Thursday, April 29, 2004

Wolverhampton, Wedding Countdown: 2 Days to Go

The nearly-betrothed are alternating between frazzled and anticipatory behaviour. Totally understandable, but the gloomy weather isn't helping. Of course, everyone wants their Big Day to be all sunshine and happy times, but hey -- this is England. Sunshine and happy times are at a premium here.

My dig about "happy times" is directly related to the fact that I think British people, as consumers, get ripped off left, right, and centre. People pay a fortune for so many things: food, utilities, shelter, transportation... it's really something. When I lived in the UK I suppose I just got used to it, but returning to it now and again is a real eye-opener. Professional wages are on average higher here, but if you compare it to the cost of living, I think the average Canadian can achieve a better standard of living with less money.

Dress-fitting #3 today, amongst a bunch of other errands. The dress is looking far less hideous than when I first tried it on, now that it fits. Transferred my Spain photos from the two 256 MB flashcards to CD at the photo shop today, so I can make room for the wedding photos. Also bought a wedding guestbook so I can take photos of guests at the reception and the evening party at the hotel, then get them to sign beside their photos. The shoes were stretched successfully, and now I can actually put my feet in them without my toes going purple. Made some confetti cones in the shape of flowers. Bit of a brouhaha over Lucy's dad's missing suit that we thought we'd picked up, so I took Lucy, John, and Joe out to an Indian restaurant at the bottom of the road so we can all just relax...

Tomorrow the Irish contingent arrives, we take all the stuff over to the hotel, have a wedding rehearsal, and I have to figure out the girly stuff like nails, hair, and makeup... I'm eschewing the manicure/pedicure/hairdresser route and doing everything myself... yikes.

Wolverhampton, Wedding Countdown: 3 Days to Go

My first day back in jolly ol' England after a week in Spain and it was bloody freezing. Plus, UK Passport Control were not quite as lax on Round 2 as they were in Round 1. Sometimes it's like this because my itinerary usually involves going in and out of the UK several times in one trip.

Officer: "How long are you here for?"
Me: "Until Sunday, then I fly to Paris."
Officer: "What are you doing here?"
Me: "I'm in a wedding on Saturday."
Officer: "You're not just attending the wedding?"
Me: "No, I'm actually in it, I'm the head bridesmaid."
Officer: "Is your friend Canadian?"
Me: "No, she's English."

By this time, the rest of the de-planed sunseekers had all made it through Passport Control, because they didn't have to fill out the arrival card. The officer, unsure whether to continue his line of questioning about my friend, decided to probe in a different direction:

Officer: "Are you travelling alone?"
Me: "Yes."

The officer looked at me for a while, and little bells went off in my head, a flashback to my first time at Heathrow in 1993, when I was questioned for over two hours, under suspicion of possible drug trafficking. I was pretty relieved when the East Midlands officer waved me through.

On my Easyjet flight leaving Malaga, as per normal a person checked my boarding card and passport, but then only 5 metres behind her, another person did exactly the same thing. This, I've never seen before -- two checkers so close together. Except the Spanish guy was perplexed by my passport. Part of this is because:

1) I was born in a place called Zamboanga del Sur, which is in itself difficult to pronounce,
2) it's in a (*ding ding*) Muslim province of the Philippines, and
3) barely fits on the birthplace line in the passport, so the word "Philippines" has to be abbreviated.

Not to mention that Spain is pretty security-conscious at the moment.

Practically everyone on the plane with me was sunburnt from overexposure on the Costa del Sol. Silly Brits. I'm a brown girl and I slap on the SPF-60, while they arrive in Spain lily-white, ignore the sunscreen, and leave lobster-red. But I had to buy the SPF-60 because my hands and feet were going super-dark, which would've looked strange with the sleeveless bridesmaid dress and light brown bare arms.

Even Ruth's putting on a fake tan, and Lucy's taking in a 3-minute tan... this is a wedding, people, not a Sports Illustrated photo shoot. This is also England, not the Canary Islands -- I think dark tans look strange on wedding photos unless it's the summertime, and it's definitely not that now! In fact, the weather's been pretty abysmal this week, and I've been shivering since I've been here... but I'm not complaining, since I had my week in the sun.

After a week of touring around Spain and visiting museums and cathedrals and monuments and climbing hills, I'm actually quite content to be helping Lucy out with her wedding preparations and engaging in related mundane activities such as picking up vases, suits, hats, etc., errand-running and whatnot. There's nothing touristy at all about Wolverhampton, it's a town half an hour away from Birmingham in the West Midlands, with no tourist draw card at all. In many ways, it's a very typical English town. If it wasn't for the accent, I doubt it would be distinguishable from any other town of its size in the country.

While we were running errands around Wolverhampton, I had these flashbacks of years gone by: Christmases when we'd stocked up on the sales at Boots, or summertime when we'd all gone down to the pub for dinner, or hedges where we'd stashed Bank's Bitter pint glasses to take home later. One time when a bunch of us went to the clairvoyant's down the road to get our palms read, and I'd later received a VISA statement with the merchant "Psychic Foundation of England". When we were living in Scotland, Lucy and I would take the train down to Wolverhampton for bank holiday weekends, Christmas, Easter, or just whenever we wanted to take it easy on the weekend, i.e, raid her parent's perpetually-stocked refrigerator, wash our clothes, or just hang out with her large immediate family. Nearly 11 years later, there have been house moves, renovations, countless changes in vehicles and jobs and a collection of ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends (between 3 sisters and 1 brother), Grandma Hawker passed away, Joseph became the first grandchild, large and small-scale dramas, one smallish wedding, two engagements, broken hearts, and now Lucy's big day.

