Uhlfelder News Blog

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Back in Aspen for Two Months

August 23rd, 2008 · No Comments

I’m super glad to be back.  Things are so much easier here — food shopping (well, all shopping), working out, life in general.  I guess the biggest thing that I realized out of our time in Barcelona is we are not city people (any more).  I love our life here, and it’s just great.  I also got a bit of tolerance for the picadillos that people display, which is good. 

I plan to write our newsletter to everyone soon.  I’ve come up with a theme, but now need to write.

More later.

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Week 44 — June 18 to home

June 24th, 2008 · 1 Comment

 June 18, 2008.  Today was our last day in Barcelona and the boys’ last day of school (there was a half day tomorrow, but not worth the time).  So after some hectic packing and trying to organize our luggage, do everything that was left undone, including banking, getting the manager to come and see the apartment, getting the broken car window replaced, we picked up the boys at school.  Then went back to the apartment and put everything in and on (bike in box) the car and went to the airport.  There we met the car rental guy, who took the car back.

We stood in line for our Lufthansa flight, which was actually Spanair.  As it turned out, the person who helped us was new to the job and couldn’t process our tickets for close to 20 minutes.  If the plane was on time, this would have been a problem. 

We left Barcelona, over an hour late, with two tired boys at 8:40 at night for a two-hour flight to Munich.  We arrived, put seven bags in left luggage, and went into town on the S-Bahn, another 40 minute affair.  We arrived at our hotel at midnight, probably the longest day ever for the boys.

June 19, 2008.  We slept late, thankfully and went to a nice hotel breakfast.  Then we made our way to go to Mike’s Bike Tour of Munich via the Uhlfelder plaque on the Stadt Museum (it’s still there!). 

The bike tour was a cruising bike that I was not used to - long wheelbase, very uncomfortable “comfort” seat.  We went for the four-hour tour, and had a nice history lesson from our guide.  There were lots of jokes that you would expect a demographic in the 20-35 year old age range would find funny.  Mike was there and seemed kind of uptight and corporate, not the image he was trying to portray as part of his marketing of the bike trips.  Anyhow, we had fantastic weather and a great day touring around Munich.  The guide, Tommy (?), did a nice job.

Then everyone went back to the room, we made a stop to see the Glockenspeil, which the boys thought was a waste of time.  It’s very crowded in the streets with tons of tourists and by far most of them are Americans.  We are wondering about the recession since these people are here.  There are others too, Russian, Spanish, French, Germans, but Americans are everywhere.

June 20, 2008.  We are on our way home.  Today is the longest day of the year, June 20, summer solstice.  For the four of us, it will be even longer by eight hours or so.  We got out of Munich without incident, more or less.  For the first time - leaving the EC - a German passport control officer actually started questioning us about how long we stayed in the EC and, low and behold, we had to show our German passports since we would be illegal without them.  He asked me why I didn’t show them first.  Anyhow, we made the flight and here we are.  I am in the row behind Anne and the kids next to a lawyer from Washington and a Air Marshall. 

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Week 43 — June 11 to June 17

June 11th, 2008 · 1 Comment

June 11, 2008.  Rocket left this morning.  It only took us a few hours at the cargo section of the airport to realize we were in the wrong office (after getting a call from the right office).  Then things went smoothly.  They were actually going smoothly anyway, but we assume Rocket would have gone no where.  It was all a very Spanish experience, with a touch of Catalan efficiency.   Anywho, he’ll be spending the night in Frankfort where, we assume, he’ll be fed frankforts and will likely drink beer. 

I went to what I thought was David’s last soccer practice and talked with Jose.  He said he’d miss me, which is something no one has ever said before.  It was nice that I had him to talk to.  I still can’t express myself in Spanish or understand everything that is said, but I’m better than when I came, so…

June 12, 2008.  It was finally a nice day today, and I went out on my bike intending to have an easy ride on some of the now-familiar roads that are pretty good next to Barcelona.  I ended up getting caught toward the end of one leg of my ride by a guy with all the pro gear (bike, color-coordinated shorts and jersey, shaved legs, etc…) who wasn’t a pro but looked like one.  We ended up riding and he showed me a greuling climb that I had not thought of.  It was a good chance to practice Spanish.  He asked me if I was Italian (maybe because of the bike, not the accent). 

Today was the boys’ school talent show.  Joshua jumped rope with four others.  Joshua organized that everyone wore red shirts and it was cute.  I took a video and Anne took some photos

June 13, 2008.  Friday.  We went to lunch for what is perhaps our last Barcelona lunch with our friends Dan and Amy at a very nice restaurant with great food and ran into at least two other parents from BFIS.  Our friend Shelly called to tell us Rocket arrived safely in Denver and was very happy (super happy) to have a yard to run around in.  He was jet lagged, I think.  Thanks Shelly!

