Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What to Do in Paris?

My first full day in Paris.  Whatever did I do?

First, the day was some kind of holiday, specifically the day off for Pentecost Sunday, I believe.  This appears to be a bank holiday, but not a public holiday, a distinction that exists in the United States but that I've never known a name for.  A bank holiday appears to be one in which it is not mandatory for a company to allow their employees off, but during which you can expect most public and private services to be unavailable.  A public holiday is one that everyone has off.

My activities for the day were eat, eat, go to Blocbuster for 4+ hours, then go to a new friend's apartment for a few hours where we ate again, and had wine, beer, and played a bit of MarioKart 8, then walk back to my friend's place where I crashed like a runaway car on a San Francisco street.

At Blocbuster,  I attempted to climb many a yellow route, and practiced mounting and falling off of a slackline, not to mention drinking a couple beers, and enjoying being surrounded by beautiful women and men.  I love climbing so much.  It is a shame I don't climb more often.  It will probably feature prominently in the next couple weeks.

Who Has Two Thumbs and Sucks at Packing?

That's right, this guy.

My friend left Spain on Wednesday.  I was by myself in Cunit until Sunday.  Left to my own devices, I had no idea what would happen.  What happened is I hid like a hermit for 2 days, and then started going out more on my own.  Note to self, I need to spend more time wandering around by myself.  I need to stop being lazy when people are around.  That little extra psychological impedance of another person is enough to give me excuses to just sit around like a lump.

Friday, work was basically a 6 hour conference call with my boss and the other senior developer on the team.  Many good things will come of it, but it left me feeling rather unproductive.  I also finally figured out how to lay out in the sun while I was working on Friday.  Much sun was had.  Much vitamin D was produced.

Saturday was packing day.  I really felt like this time I had things well in hand.  Early in the day I started with a timer.  I would pack or clean for 10 minutes, then get 20 minutes to do whatever I wanted.  I really didn't have that much to pack, and over the last few days I had moved everything I owned except bathroom stuff all into the same room.  Pack, rest, pack, goof off, pack, the wheels left the rails.

A friend contacted me.  She needed some support, and I was the right person to give it to her.  I am always happy to help out a friend, but it meant I wasn't packing, and I didn't set the next timer.  Eventually, I got back to packing.  If I would just pack for an hour and clean for an hour, I would probably have been done, but no, I'm never that motivated or that organized.

Around 5 pm, the landlady showed up.  Apparently, I was supposed to have left Saturday morning, but through a misunderstanding, I thought I was not supposed to leave until Sunday.  I admit I was in a panic.  I had moved a lot of furniture around.  I fully intended to put it all back, but I didn't want her to see.  She left, but she seemed a bit miffed.  I can understand.

I went out to eat for all three meals that day.  I finally got back from my dinner around midnight.  I finished my final packing, but it was getting late, and I did a piss poor job of cleaning.  I had to be on a train, with a ticket I had not bought yet, at 6 am.  That meant I planned to leave the apartment around 5 am, and meant I planned to be awake at 4 am.  Instead of sleeping like a normal person, I passed out before everything was done around 12:30 am.  I slept for an hour, woke in a panic, and cleaned a bit.  I was fairly out of it by then, and not always making rational decisions.  I tried to top up my data plan, because I was out and not sure if I would be able to contact my friend when I arrived in Paris.  I failed.  I cleaned.  I took out a lot of trash.  I threw out a lot of food from the fridge. I slept from 3:30 am to about 4:00 am.  I moved furniture around.  I realized I was not going to finish cleaning, and left dirty dishes neatly stacked in the sink.  I finally packed everything up, left money on the table (because I had been supposed to leave a day earlier and because I did a poor job of cleaning), and left for the train.

I arrived at the train station well before it was open.  I watched some television that was downloaded on my phone and waited for them to open.  Eventually they did.  I muddled my way through the ticket machine and bought a ticket for Barcelona.  Then, I tried to guess which platform I needed to be on.  There were three.  I could see no labels anywhere.  My stress level was elevated, as I needed to depart from Barcelona around 9 am, but I figured I could catch the next train if I missed the first and hopefully still make it.

As I stood by the first platform, I noticed every other person seemed to be going to the third platform.  After 20 minutes of watching people accumulate on a different platform, I decided to risk it and follow suit.  It was the right choice.  I caught my train and a long day of travel was started.

