Bonjour de la Suisse

Hello from Switzerland! ~~ The adventures of a California girl who got married to a great guy, G, and traded in her old life for the chance to live in a foreign land and live the expat life for a couple years. We live in Geneva, Switzerland with our globe-trotting cat, Scout.

Ma photo
Nom :
Lieu : California, United States

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." ~ G.K. Chesterton

samedi, juin 24, 2006

I'm home!

After 24 hours of traveling (via a train, the Paris Metro, a bus & 2 flights), I'm home. I arrived in Washington DC first where I had to go through customs before catching my next flight. There is something about walking through US customs that makes me a little sentimental and when the customs official said "Welcome home!" I almost got a little teary eyed. Then I got stopped by the drug dog.

The cute little beagle was glued to my suitcase like a magnet. "Hey there lil' fella!" I wanted to say, but the guy attached to him was all business. "Are you carrying any food?" Oops... I forgot to declare the 20 pounds of cat food I was hauling back (loooong story, but funny). "Do you have a cat with you?", Uhhh... No. "No cat but you have cat food? That's a first!" I now had to explain to him my long story and wait in an even longer line to have someone rifle through my stuff. Good times!

But, I was now on my way to SF, cat food & all. After arriving, I stood at the luggage carousel and watched two flights of baggage come and go, but only one of my bags made it. Super. It turned out that my bag was simply delayed and would be arriving in an hour and a half... at least it wasn't lost.

Finally, finally I'm home. It’s good to be back. I'm excited because tomorrow I fly to Vegas for my dear friend's wedding (M & G), then I'm heading up to Lake Trinity for our annual house boat trip. When we return I have a week to relax before our other friend's wedding (D & C) just before heading back over the Atlantic. There really is no place like home and I'm looking forward to every minute of my two weeks here!

vendredi, juin 23, 2006

Geneva update

Faithful readers, because I've been playing catch up with the blog, I've neglected things on the home front. So, here's a quick update as to what I've been up to in Geneva for the past few weeks or so:

Most of my time has been consumed with my intensive French class and the mountain of homework I've had every night. I've been going to class 5 days a week, 4 hours a day for the past 6 weeks or so. My grammar and vocabulary are improving nicely, but I still have trouble getting what I want to say out of my mouth. All in good time I suppose! The people I've meet in class are great; very nice, supportive and fun to hang out with.

One gem of a moment was when we had to state for the class (en Francais) the last movie we had seen. Easy enough question, but my mind simply went blank! It had been a while since I had seen any movie. I couldn't even think of what to say in English, and of course, I was first!! "Uhhh, uhhh, <<teacher repeats question>> uhhh... Memoirs of a Geisha!" I belt out. Not a good choice for me, because we then had to talk about our movie "Uhhh..." I had managed to forget the entire plot and panic set in!! Here's how it went, (in English): "Little girls go to geisha woman because parents very poor. Geisha woman to teach little girls to sing, dance, play instrument and entertain men. Little girls grow to women. They have very difficult life. One geisha finds love. She is happy." I really don't think I have a future as a movie critic!

Of course the last two weeks I've been obsessed with World Cup football. I went to see US & Italy play (on a big screen at a local stadium) with a few other Americans. We show up and there were roughly 5,000 Italy fans and 8 US fans. Yes, eight. There were five in my group and when the US scored, we saw three more way down in the lower level! I thought there would be a FEW more supporters of the Red, White & Blue, but I guess they all had something better to do on a Friday night. We held our own though and pulled out a 1:1 tie, which didn't make the Italians happy, but we were elated!! (Too bad we've since been eliminated, but there is always 2010!)

In my life outside French class & football, I've joined the Geneva Toastmasters! A guy in G's office (now my mentor) is a member and invited me to come along. I was a guest for two meeting and decided to sign up. With a little pressure from my "mentor", I gave my first "ice breaker" speech at my very first meeting as a full fledged member. (Thanks Pat for all the encouraging words!!) I was SO nervous. I felt like my notes were shaking in my hands and I was talking a mile a minute. But it actually came out pretty well. I got good feedback and everyone said it was a really good speech! I was thrilled!