Then picked up the kids at school and drove north about 1 and a half hours to the Costa Brava to complete the important task of seeing Cadaques, which is supposed to be one of the prettiest places around Spain and famous for Dali and other artists.  The closest hotel I could find, the Almadraba Park Hotel, is about 14 kilometers away in Roses, which is famous for being among the ugliest places in Spain (overbuilt, ugly properties, full of cheap English tourists, …).  In fact, Roses wasn’t that horrible and the hotel is fantastic.  The only problem is the weather, which is amazingly bad (another “beach” vacation) .  In fact, the drive here looked like we were driving into a tornado, and driving through it everyone slowed to 60 kilometers per hour (from 130 or so) so you know it was a hard rain.   Friday, the 13th.

June 14, 2008.  We had a reservation, required, to visit the Dali house in Port Lligat, near Cadaques, which is thought to be the cuttest place to visit, etc…  We drove over to Port Lligat after a sumptuous breakfast at our most excellent hotel and found the place, arrived 15 minutes, not 30 in advance.  We then waited and at 11:10 exactly entered the house with four others for a guided tour that included Dali’s studio, entry, bedroom, penis-shaped pool, and more.  Dali put a bunch of fishing cottages together to build the place and it’s pretty cool.  He built it for his wife and muse, Gala.  Here are some photos. 

We didn’t stick around after the tour and came back to the hotel over the mountain pass like winding 13 kilometer drive.  We were told that if you get car sick, you might.  Very exaggerated, at least for us backwoods mountain folk.  Anyway we were lucky since the weather improved enough for us to hit the fantastic beach next to our hotel.  There was also the 25 meter lap pool, but I opted for a 20-minute or so swim in the very cool mediteranean water.  Once I got over the initial shock, it was nice.  Anne swam in the pool.

June 15, 2008.  We drove back to Barcelona, about two hours, after having our luxurious breakfast and enjoying the beach a bit more before moving on.  Anne and I tried to get more packing done and prepared our eight boxes to be picked up by UPS tomorrow.  We are pretty much out, just a few final things but there are plenty of moving parts. 

June 16, 2008.  I keep forgetting things since there are so many things to coordinate.  I forgot my shaving brush over our week-end trip, and I went out the door with my bike forgetting my keys.  Luckily Anne was on the way to Tibidabo, where I planned to ride, at a going away pool party for Joshua’s class.  I stopped by in full biking regalia, and met the 8 or 10 moms who showed for the party and social hour.  No dads.  It looked like a nice event.   The pools here are not heated so the water was too cold for most of the kids.  Joshua jumped in and out right away, getting nice and cold. 

June 17, 2008.  The kids had “field day” this morning and luckily it didn’t rain.  Everybody keeps telling us how unusual the weather is this month, but as far as we see, it does rain in Spain.  Anyway, field day was just fine.  Then we met our Spanish friend Christina and her Novio, Todd (an American) for lunch at a wonderful place in the center of town.  I still have a lot to do tomorrow since we have an evening flight to Munich (after the boys are done with school) which should make for a LONG day.  Then two nights and one day in Munich.  Stay tuned. 

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Week 42 — June 4 to June 10

June 4th, 2008 · 3 Comments

June 4, 2008.  Another active day showing Ellen and Matt around Barcelona.  First we hiked at the top of Collserola Parc, which provides fantastic views of the city.  Then we went to lunch at our local Turo Parc followed by a visit to Mont Juic, and the “El Puble” Espanol, which is supposed to be a Disneyesque small world visit to the various parts of Spain.  It’s not as cheesy as you would expect, and in fact all it really is is some B+ art collections plus some nice vendors with some pretty nice crafts.  I especially liked the glass designs, which are decorative only, and something I have not in fact seen in Spain.   Anne, Ellen and Matt went to a concert at the Palau de la Musica, to see Diego El Cigala sing.  They reported a very good concert. 

June 5, 2008.  Yet another active day.  I went out for a three-hour bike ride, checking out some of the roads made popular by me for me on my bike.  Anne, Ellen and Matt visited Park Guell (didn’t like it — too touristic) and Segrada Familia (too church-like).  We went to a going away party for D.R and his wife which was next to our building. 

June 6, 2008.  And yet another active day for Anne, Ellen and Matt.  They went to another music concert (starting at 10 p.m.).  I am watching and worrying about the US Economy, the astonishing lack of leadership from the Executive Branch, and what will happen to the airlines and leisure travel and skiing as gas prices continue to rise.   The increase is clearly speculative, but how it will shake out is an unknown.  I think the price of oil will drop below $100 a barrel and probably below $90 a barrel within six months.

