Archive | November, 2013

Valencia and then to Cartagena

15 Nov

After leaving Barcelona, we went to Valencia for one night. When we arrived, the woman we stayed quite graciously helped us with our bags, but then told us we needed to leave the next morning about 9:30 a.m. because she does not leave people alone in her apartment when she is gone and that she had to leave for appointments to teach English. I negotiated with her to allow us to stay until 9:45 a.m. She then showed us where we could buy our fruit for our next morning’s breakfast. After purchasing our fruit from the Indian grocer, whose wife had a beautiful dress, she then took us to a lovely small restaurant near her apartment, where we could eat dinner. We ate some grilled vegetables, water, and I can’t remember what else. We then walked back to her apartment and went to bed.

Before falling asleep, Marlene speculated reason why the woman we were staying with wanted us out so early was because she had read the rather short, negative review by Isabel from Madrid. I suggested we confront the situation, which we did. It turned out the woman had read the review but had read some of the positive reviews, so she did not take the negative and false criticisms seriously. The next morning, I cut up our fruit and an extra banana the woman gave us, ate our breakfast with the woman and another roommate of hers us and then the woman helped us with our bags back to the car. We were out of the apartment by 9 a.m.

We were now on our way to a bed and breakfast near Cartagena for another one night’s stay, before driving to Granada. Marlene told me the proprietor of the bed and breakfast we were to stay at told her that he was not going to bed home until 2 p.m. We arrived about noon which was probably Cartagena, but we could not verify it. We used the GPS to find a restaurant and parked the car. Unfortunately, the restaurant no longer existed, however, we saw an English Court store across the way, a bank also, and another restaurant, so we stayed. I first got some cash out of the ATM and then we walked over to the restaurant, where we ate. For the first time I ate some Imprador (This spelling may be incorrect and I don’t know the English translation.) fish. It was an off-white fish, which reminded me of albacore tuna. It was absolutely delicious. The restaurant we ate at had a covered outside patio near the street corner. It was a delightful lunch outside, but a little windy. Besides the fish, I had some water and some of Marlene’s potatoes and a sampling of her desert. The desert was custard with vanilla and a cookie on top. We then walked over the English Court, found the grocery story down below, just like in Madrid, and bought our groceries. I needed to urinate, so I found the bathroom in the store. Walking through the store, I found a bakery, a restaurant, and pet supplies. This is one stop shopping! After urinating, I stopped at the bakery and bought a loaf of bread.

We drove to where the GPS told us where the Perez Guest Houses were. No entrance existed. The GPS was incorrect. We called the owner. He found us we then followed him to his residence. The owner and his wife were what I called authentic without airs. They were themselves without any façade. They were British, more particularly from York. We were the only guests. We had a large spacious room with the bathroom a short distance down the hall. The place during our short stay reminded me of a place for writers to go to write their great American novel, because it was so quiet and peaceful. Of course, that notion is a myth, because good writers write everyday regardless of the circumstances. After breakfast, we left for Granada.

Visiting Barcelona

13 Nov

After our first night in Barcelona, we ate our breakfast and went by metro to the Arc de Triumph. After climbing up and down the metro stairs and walking a bit, Marlene’s knees were hurting her horribly. We walked from the monument toward a park with Marlene resting periodically. While at the park, we found a nice, but overweight, American couple. They told us that we could catch the Barcelona Tour Bus at the Catalonia Plaza. We then found a restaurant, where we ate.

Outside the restaurant was a bus stop, where I saw a bus that went to the Poble Neu area. After eating, we attempted to board the bus I thought was correct and to communicate to the bus driver where we wanted to go. We did not know one bit of Catalan, which is similar, but distinct from Spanish and French. From the perspective of the bus driver or the bus passengers, I must have appeared comical. At my first attempt I confused Poble with Picasso and instead of pronouncing Neu as ‘No,’ which is closer to the correct pronunciation, I pronounced it like ‘Noo,’ twisting my lips around wildly. Almost instantly, I tried a second time, replacing Picasso with Poble, but mispronouncing the three syllables again. I gave up with a little embarrassment and Marlene spoke her weak Spanish to the bus driver. He told Marlene we were at the wrong bus stop and which bus to take and where to take it. We then walked to the other nearby bus stop and caught the correct bus. Some miscommunication occurred between the bus driver and Marlene, because we missed our stop. Later on the bus, Marlene explained again where we wanted to go. The extremely polite bust driver was so apologetic he actually let us off near the apartment, where we were staying.