Through the web site, GenevaOnLine, I've been making friends and joining in some different activities here and there. Last weekend I went wake boarding (Lake Geneva is still a bit chilly!!), picniced at the Geneve Plage (the local beach) and hung out at "Fete de la Musique", the huge music festival that takes over all of Geneva for three days each June. There were all types of music and dance at over 40 venues. The ballet, opera and synphony all held free, open air preformances. There was even a huge production of modern & hip-hop dance that was just like "Dance Collage" at UC Davis! It was a fantastic way to spend my last weekend in Geneva before I head back to California for a couple weeks. See you in Cali! :)

jeudi, juin 22, 2006

The Beautiful Game

"There are many beautiful things about being an American fan of men's World Cup soccer - foremost among them is ignorance. The community in which you were raised did not gather around the TV set every four years for a solid, breathless month. Your country has never won. You can pick whatever team you like best and root for it without shame of reprisal. You have not been indoctrinated into unwanted-yet-inescapable tribal allegiances by your soccer-crazed countrymen. You are an armature, in the purest sense of the word." - from a great article on "Why the World Loves Soccer" in this month's National Geographic.

I am just about the newest football fan on the planet. Three short weeks ago, I could have care less about the matches that always seemed to be on Eurosport and the ridiculous amount of time BBC spent on reporting the scores. Then the World Cup started and it all changed.

I now have watched almost every match to date, either with thousands of cheering fans at one of the many places Geneva has set up huge screens for fans to watch, or with friends at a bar or restaurant (EVERY bar & restaurant in town now has a permanent TV set up for viewing) or cheering alone in our apartment. I’m actually a bit surprised by my sudden interest (dare say passion?) for the game.

Living in Europe you cannot help but get swept up in all. It's what everyone talks about. Entire businesses shut down so their workers can catch the 3:00 game. All over town you see flags hanging from apartment windows... Brazil, Italy, Japan, Croatia, Ivory Coast... and of course, Switzerland. Cars honking (for hours sometimes) with the victorious drivers waving flags out their windows after every match (even after the late games that end at 11 pm). You don't even need a schedule to know who is playing on any particular day, people are decked out in their country's colors, flags wrapped around them. Every store sells something world cup related (World Cup wine anyone?) and the department stores have dedicated huge areas to sell their World Cup wares. And this is all in Switzerland... not even Germany where it's actually happening!!!

There are many reasons to love soccer. Watching the players in the World Cup, it never ceases to amaze me what these guys do with their bodies. The players have speed, grace, accuracy, strength, and agility, which they use with no inhibitions, just to get that elusive goal. All the while they make it all look so easy. The games themselves are like a mini-drama full of suspense. Things can change so fast, at any moment. You can never be sure of a victory until the final whistle has blown.

But it is so much more than the players or even the game itself. It's a game that can be played anywhere with almost anything. The rules are simple. It transcends all aspects of society. Wars have been started over football but it also has the power to unite the world. It is the only truly international sport. One fifth of all humanity will be watching the final on July 9th, that is over a billion people!

Now that I'm returning to the US, it won't be quite the same. There won't be the same level of fanfare or celebrations. And I hope I can catch at least a few games on television. But I'm now a fan for life, permanently part of an international community of football-crazed people.

mercredi, juin 21, 2006

Not a football fan? This is for you!

switzerland ad - soccer world cup alternative

Okay ladies, here is s REAL television ad shown throughout Europe. It was made by the Swiss Tourism Board to try to entice visitors to come to Switzerland instead of Germany during the games. Enjoy!

dimanche, juin 18, 2006

World Cup fever

Berlin is a truly amazing city that took me completely by surprise. I didn't know what to expect. All I knew about Berlin before I went was its recent tumultuous history and that the city is pretty spread out. But despite all of its history, Berlin is experiencing a rebirth and a new city is emerging that is hip and fun, with good transportation, great food, and plenty to see and do (the largest department store on the continent, KaDeWe, is here too!) To top it all off, Germany is host to the FIFA World Cup this year and the final will be played in Berlin on July 9th.

