "Hop-On/Hop-Off" tour. The rig was essentially a road train with a tug and two wagon style trailers. Admission came with headsets you plug into the wall just like we'd had in Tangier.

The route went up a steep hill to the north, passing the river and all sorts of buildings with historical explanation. From behind us, a couple of rows back, a woman's voice asked if we were from America. We turned and said yes. There were two ladies, one from Florida and one from Delaware. Instantly my mind went to the green-screen scene in Wayne's World where Wayne says "Or imagine being able to be magically whisked away to... Delaware. Hi, I'm in Delaware." This wouldn't have been appropriate to bring up because I am sure there are nice things there except for a nice winter so that is why she is a snowbird which is how she became friends with the Floridian. Great, another one who might be at a restaurant with my buddy Billy, requesting another round of "Sweet Caroline" of which he detests.

At any rate, these gals were a hoot. They'd flown into Venice, Italy in late September and had been travelling slow since, using trains and buses. They said it is so incredibly affordable because there are significant senior discounts. I flashed on Mom and Marci, they should really think about something like this because you can always stick around Sun City when your mobility starts to become impeded. They were having the times of their lives and bummed they were having to head back on actually the same day we fly home.

High atop the hill, we could see for miles! This was definitely the place we want to come back to for the sunset. The tickets for this train thing were good for the day and it drives into the night. We hopped off at the Catedral de Granada stop. It was more of what you'd expect, a super old church. Surrounding this one was a market with all sorts of vendors selling this and that. We found some cool Alhambra-style stucco magnets that I am going to turn into a Christmas tree decoration. With all of the Arabian influence, there were tapestries galore. We picked up some pillow cases for two throw pillows Kelcy can't stand because of their current cases. Perfect!

We went back to the "flat" as the Birts would say and Skyped home. It was beautiful out so we did this partially from our deck. It was good to know Dad has made some serious headway on independence, no longer needing a step stool to get into the Jeep and Mom, having been out of the wheelchair for a week or so, is finally able to put some weight on her hip.

We had heard great things about a Flamenco show near us. We found how to get there but the route was quite bizarre, taking us around the block. Forget that, lets just try and go straight there. We were wingin' it and kind of lost but that happened to work out nicely because we came upon an old craftsman making inlaid wood mosaic things of all sorts.

Looking through the windows and doorway, you could watch a man with a hammer, chisel, wood, and glue, pounding pieces together. There were chessboards, jewelry boxes, and just mosaic things you'd put on your wall. Come to find out, this is a dying art that Granada is well-known for called Taracea. We bought a stack of coasters and he threw in a Taracea box to hold them for just a few more bucks.

Walking out of the shop, across the street was the Casa Del Arte Flamenco, the place we'd went in search of. We went inside and got tickets for later that night. Quite literally it was a mere 4 doors down from our place. We went back to Stop 3 and hopped on the train, it was nearing sunset. A couple of stops later and we were hopping off, dashing over to the other side of the street to a large viewpoint. It was great! The clouds were in little patches, lit up in red-orange. The Sierra Nevada mountains' glow off of the snow resembled the Alpenrose you see on Mt. Hood in the late evening on a clear day. The Alhambra looked on fire, it is red even without the sun's help. We snapped a million pictures. Magnificent.

I wasn't too into riding the train through its whole circuit, so we opted to walk home. We stopped at a bar for a couple of drinks, which came with tasty olives, and asked the barkeep what the best plan of attack would be. He pointed out the window to his right and said simply, follow that road down the hill. I pretty much already knew that, but Kelcy felt a whole lot better hearing it from a local.

We did just as the man said, following a group of three early twenty year-olds, passing around a jug of beer. They were having a great time and we were having a great time watching them have a great time. It wasn't long and we were on the road we'd been on earlier on our unsuccessful first laundry mission.

We were soon back at Los Diamantes, getting brews and ordering clams this time. The included tapa was a plate of fried calamari, fish chunks, and sardines. There must have been at least fifty clams, each the size of a quarter and nicely bathed in garlic and wine.

It was just about time to hit the Flamenco show so we cashed out and got there in about a minute and a half. This version was quite a bit more serious than the one we'd seen in Madrid, it being a school for it and all. They frown on people taking videos, but someone was able to and post it to Youtube here. (sorry for the poor quality it was obviously made somewhat discretely).