As expected, it's both stressful and exciting. The list of things to do in the last few days leading up to Saturday is still quite long, and because John's family are all flying in from Northern Ireland (around 30 people), there's a whole different set of transportation and accommodation logistics. A great majority of the people who are in the reception are from out of town, so people are either billeted out between the houses or staying at the hotel where the reception is. Plus, there are potentially worrying scenarios such as if the suits that are ordered for the Irish lads will actually fit -- cos they won't fly in until Friday morning and the warehouse for the suit rentals close at noon that day because it's a bank holiday weekend... as for me, I went for dress fitting #2 today, and I had to get my shoes stretched at the cobbler's because the toes are so pointy and narrow my feet were losing all circulation within minutes. I can't imagine standing for the ceremony, let alone dancing...

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Malaga – Wolverhampton

My last day in Spain. One reason why I'm trying to write as much as possible as I go along is because I left the notebook that I've been using to write journal entries on the bus between Barcelona and Valencia. Not a huge loss, but I'm going to have to remember the first few days of the trip instead of referring to my notes. I haven't documented a trip for years, but in the last year or so since my blog became more extensive, I've been making more of an effort to write things down.

Last night I took a walk around Malaga and took evening shots of the palace ruins, the capital building, museum, and around the gardens. There is such beauty everywhere that I wondered if the locals took it for granted. North America (and much of Britain, for that matter) seems so drab by comparison. Will our building codes would ever incorporate some aesthetic value? In 100 years or so will our descendants look back with any pride at all and invest money to preserve any of the dreary-looking buildings that we use to carry on our everyday business? Will museums of the future feature "drab" and pass it along as an art form?

Went to the 24-hour pharmacia across from my hotel to try and get some vitamin C for this cold, but the onsite pharmacist talked me into taking this cough syrup that was so strong that I:

-- made this incredibly lethargic-sounding phone call to Lucy in England that she could barely understand,
-- got cut off by the phone card expiring (well, Telefonica cut me off, without warning!), then
-- trundled off to my hotel room and curled up and passed out on my bed, only managing to take off my shoes, then
-- woke up nine hours later in nearly the same position.

But, I felt pretty darn good on my last day in Spain. I had to chalk it up to lots of sleep and killer cough syrup.

My agenda for my final hours in Spain included something I usually avoid like the plague: clothes shopping. I might on occasion meander around markets like Camden in London, but purely for leisure purposes and not for specific stuff, which of course are unavailable when you're looking for them. But I had to get something to wear for the wedding reception if the bridesmaid dress was unbearable, and I brought nothing that could remotely pass as evening wear.

But I soon discovered that even in a city the size of Malaga, which is less than 100,000 (if I remember correctly), there are clothes and footwear of practically every conceivable colour, style, and fabric. Even for a reluctant shopper like me, the low prices and wide selection for apparel and shoes in Spain by and large make me forget how much I hate shopping. I even set a personal record for buying four items of clothing in a single shop. For anyone who knows me, this is unheard of! But, you really can't go wrong in Spain -- I couldn't believe I even saw articles of clothing sold for 3 euros... I mean, that's giving it away!

My shopping trip over in a flash, I whiled away part of the siesta hours over at the Picasso Museum, a brand-spanking-new construction which featured... you guessed it: the works of Picasso, who was born in Malaga. Now, let me say I was never really a big fan of Picasso and cubism has never exactly enthralled me. But the more I had a look at pieces in the collection that I'd never seen before, the more my impression of Picasso's art changed. I'd say that is one reason why I visit art museums that have exhibits of artists I'm not always fond of -- because sometimes the pieces that make those artists famous just don't do anything for me, and I find other examples of their work more interesting. For example, the work on display showed how prolific Picasso was, his range and development from one style to another, the result being that each of the currently 12 finished salons is vastly different. If you get a chance to visit the museum, do also go downstairs to the archaeological remains of the Phoenician civilization that has been preserved underneath Malaga's streets. It reminds me a bit of the underground city museum in Barcelona, although on a much smaller scale.

I had just enough time to visit the Alcazabra, but not the Gibrafalo, before making my way to the airport. It's on a hill above the city and has wonderful views and welcome breezes. At the entrance there's a funny-looking vending machine that spits out visitor tickets, with signs written in so many languages that it takes longer to try and read them all than it does to stick in your 1.80 euros to get the entrance ticket and get going. In fact, there's an attendant whose job it is to figure out if you've bought the correct ticket.

Sometimes I don't take my own advice. I try and keep a bunch of change in my pocket so I always have bus or tram or metro fare, but when I ran for the #19 aeropuerto bus, I had two 50 euro notes but less than a euro in change. The bus only comes by every half an hour, and I stood there in front of the bus doors pleading to the driver in gestures to hold on while I search for more centimos... but he couldn't wait any longer, pointing at this watch and the rush hour traffic ahead. So he left without me, and I was determined to try to get to the airport by transit, so I resigned myself to buying something at Burger King to try and get those big notes changed. See, I'd managed all week in Spain taking public transit or walking, not once breaking down and taking a taxi even when I was wandering around town in the middle of the night, looking for a place to stay. In both Valencia and Malaga I walked from the bus station to the places I eventually stayed at (in Valencia it took me an hour and a half of searching Barrio Carmen to find a vacancy), and it was going to bug the hell out of me if I was going to take a taxi now. But, I guess the first #19 bus was late, because I managed to catch another one less than half an hour later, just before I buried the pride in favour of making it to the airport on time to catch the flight to England. Thankfully, it all worked out, I made the flight with plenty of time, and passed UK passport control for the second time on this trip without too much hassle to meet Lucy and Alex, who were waiting for me at East Midlands airport in Nottingham.