Actually, when we walked out of the Berlin airport, we were greeted with fireworks, honking horns and cheers. Well, it wasn't exactly for us, Germany had just won their first game of the cup!!

Two days weren't enough to see everything, and by the time we were getting to know the different neighborhoods, it was time to leave! We spent a lot of time in East Berlin. We saw the moving sites of Berlin's recent history, including Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, The Museum of the Wall, The Jewish Museum and the wall itself. There are only a few small sections of the wall left. The only way to tell where it was are by bricks specially laid in the ground that trace the path of where it once stood.

The longest section of the wall still standing is about a mile long and called the East Side Gallery, where artist from around the world are welcome to paint murals on it. It is said that the only reason it's still standing is because of a land ownership dispute and when that is settled it will most likely be torn down as well. I hope not. It's a very moving piece of history and should be preserved for future generations.

After all of that we were ready to have some fun. World Cup madness was all around us! It was opening weekend of the cup and there were tents with bands, food, and plenty to drink set up all over the city. Everywhere we turned, the air was filled with music and celebrations. There were also several places that had huge screens set up for people to watch the games. The biggest of these was in an area called "Fan Fest" and was located just behind Brandenburg Gate. It stretched for a couple miles and had several monster screens, carnival rides and plenty to eat and drink.

We watched the Trinidad & Tobago vs. Sweden game at Fan Fest and it was fantastic! Standing there, in a crowd of screaming fans eating bratwurst and drinking beer was perfect, you can't get much more German that that!

We had just about the perfect weekend, but there is always a glitch to keep it interesting. I suffer from seasonal allergies and my symptoms have popped up here and there during our travels, but nothing a little over-the-counter antihistamine can't manage. So far, in Geneva, it hasn't been too bad, but as spring goes on it seems to be getting a bit worse. But nothing has compared to the allergy attack I got in Berlin. I was sneezing uncontrollably, my nose was constantly running and my eyes were watering so much I could barely see. The pollen in the air was so thick it looked like snow flurries!!

Time to pull out the big guns. I finally broke down and took a prescription Allegra. Its great stuff and it even cured me when the Vacaville gardeners decided to mow the grass right when I was getting to work at 1:00. But here, in Berlin, my Allegra helped, but certainly did not cure my crazy symptoms. The pollen was the only part of the city I was happy to leave behind.

This trip was the last of a crazy eight weeks in a row that we've spent every weekend away from home. G is headed back to the US and I will soon be following him. I have a week or so in Geneva (most of which is now past), and soon it will be time for the house boat!!!

Thanks for reading about all of our travels and I'm so glad to say I'm finally caught up with the blog!!!! Woo Hoo :)

Us at The Berlin Wall

Looking from East to West through the wall

The sign at Checkpoint Charlie

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Gedachtniskirche). Its bombed out ruins stand as a memorial of the devastation of Berlin in WWII.

Looking up through the moving "Garden of Exiles" at the Jewish Museum

G has a new appreciation for art!

This huge screen is just behind Brandenburg Gate (see the bronze statue peaking out from the top?) at the FIFA World Cup Fan Fest!

Me with Goleo VI, the official mascot of the games!

See the guy behind Gary? These guys were all over Berlin, carrying their ENTIRE hotdog cart around them (umbrella included)! Those Germans are so efficient!