We were flying to Barcelona the next day so we packed up and hit the sack.

Posted by bendurbin 10:14 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Movin' on Up

Our flight to Barcelona was scheduled for 12:35 pm which meant that Kelcy would prefer to be at the airport at 9:05am. Well, I wasn't too down with that but we compromised. We got up at a leisurely pace and went out for a breakfast that consisted of pan con tomate, pan con pate, and pan con soppressata. Each were good in their own way but the tomate is always my favorite. We enjoyed the toasts with a cafe con leche.

We went back to the pad and heaved our packs onto our backs and checked out of the hostel. There isn't a place I have enjoyed leaving. We flagged a taxi and in no time we were at the aeropuerto, Granada-Jaén Airport to be exact. It was a super small facility in the middle of a plain with mountains surrounding in almost all directions. With an enormous amount of time to kill, I pulled out the laptop and got caught up with the blog while sipping perhaps the last Alhambra brews I will ever consume.

Time seemed to fly by because I really enjoy writing, especially something so significant as what is essentially the diary to this trip. I want to document it well so we'll always be able to look back and remember our time. The 2014 Vueling Airlines A320 showed up and parked on the tarmac, well away from the terminal. Holla, we'd be doing a jetway-less boarding, my favorite. As it turns out, based on our seat position, behind the wing, we'd be boarding through the rear door. Even better!!!! I've only done this a couple of times in my life, Laoag, The Philippines came to mind and I even flashed back to Puerto Vallarta when we deboarded straight out the ass of a MD-80, something I will never forget.

The plane's livery had polka-dots on the aft looking sort of like a fishtail with scales. We climbed the stairs and got a super close look. It was awesome and the view of the Sierra Nevadas in the background did nothing but enhance the experience. The slowness of the passengers boarding afforded me time to snap countless pics I would have never otherwise been able to capture.

We got seated and heard the "dog barking" sound that is typical to the Airbus lineup. This is the redundant hydraulic systems coming up to pressure and nothing to be worried about in case you've encountered it and got all freaked out. We taxied for quite a while but it only took a matter of seconds to gun it to rotation speed. I tried to look out the window as best I could but aisle seats make this tough. It is always a struggle to figure out what to buy as far as where to sit. Kelcy and I typically buy aisle chairs, across from each other, but I am a sucker for the window and always regret not sitting next to it when both taking off and landing. All other times during the flight I am really glad that I have easy access to just hop up and hit the can, especially when I am drinking which is almost 100% of my air travel.

We were scheduled to be in the air for just over an hour and that time passed quickly. I meant to pull out the laptop and scribe but I got distracted, which is often the case on a jet. We were soon on our decent to Barcelona-El Prat Airport. There were all sorts of ships offshore as land approached. It is a major city on the Med. and it was becoming very apparent that was the case.

With a pretty significant impact we touched down. I could care less but it is always weird (but cool to me) when they quasi-mess up. I know the plane can handle it but the equipment probably doesn't dig it. As we taxied we saw big planes that would have dwarfed the airport we had departed from. The oddest thing I saw was a Lufthansa A320! They only roll heavies to the states so seeing a narrow-body was just way too cute!!

We gathered our bags and decided on a taxi to get to our hotel. Barcelona is known for its pickpockets and thieves so this was an effort to mitigate our risk. The bus is quite a bit more affordable but it takes time and you leave yourselves wide open with all of your belongings exposed. Sure we've remained vigilant but in the grand scheme of things, being out an additional $20 could potentially save you hours of time spent replacing a passport or hundreds of dollars stolen through a slashed bag. This is the European city you hear the most about for these type of crimes, so be careful.

Our hotel could not be more perfectly situated, thanks Kelcy! It is on La Ramblas, which is the central area to stroll at any time. In fact, on any given day, more than 140,000 people walk it! Our hotel room sits on the 4th floor and overlooks the street from our balcony. On the west side of the building is the hotel's veranda that overlooks the Boqueria, the oldest mercado in Barcelona dating back to 1217 when it started as a marketplace for selling goat meat.

We unpacked and hit the town. Since there was a flight interrupting Kelcy's day, she was well behind her "step goal" and had to make up ground. As per usual, I am down to oblige. We headed west to start, going as far as the terminus of La Ramblas.

