Monday, March 29, 2010

1400th post, oh my

So I've been poring over all the photos from all five camera toting people trying to find the best ones. I came up with what I thought were the top 135, though I'm sure others might disagree. For example, this shot did not make the top cut. The things people do after cocktails. So funny. There is a hilarious video of my brother and I talking about, well let's just say nasty things, and we didn't know Serge was filming. When I watched it yesterday I turned all red, did we really talk about THAT??? Apparently so. And it was worse for brother. No, I won't be showing it and no I will not send it to you privately by email either, so don't ask.

Oh this was interesting on the dessert menu in Barcelona. It had been a great meal and we absolutely couldn't eat another bite but when we saw the Judas's testicle, we just had to order. Sadly, they didn't have this dessert. Incidentally, there is a dessert here in Quebec called nun's farts too, but no testicular sweets.

As I was going through the thousands of photos (I shit you not) there were so many that flummoxed me. Like this one. It was from Serge's camera. I just had to ask, "What were you taking a picture of?" He replied, "I don't know the room or the yellow or something." See I think I'm going to give a tutorial next time on taking pictures. I'm no expert and I've never even taken a class, but I know that that is not an interesting shot. It must be because I've taken so many failed pictures that I don't bother now unless there's a chance of it being good. First of all, choose your subject. Then, make sure your subject is lit (I could go on and on about this. In Hawaii, I saw all kinds of people taking sunset pictures with people facing the camera and no flash. I wanted to run up to each one and yell, "Pull your head out!") adequately.

For example this shot. What was it supposed to be of? The crowd? The shop sign? The tree? I just couldn't figure it out. It's not bad, it's just not that interesting. My dad once told me that pictures without people are boring, but as you can see here, having people doesn't necessarily mean it won't be. Nowadays, I don't believe that about people, because we got some great peopleless shots on this trip.

This came off my brother's iphone. No flash in a dark tapas bar and it came out great. I made one of those tortillas last night. Actually, made a whole plate of tapas in the typical Spanish style. I found the thinly sliced Serrano ham, Spanish style olives, chorizo, and I've been making tortillas for years now. One great thing was the tortilla dish I got. It's a plate with a stand/handle so that when you flip the omelet it's easier. Worked like a charm last night.

I almost never take pics at night if I don't have a tripod or a surface to put the camera on. I took a chance on this one though and success!

See? Simple subject well lit.

Another great one in my opinion. Any real photographers are welcome to set me straight. I fully admit that I'm probably talking out of my ass. My methods are totally borne of trial and error. Speaking of setting me straight, there was some obnoxious comment on the blog while I was gone. Can't remember the post, but it was something along the lines of "you sure travel a lot, so shut the fuck up about your life's worries." I could only imagine a bitter person would enjoy dumping on someone while that someone was on vacation. Additionally, I would like to state for the record my immense gratitude at the traveling opportunities I've had this year, but since most of it wasn't really paid by me, I think I'm still in my rights to worry about retirement and my job situation. Ah yes, before I left I wasn't sure if I'd have work after this week. Well the universe provided again and I got ten full time weeks starting next week. It's true that I should stop worrying about that, as something always seems to come through.

Finally, one of my fave shots of the trip. On our last bar of a night of tapas bar hopping there was this painting. I wanted a shot of it but was rather in my cups so I just took it from where I was sitting. The cash register ended up making the shot for me. I've got an 8x10 of it on the way.

You can see all the best shots here.

Please forgive my absence from your blogs as I haven't had any time since coming home. I hope to get that all rectified by the end of the week. Smooch!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Madrid post

We stayed four nights in Madrid at the Palace Hotel. Here is the famous atrium where stars and heads of state have noshed. A couple of days that we were there, there was a great deal of police presence and secret service type people. We never did figure out who the bigwig was staying there. Everytime I came in or out of the hotel though, I thought, "Serious looking men in suits." The place was crawling with them.

Of course we toured the Prado which was right across the street. We weren't supposed to take any photos, but I just had to sneak one of this. It's famous. Also, as museums and clothes shopping tend to have that effect on me, I pooped at the Prado.

There was lots of free art around the city and in the parks too. This was called something like upside down elephant on its trunk.

The glass palace in Retiro park was a nice opportunity for pics. Doesn't Serge look European?

Here we are in Plaza Mayor. It's a nice place for a stroll, but beware of sitting down for a drink, as you'll be reamed. Mom and I split a calamari and had two diet cokes there and it was thirty bucks!

We also dined at the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin, and as we were leaving I got this shot of all the little dead suckling pigs. We didn't order that here because we had had it already in Segovia.

In front of the Post Office building. Madrid has changed a lot since I was there 27 years ago (I suppose that could be said of any place) and the changes are mostly positive. There was far less poverty on display and Serge kept commenting on how clean it was.

