Cliffhangers (a new feature of Uhlfelder.com) -- Mark is planning on an organized bike trip next week through the Pyrinees, will he survive the 400 plus miles of riding? Will Anne take the opportunity to learn fluent Spanish? Stay tuned to find out.
Septmber 11, 2007. Tuesday is a holiday here -- some Catalan national holiday during which the only celebration is to act like it's Sunday (everything is closed, even the "Open every day" stores). In any case, it's a good day for a bike ride and Anne took the kids to the acquarium. Joshua told me they saw a three-d movie with those 1950s glasses (my words, not his) and he felt like he could reach out and touch the fish, even though he was sitting in the back row.
The architecture here is really spectacular and the building are often ornate and interesting.
Here's one thing we've observed, children being pushed around in strollers. Often they look like they might be much older than David or Joshua since they are squeezed into the strollers and their legs are too long to fit. I know for a fact that one kid had to be older since he was smoking a cigarette and generally the kids here don't smoke until they are at least 10.
I talked to the bike trip organizer today, who lives in Sitges, a town about 20 minutes away. Nick, who is a friend from last year's June bike trip through the French Alps, is joining me. The trip is well prices (not expensive) but features two star accommodations (that's basically what's available in the regions). I asked him if they would be giving us snacks since we're biking huge distances and he said no Powerbars, but yes to nuts and berries. I wrote to Nick that we may have to forage for truffels. We'll see.
September 12, 2007. Today the traffic started in earnest and we were late for David and Joshua's school (only five or so minutes) but it's something. Starting next week there is a school bus and they will have to go with all the other kids from around here to the school. Unfortunately, it's 30 minutes or so of traffic, but that's the way it is.
I have a very good Spanish teacher. He generally just explains how things work -- holidays, history, food, Catalan culture, and more. It's really interesting and a lot of fun and hopefully I'm learning some Spanish. The food thing is a huge focus here in Spain and if you are a vegetarian, you are in big trouble. The meats are incredible; they love ham, the cheeses are sensational and you have literally thousands of choices. The vegetables are fresh, really fresh, there are about 100 types of olives I've seen around (there are olive stores and stands), and more. The Catalans are really in a pinch because on the one hand they want to have a separate country but on the other they are somewhat pragmatic and know that being a part of Spain is the way to go. All business in Spain is done in Barcelona and Madrid and there is a suttle between the two at least two times an hour.
The Spanish class is worth talking about. Last week I was the only American; this week I think there may be two others. One guy is very shy and hasn't said much but he sounds American. There is a woman in her 60s (her name is Tina but it just doesn't suit her) who lived in Mexico for 10 (ten) years and doesn't speak Spanish. That has to be a record. I assume she was in a closet or something. When she tried to utter a word, it's basically without any attempt (or ability) to pronounce something close to Spanish. Then there is a Japanese girl, who like me, was not promoted into intermediate. I find her boring but the German guy next to me, I believe, finds her exotic or something and I predict by the end of the week they will be sleeping together. They both apparently speak some English. Next to me is Mike from Ireland who is very nice and cool and sells chemicals for BASF from Germany where he lives. In fact, his Spanish is spoken with a German accent. In our food discussion, he mentioned that he is the guy who sells the chemicals that make Salmon red (note, it is a natural food additive) and oranges orange.
After class, Anne and I went to the market called La Bourgin where we bought lots of stuff including fruits and vegetables. It is so much less expensive than other stores, it's shocking. In fact, Barcelona is cheap (for Europe) and not a bad deal for Americans even with the terrible exchange rates. The bike store is so nice they sold me a pair of tires at a discount.
September 13, 2007. I've put the finishing touches on my bike trip through the Pyrinees and it looks daunting! Huge mileage and climbing, which I don't have the mileage to endure with any level of confort. Oh well.
Class, lunch, and a quick trip for Anne to school to get the boys. Lunch included a stop in front of a very picturesque church with Dan and Amy. I'm in the back (forgot to look at the camera -- yes the bread here is great and yes I've been eating a lot of it).
As for the boys, they will be taking the bus starting tomorrow, which is great and gives us huge free time.
That's about it. I'm working on two things for the site -- the stupid English sayings on T-shirts page and the public displays of affection page. Stay tuned.