Our third full day, we made it to the Catalonia Plaza by Metro and caught the tour bus, the couple the previous day told us about. We spent the whole day on the bus. I highly recommended taking a local tour bus in any big city, because it gives you a perspective of the city, it allows you to see from the bus the major sites, and allows you to get off and on the bus at your will. Most of my attached photos are from the top of the bus. Marlene wanted to visit the Miro Museum (and foundation) the next day, so we did. Barcelona has so many museums, choosing what to see in a few days is a daunting task. This is my second trip to Barcelona. On my first trip, I had been to the Picasso and Dali museums, so I allowed Marlene to indulge herself. I’ve learned over the years that because Marlene and I have similar artistic tastes that I invariably enjoy myself, when I allow her to decide how we entertain ourselves. The next day in the afternoon, we took the tour bus to the museum. Of course, no photography was allowed even without a flash, but I did shoot outside a couple of Miro pieces, which are attached also. Being quite ignorant of Miro’s life, I found the video presentations enjoyable. Marlene and I differ how we see the world. She is much more visually orientated than I am. I tend to prefer words.

Our last full day, meaning the afternoon because Marlene wakes up late and must exercise her old, broken-down body was spent at the Catalan Modernism Museum and later at the Casa Batllo. Modernism in this case is synonymous with Art Deco. It is a small, but beautiful museum of two floors. Some of the paintings could also, in my opinion, be considered impressionist. The museum, besides the paintings, had stained glass and sculptures. After leaving the museum, we ate a small bit at a nearby café, which was playing English rock videos from Club VH1. We walked some, where Marlene bought a small blue business card case at a nice stationary store. We then walked a little further and Marlene found a store, where she bought a gift for Lesly, her friend and our house sitter, while we are gone, and some housewares. Our last stop was the Casa Batllo, a world heritage site, which was designed by Antonio Gaudi. While beautiful, I found it a little overwhelming to my senses. I prefer much simpler things and my guess is that if I lived in such a place, after a short while, I would be bored with it. Marlene and I took a taxi back to where we were staying. We then took our host out to dinner with us, went back to the apartment and went to bed. The next morning we packed and left to Valencia.

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Barcelona, Through the Words of George Orwell (Our First Night)

11 Nov

When we arrived in Barcelona, my memories of the tragedy of the P.O.U.M. (Partido Obrero Unidad Marxista) through George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” returned to me.  When I graduated in 1968 from college with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, I had already been radicalized by the Vietnam War.  I was an anti-imperialist and vaguely a socialist.  One book, I read to further define my politics, was by George Woodcock on the history of anarchism.  The book’s title escapes me now.  I never really defined myself as an anarchist, but I wanted to be exposed to its ideas.  In this excellent book was a bibliography in which Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” was listed.  I had read in high school Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”  So, I read is journalistic writing on Catalonia.  His book turned me into an anti-Stalinist, but not a Trotskyist.  I realized after reading it, if I were in Spain and particularly in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, I would had ended up in the P.O.U.M. and consequently probably dead or perhaps exiled.

When I’m in an ill mood, I call Barcelona just an ordinary port city.  However, it is much more than that.  It’s got a long and rich history.  It was where the Spanish industrial working-class was born.  It has magnificent art history.  The names of Miro, Picasso, Gaudi, and even the Fascist-apologist Dali come to mind.

When we arrived in Barcelona, it was already dark, because of the late start from Zaragoza.  We stayed five nights in Barcelona in the Poble Neu, which was originally a working-class industrial area, but now parts of it has become gentrified.  We had a rather small room in a rather small apartment.  Besides the man, who has a medical degree and a Doctor’s, two dogs and two cats lived there.  The small apartment smelled of the dogs, but with the door of our room closed, the odor dissipated.  After the first night, the odor was gone.  The young bitch barked incessantly in my presence, but barked less and less as the few days passed.  After we arrived the first night, we shopping for fruit and bread and few other items, we then went to bed.

Zaragoza, The Jewel of Aragon

10 Nov

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our stay in Zaragoza was less than one day, unfortunately. We arrived late in the afternoon and left the early afternoon the following day. Augustus Caesar founded the city about 2000 years ago. It’s about halfway between Madrid and Barcelona. Goya was born not far from there. Marlene and I fell in love the city. We stayed near the town plaza. When we arrived, we went to the hotel Marlene originally planned at staying, but did not because of her illness. When we took our walk for our fruit we eat each morning enables us to see a little bit of the area. We ate dinner near the hotel. I had a craving for something sweet, so we found an Italian restaurant, where I had lemon Italian ice. We then went back to our hotel.

Our hotel room was black and white with two large posters, one with a quote from Casablanca and the other from a James Bond movie. Our room was on the third floor with a balcony, which I shot some photos the following morning. Instead of leaving after eating breakfast, Marlene wanted to stay and walk a little around the city. I’m glad we did, because we ended up going to the art museum there. The museum was free. Inside, we saw some drawings, which depicted the city’s destruction from the French invasion, by Goya. Of course, like every local museum, local artists were featured, besides Goya. After our short extended stay, we were on our way to Catalonian city of Barcelona.