June 7, 2008.  We saw Matt and Ellen off today.  I drove them in a bit of a rush to the airport.  Why the rush.  Well, we attended a poorly planned soccer game (an hour late, luckily since it took us an extra half hour to find the place).  Then, while the car was parked, someone broke the window trying to find something to steal, and only found Matt’s jacket.  He left my baseball cap and Matt’s hat too.  As I approached the car, I noticed the glove compartment was open and realize after a minute the back window was broken.  Bummer since we thought we’d get out of Barcelona without having any crime incidents.  It’s a real pain to deal with, that’s for sure. 

It seems to be happening.  Our friends Dan and Amy reported someone trying the “mustard” scheme on them (put mustard on someone, act like you want to help them wipe it off or otherwise distract them, then pick-pocked).  It didn’t work.  Another friend had his mother out to visit and her wallet was stolen.  It happened so stealthily that she didn’t even notice.  It’s clearly time to go before something else happens.

I went to the police station to report it.  The guy who was working there when I walked in was obviously playing video games (with sound — star wars type game) and didn’t want to be dragged away to help me so he asked the guy who spoke English to help.  That guy was very nice and even though I’d done all the work on-line, apparently they had to do it again.  It took a while, but was basically enjoyable.  They have nice digs, large spartan offices with high ceilings.  It was in a residential neighborhood and looked like a house they converted over. 

June 8, 2008.  We started packing stuff today since we want to be organized and get out of here with as little hassle as possible.  David asked how long before we are home.  Specifically, could I design a count-down timer until we arrive in Aspen.  Here it is:

Timer is here

June 9, 2008.  I started the day with a call to Paris (that sounds cool) to try to get the car insurance going.  They were very nice, gave me my options (screw you or up yours — just kidding) and told me to find a place that can fix it.  Then email them the police report with the phone and fax numbers of the garage and voila.  Actually, two calls in French, two in Spanish and I was there, more or less.  It happens there is a strike of all trucks in France and Spain, so they can’t get the glass, etc… 

Anyhow, Anne and I started packing our stuff, even though it’s early, just to get a jump on it and we had the time.  Hopefully, trucks will be moving VERY soon so we can get the stuff to UPS and sent back to the US.  It also affects availability of gas (diesel), which could be a problem. 

June 10, 2008.  I managed to get gas this morning and drop Anne and the kids at the running path and school.  It only took about 15 minutes extra and I put enough in to get us to Cadaques this week-end and make a trip to the airport and school or so.   Anne and I have noticed how cranky people around here are — the weather, which is lousy, the summer coming but not really, who knows.

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Week 41 — May 28 to June 3

May 28th, 2008 · No Comments

May 28, 2008.  We woke up to a sunny day, which is not what the forecasts say, calling for rain (60 % chance).  Of course, for once the forecasts were wrong.  I attended a soccer practice, as usual, on Wednesday and took some near end of season photos including my conversation partner, Jose.  

Jose admitted to me today that he was in the Communist party in Spain when it was very dangerous during the 1960s.  He even trained on how to set up meetings and organize in Checoslovakia.   Meetings were held in churches, where they were somewhat protected, but you had to be careful since there were spies and only some churches were left-leaning — some were with the Fascists and Franco.  It was a dangerous time, he said. 

Anne witnessed a dog fight in the park where a non-Spanish person escalated it to a human fight (well — name calling with lots of bad Spanish words thrown in).  Unfortunately, I was not there to witness or learn from the vocabulary lesson.

May 29, 2008.   I drove over to Girona, about an hour, this morning to go riding with a guide I hired there.  I told him we had to speak Spanish, so I got that out of it too.  The drive was interesting since it was rush hour and traffic was slow but motorcycles and scooters were riding down the lanes between the cars a full speed.  It was just insane.  Anywho, I managed to get there in about an hour and a half, find the meeting place, change to cycling clothes, meet the guide I found on the Internet (easier to have a guide for one day than try to figure out where the best riding is).  The guide Jaume is a chemical engineer by training but likes bikes so he guides bike trips (seems like the two interests could be combined).

Off we went and rode some very good roads with mild climbing and descending, for the most part.  Some of the descents were very technical with turns that are hidden, narrow roads, rocks, etc…  We ran into a bike tour put on by Marty Jemison, a former 7-11 team rider with 22 riders.  That didn’t look like I would have enjoyed it — too much waiting.  But I did see a nice selection of rear-view mirrors hooked to helmets and glasses.   Marty was very nice — I chatted with him — “Hey, where are you from.”  “Colorado, we have some people here from Colorado”, etc…

A nice lunch was had in a Catalan town, who knows where but it was mildly charming with lots of stray cats walking around.  It was sort of deserted, actually.  Good sandwich, though.  Sandwich is entrepan in Catalan, bocadillo in Castillano, and sandwich in English.