Monday, April 26, 2004


This is just what the doctor ordered after 3 bus trips from Barcelona to Valencia, to Granada, then here to Malaga: warm Mediterranean air, good food, and best of all, a big super-clean room on the Alameda Principal with a view of the castle. And it's got TWO power points (I never thought I'd so excited over electricity), a spotless wash basin, towels... OK, it sounds totally mundane but after a long walk from the bus station these things suddenly become very important. The cold went full-blown, not seriously but enough to annoy (coughing and sneezing), by the time I reached Granada yesterday morning. Valencia was excellent, but it took a lot out of me (a couple of encounters with surly and unhelpful folk, which I would've been more inclined to ignore if I'd not been feeling a bit crappy).

I was glad things felt easier in Granada, and thankfully I was feeling energetic enough to get through the Alhambra, because that place is like a mirage, complete with fountain oases. When I finished there I beat the midday heat and savoured my first meal of the day at a sidewalk eatery before I wrote yesterday's post. I had my second great seafood paella (inland, ironically), with some vanilla bistado (milkshake), which was my second choice after finding out they hadn't started making their horchata yet. I've grown quite addicted to this horchata stuff... I think it's made from coconut husks or something like that. [Edit: it's made from tiger nuts. Isn't that illegal? :)] Nevermind, it's great, try it if you get a chance. The food is great in Spain, so much variety, and cheap, too. For example, the meal I had the sidewalk eatery at Plaza Neuva was 7.50 euros, for salad, paella, dessert and coffee! Excellent value, really. Normally it's dessert or coffee, but I think the guy was being nice to me, because he also gave me creme caramel custard, which arrives cold in this upside down cup and sat on this steaming hot plate. I couldn't quite figure out what to do with it, because I saw this silver tab on top. I pulled it, and luckily didn't pull it too far since the air let the custard drop on the edge of the plate and I managed to catch it...

That wasn't quite as embarrassing as the paella in Valencia. To make a long story short, I ordered the paella marisca even though what I really wanted was the paella Valenciana, which had two words I knew: pollo (chicken) and conejo (rabbit). The word marisca sounded familiar, but I couldn't remember what it was, and it wasn't in the food glossary section of the Lonely Planet guidebook. But, being an intrepid sort, thought I would be fine with whatever came.

Well, what arrived on my plate was the two BIGGEST prawns I'd ever seen in my life. At least I think they were prawns. I've seen prawns before, after all, I live in Vancouver and I've seen them writhing around in the boats in Richmond. Thanks to Eliza and her love of seafood, I've learned to enjoy it, since I didn't grow up with it and didn't even try any until I was 18. I've drawn the line at taking live prawns and dunking them in the hotpot, but I'll eat them once they've been cooked. And these prawns in Valencia were cooked, I know. But, they sort of didn't look like the sort of prawns I'd seen before... they looked more... COMPLICATED. They were like some kind of hybrid prawn-lobster, with big beady eyes staring up at me. They had pincers, for goodness sakes, and these enormous feet. I swear, I had this fleeting thought of leaving them on the plate and just eating the rice, but they formed such a large part of the dish that it would've been totally ridiculous to just leave them like that, akin to ordering a fondue and just eating the bread.

What a quandary. I looked around for the waiter, to see if he did this as some kind of joke. At least it would have proved to me that he had some sense of humour. (Well, I knew he had one, since I saw him joking around and smiling with some Spanish patrons. I think he just didn't like me, for whatever reason.) I stared at my plate for a little while, wondering what to do. I mean, these two prawns were so huge that end to end, they formed a complete circle around my plate. What on earth is in the water around Valencia???? I swallowed hard and steeled myself against any sort of weak constitution that might invite nausea at the thought of prying apart these freakish creatures of the sea. I ignored the snapping sound of the monster head coming off the rest of the body, then took my fork to try to get past the crustacean and inside to... ??? Well, it tasted like a prawn, anyway. By the time I finished, there was this veritable pile of exoskeletal remains, and of course let's not forget those beady eyes. I couldn't look at them any more, so I took the lemon rind and crusts of the bread roll and piled them on top, like a burial mound.

Why isn't the word marisca in the Lonely Planet guidebook?? Should I have taken this as some sort of clue??

I tipped the waiter in Granada. I've only eaten at maybe three or four restaurants the entire week I've been here, the rest of the time I'm just grabbing a bocadillo or something handy to eat on public transport, and I'd say this guy was the first one who deserved a tip -- he actually stopped by to see if I wanted anything. I know you're supposed to be aggressive when it comes to getting served in Spain, but I swear if you don't jump up and down to get somebody's attention, it could be literally hours before someone notices you. I hypothesized that because I was alone, maybe they thought the other person wasn't there yet, or in the servicios or whatever. I never know what's behind the stares. I've been travelling for years, and I can only ever just guess why people are thinking when they stare, short of actually going up to them to ask.

Spain is a very social country. People are socializing practically every hour of the waking day, so seeing someone eat on her own must be very, very strange. Maybe they think I'm a social leper.

I've had some interesting conversations, though, don't get me wrong. Like this guy I bought jewellery from in this narrow alley full of hawkers in Granada after my big siesta-time meal. Like others in Spain, when he found out I was from Canada, he gave a hearty shiver -- Canada! FRIOS! Every time this happens, I shake my head and say, Vancouver, no frios, to which they display some gesture of doubt. With this guy, I tried to tell him that Vancouver is beside the Pacific Ocean, but I saw him wrap the jewellry in the slowest motion ever (the faster he spoke, the slower he wrapped), while babbling on about clearcutting and water, so I gave up. Whatever I'd said would never be remembered once whatever he was on wore off. (Whew, was that English?)

The bus ride from Granada to Malaga was gorgeous. I kept staring at the Sierra Nevada mountains slowly disappearing in the burning red of the sunset, and trying to snap photos with the available light, while the busload of Spanish people listened intently to what must've been some important football match. I kept hearing::


and the guy beside me kept slapping his hand on his forehead.