I was tired.  Very tired.  I kept nodding off on the 50 minute train ride to Barcelona.  There were pretty women on the train.  They also slept.  The beautiful coastline meandered by, and I fought sleep.  Finally, we arrived in Barcelona-Sants, and I departed.  Time to find my departure gate.

None of the displays I looked at showed my departure.  It was 7 am, and my departure wasn't until 9:25 am, so I wasn't that surprised, but it didn't help me find my gate.  I stopped by McDonalds, but their system wouldn't recognize my card, so I skipped them.  I didn't really want McDonalds anyways.  I just wanted the machine that would take my order so I didn't have to speak to someone who had no idea what I was trying to say.

I finally figured out that it looked like platforms 1-6 were international.  They had security before you entered, and after attempting to decipher the forbidden objects sign, I entered.  Not a word was uttered as I passed my belongings through the scanner, and there was no search of my person.  I supposed I could have just carried my pocket knives in my pocket, instead of throwing them out.

After going through security, there was one last cafe, and I got coffee and a sandwich.  By this point hunger was gnawing at me, so I'm quite glad they were there.

I found the last waiting area before the platform and waited.  There were some American girls on their way to Nice talking nearby, so I moved to where I could talk to them a little.  It was nice to understand and be understood again for a bit.  They left an hour before I would.  I read a bit, doodled a bit (I'm learning the Paper app on my iPad.), and generally just waited around until I could board.

Boarding the train, I learned that my car was the very end of the train.  It wasn't completely clear which way the train would be leaving, but I thought the way it would be going made mine the last one before the caboose, except that these days, instead of a caboose, there is usually an engine at both ends.  Up to my first class seat.  The car was a bit full, but the seat was spacious, comfortable, and altogether pleasing.

The trip was nice.  I slept a lot, courtesy of the 2 hours of sleep I had gotten in the night, but every time I was awake, the view outside the window was of something I could spend days exploring.  Castles, mountains, hills, sail boarding, kite boarding, and probably the largest train station I've ever been in, Paris Gare de Lyon.  I've never seen so many train tracks in one place, much less so many trains, running and otherwise.

Once we arrived, and I debarked, my friend in Paris was only a few meters away.  She hardly recognized me, as the last picture she had seen had no hair, and a fair amount of beard, where today, I have no beard, and my hair is growing back.  I recognized her immediately though.  It was an exciting meeting for me.  I've known her online for nearly 3 years, but this was our first time meeting in person.

One thing conspicuously missing from my trip was any kind of customs controls.  I'm sure all you experienced European travelers are used to this, but inside of the Schengen zone, it is apparently passport free travel.  I think I can be forgiven my anxiety upon experiencing this as the last time I was in Europe, there was no European Union.

Monday, May 25, 2015

When the Mundane Is Anything But

A week ago, I ordered food on the phone.  Normally, this is a pretty mundane activity.  In fact, it is something most people do without really thinking about it.  It is one of those conveniences of modern life that we tend to take for granted.  This experience was a bit different though.

I was in Spain.  I speak barely any Spanish.  I had never ordered food in Spain before.  I was uncomfortable with my address.  I wasn't sure how to say which apartment I was in, even if I got the address right.

I ordered a special with 3 donner kebabs, 1 chicken, and 2 beef.  Well, I think that is what I ordered.  The conversation went a bit like this:


Hola. ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

(I scramble around on the menu and finally repeat what I think means delivery.)

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Umm, sorry, I don't really speak Spanish.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... !

(Maybe he wants an address?)

Numbers, street, floor, apartment (possibly butchered beyond comprehension)

... ... ... ... ... ... ...! ... ... ... ... ... ... ....

Umm, (oh crap, what does he want now) sorry?

... ... ... ... ... ...! ... ... ... ... (why the hell did this guy call me when he can't speak the language) ... ... ...!

(maybe he is ready for me to order)  special 3 tortilla?  1 chicken 2 beef

... ... ... chicken or beef?

1 chicken 2 beef

... ... ... ... ... ... coke?

Si, coke.

... ... ... potatoes ... ... ...?


... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ....