Toward the end of the ride, which ended up being about 130 kilometers, we caught up with a girl who passed us and who Jaume, my guide, thought was a pro.  So did I and there are a lot of them in this area, which is why there are bike tours around.  The roads are relatively empty of cars, and have a variety of climbing and descending, including some super technical descents where you can’t see the end of the turns.  Anywho, we caught the girl after I gave Jaume one of those “let’s chase” signals and went up a hill managing not to be dropped (me) as she chatted with Jaume in Catalan like she was out for an easy ride.  She turned out to be a Mosses, which are the cops.   Photos are here.

On the home front, the boys’ school is infested with head lice.  Today a number of kids were sent home from each class the basically the entire second grade was sent home.  It is still light here really late, I’m writing this at 9:00 and it’s light like late afternoon. 

May 30, 2008.  Head lice have taken over the school, it seems.  Another three kids were sent home today (they were three of the four that were sent home yesterday — apparently their parents didn’t git the critters).

May 31, 2008.  Ellen and Matt, Anne’s sister and her husband, arrived today to a ticker tape parade and laudable press.  Well, we picked them up at the airport.  They were just in Portugal riding a motorcycle through the country and reported a good trip, having taken a lot of photos.  The place looks pretty backwards, more than Spain, with mountains and nice roads but a poorer population.  There isn’t the ubiquitous trash that you find on the side Spanish roads.  The mountains don’t seem as high, and the landscape seems more arid when compared to the Pyrenees.  They had a nice trip. 

June 1, 2008.  It rained most of the day today.  Anne and I had a lunch at one of the BFIS people’s houses that lives here; Ellen and Matt went sightseeing.  Then, in the evening (late!), we all went to the fountains of Mont Juic, which are the thing to see for every tourist (music and water show).

June 2, 2008.  We went to Montserrat today with Ellen and Matt, thinking at the last minute.  It was warm in Barcelona so we went to the mountains (Montserrat) which is about 45 minutes away.  Of course, no jackets and we’d just hike.  As we approached the range, there were clouds hanging over them and we realized forgetting our jackets was probably a mistake.  We hiked anyway, unprepared, hoping we would not need jackets.  Three hours or so later, we emerged from the hike, having gone up the mountain in hot, humid conditions, then eaten lunches and descended in fog and humidity.  Here are photos (lots) and a movie.

June 3, 2008.  Ellen and Matt got another chance to visit Barcelona’s many sights.  They reported lots of interesting stuff and at the end of the day, when Matt had enough, Anne, Ellen and Joshua went to Segrada Familia, the church-like structure that is Barcelona’s icon.   Ellen and Matt also joined us for what is perhaps the penultimate lunch with Dan and Amy here in Barcelona; we were all just a hooting and a hollering while reviewing all the good times.

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Week 40 — May 21 to May 27

May 21st, 2008 · No Comments

May 21, 2008.  Today was our 14th wedding anniversary.  It’s been an above-average 14 years, for sure.  Anywho, we decided to go to see the Volta a Catalunya, the second biggest bike race in Spain.  About an hour and a quarter drive north, we went to Banyoles, a cute town near Gerona, famous for Lance Armstrong’s winter training home.   We walked around a bit, then watched the start.  We quickly got in the car, then quickly zipped to the start of the mountains and were stopped by police.  They let us go to a parking area up the road, we parked and walked up the road to watch as they hit the mountains.  We managed to collect a bunch of water bottles, since we were the only people watching the race.  After the four seconds of watching the guys pass us on their bikes, then watching about 100 cars racing up the road, we followed and picked up a bunch of water bottles discarded by the riders.  There some marked with codes, like DL which we believe is “dope laden” or something. 

I drank a bit and I feel wide awake and haven’t slept in 48 hours, not to mention I just went out and ran a 10K in 33 minutes, my fastest time ever (just kidding).   On the way back we went through a bunch of cute towns and countryside, including Sant Joan de Les Abadessas full of old stuff

One thing about these small Spanish towns is they are full of Arabs and Africans who apparently have made little effort to integrate into the towns or haven’t been accepted.  This is anathema to us Americans, well somewhat, since we are all immigrants (insert usual melting pot BS speech here).  In any case, these immigrants are there and in their own worlds which work as a parallel world to the Catalan and worlds.   In a similar but more ugly vain, everyone here speaks about the gypsies who are being attacked in Italy and loathed more or less throughout Europe.  They are basically considered bands of roaving thieves. 