There is nothing wrong with the camera, that is the pollen in the air!

samedi, juin 17, 2006

Ahoj from Praha

Because of the very cold winter, we have not yet done any traveling in Eastern Europe. So our weekend in Prague (or Praha in Czech) was something special for me, since it was the first time I had been to Eastern Europe. Unfortunately I was sick as a dog before we left! All I wanted to do was stay in bed and nurse myself back to health, but we went, tissues in hand, and had a great time. The naps & Dayquil were lifesavers, and by the time we were headed home I was actually feeling better.

The Czech Republic is in the European Union, but they have yet to go onto the Euro (they plan to in 2009). I could never quite get the hang of their currency because the exchange rate of Czech Crowns (CZK) to dollars to is roughly 25:1. Maybe it was that I wasn't used to carrying around 1,000 & 2,000 note bills. None the less, I think I was driving Gary a little crazy, always asking him, "how much does this cost?" Simple math and being sick just don't mix for me!

The sights of Prague are wonderful, and personally I think it has some of the most picturesque squares and neighborhoods I've seen so far in Europe. The city is charming, fun, and a great deal! We spent most of our time in the Old Town, at Prague Castle, and in the Jewish Quarter.

The only thing that put a damper on the trip (no pun intended) was that it was cold and drizzly, which didn't help when I wasn't feeling well anyway. Our hotel was across the river from the Old Town, just on the other side of a long park (Letenske Sady) that overlooked most of the city. The walk between our hotel and town through the park was very nice, and besides getting lost in it going to the castle (again, I knew exactly where we were going) we really liked strolling through Letenske Sady, taking in the scenery.

We has so much fun on our ghost tour in Edinburgh that we tempted fate and went on another one (big mistake). I don't think it was lack of content that made it so bad, but our guide was just horrible! He didn't know anything about anything and he looked extremely boarded with the whole thing (like the rest of us on the tour). I kept hoping it would get better ("it has to get better!" we kept telling ourselves), but it never did. Then he dropped us off on the other end of the city, far from where we had started. "Okay, bye!" was all we got! We found our way back, but it was pretty funny (after a couple of beers).

The next night I was feeling (slightly) better and I wanted to try some traditional Czech food. The dinner was heavy, but very good. I had cabbage soup with "brown bread" and some very dense potato dumplings. I was happy and full.

Then the waiter asked us something (in Czech), when we didn't understand he asked us again (louder) and then kept repeating the word (in English) "traditional". Now, as you may know, I am a sucker for anything traditional on my travels, so when he said "can I bring for you?" I said enthusiastically, "Yes!" Next thing we know we have some kind of clear shot that smelled just awful. Oh well, when in Rome...

Another big mistake. I'm pretty sure that was the worst thing I have ever drank in my life. And the taste stayed with us for hours! I ever tried to eat lemon sorbet a couple hours later to help dissipate the taste, but it was to no avail. We later figured out we drank Slivovice (we think). Not recommended. But now I can say I did it!

All in all, it was a great trip, even being sick. At the statue of John of Nepomuk on the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), we touched the bronze plaque at his feet, ensuring our return to the city (according to local ledged). You never know, maybe we will be back to this wonderful place again someday!

Us in front of the Astronomical Clock (Prague Orloj) in the Old Town Square (Staromestske Namesti). On the hour there is a little show (12 apostles appear from the clock and a rooster crows), and during the day, every tourist in Prague congregates here. For a 500 year old clock it's impressive, but I think the people watching is even better! (By the way, this picture was taken at 8am on Sunday.)

The St. Vitus Cathedral (Katadrala Sv. Vita) at Prague Castle (Pražský Hrad). This is actually only part of the church, it's so big you can't get a picture of the whole thing!

Me in front of a house on the Golden Lane (Zlata Ulicka) at the Prague Castle.

Only in Europe!

G & the space cow in Letenske Sady, our neighborhood park.

The Tyn Church in the Old Town Square. The spires are named "Adam" & "Eve" and if you look closely you can even see that the left one (Eve) is smaller than the right.