I'm ready to head out again, so I'll just be expedient and cut-and-paste an e-mail I wrote to a friend in Denmark today, with some modifications:

...I've been in Spain a week, and I still can't quite figure out the siesta times, it seems to vary from place to place. Or maybe even more arbitrary than that -- the proprietors just close whenever they feel like it! It's fine for visitors like me, but it's a wonder anything ever gets done.

I was in a beautiful cathedral this afternoon, and was thinking of how much money was invested into such a building. From the time and money of its initial design, maintenance, additions, renovations, restorations, etc., if you can imagine from the perspective of a poor person begging in front of it, how vulgar it must seem for the church to pour its economic resources into a structure, all in the name of glorifying God, rather than putting more money into the community. Sure, the church has all sorts of patron saints dedicated to helping the poor, but there's something quite twisted in a building that represents enormous capital investment beside buildings that are dilapidated...

That doesn't sum up my feelings about the beautiful churches and monuments and other places of interest. It's just a thought. But it's something I couldn't help thinking when I listened to the audioguide narrative that mentioned the two massive pipe organs on either side of the ornate two-tier choir lofts made of tropical hardwoods, organs that contained nearly 4,500 pipes each. Does God look down on this with approval? Do the clerics and religious architects ever stop and ask themselves if this is what God really wants? Massive edifices of untold hours of labour and enough money to float a country? I keep thinking of colonialism and all that the (collective) church has done to strip indigenous people of their culture in the name of missionary work, and also fill the cathedrals with imported materials such as the tropical hardwood. As much as I appreciate the beauty of the artwork and the design and care that goes into creating such buildings, I also can't help but think of what must've been sacrificed to achieve them. Am I the only one who thinks this way??

Sunday, April 25, 2004


Am I in Spain or am I in North Africa? I'm hearing more Arabic than Spanish. It feels like I'm in Morocco instead of Granada, but I spent half the day at the Alhambra, so that's how I know.

Took the overnight bus from Valencia at 11 o'clock and woke up this morning careening through the Sierra Nevada mountains. This was the best plan, really, to arrive early in the morning, saving the cost of overnight accommodation, lock up my rucksack at the bus station, buy a ticket for Malaga, and head straight to the Alhambra before it gets crowded.

And man, does it get crowded. They have 8, 260 available tickets per day, and they save 2,000 to sell on the day. The rest they sell online or through agents for up to a year in advance. Apparently at peak season you have to queue up before 7 o'clock in the morning if you want a ticket.

Get this: the 10 euro entrance fee only allows entry into Los Palacios Nazaries (one of the areas) in the space of a half-hour period (in my case, between 10:30-11:00), and the ticket is only good until 2pm! If you arrive later, it's even more crowded, it's considerably hotter, and your ticket is only good for the afternoon. The gates only open at 8:30, which sounds early except the grounds are extensive. To see everything before 2pm means you have to be moving all the time. I've been taking a tonne of photos and some video, too, so I had to move extra fast. This is the best place to use the swivel screen of the Canon A80 I just bought. I can't post any photos now, but I managed to get some ground level and high-above-my-head shots at the Alhambra that I would never have been able to get with my A60.

The place is crawling with tour guides for all major languages, but most of the visitors today are Spanish (or, at least, speak Spanish... I can't distinguish the Central and South Americans, and only possibly the broadest-speaking Mexicans, from the Spaniards). More on this later.

The Alhambra is a 13th century Arab fortress that was reclaimed by the Spanish. You can Google it for more historical information, but I will say that learning the Islamic symbolism (particularly with water and visual art) behind the architecture and design of the buildings makes the early morning trip worthwhile. I splurged 3 euros for an audioguide, which made it easier to understand (most of the archaeological information is in French, Spanish, and Arabic). And, if you're into photography, it is definitely worth your while to come early, because it is MUCH easier to set up your trickier shots and there aren't hordes of people's heads in your photos. I can see why they only let a certain amount of people in at one time, they would sacrifice the individual experience otherwise.

I wish I could display the photos right now, the Alhambra is absolutely stunning with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains as its backdrop.

Am off to Malaga in a couple of hours... Adios amigos!

Saturday, April 24, 2004


[On a non-tourist-but-nonetheless-important note: my tax refund was deposited today! woo-hoo!]

I'm in Valencia today, Spain's third largest city, after Madrid and Barcelona. I wasn't actually planning on visiting Valencia, it was a split decision between Valencia and Alicante when I was at the bus station. I figured there would be more transportation options from Valencia, and I took one of the later buses from Barcelona which brought me to Valencia after 10pm. If I'd gone to Alicante, it would've been the middle of the night and it's the weekend.

Taking a 6 o'clock bus from Barcelona gave me more time to take photos, so after buying my bus ticket I went directly to Sagrada Familia, quite possibly the most visited tourist attraction in Barcelona. Rightly so, since the Gaudi-conceived structure is impressive. According to the guidebooks, Gaudi worked on it for forty years and it basically consumed him... the work still carries on today, and projected estimates for completion are around 2020. I wanted to visit the church thoroughly, but I didn't have time and the sheer crowds of tourists emerging from lines of coaches put me off, so I just walked around it and took photos. The detail of the exterior alone amazes. Gaudi didn't like straight lines (he's attributed with saying straight lines don't occur in nature), and there isn't a straight line to be seen. Google Sagrada Familia and you'll see what I'm talking about. I read somewhere on an Orkut forum that someone wasn't impressed by it, but he must've been of the straight-line variety of tourist.