May 22, 2008.  We ran out of water and soap, so I was dehydrated and dirty until we got our delivery today from El Corte Ingles, which is a department store that delivers.  Huge improvement, or so Anne claims. 

May 23, 2008.  I went on a 3.5 hour bike ride to try to find a good path to put some mileage in since next week I am host to Nick, my bike-riding friend from London.  We’ll ride one day here, then go to Girona and ride for three more days, trying to get some mileage in and see just how many miles we are willing to endure. 

Tonight was International Night at the kids’ school.  It was a really fun party, with tables for every country represented.  There was a lot(!) of food, and a pity that it was all clearly tossed.  I manned the BBQ which was too hot since I got there late and the guy who said he’d get it started didn’t know what he was doing.  Anyway, we cooked about 150 hot dogs which were really gross.  There was Indian food (nice and spicy), South African food (interesting, and different but similar to Indian), German (saurcraut and gummy bears), Japanese (suchi), American (hot dogs and brownies (yum), English (mainly deserts that were multi-colored), Brazilian (caparinias), and more.  I had some nice conversations with some of the others to see if they are staying and leaving and their plans. 

May 24, 2008.  It was very rainy this morning — this has been the most rain they have had in May since 1957 according to the La Vanguardia.  It stopped by afternoon which was good, then Joshua had a birthday party where all the kids were taken to the new Indiana Jones movie, and Anne, David and I tagged along.  The movie was okay, but not much more.

May 25, 2008.  It’s raining again this morning.  Anne went through Joshua’s backpack and found another letter from the school warning that someone had head lice.  These letters come home every so often and make us think the kids have head lice.  Nice.  Turns out they did! One live one on Joshua but lots of eggs on both of them.  We did tons of combing with the special metal comb and tons of laundry, a multi-step lotion and shampoo process, and a stuffed animal quarentine.  And of course, emails to their teachers to spread the news.

May 26, 2008.  Joshua had his physical fitness challenge this morning — the running part.  He already set the school recond in pull ups — 11 (he tied with a fourth grader).  I went but didn’t end up helping since there were so many parents.  I ended up talking with a very kind and nice German woman and a nice American guy who is married to a very harsh and cold Dutch woman. 

May 27, 2008.  I got in contact with my friend from the UK about our upcoming bike trip since the weather pattern doesn’t look bike-friendly, namely rain, heavy at times.  Since neither of us like to ride in the rain (who does) and there are some pretty difficult and technical descents on these rides, we called the trip off.  Darn – I was looking forward to it.  In any case, I went out for a ride between rain showers, got lucky, and managed to ride about 1:40 or so.  Very hard riding with some locals both going one way and then the other. 

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Week 39 — May 14 to May 20

May 15th, 2008 · No Comments

May 14, 2008.  Back from Mallorca and we have about five weeks before we’re going to be home.  I thought I might get a boat captain’s license, checked it out at the Escuela and it’s not possible.   There is a lot to it and not enough time.

Thinking about water, they got a lot here while we were gone (as we did in Mallorca) and that may have gone some small distance in solving the water shortage problem they have here.  Here are some of the things they have done — shipped in water on boats from Terragona and emptied the fountains (and put up expensive signs about why they are empty).  They are going to build a desalination plant, pipe in more water and other things — all of this takes time, money and energy. 

May 15, 2008.  Our dog, Rocket, returned from his vacation at the dog trainer’s house.  The dog trainer returned him a bit late since he had to check into the hospital for an emergency operation for an ulzer, undoubtedly brought on by Rocket.  Rocket is a hard dog to train, but certainly not worth getting an ulzer over.  Anyhow, the dog trainer, Emilio, is married and his wife took good care of Rocket while Emilio recovered.

May 16, 2008.  We’re going out to dinner this evening.  Unfortunately, since dinner is at 9:30 (that’s the normal dinner time here) we will end up eating two dinners.  I would say that the thing we like the least about Spain is the schedule.  All of Europe is much more “normal” with dinner times at 7 ish and lunches around noon.  Here, they have lunch at 2:00 for two hours and then dinner after 9 at night. 

May 17, 2008.  We had a very nice meal last night, getting home at 1:00 a.m.  On the way home, the streets were busy with people going to “discos” that seem to appear at every corner.  It all seems so ’70s.  Today the boys managed to stay in the apartment the entire day.

May 18, 2008.  Today was a running race put on by El Corte Ingles that is supposed to be the largest running race in the world with over 56,000 people.  Anne and David wanted to add to the number, Joshua didn’t, so I stayed with Joshua and Anne and David went to the race.  During the race, of course, they ran into Dan and Amy, our lunch friends and co-alumni from The International House of Languages.  Here are photos

May 19, 2008.   Nothing to report. 

