2014 New Year resolution Part Two/Conclusion

I guess I should have titled this my New Year anti-resolution check-in/conclusion. Anyway, the original post is here, check-in part one is here, and this is part two, and actually the conclusion since it is now 2015 and there can be no more check ins.

In June we went to Aragon. A weekend riding little bikes and supermoto at the Motorland track and some site seeing around the old city of Alcañiz, which is a fascinating city. It’s worth reading about.

alcañizgarage2

Little bike in the garage

In July we went to the South of France to catch a few stages of Le Tour (that’s the Tour de France for the uniformed), plus Montpelier beforehand. I’ll admit, I was disappointed in Montpelier. Overall, I found it to be shoddier and dirtier than I expected, and the city relies entirely too much on cars for my taste, despite its overground tram system. It had some interesting historical monuments and relics though, including an enormous aqueduct built in the 1700s.

Aqueduct in Montpellier

Aqueduct in Montpelier

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Next stop was Nîmes, where we spent a day visiting all of the intact Roman structures all over the city. An entire, intact Roman amphitheater stands in the center of town and is used regularly–weekly–for events.

Nimes amphitheatre

GP riding toward his roots in Nimes

The Spanish influence is evident in this city, where local ferias, flamenco and Camargue bullfights (where the bulls are not harmed unlike the bloodthirsty Spanish version) are a regular part of life.

Nimes symbol - a croc leashed to a palm

Symbol of Nimes – a croc leashed to a palm

The ancient amphitheater, built in the the 4th century AD, is still in regular and frequent use. Here they hold the many, many bullfights held in Nimes, and also concerts, recreations of Roman games, city festivals and other big sho

Tour du France juxtaposition

Le Tour juxtaposition

Roman structures in Nimes

Riding around Roman ruins

Nimes river

Downtown Nimes river

Le Tour finish

Le Tour finish

After watching the Tour finish from Nimes, we took the train to Carcassonne, another historically significant city, this time for its intact Medieval city center. We stayed just outside the newer part of town, along with plenty of media and press people, and rode our bikes into town and up to the walled in city for a look around. It was a rest day for the tour and we actually saw a couple of riders touring around the tiny, ancient walled-in city.

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EPO, it’s what’s for breakfast.

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Pushing my bike through the slippery cobblestones of Carcassonne

The next day we saw the start of the Tour stage, then rode along the old horse trails lining the Canal du Midi. These are rooty, tree covered paths built for the horses that pulled the merchant barges from town to town. The trails are now bike and walking paths and the canals, that cover France, are now primarily used by pleasure boaters who like to see the country via the canals. Not a bad idea, actually.

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A boat waits for the water to rise at the lock

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Crossing a canal bridge

The next jaunt was to see the final of the big three bicycle races, the Vuelta de España in August. Taking our bikes by train to Pamplona was our first stop, where we had a day to ride around and found ourselves riding along the Camino de Santiago trail unintentionally but to our great satisfaction.

Camino de Santiago marker

Camino de Santiago marker, the shell

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

Bike trails just outside Pamplona

We had drinks with our neighbor in Barcelona who happened to be in Pamplona for work, then the next day we caught the stage start in a park at the edge of town. The city celebrated everywhere with decorations (though nothing like the Italians decorate for the Giro), including a display of Miguel Indurian’s time trail bike hanging in the Santander bank arches.

Indurian's timetrial bike

Indurian’s timetrial bike on display in the central Plaza of Pamplona for the stage start.

vuelta stage start

GP’s stage start selfie

Alberto Contador Pamplona

The Vuelta leader and eventual winner, Contador

We then headed to Logroño, where the next stage actually started and finished. We stayed in town and hit the famous Laurel street for some serious tapas and pincho eating two nights in a row, and got up close and personal with the riders at the stage finish.

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Everyone’s favorite personality, ex-mountain biker Peter Sagan.

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In September I flew out to Rhode Island for a week to see my brother on his historical farm he is renovating, along with my father who met me there. I went to a dance performance on the grounds of one of the mansions out there, and crashed the after party. I had a nice long chat with the wife of the proprietor, a woman from Serbia, about Nikola Tesla, with whom she claimed to be related. I’m not sure I buy it but it was interesting none the less.