Us on the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), trying to stay warm!

One of my favorite Europe pictures! A view of Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge.

vendredi, juin 16, 2006

Guinness anyone?

Cheers from the Gravity Bar at the Guinness brewery!

We made it to Dublin and despite our being a bit tired, we hit the ground running! We found Dublin to be another charming city. I've always loved Irish music and step dancing, but I soon began to realize that I didn't know a whole lot about this country. As we toured the local sights, I began to understand more about Ireland's rich culture and stirring history, including the recent struggle for independence and tragic civil war.

We found the weather to be warmer than Scotland and the sun even came out briefly! We were staying right near St. Stephen's Green, a beautiful park that we had to walk through to get to all the sites. Dublin actually is full of great parks and open areas and the people here certainly take advantage of the sunshine while it's out! The parks and streets were full of people, which made for quite a festive atmosphere.

Our one and only night in town, after a traditional Irish dinner, we met up with a couple girls from "GenevaOnline", the group we are involved with back home in Switzerland. We ended up at a place in the Temple Bar area with live music. There was a cover band that was belting out 80's rock and people were absolutely crazy for it! It was the first time I had ever heard a cover of Bon Jovi's "Livin’ on a Prayer", classic! On our way back to the hotel, we popped into a local bar with a band playing traditional Irish music! It made out late night even later, but it was well worth it!

In the morning, we decided that a nice walk would do us good. So instead of catching the bus out to the other end of town, where Kilmainham Goal (the historic jail) and Guinness are, we instead walked. I knew exactly were we were going (of course), which is why we got completely lost and ended up walking around in huge circles in some slightly shady neighborhoods. In spite of our very frustrating (and long) morning walk, we eventually found what we were looking for and even got to see some parts of town most tourists don't!

After a tour of the prison, we had finally made it to the Guinness brewery, which no trip to Dublin is complete without! Now, to some, Guinness is just a beer, but for me a visit to their brewery was a pilgrimage.

It's my favorite beer and not only did we get a free one with our (paid) visit, we also learned some interesting facts: Guinness has been brewed for almost 250 years, the largest vats hold up to 90,000 gallons (or 720,000 pints) of beer, The Guinness Book of World Record's was dreamed up here, and "Guinness is Good For You!", at least that's what an ad campaign in 1929 claimed!

The ad stated: "Guinness builds strong muscles. It feeds exhausted nerves. It enriches the blood. Doctors affirm that Guinness is a valuable restorative after Influenza and other weakening illnesses." Fantastic! Who knew?

Before we headed back to the airport, we had time for one last meal. The food was delicious and the traditional atmosphere was great! It was a nice end to such a wonderful weekend.

In front of the Guinness St. James's Gate Brewery.

??? I'm still trying to figure this one out!

We found sun at our neighborhood park, St. Stephen's Green.

We enjoyed the nice weather at Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells (and the Berkeley Library!)

"Temple Bar" in the Temple Bar neighborhood

"GenevaOnline" in Dublin

Rocking out to Bon Jovi

jeudi, juin 15, 2006

The land of haggis, golf, & Sir William Wallace

Farewell March of The Royal Scots

Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal little dog who kept watch over his master's grave for 14 years in Greyfriar's Cemetery.

Edinburgh Castle

Gary got this amazing picture right as the 1:00 gun went off at Edinburgh Castle, nice timing!

The tale of Deacon Brodie, his double life is thought to have been the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson's novel "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".

Any relation, Fi?

Dolly the sheep

Everyone in Edinburgh was so friendly, even the local Fire Brigade!

Our new friends from the Literary Pub Tour

Not only has Gary had Good Friday AND Easter Monday off, but on Thursday, May 25th he had the day off for Ascension (you have to love the Swiss and all their holidays!). What is this day? Well, I had a general idea, but then in French class they wanted us to explain it... in French! Now, I can barely explain to someone what I did yesterday, let alone explain a holiday I have never officially celebrated, my vocabulary just isn't quite that advanced yet. For those of you who don't know, this is the brief explanation (in English): Ascension Day commemorates the ascension of Jesus into heaven following His crucifixion and resurrection. Now in French: Il vole loin après la mort (or He flies away after death)... not quite the same.