One night, our family friend Jose invited us to dinner at his place. He was an exchange student and stayed with us one summer when I was 15. Now he's got the most charming 7 children you'd ever meet. Honestly, it was right out of the Sound of Music. We were so stuffed when we left!

It was also great to hook up with one of my old coworkers from Southern California who now lives in Madrid. Similar to what I did, she packed up and moved to Spain, married Francisco (pictured) and now teaches English. It was really fun hanging out with them and touring the city.

Our last big meal together at Casa Paco, a steak joint. What a fabulous way to end a fabulous trip. Now we are at home and must face reality. First up is going to get Georgie. I hope he will be as excited to see me as I am him. Have a great weekend!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Road to Madrid

Well that last night in Valencia was a wild one. Bro liked this picture we discovered the next morning and said that if he were on Facebook, this would be his profile picture. He was a little upset for having smoked since he had been clean for 2 months, but hey, it was a party.

It was easy to blame Julie who kept plying us with some kind of rum punch she had brought. While we were waiting for the burning of the fallas to begin, we drank in the street and met these girls from France. They howled at my accent as all the Frenchies from France do. I think it would be like if a French person learned English in Texas and had a kind of French drawl. It must sound really weird to them.

Then they burned and burned and wet ash rained down on us. Firemen were on hand dowsing the flames so that no one would get hurt.

It was a hangovery drive to Toledo the next day. Toledo is an ancient city, some might say the birthplace of Spain. We stayed just outside the town at one of Spain's Paradors, the government run chain of classy hostelry.

We have been enjoying the food immensely. I wasn't all that into this dish, but I loved the anchovies in vinegar. I don't think I've eaten as many olives in all my life the last week, but I think it will be a nice new habit to take on.

Ooh look, here's Serge eating baby eels. I had some too and they were pretty much like eating noodles. Hard to wrap your head around though.

Then we went on to Segovia. Here you see the ancient Roman aquqeduct that carried water to the city for many centuries. It was in use until recently. Those Romans sure knew how to construct things.

Serge keeps saying everything looks féerique which is translated loosely to fairy-tale like. It's true I must admit. This is also in Segovia.

We finally got a shot of our whole gang together. We have been travelling in one luggage packed vehicle and sharing two hotel rooms. Cozy but fun. You wouldn't want to stay in our room though with me Serge and bro because the farting contest has really been serious. Serge is still in the lead. Today we head to Madrid. Later!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Valencia post

We have fallen in love with all things Valencian. Serge said to me today that of all the places we've traveled together, this is his favorite place of all. I asked if it was better than Paris and Rome and he said yes. High praise for this city. Of course he hasn't been to Madrid yet. We've been feasting on the local cuisine and paella figures highly in our diet. You can see a large pan of it being prepared on the street behind me in the picture.

We are here for the festival Las Fallas which is an amazing thing to experience. There really is nothing else like it in the world. You can see a falla in the picture above. It is one of hundreds around the city erected for the week (though worked on all year) in a kind of competition. The theme this year seems to be the economy and there are many depictions of greed as you might imagine. Fireworks are a huge part of this festival and all day long you hear explosions as children and adults alike light firecrackers in the street. There is not 2 seconds that goes by without you hearing them. When they go off near you, you jump, though after three days we are starting to become numb to it. At night they shoot off the pretty kind of fireworks. I'm not talking sissy American fireworks, there are constant M-80s, roman candles and bottle rockets in addition to the city displays. In addition, everyone is drinking in the street and I can only describe the atmosphere here as pure merriment. If you ever get a chance in your life, come to this festival.

Even though it is an ancient and very European city, there is a modern side as well. They must be very proud of their city!

All day long there are marching bands and parades, and the senses are truly overloaded. I liked this shot of Serge and me.

Tonight, the 19th of March, all of the fallas will be set ablaze. A kind of purging of all the evils depicted. It is sad in a way, but awesome too. This is my second Fallas, and I remember this night to be one to remember. Really, what other city basically sets itself on fire. They bring in firefighters from all over the region to hose down the buildings before the torching begins.

Of course we had to visit a bullfight. I know there are many against this kind of spectacle, and I am conflicted. At best it is no worse than fishing for fun. I loved the moments where you get adrenaline, will the matador get gored or will he prevail. Pretty scary stuff to watch. I can't say I didn't enjoy it, because I did.

The parades are groups of traditionally dressed citizens and marching bands winding through the streets. The little girls are just adorable.

Beer with breakfast. When in Rome, well you know the rest. We're just trying to fit in after all. Plus it's vacation. Don't judge.