After Sagrada Familia I took what felt like the thousandth metro ride, to Passeig de Gracia to get to the Post Office. Passeig de Gracia is a massive boulevard, and everyone plus their dog and granny was on it today, of course. I had to do the duck and dodge to get anywhere. Imagine a wide boulevard with a median, plus an extra vehicle lane or two BETWEEN the sidewalk and the main lanes. On each side. So just crossing the street involves four sets of pedestrian lights. I've discovered that here in Spain the drivers ignore those pedestrian lights if you aren't practically in the middle of the thoroughfare. So the initial step is gingerly, breaking into a sprint to cross. The trickiest ones are by the roundabouts, where cars can come careening out of seemingly nowhere.

I think I'm going to write a separate post about transportation.

Anyway, one thing I've noticed, at least on this trip, is that wherever I want to go is the complete opposite of the direction I think it is. I really should just save myself the trouble and go the direction I think is least likely. Anyway, I did find the Post Office, but the hard way. The woman at the counter didn't speak much English, but we did make it through my rather complicated transaction -- 20 or so self-made postcards with my portable photo printer, plus two small parcels. The post office didn't even take credit cards... it's a good thing I'm carrying around a decent amount of cash, but it just gives pickpockets a larger potential lode. Argh.

Back to the bus station, and then it was off to Valencia. The coach was very comfortable, and after some gesturing to my seatmate, whose friend was sitting a few rows back, I traded an aisle seat for a window seat, plus an empty seat beside me. The two friends got to sit together, and everybody was happy. I figure since it was Friday evening, the bus was probably full of people ready to escape Barcelona for the weekend. The ticket itself was pretty cheap -- 21 euros or so, for a trip that was 4.25 hours.

I was surprised how quickly we were out of Barcelona proper. With the ocean to the left and the mountains to the right, it was a picturesque journey for the most part. They showed the Kevin Spacey film K-PAX, but I had a feeling it would be dubbed (which it was), and I tried to follow along, but would've been more attentive if I was more interested in the film. The next movie was "The Panic Room" with Jodie Foster, which was far more interesting, but I'd already seen it exactly two years ago, with Berit in Zurich (where we sat in plush LEATHER seats!).

When I arrived in Valencia at quarter past 10, I immediately inquired about buses to Granada, after making another split decision to visit Alhambra. After more fun and games with the ticket agent who spoke nary a word of English (my broken English seems to be more effective than my Spanish, it seems), I decided on an overnight bus to Granada that leaves at 11:00pm and arrives at 7:25 in the morning. It was REALLY cheap, too, only about 35 euros. That way I can splurge a bit on accommodation in Malaga, and see the Alhambra without having to look for a place to stay in Granada. Plus, I can beat the crowds.

I'm almost out of time on this terminal, so I'll write more about Valencia later. The short version is I walked all the way from the bus station around the city centre, wandering in and out of the tiny laneways of the old quarter of Barrio El Carmen to find a place to stay... it's like a rabbit warren in there!! I kept getting turned away as everyone was full to the brim with weekend warriors taking over Valencia, and finally found a place to stay near Plaza del Ayuntamiento... very clean, but I had to pay for a double room. What a contrast from the Kabul in Barcelona!

When I return to England next week, I'll also complete my posts on Barcelona (Day 3).

Adios amigos! Happy Birthday Alvin!! Sorry I missed it yesterday!

Friday, April 23, 2004

Barcelona – Day 4

Uh oh. Sore throat. Hope that doesn't mean I caught something nasty from the American girl with a terrible cold who was over in the next bed. She was down for the count for three whole days. What a way to spend a holiday, and that will be me next if I don't get down some vitamins and orange juice and whatever I can get my hands on at the pharmacia.

Every morning I get up later and later, which would mean more sleep except I keep going to bed later and later. Last night I decided to print off some photos to make postcards for Barcelona, because I found some power points in the shower room. So around 1am I plugged in my Canon photo printer and away I went... lots of drunk girls stumbled in and barely noticed what I was doing, but a few were sober enough to stare at the little machine, printing away. Wrote postcards until some crazy hour of the morning, so getting up this morning was tough. (This Aussie girl in the bunk above me screamed in terror a few times in her sleep, which freaked everybody out except me, since I was just heading to bed.) Just missed breakfast, but thought I'd ask the brekkie guy for coffee, anyway, since he was flirting with me the last two mornings. Well, it worked -- for a kiss on the cheek, I got my coffee, plus a fresh hot croissant! Gave him a kiss on the other cheek for good measure... what a sweet guy.

Now I'm off to the post office and the bus station to head south to Alicante...

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Tapas and Not Quite Sangria

It's half past midnight and -- miracles of miracles -- I actually got onto a computer at the Kabul almost straightaway! The place is hopping as usual -- music pumping, people talking at the top of their lungs in Lord knows how many languages, beer flowing, cigarettes burning... I swear, this is not a hostel, it's a bar with beds. (And yeah, I can't think of Kabul quite the same way the next time I hear it said on the news.)

I want to get the iPod fully recharged for the journey tomorrow, so I gotta hang out for a while. I discovered yesterday that there are NO power points in any of the rooms. So I had to give the iPod to the reception guy to plug in beside his desk. But then I couldn't plug in my photo printer, because I only took ONE plug adapter -- argh! The other one is sitting at home, in the kitchen drawer. The iPod is only partially charged because I nearly passed out with fatigue on the steps by my room, where I was doing some forward planning with my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook. Too many late nights and early mornings finally catching up with me...

Jeez, I jumped on here to talk food, oy!

I stuffed myself with tapas and tried to order sangria de cava (Barcelona's fizzy version of the drink we all know and love), but there was this section below the sangria part that just said "cavas" and for some weird reason I thought it was the TYPE of cava that you mix with the sangria... OK, very very lame, but by the time the CHAMPAGNE arrived (OK, cava must mean fizz), the waiter had opened the little bottle. I didn't have the heart to make him take it back.