Then, we waited to discover if food would actually arrive or not.  It did.  We were both suitably astonished.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

One Week - Cunit, Spain

We've been here in Cunit for one week as of yesterday.  The first blush has worn off the new place, and yet, it keeps growing on me.

We are still 250 meters as the crow flies from the water, and only 500 meters walk.  The balcony is still overwhelmingly large.  The weather has been gorgeous.

Here are some things that might not usually factor into your first impression of a place though:

I could probably hit the nearest grocery store with a rock from the balcony.  I don't have a firm grasp on when Spanish stores are open, but I can literally look at the front of the grocery store from the balcony and see if they are open right now.

There is a restaurant a couple blocks away whose tagline is "Tapas, tapas, y mas tapas".  A grandmotherly woman seems to own the place, and keeps us fed with a wide selection of tapas goodness.  It is neither the closest place, nor the fanciest, but I enjoy having someone who recognizes me when I walk in the door.

Amazon.es delivers next day and the European equivalent of Prime is only 20€.

Our internet works.  It isn't great, but it is good enough.

I can walk to the beach barefoot.

The stove works, and there is a pan suitable for making omelets in.  I have one for breakfast nearly every day.

The bathroom leaves enough room for sitting on the toilet.  Believe me, this is not always the case.

The washing machine, though it hates me, works, and my clothes dried in less than half a day.

The people here seem to be friendly.

I like Spanish toilet paper better than American.  The sheets are 50% longer and I find it to be a more convenient size.

Exotic locations are nice, but it is important to remember that even when we are traveling, we are still living, with all the challenges that entails.  You still wake up in the morning, and ride life's waves both up and down.  It is fortunate when you can appreciate the things which make the ride more enjoyable and easier to endure.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Some days, you wake up and learn you are winning. Like when you look out on the balcony at 6 am to find out what the bustle is and find a farmers market springing to life on the street below.

So far, I've seen produce, flowers, and clothes, and they seem to all be setting up around our block.

I guess I now know why we can't park on those streets on Thursdays.

Where's Waldo - Cunit, Spain

This time, we are in Cunit, Spain.

Zoom out to see how close we are to the ocean.  And yes, that dot is smack dab in the middle of our balcony.  No, the address shown by Google Maps is not right.

Things Which Amuse Me

While traveling, you get these beautiful moments of incongruence, where expectation and reality meet and find each other lacking.  These moments grow your mind, and leave you living in a larger, more interesting world of experience.  Here are a few of my recent moments:
    Cemetery outside Barcelona
  • My 12 egg omelet which smaller than  of a 3 egg omelet.  Did I mention the eggs were quail?
  • The GPS demanding you take your van into the cut between buildings where two full grown men would have trouble walking past each other.
  • Seeing this tiny motorized vehicle with 3 people in it drive out of one of those tiny cuts between buildings.
  • Realizing there are multiblock neighborhoods of these impenetrable streets where only pedestrian traffic is practical, but there are still occasional cars going by.
  • Milk Aisle
  • The vertical cemetery on the side of the hills.
  • Heading out for dinner at 10 pm and realizing that in Spain you aren't strange.
  • Finding out that on a Tuesday night in Cunit, you really are still strange.
  • Realizing the butter knives have sharp enough edges to cut a steak, and maybe they were meant to.
  • Learning someone else loves milk as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Long Day of Travel

We left Chulilla around 6 am.  I had slept a couple hours in there somewhere, and my friend had slept not at all.  We drove to "the" train station in Valencia, navigated the parking lot to find the rental car drop off, and found it closed.  We parked the car, unpacked the bags, and dropped the key off in the night drop.

Next, we navigated the train station.  I noticed that there was a security checkpoint and we were a bit worried that it looked like pocket knives weren't allowed in our bags, but we grabbed breakfast while debating what to do.

After breakfast, I noticed that the departure listings didn't seem to include our train, nor anything for our destination leaving at the time I was pretty sure we were supposed to leave.  We stopped in to customer service and through our broken Spanish, learned that not only were we not in "the" train station, but we were not in the right train station.  We were directed to a shuttle between the train stations, that is free for people with boarding passes.  We were also told that while there was security in this station, there was no security screening in the other station.