We checked out the Boqueria and boy were we shocked at how cool it was. It had pretty much all a mercado could have but without the normal "fragrances." We bought a skewer of sausages and croquettes and headed to a nearby bar for a drink and table. I got a vermouth while Kelcy opted for the local draft brew. It was all great! What a start to this leg of the adventure. We walked on and found more, stopping in for a cone of sliced sausage here, a plate of steamed shrimp there, and finally topping it off with a freshly dispatched and dressed Sea Urchin (Uni). Everything we ate and saw was overload.

We marched on and hit the Mediterranean Sea. It is about a a ten minute walk from the pad with the gradual declining slope you'd expect as you head towards any body of water. For some reason a spicy hot dog from a Filipino vendor sounded good so we grabbed one and ate it inches from the water.

We walked through the marina area, admiring a super awesome swing-bridge that accommodates sailboats, of which we saw one come through but we missed the actual opening or closing of the bridge! That would have been so great to see! We could think of nothing but how cool Jerry Barnes would find this place. There is a lot do do and see out on the reclaimed landmass.

We walked on seeing all sorts of interesting vessels including one that is likely to be what the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria may very well have looked like. We will find out later in the trip because it was closing and I must board it before we leave!

We walked back uphill, through La Ramblas, checking out all of the restaurants and what they had to offer. People were out in force with no signs of slowing down. We were, that's for sure, but dinner was on our minds so we stopped in at another Mediterranean place, this time getting a lamb wrap to share. It was excellent! We ordered what ended up being giant beers to go with our food. Wow were they big and I had to finish at least an eighth of Kelcy's because it was so darned huge.

We were done for and called it a night, listening to the sounds of the partying people below. When did we get so old we couldn't still be out there amongst them?!

Posted by bendurbin 06:33 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Getting Settled

We awoke to essentially silence, the wide road and walkway beneath the balcony was still with only the movement of city workers cleaning up from the festivities from the previous day. Apparently this place doesn't wake up until way into the morning, like Hong Kong. It makes sense since the people seemed to party into the night. That's why they make earplugs! Our hotel came with breakfast that was rather extensive with all sorts of meats and cheeses, breads, yogurts, cereals, and fruits. It was perfect because you got to eat what you want without having to order a plate of it. It also brought me some much needed "kitchen work," I could create what I wanted instead of just getting handed the next thing I was to eat.

We went out for the day. The concierge marked up a map for us to use as we went about the city. Kelcy did some research on a city tour "hop-on/hop off" bus but the price was proud given that you can walk to everywhere it goes. I credit a lot of her eagerness to walk to the Fitbit Mom gave her because if it weren't for that, I am certain we'd be hailing a lot more taxis during our times of travel.

We headed northeast to see the Catdral of Barcelona. We had actually thought we'd reached our destination and went inside. The tours did not start until noon and it was only 10:00. Oh well, I guess we'd be back. Talking to a gal hawking tickets to a concert, she showed us where we were on the map and we were indeed not at the cathedral we thought we were at. Good to know and also cool because it was going to be $9 for the tour.

We walked a few blocks and came to the real Catedral de Barcelona, also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. It was big! Entry was free and filled with all sorts of amazing artistic altars and biblical scenes. The ceiling was hundreds of feet in the air, or so it seemed. It was consecrated in 1339 and didn't look a day over 500 years old! We walked around all that the ground level had to offer and decided to get tickets and go to the top.

A few hundred steps up in a circle, much like the one in Sevilla, and we were standing on the roof. We could see everything from up there. I can't state it enough that getting up somewhere high to have a view of where things are really gets your head on straight for the places you will undoubtedly be going to on the rest of your trip. There were some interesting tall tower deals on two of the nearby hills that would be worth exploring if you have more time.

We finished up with Kelcy spending a wad at the gift shop. She got some really pretty rosaries and cool that they were from this special place. We walked through a Christmas market just getting setup and found the Mercat de Santa Caterina, a market similar to the Boqueria by our place. We made our rounds through it sampling some fresh sushi and cheese stuffed red chile peppers. If you lived here markets would really be the place to go for really fresh awesome ingredients.

We had a general idea of where we were going, cruising around taking it all in, this city was huge. We were getting a bit of an urge to eat and stopped in at a Japanese place touting their tonkatsu. Might as well stop in as that seemed to sound perfect. I whip up chicken katsu at home all the time as an easy go-to, making it my sort of comfort food so-to-speak. We went in and had that as well as Karaage. Both were served over Japanese style steamed rice and hit the spot.