So, I drank champagne with my patatas bravas, bomba picante (spicy bomb?), and croquetas de jamon. I wasn't nearly as lame with the food, though, I knew what I was ordering, except I didn't know what the hell was in a "spicy bomb"... well, I'm in the north of Spain, so I knew it wasn't going to be THAT spicy.

Was a bit too pissed to try and order the sangria de cava after the champagne. So I decided to try the "chocolates con churros" (xocolatas con xurros in Catalan, I think), which I can tell you right now is excellent and only a cousin of the Mexican version. First of all, it isn't rolled in brown sugar or cinnamon or anything. It's about four smaller pieces that are not straight, but done in smaller ropes with their ends together. Plus, the chocolate part is a sauce that's in a cup on the side, and quality stuff -- more like milky hot chocolate in a smooth sauce (not from powder, from what I can tell), and only semi-sweet instead of sickly dessert sweet. YUM YUM! All that and the total bill came to a paltry 13.45 euros (there's no place on the slip for tipping, either!), which is not much over $20 Canadian. For a meal of tapas, dessert, and champagne, that is unreal...

Barcelona Days 2 & 3

It's the morning of Day 3 in Barcelona, and I'm actually a bit relieved it's raining. I'm a bit sunburnt from yesterday -- silly me forgot sunscreen.


Woke up at the crack of dawn (naturally, fancy that!) and headed north up to the highest point in Barcelona, Tibidabo, to take the funicular to the top. I walked up this hill only to discover the funicular was closed on this particular day (the park and tower were shut), open again on the weekend. The days of the year it's open are posted right on the bus stop pole, if I'd taken a look! But the air was cooler, and I realized from that vantage point how poor the air quality really was. Reminded me of L.A. -- a brown haze hanging over the city.

Took the bus back down and headed to the other high point in Barcelona, the area named Montjuic, but stopped in the city centre to check out the Museu D'Historia de la Ciutat. Just before that, I came upon a political demonstration, but my Spanish isn't good enough to figure out anything more than it was something like "stop the corruption" – which of course is synonymous with government!

Underneath Plaça del Rei are underground excavations of the medieval Roman city of Barcino. The exhibitions are interesting, but you have to use your imagination as what you're looking at are archaeological remains, and only selected artifacts. One thing I did remember was that in the laundry, ash, lime, and URINE was used to bleach the clothes!

What a gorgeous day! I took the public funicular up to Montjuic, and a tourist tram up to the very top, where the military museum is. When I reached into my wallet to get change, I realized I had just enough... because I was pickpocketed!

Yup, first time ever... I'd read that Barcelona has the most skilled pickpocket thieves anywhere in Europe. I was pretty amazed, since accessing the wallet would require getting past three sets of buckle/velcro/zipper. The thief didn't take anything more than the cash, which I'd calculated was maybe around 30 euros or less. I make a point of carrying very little cash just for this reason. I'd taken out a little more than usual because I'd discovered a fair number of places only take cash, even -- and this was surprising -- the tourist office!

I was sitting in the tram, talking to my tram mate, when I checked my bag more thoroughly and confirmed this. I figured it had to be on the metro, because it's often crowded and I get a bit spaced out just standing there with all those people and little air. My tram mate was this Jewish guy, Ron, from D.C. He kindly offered to give me some change so I could get something to drink, but I thought I'd had enough to get some water. By this time it was REALLY warm, and I was thankful that Barcelona has vending machines all over the place to dispense water and soft drinks.

The view from the top of Montjuic was better than from Tibidabo -- clearer. I opted out of the Military Museum and spent some time checking out the different views of the city and the industrial and cruise ship ports. Ron showed up again and we spent some time chatting, but I think if he hadn't had to run off to catch his bus to Granada, we would've kept chatting so long we both would've fried to a crisp at the top of Montjuic.

After the heat of Montjuic I wanted to get inside again, and while sitting on the bus, which is more relaxing and like sightseeing compared to the metro, I happened upon the station near the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Where are all the skateboarders in Barcelona? They are ALL in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art. It's probably one of the only flat spaces where they're allowed to go. The Museum itself is in a lovely building, an attractive contrast to the Old World buildings around it. The interior of the building is a beautiful, angular white. The current exhibit is of a local abstract artist, Antoni Tapies (I'll have to check that name later). From there I headed back to Port Vell to breathe in the ocean air.


It's really raining, so I tried for the second time to visit the Museum of Ethnology... alas, I guess it just wasn't meant to be, since yesterday they closed early not just for the day, but until they renovate for Barcelona Forum 2004! (Which starts May 9, so I just miss it.)

So, I jumped on the bus and headed just down the road to the former Olympic stadium from 1992. Somehow, it doesn't look all that big, which should be expected since the Olympics just gets bigger and bigger every year.

At the Foundaçion de Joan Miro there is a large collection of the works of Barcelona's famous surrealist artist. There were a few video installations there of other artists, most notably one that nearly made people sick... I won't get into graphic detail, since it will probably make you sick, too, but suffice to say it involved self-mutilation and excrement. Simultaneously. LOVELY! By the time the artist got around to his second (third? fourth? fifth) bout of drawing blood, people were practically running out of the room (me included). But, I did take some photos of some fantastic sculptures and breezed through the rooms -- since it was raining, the place was incredibly busy.

From there, it was down the hill to the Archaeology Museum, across from a beautiful theatre (photos forthcoming). By contrast to the Miro museum, I was the only person around, so I took advantage of this to snap photos of artifacts downstairs, and an interesting exhibit upstairs that juxtaposed pop culture items of the present day with Greek archaeological remains. For example, Barbie and a bust of an ancient Greek woman... wish I could post the photos now, they'd speak a thousand words, but you'll all just have to wait.