May 20, 2008.   Lunch with Dan and Amy and haircut day for David and Joshua and Rocket.  All four men in the Uhlfelder family got haircuts (mine was last week).  Photo here.

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Week 38 — May 7 to May 13

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

May 7, 2008.  I’m back to running, which is nice.  David went to soccer practice and we (the parents and grandparents) watched.  I spoke Spanish with Jose, my 70-year-old friend.  We’re off to Mallorca tomorrow and the weather forecast calls for rain the entire time!  Should be great.

May 8, 2008.  We left for the airport this morning, late, to go to Palma de Mallorca.  Instead of Easyjet, the discount airline for our trips to Geneva and London, we used ClickAir.  The European skies are filled with these discount airlines, some are better than others.  It turned out that ClickAir was far superior to Easyjet which means we got on the flight, it wasn’t crowded, we had seat assignments, and there was no push to get on the flight. 

Arriving on time in Palma, I took my car rental certificate and tried to find the company I booked with.  Turned out they didn’t exist.  It took about an hour to rent a car, mainly as a result of the mistake on my part (travel agent!).  After we finally got a car, we walked out to the lot, and they gave us the wrong car.  About an hour later I received a cell call to that effect, but it was good enough and didn’t smell of smoke; generally a problem renting cars.

The beach was nice, but it was windy and almost cold as a result.  The boys and Anne settled in for some soccer, best played with swim goggles to prevent sand from entering the eyes.  I went for a long run on the beach, and got to the next town down, which was pretty ugly and unimpressive despite the boardwalk redesign/rebuilding that they recently appeared to have commissioned. 

We found the hotel with little problem, and it’s on a beach that is populated by similar hotels which I would classify as family-friendly, cruise-ship feeling. 

In fact, as part of the deal I got (and the first real deal I’ve gotten while traveling in Europe), I got a travel agent rate that included breakfast and dinners.  All you eat.

So, speaking of eating, we went down to the buffet and they sat us at a table.  We ordered our waters and the kid at the table next to us had what I believe was mid-stage TB.  It wasn’t a problem, apparently, for his parents who didn’t bother to tell him to cover his mouth when he coughed up the germs and such and spread them throughout the place.  After about 10 minutes, it was just too disgusting and we moved tables.  The food was okay.

Anne and I were discussing Mallorca and how it compares to other places we know.  It’s similar to Maui, yet drier; it looks like Florida but it has mountains.  The only way you know you are in Spain are the piles of trash everywhere.  For some reason, the Spanish are slobs and there is no public awareness that littering is bad. 

May 9, 2008.  It’s raining today.  That’s expected but not terribly welcome with two boys on a beach vacation in Mallorca.  There is an annual reenactment of a battle between the Moors and the Christians staged in a town about an hour from where we’re staying called Port de Soller.  We drove over there, through picturesque towns including Bunyola and Santa Maria and a three-kilometer-long tunnel, in a heavy rain at times.  The island is carpeted by volcanic mountains and has tons of narrow, serpentine roads many lined with stone walls for kilometers attesting to the age of the civilization.  Some of this stuff must be more than 20 years old.  Every inch of ground seems to be cultivated, with stone terraces on the steepest hills.  The rock work everywhere is impressive, with steps and walls everywhere. 

In any case, we found Sóller and neighboring Port de Sóller and the tourist information place only to find out the annual reenactment of the battle actually takes place this coming Monday.  I asked the woman who seemed bored who was likely to win the battle, which she thought was funny and told me we’d have to see to find out.

There was a heavy rain most of the day, which makes travel difficult and makes a beach vacation a horror.

May 10, 2008.  It was very cloudy this morning on our “Mallorca Beach Vacation”.  Cold too.  Nonetheless, we went to the beach this morning and I went on a run to the Nature Reserve next to our hotel, which was full of German bird watchers.  This place is pretty much German, a few Swedish and very few English.  I got back after about 1:20 and it started to rain that very minute so I helped Anne return to our room from the beach at which time the sky opened and buckets of rain came down. 

We ended up playing the day for whatever sun we could get, eating lunch during the main downpour and then getting out to the pool during the periods of sun.  David especially liked the kid’s pool that dumped a huge bucket of water every 4 minutes and 51 seconds on whoever was standing below. 

We ate our “cruise ship dinner” and attended the kids play right away.  Joshua mentioned that it was puerile and David noted that it had a Milli Vanilli issue. 

May 11, 2008.  Mother’s Day is today and we managed to call both mothers from here using our cell phones.  The boys and I gave Anne a nice card and each made other cards for her.  Even though the forecast was only 20 percent chance of showers, they are here (again).  Everyone is so desperate for sun, that the minute it comes out the pool is populated by white European people ready to get a tan, albeit to no avail since the rain comes within minutes in this weather system.