So, to celebrate, we went to Scotland & Ireland! Two days in Edinburgh and two in Dublin. It was a very quick trip, and it only made us want to go back to both countries to really get to know the lay of the land, but we had a great time none the less.

I've wanted to go to Scotland ever since junior high, when I first met my dear friend (and now cousin-in-law), the newest Mrs. Hansen, of clan MacGregor. As soon as we arrived I was completely entranced and wished we had booked all four days here, but I know we'll return someday, so we took in everything we could in the time we had.

Edinburgh is an amazing city... it's a fun town, full of history & amazing sites. It's the birthplace of Sir Walter Scott & Robert Lewis Stevenson and it's the town that stories such as Peter Pan & Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were dreamed up. It's also the home of the oldest known golf ball, the first curling stones, and Dolly the cloned sheep.

Our hotel was right near a place called "The World's End", which used to be the place where a huge gate marked the edge of the city. Now this busy corner on the Royal Mile is home to a great little bar that serves really good local food. We were right near all the old sights and within walking distance of almost everywhere.

The only problem was, besides it being a little overcast, it was really, really cold! Of course I was in weather denial when I packed... the winter has been so cold in Switzerland and finally we've had some warm weather (in Geneva, 780 miles to the south!). Because of my wishful thinking, I failed to bring anything heavier than a light sweater! We went from store to store, but because of the season there was not one coat to be found anywhere in the city (although I could have had my pick of bikinis!) So, I'm now the proud owner of a brand new heavy-duty Scotland sweatshirt which saved me from the frigid cold!

The first night we went on a "Ghost Tour" which sounds a bit hokey, but it turned out to be quite fun. Our guides talked to us about all kinds of local history while getting us involved in the act (Gary was chosen to play the part of an invading Roman soldier). And of course, they took us around to some "spooky" locations, including Greyfriar's Cemetery, where we were led into a very dark crypt that is haunted by the famous MacKenzie Poltergeist.

We were lucky to be in town for the "Farewell March of The Royal Scots". The Royal Scots were founded in 1633 and is the oldest, continuously formed, active army unit in the world. But, in a move to modernize Britain's Armed Forces they are now being merged with the rest of the national army. There were bagpipers, soldiers just back from Iraq, and lots of very proud veterans. We stood in the rain and clapped for these brave men. It was actually a quite moving event.

The night we switched gears and joined up with a Literary Pub Tour, witch was led by two very entertaining actors. We learned a little literary history, drank some great beers (& Scottish whiskey), and met up with some really cool people. After, we hit the town with our new American friends (not from California). Needless to say, it was hard to get up the next day for our early morning flight to Dublin!

dimanche, juin 11, 2006

Happy 1st Anniversary! :)

I still cannot believe it has been a year since our wedding! It seems like yesterday that we were at Cline Cellars celebrating with all of our friends & family. The year has gone by so fast, but it has been great, and I look forward to the many wonderful years to come. :)

Way back when we were planning our honeymoon, my first choice was Venice. At that point I had never been to Europe and I wanted something romantic, scenic and adventurous. We didn't end up going at that time, we headed to the Virgin Islands instead (which was absolutely incredible!) So, for our 1st anniversary we wanted to go somewhere special, and Venice was perfect.

Venice is relatively close to us, but it's hard for us to get to since there are no discount airlines that fly there from Geneva (we could never travel the way we do without EasyJet & RyanAir). So we decided to go super romantic and take the overnight sleeper train (which was way better than my overnight train from Madrid to Barcelona!). Soon we were off into the night speeding across Italy.