I then started to get quite busy with work so the traveling stopped until the years end (and yes, more or less broke my resolution to not ‘work hard’). We also moved and the new placed needed a LOT of work so that took precedence.

But for the last trip of the year, on December 25th we headed to New York. I had a real haircut in SoHo, visited museums, ate street food, finally saw the 911 memorial, paid way too much for a hotel room for six nights but didn’t am at peace with it because it was planned. (Next time I’ll stay at an AirBnB for half the price, and not in the theater district either!) New Years Eve we boarded a plane to Southern California for a week or two of sun (and dental appointments).

And that, my friends, concludes the 2014 New Year’s resolution updates.

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New Year resolution check-in part one

At the beginning of the year, I stated that I intended to spend all my earnings on travel this year. So far, the spending all my earnings part is right on track, but while much of it has been on travel, much of it has also been on dentistry and dog surgery and tedious (and expensive) travel to the US for said things above, plus fun tasks like renewing passports and collecting tax documents.

But the trips for enjoyment and improvement have been numerous and yes, enjoyable and improving. So far this year, outside of two trips to the US for the above listed reasons, I’ve made some trips. Let’s start with…

Madrid, where I essentially ate my way through the city until the final day when we rented bikes from our hotel and rode through the fabulous and giant park that goes along the Manzanares river. This is the first thing we should have done, and I will return with a proper mountain bike and spend at least two full days exploring the awesome expanse that is the Casa del Campo on a bike that does not weigh 75 pounds.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

Fried octopus and calamari in Mercado Sant Miguel. Where I ate a lot of food.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant.

My favorite dish: Tapa of tiny, pickled green eggplant. Discovered in a 150 year old bar.

GP offroading the hotel bike.

GP taking the hotel bike on an excursion.

Barolo, Rivarolo Canavese, Agliè and Oropa (Italy) to see various stages of the Giro d’Italia. Impressive and I’ll do it again next year. We saw the time trial stage between Baresco and Barolo, the end of stage 13 in Rivarolo Canavese, and the start AND finish of stage 14 which was from Agliè to Oropa. We rode our bikes between the towns via a ‘shortcut’ that took us 5 hours through the backyards of tiny hillside farms, roads so steep that deep cuts in the pavement were needed for vehicle traction, and up hills where even the triathletes of the group (there were three of them) had to push their bikes.

Somewhere in Northern Italy

This is steeper than it looks. And full of holes.

Riders cheering on the real racers at stage 12. It had hailed–hard–40 minutes before the stage passed through.

We also spent a day spectating an off road team endurance race–for scooters. I have some video of this here. This was not quite as spectacular as the Giro, but it was possibly more entertaining.

Offroad scooter endurance racing.

Off road scooter endurance racing.

France: Paris and Cannes (Disclaimer: Cannes was not my idea). I met up with a dear friend for a repeat trip we did last year. She flew from California to Paris and I from Barcelona. We planned to meet in the CDG airport as I would be arriving 20 minutes after her. Of course, phones did not work so we spent 2 hours trying to find each other until I got smart and bought 15 minutes of internet and called her through Skype. We stayed in a tiny (what else?) hotel in the 10th arrondissement and had a fabulous time, as always. I love that city and would live there if it were near the sea. Forget about the old reputation of rude Parisians – people are lovely there: friendly, helpful, playful and engaging. Quite the opposite of how the locals treat non-locals where I live…that’s another topic though. We went to a classical concert the first night in a beautiful cathedral. It was fabulous- except for the dang nuns blocking my view. We crashed a fancy party next door afterwards. I have no idea what it was for.IMG_0588We used the awesome shared bike program Velib and road all the way to and through the Bois de Boulogne where we saw hookers on their lunch break. Then we rode through “Little Africa” and along the river and damn near everywhere in Paris.

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Velib steed in the park. Shh, don’t disturb the hookers.

We ate good food our few days there, spent a lot of time walking around Le Marais and then went South to Nice and over to Cannes where it was really boring. I did find us some bikes and we rode up to the old town which was the only cool thing about Cannes other than some great food and spending time with my friend. Oh and all the old men smiling at us, I guess.

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Old village on the hill above Cannes. The bikes were partially electric so really, we cheated on the climb part.