I don't know why but this is my favorite shot here so far. Tonight's the last night. Serge and bro are napping before dinner and then it's the big night of setting all the fallas on fire. Oh and a final balls to the wall fireworks show. Maybe tomorrow I'll get some sleep because during this festival, it's nearly impossible to get more than a few hours a day. Don't know when I'll have internet again, but until then adios amigos!
Lots more photos here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Barcelona post

We made the six hour drive (with stops) to Barcelona on Sunday. You see these giant bull billboards everywhere along the way. Apparently they were a sort of advertisement for a liquor company and when the company shut down or changed hands, people had become so attached to them that there was uproar so they stayed. We kept focusing on the sizeable nutsack. Once you notice it, it is difficult to ignore. (Even my straight brother said so, so it isn't just me.

There is snow here. Well not here in Barcelona, but all along the way in the interior of Spain. It is getting warmer though (60ish, 15ish C ) so it will be gone soon. The weather has been perfect. A light jacket is all one needs and it has been sunny every day.

We were happy about availing ourselves of the duty free shop in Philly. We have had a nice little bar going since we arrived. I don't know what Serge ate but he has been the gassiest gasbag I've ever seen lately. My brother and I are avid farters and thus highly skilled at it, but Serge is truly the champion. So much so that....

It was necessary to buy this shirt. (Or at least take a picture of it and make it his screensaver tee hee.)

He has gotten a little better today though. This is down in the port of Barcelona.

There is a huge open air market off of La Rambla where you can get pretty much anything. The (I don't know the Spanish or Catalan term for it) smoked, aged pig legs are pretty good, but I get a little grossed out when I see the cloven hoof. Best to ignore that part. We have been picnicking on the patio of the folks' room for lunch with yummies from the market. Chorizo, foie gras, myriad cheeses, baguettes, olives, anchovies etc. etc.

Yesterday, I dragged Serge and bro over to the gay area of town to have a cocktail before dinner. It was dead of course, apparently things don't really get going until 1am and I am officially too old for that nonsense. I loved the decor in the bar though. We were saddened once again at the vodka martini that we ordered. It looked like it was going to be okay since it was served in a martini glass with olives. Unfortunately it was equal parts vodka and vermouth. Yuck. At least it wasn't like the one in Paris when they mixed it with sweet vermouth as that was unpotable. It was unpleasant to pay $8.50 Euro for it (twelve bucks) but at least we could drink it.

Cuisine is heavy on the seafood here. I like it, but it was a bit of work to eat these little guys. I didn't eat the heads though.

Today we went to the Sagrada Familia, the famous unfinished cathedral designed by Gaudi. We saw it a couple of years ago when we were here but didn't go up to the top then. This is the view from up there. That weird building in the background is known as the big cucumber (or dildo, or lipstick, the story seems to vary) Even though it was Serge's idea to go up, he really had a hard time with his vertigo. He always thinks he can handle it and then he panics at the top. Poor guy. Tonight is our last night here and we will dine at a traditional Catalan restaurant. Tomorrow we head to Valencia for the big festival. Driving into town will certainly be an adventure. Don't know when the next internet availability will be, but for now you're all caught up. As am I. Smooches!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How about 13 of 13

Blasphemous I know, but we've arrived in Spain in a place called Alcalà de Henares for a jet lag stay of one night. Instead of sleeping (like everyone else right now - fools) I thought I'd take advantage of the free internet and post. Who knows when the next free internet will be. This is in our hotel which is very modern inside but built in a 17th century convent. We almost didn't make it to Spain because our first flight to Philly was canceled and it was only because an earlier flight was delayed that we were able to make it to the airport and onto that plane. We would not be here if we'd missed it. You can imagine the panicked start to the trip. In the rush I forgot my ipod touch. No music, no checking email on it (or Grinder ahem) no books to read and perhaps most upsetting of all, no solitaire (for pooptime don't you know.) Let's forget that for now though.

This is looking up from the same spot in the previous picture. We didn't sleep much on the overnight flight to Madrid, but I'm planning to make up for that tonight.

We had a drink when we got here and then went for a walk around the hotel which is the old part of this city founded by the Romans. Cobblestone streets everywhere.

I thought this thing was so cool. If you required service, push the service button. If you'd like the check, push the check button. No craning one's neck looking for a waiter.

Oh did I mention this is the birthplace of Cervantes of Don Quixote fame. We toured his house located behind the smoking security guard.

All the raingutters here look like this. It reminds me of the detailed lamppost bases we saw in Florence.

There are all kinds of buildings like this around.

And there are storks nesting on all of them. I don't know the story behind it but I'll go check Wikipedia after I finish to see if there is one. There is!

Serge with the little brother. They are sleeping as I type. We were so gassy when we got off that plane but I'd have to say that Serge won this round of the festival of flatulence. You are so lucky you are not sharing a room with us. We are laughing plenty though.

I love shots like this. I don't know why.

This is the entrance to our hotel. Old and new blended.

The elevator is weird and infinitizes your image. Sorry for the dearth of pics of yours truly, but I was taking pictures of everything but me.

What a funny surprise to find this place. Quebec is simply everywhere.