It’s getting pretty tiring but we have lucked out so far with our vacations, so it was inevitable.  In any case, we are enjoying our time and it’s a really nice place - Mallorca.  We are all getting pretty good at ping-pong, along with some of the other guests, who are turning out to be Scandinavian and German, it seems, for the most part.  We are the only Americans, I believe. 

We are entertaining ourselves by eating (a lot).  It’s a buffet and you can go up as many times as you like.  There are people clearing your plates every minute or two and you are not discouraged from eating as much as possible.  Every night is different, sort of, and it’s always a fun surprise.  It’s how we imagine a cruise ship to be, without any experience.  As for experience, the only thing close is eating at the Azouz’s house in Aspen with Caroline cooking. 

I went for another long one hour long run into the wet nature preserve and jumped puddles.  There are tons of “birders” or bird-watchers, which must be a big thing to do there. 

May 12, 2008.  It looked like another rainy day but we managed to get a morning at the beach until about 1:00 when I went for a run and as I departed, it began to rain (again).  David and Joshua have enjoyed not just the beach, building sandcastles and such, but also the pools and especially the children’s pool with its bucket that dumps water every 4 minutes and 51 seconds.  David tried to get hit by the bucket of water and turned out to be the entertainment, with Joshua reminding him that he had a big audience. 

May 13, 2008.  We are leaving today so predictably the weather improved.   On the way to the airport we stopped in Valladamosa, famous for Georg Sands and Chopin’s winter of discontent.  He had TB, she an attitude, and the locals thought they were just horrible.  She wrote a book which was essentially her lengthy complaint about Mallorca, made the place famous, and so the town became a huge tourist magnet.  And it was.

Back in Barcelona, it rained here too.  They needed it but they have a water problem that they are trying to solve with many solutions, all of which are costly and it’s very confusing to try to figure out what they are doing.  Our taxi driver told us it was all a ploy to get more money, since water is privately provided here. 

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Week 37 — May 1 to May 6

May 3rd, 2008 · No Comments

May 1, 2008.  Today is Labor Day all over Europe or in any case in both Spain and France.  We left this morning for France since we have a four-day week-end, more or less.  That is, Thursday is a holiday and everyone takes the Friday following as a holiday too.  It’s a bit early to go to the beach, and I had this idea that we could meet a friend from Washington D.C. who is French and lives relatively nearby.  I met Christophe when I traded English for French lessons with him — he was writing a biography of Jean Bertrand Aristide, the then President of Haiti (in exile).  Haiti and Christophe were tenants of my commercial real estate shared office suite in Washington, D.C. 


Off we went for a five hour drive in the Midi-Pyrenees.  Although we were invited to stay with Christophe, he had a pregnant cat, we have a lightly trained dog, and Anne may be allergic to cats so the idea was not immediately appealing.  Instead we rented a house, which is one of the houses they rent here called “Gites”.  It actually turned out to be relatively nice (except the beds), not plush, but very French country basic, in a town called Varaire. 


We arrived, were checked in by the very nice French couple that owns the place, and called Christophe who we met an hour later at his place in Limogne-en-Quercy.  This is all in the Dordogne Region and is called Le Lot, which is also the name of the river.  There were lots of animals, in addition to the newborn horse, a hedgehog, rabbits and sheep, etc…


Anyhow, we were very welcomed at Christophe’s house, where his wife Elaine and two grandkids, Simon, age 9, and Léa, age 12 were all welcoming.  The pregnant cat, and Rocket, as expected, hit it off with the cat hitting the roof and Rocket barking away.  We had a wonderful time culminating in a very nice meal typical of the region.  It was really nice and very special.


As for the Gite, it’s unfortunately not clean and the beds are horrible.  We have had pretty terrible luck in France for hotels and places to stay.  The structure itself and the surroundings are nice.  There are snails the size of mice roaming around and birds that sound like alarm systems that were improperly set.


May 2, 2008.  After some very nice croissants this morning we went off to meet our friends Christophe and along with his grandkids the seven of us went off to see the poorly named St. Cinq Lapopie.  It has what we think are some of the most beautiful vistas in Europe. 


After exploring around, we returned to lunch at Christophe’s house.  Every meal, pretty much, has been outside since the weather is very nice.  Then it was time for us to cook an “American meal” which meant I put on a barbecue (hamburger, of course).  This was a bit of a challenge without my easy lighting gas powered Turbo Grill, but we managed to pull it off.  We had a wonderful time with some really nice people who we are proud to call friends.