Venice was everything I had dreamed it would be. The canals, singing gondoliers, old squares full of music and beautiful buildings rich in history. Our hotel was on the Grand Canal just a couple of blocks from the Rialto Bridge, so we were in the heart of everything. We were immediately drawn to St. Mark's Square (or Piazza San Marco). This is a busy, touristy square by day and a romantic, lively square at night, when it is filled with the music of dueling orchestras.

The Piazza is surrounded by beautiful, old, historic buildings and filled with pigeons. I have never seen so many pigeons in one place in my entire life. Throughout the Piazza are vendors that will sell you a bag of dried corn kernels for one Euro (I need to get into that business!) As soon as you open the bag, birds surround you, landing at your feet, on your arms, shoulders and head. They eat right out of your hand, and before you can get a couple of pictures snapped, your food is gone! We didn't see any skinny pigeons in Venice.

It was near the Piazza that I got a really great compliment! A guy was trying to sell us tickets to a local Venetian concert, but we weren't interested. He only spoke Italian or French, so I was telling him, in very broken French, that we had other plans and we didn't want the tickets. As we walked away, a music student from Canada (who was about to warn us not to waste our money on the sub-par performance) tapped me on my shoulder and asked "Do you speak English?" He thought I spoke French! Now, I know my French isn't very good at all, so he either didn't hear much of me speak or he doesn't know what French sounds like, but all the same it made my night!

That first night we went on the "Classic Venice Bar Tour". Our guide, Alessandre was quite a character. He's a connoisseur of Venetian "bacaros", classic old bars serving traditional "cicchetti" (local munchies). He was quite a character and introduced us to some delicious local wines. Our tour was small (only four of us), but the other couple, who were from Santa Cruz, were so much fun to hang out with! It's funny, but we seem to meet more people from the Bay Area than almost anywhere else.

During our two days we did all the usual sightseeing, but this was a special weekend and we were content with simply walking the streets and really getting a feel for this wonderful city. The highlight of the weekend was a nighttime gondola ride followed by Gary dancing with me in the middle of St. Mark's Square under the stars to the music of one of the many orchestras. I must say, this was one of the best anniversary gifts I could have ever received. :)

Thanks Gary for a wonderful weekend and I look forward to all the years we have ahead of us.

Arriving in town at The Rialto Bridge

The birds of St. Mark's Square (or Piazza San Marco)

The view of Piazza San Marco from St. Marks Basilica

Traffic jam, Venice style

Our little gang on the bar tour with our guide Alessandro, in the middle, who made us feel like locals, hopping around from one neighborhood bar to another. Grazie!

On the Grand Canal, Venice's "Main Street"

One of the 2,000 alleys that wind their way through the city. The city is actually made up of over 100 islands connected by 400 bridges.

Us (& the pigeons) back in Piazza San Marco

jeudi, juin 08, 2006

¿Se Habla Japonés?

The Oso (bear) of Madrid (The emblem of the city).

The closed Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, home of Picasso's Guernica. When the museum is closed, it's CLOSED!

Picasso's Guernica

A cute couple in the parade for San Isidro, the Patron Saint of Madrid.

I landed in Madrid late in the evening, very well rested from my 5 days in Fuerteventura. Gary was heading back to Geneva and I was taking the less expensive route home through Spain. My plan was to spend the night and have the entire next day to explore Madrid, then catch the overnight train to Barcelona where I would spend the day until my flight left that evening. Two days on my own, no problem, what could possibly go wrong?!?

I found my hotel with ease, which I had booked a couple of months ago. Upon arrival, the guy at the desk said there was a "slight problem", that MY room had been flooded out when a pipe burst in the wall (how does this keep happening to me?), but not to worry because the "very nice family upstairs" was willing to take me in for the night. "They have been doing this for 30 years," he reassured me, "the only thing is that they speak no English." That was fine (after all I was in Spain!)