"Oh man, I see umbrellas," Kelcy said in a panic. It was dumping. F, I only had my fleece! We were making plans to book it back to the hotel via the Metro but luckily by the time we were done eating it had stopped and fortunately did not return.

We wondered the streets in the general direction of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, a monstrous Catholic church designed by Antoni Gaudí, a name you will find all around Barcelona. He was a Catalan architect who died in 1926. Groundbreaking began in 1882 and construction on this cathedral are ongoing and not projected to be complete until the year 2032. There are five tower cranes currently servicing the job site and you really can't fathom the size until you are right up on it.

After circling the entire building and taking tons of pictures, we walked on. We snagged a brew and vermut at a bar so we could use the restroom. One thing foreign travelers say is that America is rare because bathrooms are free and everywhere. The converse is true in that everywhere else bathrooms are rare and almost never free.

We kept on truckin' seeing another couple of Goudi buildings that are among the highlights of people's experiences in Barcelona, the Casa Milà and the Casa Batlló. We cruised through the Plaça de Catalunya, a giant square that is home to a hundred thousand pigeons near as we could tell. It was nice and a spot you could escape the shadows of the surrounding tall buildings.

We found the start of La Ramblas, the street that we are staying and walked downhill, towards the Med. We stopped it at a grocery store and got some water and beer for our mini-fridge. An 8-pack of San Miguel was $3.50, I could get used to this!

We dropped our loot off at the hotel. Kelcy was sitting on 15,000 steps already and wanted to spend some time off of her feet which gave me some time to pull out the computer and get caught up documenting. We've been having coffee each morning and it really doesn't let me have any time to actually rest during the day, sometimes into the night. That works out just fine. At home, that is a no-go.

After spending enough time in the pad to recuperate, a night on the town was in order and we proceeded to the west towards the pigeon plaza. Lights were strung up all over the place and people were out in enormous numbers, it was glorious. Every single street was filled with people on foot, they must have been closed to car traffic. On one pedestrian block we saw a group of six or so boys lining up what we thought was going to be a Flash Mob. It didn't turn out to be one, but everyone gathered around them to watch break-dancing and other crazy acrobats they were willing to do without any sort of padding on the concrete below.

At the Plaça de Catalunya where we'd seen the pigeons before was a large stage with live music. The flatscreen panels on each side informed us that it was a concert provided by a local radio station and that the performing band was Sidonie, one that I am not familiar with but the tons of youngin's in the crowd did because they were singing right along. It was such a great feeling to wonder upon such and event and just slide right in. The group sounded mildly like The Refreshments and that made me smile. Kelcy climbed up a lamppost a bit and leaned over on me with her hands around my neck and it felt like we were one with the people of Barcelona. Unforgettable.

We walked up the street a bit more, checking things out at night. It was so odd to us that so many people would be up so late just walking around the city, not just at this concert but every single road you looked at. I have zero to compare it to at home, just cities I have been to in other countries.

We went back to the room and wound down, peeking out on La Ramblas now and again to see what we were missing. Location, location, location.

Posted by bendurbin 12:12 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Having a Mari-time

We took our time getting going and it felt good. We hit the hotel breakfast buffet with a little more experience. I found the olive oil and figured out the coffee maker while Kelcy got the hang of the sandwich toaster. I made a delicious sammy as well and discussed our plan for the day.

My uncle Micheal's brothers had some great insight as we talked to them just prior to this trip. Those guys and Michael spend a year travelling around Spain with their mother just after they hit double digits in age. One of the take-aways was that we must visit Museu Maritim de Barcelona, or Maritime Museum of Barcelona.

We strolled down La Ramblas towards the Mediterranean and found the museum pretty instantly because it is massive, set inside the complex that was formerly a boat building factory dating back to 1243. It does a wonderful job chronicling seafaring starting in the early days when boat construction and navigation were extremely rudimentary.

The centerpiece of the museum is a full-scale replica of the royal galley (battle boat) "Admirals of Juan de Austria," coming in at about two hundred feet long. Powering the vessel was 236 oarsman, four manning each of the 59 oars. Much to our astonishment, few of these "propulsion providers" were there on their own accord, most were slaves or carrying out a prison sentence, all of which were shackled to a bench and not allowed to move, at all, during each voyage. The decks were painted red to camouflage the human waste and the blood they constantly spilled. Conditions were atrocious and inhumane and the Catalonian Navy boasted hundreds of these battleships.