Plus, my stomach's growling, so I'm going to take off now and get some late-night tapas and sangria. I'll be heading south tomorrow, to cover at least part of the 1,000 kms between Barcelona and Malaga, where I'll be flying out to return to England. But I think I'll spend part of the day in Barcelona if the weather holds out.


Barcelona – Day 1

Arrived via Ryanair into Girona, which is a small place about an hour's north of Barcelona. Could see the mountains from the plane, and I was surprised to still see so much snow!

Once I got into the city, I scoped out the nearest Metro station and bought a 10-journey transit pass for 6 euros. A few major advantages to buying a transit pass:

- if you're anything like me, you're bound to take the wrong train at least once
- you don't want to keep digging out your wallet and searching for change
- keeps the wallet away from pickpockets and lessens the chance of leaving it somewhere.

I headed over to the Liceu station, which is right in the middle of the buzzing La Ramblas, a street full of hawkers, vendors, living sculptures, and scads and scads o' tourists... Kabul Hostel is conveniently located in Plaça Reial. Man, is that place a zoo! But hey, it was CHEAP. For 18 euros you get a dorm bed, a big locker, breakfast, and free internet! You can't beat that! I'd read that it was really noisy, but I was quite unprepared with how zooish it was. I threw my stuff upstairs, then went down the street to explore.

I found the Sant Josep Bouqueria, this fresh fruit and veg market. Had to buy a papaya, it reminded me of the open-air markets in the Philippines. From there I went north on La Ramblas to Plaça Catalunya to find the Tourist Office, which seemed pretty much like the epicentre where all traffic and transport and people converge. I bought a 2-day Barcelona Card for 20 euros, which gives me free public transport for two consecutive days and discounts ranging from 10-100% on museums, attractions, and restaurants/shops (including the internet place where I am now, which is practically free with the discount).

After the Plaça I headed over to the harbour, Port Vell, but I didn't last too long because I was freezing in the breeze. The thing about this harbour is it's enclosed, so you don't really see the ocean. In fact, I think you have to go much further south to find open beach. It's beautiful, though, and I took some evening shots before calling it a day.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


arrived in barcelona today, and so far it´s been pretty easy to get around with my rudimentary grasp of spanish, although i´m not familiar with catalunyan...

had some transportation glitches along the way, notably in toronto on the way to london, then the tube gates shutting in front of my eyes upon arrival at heathrow, then missing the first train to wolverhampton... then a half-hour delay on the virgin train to birmingham airport...

but, i finally made it to barcelona in one piece and i´m gonna stick around for a few days before heading down the coast (and perhaps get on a keyboard at a place where the caps key works!). my first impressions of barcelona are all good!!!

dress fitting yesterday in wolverhampton was traumatic, but the important part is lucy is relaxed about it all, and it will all work out next week!

ciao for now peeps,

Friday, April 16, 2004

47 Hours to Go

I've been in absentia here for nearly a week, but rest assured, I am still alive. It's not that I don't have anything to say, or that I haven't done anything... it's actually completely the opposite, only there just aren't enough hours in a day to, ehm, write about the day!

I pulled a couple of all-nighters this week, though. Had to, to finish a paper. Tonight will be the same. The office is packed up in Sechelt, and will move to Gibsons in a matter of hours. What fun I am missing... tomorrow night is my final exam, and then an obscene amount of (office) work after I return from said exam that finishes at 10pm. Which means another all-nighter. I'll sleep on the flight to Toronto, for sure, then a groggy transfer at Pearson for the transatlantic flight to London. Where I will meet Steve at the pub near my regular haunt in South Kensington -- let the fun begin!

Friday, April 09, 2004

The Twins at 2 Months

Maribeth and Megan's original due date was March 25, I think, so they're pretty much at regular newborn weight right now, although Maribeth is still smaller than Megan. Maybe that will always be while they're still babies, and Maribeth will catch up eventually, I don't know. They're identical twins, but I can tell them apart these days... that might not last for long, though.

e-Bay Quickie

I've been watching the Canon A80 on e-Bay for months now. It's dropped down in price, so today I figured I'd better hurry up and get it, since I've only got a week left before I leave and far too much to do. I've scoped out the A80, and even walked into Inter-Pro Photo to check it out. Exactly two years ago today, I purchased the A30, my first digital camera, off e-Bay from Inter-Pro Photo -- on e-Bay they're listed as photocenter1. When I first started looking around for a digital camera, I looked up this e-Bay seller and discovered they're in Vancouver, so I don't have to pay any shipping charges.

So, I jumped on about 20 minutes ago, and saw that there was one camera that only had 14 minutes left before the auction expired, so I put in a quick bid that matched the "Buy It Now" price... and I won! Five bucks short of my maximum bid. Now I just have to head down there tomorrow, and pick it up...

One of the major reasons I wanted to buy this camera is because the screen swivels into the camera, protecting it from wear and tear. Right now my A60 is so ratched up, I've decided to sell it for a meagre price to my brother, who with five kids at home, is used to ratched-up electronics. We'll see how long it lives -- the A30 I passed on to them has held up incredibly well, but its main drawback is that it only has low-res, 10-sec, no-sound video... 3 of the kids are talking now, so sound is becoming more important.

Thursday, April 08, 2004


I was talking to my colleague yesterday about my trip, and realized I'm going to be in 11 different airports on this trip:

East Midlands

Heathrow, then Vancouver again. I think this might be the record for a single trip. I thought last year there were more, but there was a lot of overlanding, in cars. I only counted 8 airports, but it was a shorter trip:


It's a good thing I like to people-watch. I find the people-watching opportunities too great a distraction from reading books in airports. I think the longest layover I've ever had was in Sofia, Bulgaria, on a flight from Bangkok to London, and there weren't many people in the aiport at that hour. This Bulgarian guy gave me his card and chatted away endlessly, but I didn't discourage him as he was the only thing keeping me awake.