We waited around in what we assumed was the right spot with time pressure building.  It was getting on to 9 am and our train was scheduled to leave around 10:30 am.  I wasn't sure how long it would take to get from one station to the next.  After 10 to 15 minutes, the shuttle arrived.  They scolded my friend for not putting away the rental cart, then we headed to the other station.  It was a long, tense ride of 5 minutes from the station we were in to the north station.

At the north station, we found what appeared to be the gates, then settled in for a wait.  After a while, I realized the machines that were letting people in did not have readers that would read the tickets on our phones.  We got a couple boarding passes printed out from a large kiosk machine, then waited some more.  Then, I realized the machines would not read our boarding passes either.  Stress really wanted to mount.  We were directed to the far end of the gates as where we would board, but our instructions weren't terribly clear.  We thought someone would let us in if we needed help.

More waiting, then I noticed that some of the kiosks were for short trips, some for medium trips, and some for long trips.  Apparently, you have to know how far someone else thinks your trip will be to choose the right kiosk.  We also noticed that our bags did not obey the rules printed on the backs of the boarding passes that we had never seen before.  Additional stress mounted.

Finally, our platform was assigned and people were allowed to pass the gates for our train, though the train had not yet arrived.  It turns out that people traveling long distance are let through security at a gate much similar to boarding a plane at the airport, except that there is no security screening.  We walked out to our platform and waited with the mob for our train to magically appear before us.

We had assigned seats in an assigned coach, so when the train appeared, we found our coach and began to navigate the baggage problem.  Since I had shoved everything I owned (including 2 backpacks and a laptop bag) inside my large suitcase, it was bursting at the seams.  I would have had trouble finding a place for my bag, but two people were incredibly friendly and made room for me.  There was no way it was going in the overhead shelf designed for the smallish carry on bags.

Our seats were terrible.  They were painfully narrow, and the layout of the car was nothing like what we had seen on the website when we booked.  Instead of across from each other, we ended up next to one another.  I sweated the entire trip, but thankfully, we were both so tired that we managed to sleep through part of the four hour trip.  When we were awake, we got some spectacular views of the coast passing by.

Eventually, we realized that we were going to pass within 300 meters of the place we were staying, then travel another 30 to 45 minutes into Barcelona before we stopped.  Adding insult to injury, there seemed to be a train station nearly on top of the place.  If we had stopped there, and hadn't been picking up a car, I think we might actually have disembarked.

Finally, we arrived at the bewildering Barcelona Sants station.  We arrived underground, and took a tiny little elevator up to the top.  Europe is an amazing place, but they do not seem to go in for spacious elevators.  If you are claustrophobic, I recommend the stairs.

Upstairs, none of the signs seem to direct you anywhere.  We found several signs mentioning the rental car company was in the building, but not that actually indicated where it might be.  We passed all the way through the building, then walked all the way around the building, then went back inside.  We had seen evidence that Enterprise was upstairs, on top of the station, but no evidence of how to get there.  On our third pass through the station, someone half heartedly pointed us toward something, and walking that way, we discovered the rental car companies clustered together in an unmarked section of every map in the building.

Renting a car in Spain has been an interesting experience.  It seems to be standard policy to rent you one type of car online, then hard upsell you to another car in person.  Fortunately, my friend is good at resisting upsells.  Unfortunately, they really didn't have the car he booked.  They wanted him to upgrade for 50 euros a day on a 100 euro a week car.  When he declined, they put us in a mini-van, for no extra cost.

The rental agent directed us on how to get to the roof with the cars.  Walk outside of the building.  Find the marked door that shows it is the entrance to a fitness facility.  Walk up this dark ramp, zigzag around two corners, then take another unmarked, miniscule elevator up to the hotel.  At the hotel, lobby, walk out onto the roof of the building, then all the way around the hotel and dividing walls, until you arrive at the rental car parking lot.  I'm surprised we missed it before.

The rental agent, who apparently took some unmarked shortcut to beat us there, showed us to our van, and we set out for Cunit.  By this time, we were running late to meet the owner of our next lodgings, so I didn't mention that I was ravenous.  We drove 50 minutes out of Barcelona, through two unexpected toll stations, and found an approximation of our lovely seaside destination.  Parking was sparse, so we dove into the first spot we saw, then walked the last 4 blocks to the address we had.  It was not the address we had been given by AirBnB.  We were not sure if we were going to meet the woman at home, and she would show us where we were going, or if we were going to the address of the apartment.