There were so many other cool parts to the museum including a section dedicated to "the father of containerization," Malcom McLean, the American businessman who completely changed the world with his revolutionary invention of the intermodal container. This simple box is responsible for getting you 90% of the goods you consume. I read an awesome book about shipping titled "Ninety Percent of Everything" by Rose George and would recommend it.

Typically with any museum or Disneyland ride, you exit through the gift shop. This place was different, dumping us into an upscale marketplace with all sorts of vendors selling crafts and artisanal foods. We had some vino, cheeses, and a mochi desert that was made to taste like a Ferrero Rocher, Kelcy's favorite treat. We could have definitely spent more time wandering around but it was a beautiful day outside.

We left the market and got some pictures next to the tall statue with Christopher Columbus on top called the Monumento a Colón, which stands at the terminus of La Ramblas on the Mediterranean side. We crossed the street to the marina and checked out the old boat we'd seen before, the one that, as it turns out, is a replica of a ship that would look just like the Nina, Pinta, or the Santa Maria. We'd learned about this type of boat an hour earlier which made the order we were doing sights make more sense. We paid admission and went aboard. It was quite spectacular to think this thing could handle the high seas with nothing but sails to get her to the destination. The accommodations were definitely lacking by our standards but humans were a whole lot hardier of a breed than they are now.

We walked further down the street that parallels the shoreline, noticing the top of a ship behind a building. It was so tall, in fact, you'd think it was a building if it wasn't painted like a boat. It was the Dilbar, currently the world's largest super-yacht, owned by a Russian billionaire. It was quite the spectacle. Surrounding it were all sorts of multi-million dollar yachts that were all also beautiful in their own right. We were on awe of all that was to see in the marina area. This is where the rich must play in the sea.

We stopped in at a mall for a bathroom break and potentially a lunch. Nothing really stood out since it was more of a high-end type place with restaurants that were on the fancier end, not really what we were after. One thing that shocked us was the many kids in Powerwheel-like vehicles that were radio controlled by the child's parents. How crazy of an idea! I would have loved that when I was a kid and even love the idea as an adult!

We exited the mall and saw two sailboats pacing in the harbor, were they waiting for the swing-bridge? Yes!! There was an announcement stating that the crossing would be closing for at least five minutes and people were given time to get to one side or the other before they shut the pedestrian gates. A loud horn repeatedly sounded and with a "clang clang clang," it started to open. It was a marvel, so quick to get into the full open position. The sailboat in the marina darted out into the harbor and two waiting outside darted on in. In no time the bridge was back to normal bridge operation. What timing to get to see that! I have always loved bridges and wanted to be a structural/civil engineer before I got side-tracked with computers.

We walked along the main street in the direction of the Picasso Museum. Along the way we stopped in for some more Japanese food, this time tonkatsu and donburi. Both were fabulous.

We left and found the museum. Kelcy talked to the person in the front office who told her how to buy tickets but that tomorrow was "First Sunday of the Month" and admission would be free of charge if you got them online, while they lasted. Sounded like a plan since it was closing soon and fairly packed at that moment anyway. We went back to the room and booked tickets for 9:10 the next morning. We also booked flights to Madrid for the day after as well as our accommodations. It is really nice to be able to find deals without much advance notice which isn't something we're used to in the US.

We dropped down to the Boqueria for some dinner which consisted of a little of this and a little of that, featuring sliced sausages, a mushroom empanada, and fried chiles. For something sweeter, we got two dates that were loaded with crushed pistachios, which reminded me of Airy P who makes awesome stuffed dates.

We walked La Ramblas a bit and turned onto a street to the north to check out the scene. It, like every street this time of night, was filled with people out having a good ol' time. We stopped in a cool bar for some vino and a bathroom stop. We realized that we had pretty much been focusing on the vermut and brew in a country known for its wine. We'll do better about drinking more.

After ambling around, we stopped in for another dinner of sorts, this time on the lighter side, ordering meatballs with cuttlefish and jamon croquettas. Since they sounded like they made a mean Negroni, I said "why not?" We were done for and had to call it a night, being stuffed from our grazing, the countless steps, and the drink kicking in. Our pad was just down a few blocks so it took us no time to get back and fall asleep.

Posted by bendurbin 15:07 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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