Last Days in Madrid

9 Nov

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our third day in Madrid started like almost every morning. Marlene had fruit with whipped cream, coffee, and a pastry. I had fruit with bread and a coffee. A well-dressed old man was eating breakfast. It was apparent to me he knew the hotel staff. Marlene told me he lived at the hotel and at one time was the hotel manager. After breakfast, we walked straight to the Puerta del Sol, where we interviewed the hunger striker (I posted the content of the interview earlier for continuity.). We decided to do the Madrid City Tour, which is a bus covering the major sites of the city. This day we took the tour bus to the Royal Botanical Gardens. Attached are some photos from it. After walking around the perimeter of it, we then went to the Prado Museum. We ate lunch there. I have to admit I found the food delicious, but expensive. Marlene’s kneels were bothering her so we only saw the works of Hieronymus Bosch. I jokingly told Marlene that I had seen sexual acts in his works that I had not even thought of before. We then caught the tour bus and went back to the Puerto del Sol. From there, we walked back to the hotel. We found a Sushi restaurant, which was quite good.
The next morning I got up about 7:30, walked to the Laundromat, where I washed some of my dark clothes. Marlene was in the shower when I knocked on our hotel room door. After about five minutes, she let me in. Again we had breakfast. However, in the room, which is the hotel bar, was the same old man, but this time with his daughter, who I mistakenly took for his sister. After breakfast, we took a nap and just walked around the area. This time we had dinner at an Arab restaurant. Again I found the food to my liking. After dinner, we walked back to Puerta del Sol and then to the Plaza Mayor, where a ham festival was ending for the day. It seemed a little ironic since Marlene and I are vegetarians for different reasons. After walking down the nearby streets of the Plaza Mayor, we went and had a light snack. I had water with gas and three boiled potatoes. Marlene had water and I cannot remember what else. We then walked back to the hotel. At the Puerto del Sol, we saw some young men and women performing jumps for change. We then went back to the hotel and to bed.
The next morning of our last day, as our usual routine, we ate breakfast upstairs in the bar. Again the old man was there, but this time alone. After breakfast, we took the Madrid City Tour bus again. When we arrived at the Madrid Royal Palace, we got off the bus and toured the palace. We ate lunch at the palace. In the cafeteria on the back wall was a photo of the palace’s enormous dining room. I took a photo of Marlene seated in front of the photo. Then Marlene took a photo of me. However, the playful old man that I am, I made it appear that I was trying to steal food from the plates in the photo. Marlene thought it was funny and some young girls thought so too. They tried to imitate my behavior. We took photos of the outside grounds and of the nearby park. I have a photo of a floating air bubble in the park attached. We caught bus and got off by a bridge and area I do not know. We walked around took some photos. It was too late to catch the tour bus. Fortunately at the public transit stop, I recognized a stop near the hotel. We took the corresponding bus back to the hotel.

8 Nov

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After we arrived at the Hotel Regente and parked the car, Marlene and I went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant a couple blocks from the hotel. Then we bought a new SIM card for Spain and when to The English Court, a large department store with a supermarket, where we bought fruit, bread, and whipped cream for our breakfast in the morning.
After eating and shopping we walked around the area. We found three protests that evening. The first was a group of pensioners, who were protesting the bailing out of the banks. Each Thursday, they would march in the area. They passed out a small flyer written in Spanish and English. The English version said that “the government of Spain and its banks” have stolen “30 billion euros from elderly people,” which was only from “Bankia,” one of the bailed-out Spanish banks.
The second protest was really a hunger strike by several young people. Unlike the early days of the short-lived Occupy movement in the United States, they had specific demands. One of the attached photos lists the hunger strikers’ demands. When we interviewed one the spokespersons for the hunger strikers, he said that the hunger strikers were not only in Madrid, but other cities in Spain as well, that they were on a hunger strike because of because of the social, political, and economical situation in Spain. He said that they have a government, which acts like the mafia then a government, that they have stolen public money, while they tell us to make sacrifices.
He said the situation was difficult, every day is Spain more than 500 families are driven from their homes because of the banks, and the government is working for the economic powers, for the banks and not for the Spanish population. He said it was time to change this capitalist system, which is against the people’s rights and dignity. He said that the alternative to capitalism was democracy, where the people decide the issues in their lives. He said that he agreed with nationalizing the banks. However, he would not define himself as an anarchist, a Marxist, or as socialist. He said he had been on a hunger strike for 21 days.
The third group was protesting the government not prosecuting the crimes under Franco. In a legal-size flyer also in Spanish and English said that the goal was “to struggle against the impunity for the crimes committed during the country’s cruel 1936-39 civil war and the ensuing four decades of right-wing dictatorship.” The same flyer said the goals could be summarized by the three words, “truth, justice, and reparation(s).”
While I’m supportive of a “truth commission,” all sides used violence against their enemies and committed atrocities. For example, while I’m an atheist, I would have opposed the destruction of the churches by the left; and, the Stalinist Spanish Communist Party liquidated leaders of the POUM (Partido Obrero Unidad Marxista) and of anarchists. All these crimes should also be investigated.