He showed me upstairs and a cute little old woman answered the door. I got my own room (with a bathroom - score!) and a lock. It was basic and clean which was all right. It was kind of like staying with a long lost grandmother. She would chat with me in Spanish and I would try to answer her as best I could. I was issued towels that looked like they were about 30 years old with faded flowers on them, but I wouldn't have had it any other way, as it all fit right in with the ambiance of the place.

I went out to dinner and was good not to get back too late (I didn't want to have her waiting up for me!) Dinner was interesting as it was the first time in Europe I have sat down to a meal in a restaurant by myself. I strategically sat outside near other solo travelers and read my guidebook, planning for the next day. I missed Gary, but I was happy that I got over my fear of eating out alone.

The next day was Monday, May 15th. Now, almost anywhere you go in Europe, many of the museums and exhibits are closed on Mondays, so it is never a great day to see things. But in Madrid there were still quite a few places that were scheduled to be open, such as The Royal Palace, El Rastro (Europe's biggest flea market), and (most important to me) Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which houses Picasso's epic masterpiece, Guernica.

Well, it turns out that THIS Monday was the Fiesta de San Isidro, the celebration of the Patron Saint of Madrid. Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) was closed. I spent the day walking all over town, seeing the sights through huge steal gates with the hordes of other tourists. It was actually nice to wander, getting a feel for the city and seeing charismatic back streets that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

I wanted to go further a field, so I got on one of those "hop-on-hop-off" tour busses that loop around the city. The only problem was every other tourist in town was doing the same thing, so it took a while to get a seat on the open-air top deck. Once I did have a seat I wasn't going anywhere and sat back to enjoy the view. I plugged my headset in to get a little of the local history, when to my dismay I realized MY audio guide was stuck on the Japanese setting! (Mingle, I could have used your help with this one!)

I rode around town, quite content to make up my own stories about this monument or that building, it was actually kind of fun! I sat down to another solo diner in the lively central square, Plaza Mayor and just as I was finishing a crowd began to gather in front of our outdoor dining area. A parade for San Isidro was marching through the square and I had a front row seat! There was music, floats and everyone was dressed up in traditional outfits. I even got to see the Cardinal of Madrid. This was the start of the real festivities that lasted throughout the evening. I stayed as long as I could, but I had to get across town to catch a train. I was once again off to a new destination... Barcelona.

This was my first overnight train ride and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. To save money I only reserved a seat and not a sleeping compartment (big mistake). I was crammed into a little area with one older Spanish guy and four very young and somewhat obnoxious American guys. I'm against stereotypes, but I can see where some of the "American tourist" ones come from. I made good use of my time and read quite a bit of the book I had brought, The Bonesetter's Daughter and settled in to a restless night speeding across Spain.

I took it easy during my day in Barcelona. Since this was my third visit, I didn't have that crazy urge to see everything and I could really relax and enjoy the city. I had breakfast on Las Rambles, the colorful pedestrian thoroughfare and spent the rest of the day at Parc Guell and the lively La Boqueria Market.

On my way out of town, I picked up my travel pack at the train station and happened upon the completely useless kiosk called "Brief Questions". A friend of mine told me about "Brief Questions" when he spent two months here last summer. He said that if you don't keep your question short, they will simply point to the end of the line and make you wait again (to think about how to restructure your question, I guess!) He was sent to the back of the line several times and when he finally did get an answer, it was brief too. "Where is the Old City?", "Over there.", pointing out of the front of the train station. The entire city is out that door! Thanks for the help!

There is an actual "Information Desk" AND a "Tourist Information" booth, both within about 20 feet of "Brief Questions", so it is a mystery to me. I had to get a picture of this oddity, but as I snapped my camera I got a dirty look and a finger shake from the security guard standing watch... I guess they don't like the publicity.

Me at the Parc Guell. This is Gaudi's colorful park that he built in the early 1900's.

At Parc Guell

La Boqueria Market

Brief Questions