Once we found the address, we called her up.  She said she would be right there.  We still had no real idea what to expect, so we hung around like a couple of thugs scaring off old women, until she arrived.

Elsa (I think?) seemed nice.  She showed us our current apartment, and gave us a brief tour.  The balcony is huge.  I really struggle to describe it.  The balcony is wider than the apartment, and just as deep as it is wide.  It extends from the back of the building out on top of the floor below, and then continues around the end of the building and approximately two thirds of the way to the front of the building.  In addition, there is a metal spiral staircase that takes us up to the roof of the building, where we have even more room on top of our apartment, and a full view of the surrounding area.  The balcony overlooks a pair of walled, community pools, and just 500 meters away, is a clear view of the beach and the Mediterranean Sea.

I gave up on finding an angle or angles that would do the place justice and just made a video.  I apologize for my terrible camera work.


On top of everything else, it turned out that we had arrived just in time for fairie, which is basically a fair.  It has food vendors, flamenco dancing, and amusement park rides.  This would be why there was so little parking.

Finally, as Elsa was getting ready to leave, we asked about the wifi password.  Slight problem.  There is no internet in the apartment.  Since we have to have internet, this is a huge concern.  She tells us we can go to the other apartment, but the internet there is broken today and won't be fixed until tomorrow.  She says she can get internet installed on Monday in this place, and the other place won't have a view of the sea.  When she leaves, things are in an uncertain state of hopefully internet Monday, but tether to our phone's data plans until then.

Finally at our destination, even if it might only be for a couple days, we bring our bags up to the fourth floor (tercer, above baixos, primer, and segond) via the tiny tiny little elevator that barely holds the two of us without bags, and settle in just a bit before going out for food.  On our way in, we had spotted a restaurant whose name I never noticed, but under the name it said, "tapas, tapas, y mas tapas," and that seemed just like my kind of place.  We had half a dozen tapas including caricoles (Spanish snails), beer, soda, and coffee, then headed back to the apartment.

At this point, I was about ready to give in if my friend did not want to go out to see fairie (fair-ee-uh), but I made the mistake of going up to the top of the spiral staircase.  Of in the darkening distance, I could see the glowing colorful lights, and I was hooked.

We went to fairie, had French crepes, and gawped at all the people, lights, and action.  Then, honoring our poor exhausted bodies, we returned to the apartment and passed out.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Night Before Travel

Once again, the night before travel is one of little sleep.  I procrastinate, delay, and dilly dally until the hours slip away and I have too little time for too many things to do.

While I was here in Chulilla, I took an inventory of everything I'm traveling with.  Depending on how I count, I have between 52 and 139 things.  To get a number as high as 139, I counted every card in my wallet, every component of my laptop's power cable, etc.  I have 9 pens.  I don't really understand why, but I have had trouble whittling it down.  Regardless, it turns out I can pack everything, including the 3 extra bags into my suitcase.  Since travel today will be by train and not plane, that is just what I've done.

In a couple hours, we hop in the rental car and drive it to Valencia, where we turn it in at the train station.  Then we take a train from Valencia to Barcelona, where we will rent another car, and drive to where we are staying.  We will be about halfway between Barcelona and Tarragona, right on the coast.  In fact, if google maps is to be believed, we will be only 500 meters from the beach.  I expect to swim in the Mediterranean Sea daily for the next few weeks.

Yesterday, Friday, May 1st, was International Workers Day, which is celebrated as a holiday in Spain.  This meant lots of people around.  As we headed down to the bakery, I was looking at a pretty girl instead of where I was going, tripped on a step, and badly stubbed my toe.  I headed back to the apartment so I wouldn't bleed all over the place.  I'm sure the stubbed toe is going to feel great in the salt water, but I expect it will help it heal.

I didn't hike in Chulilla nearly as much as I wanted to.  I'm badly out of shape, and as I have had to remind several people, I'm not on vacation.  It isn't a great idea to exhaust myself before I work an eight hour day on my computer.  It can make it really hard to stay awake.  Still, the hiking I did was wonderful.  I'm looking forward to coming back.  Americans, particularly overweight, non-climbing Americans, are not the norm here in Chulilla.  It is primarily a rock climbing destination, and not so much a tourist one.  It is a great place to experience a taste of true Spanish lifestyle.