May 3, 2008.  Having accomplished our main goal of saying hello to Christophe and his family and feeling like we didn’t want to delay a long drive back (we tried to split it, but couldn’t find room at the half-way point with one call), and not wanting another night in terrible beds provided at the Gite (I suspect they date from the original renovation 25 years ago), we decided to make our way back to Barcelona. Of course, we couldn’t leave the Lot region without seeing what is perhaps one of the most famous caves around, the Grottes du Pech Merle, with drawings dating from 25,000 years ago (really!).  They are similar to the Fairy Caves in Glenwood Springs.  We made our way there, taking beautiful roads and getting lost only for 10 minutes or so, and got our tickets (which we reserved the day before since only 700 people can see the cave on any one day and for no more than one hour to preserve them), went through the cave with a French tour guide (who also added a few English explanations here and there but we had a written translation).  The cave is full of your usual stalactites (facing downward) and stalagmites but also these man-made drawings that are made with charcoal and iron oxide and while they were no Michelangelos, the drawing are remarkable if for no other reason than their age and the size of the breasts on the women in their representations.      May 4, 2008.  This morning, first thing, I received a call from the Aspen Valley Hospital that my mother had her appendix out and everything went fine — it was midnight there.  This is, of course, cause for concern since she’s alone, 88, won’t accept or agree to any help, and is beyond stubborn.  I emailed my Annette, my sister, and a few hours later she was on a flight from New York.  On arrival everything was fine, and I spoke to my mother and everything was good.  Long story short, she went home and my sister is there.May 5, 2008.  Elyssa Edgerly from Aspen, who is here studying, and her boyfriend Josh joined us for dinner and we had a nice time.  I’ve been on the phone a few times with my sister, trying to support here.  She’s doing an amazing job taking care of my mother, no easy task.

May 6, 2008.  I’m dealing long-distance with my mother’s situation and my sister who is there trying to manage things.  It’s basically impossible, but my sister is doing her best.  It’s a terrible situation. 

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Week 36 — April 24 to April 30

April 24th, 2008 · No Comments

April 24, 2008.  The weather has improved hugely here and although I feel a bit under it, Anne and I “discovered” that the park in front of our noses has a wonderful cafe where we ate lunch.  All the other Americans in this neighborhood similtaneously discovered same, and we ended up socializing a bit.  It was a wonderful day, perfect weather, and what I suppose our image of Barcelona was before and for a few days after we arrived here.  We’re pleased to see that it does exist. 

It’s sort of a strange time since most of the other Americans and many others, like us, are moving from Barcelona.   Some are returned to home base, others to new places, another is planning a year-long trip around the world. 

April 25, 2008.  David had a soccer game, they weren’t beaten too badly.  Otherwise, according go Joshua nothing happened.

April 26. 2008.  I went out and found some more biking roads that are pretty good — if you like pedaling up cliffs.  I guess I got a taste of the Dolomites, and that’s enough.  I was toying with the idea of going there and doing a ride with Peter who lead the ride I did in the Pyrenees but he told me that my gearing was too small for Italy and between that and the idea of spending close to nine days with strangers killing myself and 90 mile rides through questionable weather — forget it. 

The weather here, by the way, has suddenly become nice. 

April 27, 2008.  We decided to check out Mont Juic, where the 1992 Barcelona Olympics were held so off we went (by car — much easier) to the Olympic Museum, which was a super deal at only four Euros for the family (with a coupon we had) and was much nicer than we expected.  Lots of video footage, some interactive displays, and lots of signed sports memorabilia. 

After that, we went to the Olympic pools, next door, where the games were held.  After I retrieved the car, hoping that we had everything, we went in and there were two large pools.  The indoor (where we went) was 50 by 25 meters with 20 lanes open going 25 meters.  Anne and I swam around 1,000 meters plus.  We each had to share a lane which wasn’t a problem.  I managed to lap a guy four times, which made me feel fast.  The outdoor pool was not heated (we checked it first) and thus had no swimmers but lots of sun bathers, many women who didn’t pack as carefully as we did obviously forgot the tops of the bathing suits.  

April 28, 2008.  Another dreary day, here in “sunny Barcelona”.   We had lunch with Dan and Amy and tried to decide if there were any redeeming qualities that can be associated with the Islamic religion and decided that the answer is probably no.

April 29, 2008.  I went for a longish 1:15 run today and saw a bit of Barcelona on a cloudy day.  Otherwise, we’re sort of getting ready to return to Aspen and noticed an article about Mike Maple and a Woody Creek buy who had a bike/car run-in.  I am reminded of how intolerant car drivers are in Aspen and really throughout the US when it comes to bikes or pedestrians.  Anyhow, I think the driver of the offending vehicle is an accident waiting to happen. 

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