September 14, 2007. Imagine New York City, add 50 percent more people, more fluid underground and bus transportation and constant gridlock -- welcome to Barcelona or BCN as it's affectionately known (that's the airport code). Anne and I find ourselves basically running all the time. It's just crazy, fast and busy every minute. At least in New York, basically, traffic moves. Not so in BCN. In any case, I've started the page for public displays of affection and will start to work on the t-shirt page soon. I've seen a lot but forget to photograph them or write them down.
This was the end of week two of Spanish lessons. I'm off for what apparently will be the Batan Death March of bike rides through the Pyrinees -- many days of 2,500 meters of climbing and 90 mile rides. Oops. Luckily my friend Nick from London is coming along for the "fun." I'll send in reports of the suffering in real time.
As for Spanish, this week my teacher was a great guy, Xavi (pronounced Cha-vi). He had a very easy way about him and explained everything to us without editing his personal opinion at all. It was lots of fun. At the end I got a "certificate" that certified I had completed 40 hours of Spanish. I noted to Xavi that maybe I was certifiable and he told me that yes, at the end of class a couple of very "nice" guys would be meeting me to show me some "nice" tourist sites including the Sagrada Familia, a huge church nearby. It was a fun exchange. In the last two weeks, I don't think 10 words of English were spoken in class.
There is a really nice bread (Pan) place next to our apartment and Turó Parc, in front of our place, was incredibly crowded with kids and their smoking parents. The family has enjoyed the cheeses, breads and even wines here, which are just fantastic -- fresh baked bread and wine and cheese from the region.
We bought some ping pong paddles and balls and they have public tables there which are sometimes useable for ping pong.
I'll continue Spanish when I return from the ride and will, hopefully have Xavi of someone of equal teaching ability and good humor. Anne and I insist that we either learn Spanish or really take a lot of classes.
September 15, 2007. I just got the word this morning that this website won the second place award for Uhlfelder Websites from Uhlfelder News. Hats off to the entire team that makes this production possible.
But we won't just rest on our laurels, second place gives us something to strive for -- next time, we're hoping to be in first.
In other news today, we went down to where our language school is (Placa Catalunya) and explored with the idea of going to the Museo Santa Monica. Anne and I had eaten there last week and thought the art looked amusing for the boys. What a terrible museum -- the only redeeming feature is it is free. Not worth the time but it makes you think that anything is art. Someone got so pissed about the terrible waste of time, he turned his chair over.
Then we ate an early lunch at a sharma place (Pita bread) and it was fair and crowded on the Rambla which is the main street and very touristic. We're pretty much done with the tourist areas and walking around in the heat and humidity.
September 16, 2007. I dropped the car off this morning at the airport, about 10 days short of the rental agreement and asked if they would discount for the time not taken and the response was of course. We'll see but at least I felt good about it. In any case, I found my biking group at the airport and they all seemed nice, Nick, my friend from England came over for the ride. As I'm mentioned, the ride appears to be daunting given the huge mileage required to cross the Pyrinees. Everyone sort of has the same "what have I gotten myself into" attitude.
Today we did a "warm up ride" that lasted two hours of pretty hard riding including total climbing of over 1,000 meters (3,900 feet). Nice warm up. Total distance was 30 miles or so. Tomorrow is the big day of 150 Kilometers -- yikes. There are actually two days of 150 Kilometers, which is about 90 miles. Advice was eat as much and often as you can. Here's a photo of the group and one of me with the ocean in the background. Stay tuned to see who I insult first, etc... Peter, the very cool ride leader, asked Nick if I was always this way in response to one of my super sarcastic understated comments. Nick advised that I get worse when tired and hungry. All true.
Here are a few photos from today's ride, first the group and then me. Everyone rode amazingly well. They are all Americans with the exception of Nick, my friend from England, a guy from New Zealand, and a guy from Hong Kong. Out of 14 total.
September 17, 2007. I survived. It was hot, very difficult riding (lots of up and downs), 150 K, one hill at 16 percent plus. Just terrible but I made it. In fact, with two big climbs tomorrow looks easier, but still 2,500 meters of climbing over a shorter 120 K ride.