From Lison to Trujillo to Madrid

6 Nov

The morning Marlene and I left for Spain, we had a horrible argument. She insisted I drive the car around to the front of the building, where we were staying. I wanted to just carry our luggage to the car and I had already carried three of our four bags to the car. I won’t bother you with the details of the argument, but will only add that we were so loud we woke Jorge up. To resolve the argument, Jorge volunteered to drive the car around and he did. While Marlene waited downstairs, Jorge told me I was right because finding his and Chico’s apartment with all the one-way and narrow streets was difficult at best. It turned out no legal parking existed outside the apartment when we left. After we finished loading up the car, I gave Jorge my book, “New Journalism,” because earlier he expressed interest in the subject. Marlene and I then left, while Jorge waited to see us leave. While Marlene and I argue, like any couple, neither of us stay angry long. On leaving Lisbon, we crossed over the Vasco do Gama Bridge, which is modern and futuristic. The toll road had few cars on it and the landscape reminded Marlene of the Sacramento, California. Every few miles were rest stops consisting of usually a gas station, a small convenience story, and rarely a restaurant.
The first place we were to spend the night in Trujillo required us to climb up stairs with the luggage. Marlene decided and I agreed we should try to stay at another hotel. We ended up at the Hotel Victoria. We ate dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. I found the food good, but then I only has some potatoes and a salad. In the restaurant was an old woman with tubes up her nose for oxygen. I liked the hotel. A large miniature wooden sailing ship was prominently displayed in the middle of the lobby. The room had an enclosed balcony, which was probably used in the summer, but for us it was too cold to be used. The room had a very high celling. I can only think how expensive it would be to heat the room in the winter. The next morning we again ate breakfast in the hotel’s lobby. While eating, I noticed an old man drinking a beer and eating olives.
We ate breakfast, packed up the car, and went on our way to Madrid. As we approached Madrid I noticed the highways we were on got wider and wider because of the additional lanes with more and more cars on them. We finally arrived where we were to stay. It was about 5 p.m. The woman, Isabel, we were to stay with at first seemed nice, but it did not take long for Marlene and me to realize that she was a sneaky liar.
Obviously an explanation is in order. After we arrived at her apartment, she walked us to a supermarket. While walking with her, Marlene mentioned the smoke bothered her asthma and asked if she could spray the apartment with air freshener to remove the odor and smoke. Isabel denied the request. She told Marlene she only smoked in her bedroom and added if the smoke continued to bother her, we could spend the night and then the next day we could find some other place to stay. While shopping, Isabel suddenly told us she had to leave because she needed to workout at the gym.
We soon discovered Isabel had lied to us. She did not go the gym, but went home and canceled our Airbnb contract with her. On arriving at her door step with our luggage still in the apartment about 7 p.m., she told us we had to leave. While Marlene and I felt what she did was arbitrary and unfair, Marlene attempted to find another place. After an hour with no success, Marlene and I decided we would insist we would be staying the night. When we confronted her about staying, she told us that our money would be refunded and therefore we must leave. I told her we were not leaving. She then telephoned Airbnb and we told her we were calling the police. She then said she would call the police and did. She also called two male friends, who arrived just before the police and disappeared when the police arrived. The police told us they could not do anything. After she spoke with Airbnb she became quiet and cooperative. The final arrangement was we could spend the night and would leave by noon the next day. The police made it clear we must be out by noon. Even this arrangement violated our original contract which stipulated 24-hour noticed was required.
We then went back to the supermarket, where we bought our next day’s breakfast, and purchased the fixings for a salad, some dealcoholized wine, and some bread. While preparing dinner I suggested to Marlene that we invite Isabel to eat our salad with us. I suggested this because I wanted to ease the tension between her and the two of us. While she refused our invitation, which did not surprise us, Isabel was more polite to us. We ate dinner, went to bed, and slept. The next morning, while much more expensive, we found a hotel near the center of Madrid, within walking distance of the Puerta del Sol. The hotel was the Hotel Regente, which I liked. The ride to the hotel was horrible for me and Marlene. I had to defecate while Marlene was driving. What should have taken no more than a half hour took close to two hours, because Marlene several times missed the turns the GPS told us to take. It was horrible for Marlene, because she had to drive in heavy downtown Madrid traffic down sometimes quite narrow streets. However, we did eventually arrive and while first two days in Madrid were awful, the remaining days there were quite nice and pleasant.