More airport stories later. I have a bunch. Ask Kristin.

try this!

from a friend of a friend's site

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Trip Prep

Time to get crackin'... I haven't booked any accommodation in Spain yet.

I now have two Virgin train tickets from London to Wolverhampton... the second one in case I miss the first train. My insurance--ha! ha! If you've heard the London stories, you'll know why.

I'm going to take regional buses in Spain, and take my chances--no train or coach reservations. I'll let you know how it goes!

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Vancouver Auto Show

Eliza had two passes to the Vancouver Auto Show, so we headed over to BC Place yesterday afternoon after I picked up the rest of the display items from the Granville Optical window, and lunch at Hon's on Robson.

Mini convertible

PT Cruiser convertible

Beetle convertible

I'm no car nut. After all, I joined a car co-op so the only thing I have to do with cars these days is drive them. I don't have to mess around with maintenance, insurance, Air Care, or BCAA. But, I like to look at the occasional car, admire them for their design features, and gawk at the futuristic toys of the like you see at car shows. And, I like driving around Vancouver in Eliza's Mercedes convertible, I must say... makes me want to drop all my classes this summer just so I can convince her to drive up to Whistler often! Reminds me of my Banff days when Lynn and I would cruise around town in her green (Mustang?) convertible. (If you've been to Banff, you'd know this would be a rare sight indeed!)

Eliza and I did our share of gawking at luxury cars, too: Mercedes, Audi, Cadillac, Rolls Royce... I took some photos of this wacky looking Cadillac, which I think was called "Sixteen"--what that means, I don't know... I didn't read the spec sheet.

One thing I did notice was the convertibles: Daimler's PT Cruiser, the new Mini Convertible, and Beetle Convertible were all very fun-looking. If I had my choice between the three, I think I'd pick the Mini Convertible... the Beetle Convertible I liked, but the Mini Convertible is something different on the road. I'm not really into the flashy sports cars, but I am partial to Aston Martin and Bentleys. Cruising around Vancouver in a Bentley would be fun for a while, but the novelty would wear off pretty quickly. Too pretentious, not to mention ostentatious. Or, wholly unpractical. I mean, where would I put five carseats?

More photos of the Vancouver Auto Show here.

All Five Ms on Sunset Beach

I got a phone call yesterday morning from Cheryl, saying that they decided since it was a nice day that they would take all the kids to the beach, the twins included!

Oy vey, what an operation: getting 3 small children and two newborns all packed up and ready for the beach. Then there are all those potty stops, feedings, changings, etc.

It was a glorious day for the beach, of which there is one located conveniently across the street from my apartment building. We set up by some logs and watched kites flying from Kits Point, and sailboats in English Bay. The babies were fast asleep in their double stroller (they both fit in one seat at the moment, and Maddy sits in the front), and the kids got out their new beach toys to make -- under Allan's supervision -- large-scale cities out of sand.

I told Michael to build an empire, and he earnestly set about to do so.

Michael: "Look Attie Gail, my empire fell over!"
Cheryl, laughing: "Michael, empires don't fall over, they collapse!"

As you can see, the van is FULL. With five kids and five carseats, there is no room for any other passengers, so I had to crouch down on the floor while they dropped me off later downtown. There was a major cacophony in the back, with Michael yelling something and Maddy following, while Melissa covered her ears to shut out the sound. Meanwhile, the twins were fast asleep...

Turks & Caicos

You need RealPlayer for this, by the way.

Rick Mercer's rant on why Canada should annex the Caribbean Islands Turks & Caicos.

There's been some talk of this for a while now. Canadians argue that we need a holiday destination to escape the Great White North, but frankly, this is hogwash--what do we need to annex these islands for?? Canadians can go there, anyway. Stamp out neo-colonialism! Foster good relations with them, let them promote their islands to Canadian tourists, but give them full control of their tourist -- and any other -- income!

Friday, April 02, 2004

Ah, Prius Again

I just picked up the Toyota Prius to take to the office in, oh, about 6.5 hours. Driving it back to my apartment, I was quickly reminded of why I like this car so much. It's been a while since I drove it--yesterday I drove both a Mazda MPV minivan AND a Mazda Protegé sedan, and there's not much appeal to either of these vehicles.

I've stopped counting how many co-op cars I've used, but there's been at least 10 in the past few months, and the Prius is still my favourite. The deceleration in electricity mode is probably the main adjustment, after getting used to the gearshift lever that reminds me of the old slot machines in Vegas.

Thursday, April 01, 2004


We'll see how long this lasts...

----- Original Message -----
To: "Gail E."
Sent: Thursday, April 01, 2004 11:40 AM
Subject: Re: [#30526] why am I in jail?

Thanks for your note. Due to a technical glitch, we have not been
receiving all of the incoming orkut email. Your message just arrived, and
we're very sorry that we were unable to respond sooner.

Your account has now been unlocked. Again, we apologize for this

Stay connected,

Back in the Slammer

The Orkut saga continues. Most of the Vancouver community members who post regularly are also in jail. Somebody in Orkut must REALLY hate Vancouver.

I'm Outta Jail!

Finally! Did I take pictures inside the Orkut Detention Centre? Yeah, but they ripped the film out...

In other news, I did check out the festivities at Heritage Hall -- sorry, muckdog, I didn't get any shots of the Tropicana (Vegas show-)girls. Next time. They kinda looked like this, but their outfits were skimpier.

Will write more about it tomorrow... ummm, later today, I guess that would be.