Riding to the top of the old town hill, a workman flirted with up asking if we were training for the Tour de France.I answered that yes, in fact, I was (in a sense).

Next up: A weekend riding motos in Aragon and our Tour de France bike adventure.

 

Some racing around town

There is a famous 24 hour race that happens just outside of Barcelona in a village called Lliça D’Amunt. This race has been going on for 32 years and it has put this little village on the map. I’ve been meaning to check this race out for four years. This year, I finally went.

What’s unique about this 24 hour race is that it is an offroad race on 50cc MX bikes, primarily single speed two strokes though a few with gears and 4Ts thrown in, and a course is built every year because there is no track in the town. Teams of four riders begin the race at 7pm on Saturday and end at 7pm on Sunday and are required to switch riders every hour. It’s approached as a “fun” race, and indeed the atmosphere is that of a big party and there is lots of drinking and live music…hence the Saturday evening start. But what happens in between is pretty heavy duty stuff.

Racing is taken pretty seriously here. Sure they have a lot of fun and there is the camaraderie you find in any paddock, but it’s always full of professionals and teams who put it all on the line. This race is no exception, and for as lighthearted and crazy as the race sounds, it is seriously tough. There were 41 teams from all over Europe and a few heavy hitters in the ranks, including  the Spanish MX Championship multi, times champion Javi Garcia Vico, MotoGP (and Gabri’s former) rider Aleix Espargaró and other famous Catalan Motocross and Enduro riders. There was a conspicuous lack of media, (what I thought to be a news helicopter circling at the start was in fact present to give helicopter rides to attendees) which could be explained by saying that a race like this is unique but racing events like this are common.

I did nothing more than spectate, but that in itself was an experience. Here is a little pictorial for you all, enjoy.

24 hours lliça d'Amunt

A quarter of the pit lane.

GP’s rider Aleix from last year was raced it for the first time. And probably the last. He could barely speak on Sunday at the finish.

Team Italia’s camp.

 

Team Italia crew and riders. They quit at noon on Sunday due to fatigue.

Some of the team camp area.

View of the course from the pits. This is normally a flat field and part of a park.

Riders waiting for the start

Did I mention it was a Le Mans start?

First lap.

First lap mud pit.

Long shadows in the first hour.

Hay bale tree bumpers.

Silence at last. And amor.

Oh goodness, it has been over a month since I’ve posted anything. But I swear I have a good reason, I really do!

You see, besides being extremely busy with work, including some very strange and loooong hours, I finally moved! It felt like nearly a lifetime of waiting considering the relentless noise I had to deal with the past few months at my old place, that, coupled with how akin to WC Fields I have become with regard to children (and boy are they particularly loud here) made the summer hellacious in the pursuit of quiet. You never realize how much you need it until you don’t have it.

The new place is quiet, with plenty of light and views and no buildings facing either of my TWO giant balconies! So while my double set of sliding glass doors are on display to the world, I have more privacy than ever. In fact, if the closest building, which is taller than mine, ever entices one of it’s residents out onto their tiny balconies, and if I see they might be looking this way (they are far enough it is hard to tell) I catch myself thinking “hey, mind your own business, this is my space and I’ll paint these chairs in my bathrobe and towel-turbaned head while singing Journey if I want to!” and I go inside in a huff. Quite the turnaround from could-not-care-less snacking naked in my kitchen while the gay couple pretended not to notice from before.

So when I am not working I am doing all of the many things one must do when moving into a (rare) brand new building here. I had to buy an entire household of furniture, which, as fun as that sounds, is quite an ordeal. If I never see the inside of another IKEA, it will be too soon. Ikea here is like Walmart in the US, full of out of control shrieking children and throngs of people shuffling around, albeit through much narrower isles and non regard for personal space – you just shove through grandma and her clan strolling 7 wide through the 4 foot wide aisle, go ahead! They don’t care. They don’t say sorry when they elbow you in the ribs getting by as you are pinned against the LJUSÅS YSBY lamps and NYVOLL dressing tables and you don’t have to either.

I also have been busy setting  up gas, electricity and water, getting the water heater lit, let’s not forget decorating the flat which I have done very tastefully (including a very zen fountain to go with the new silence. My clothes are still in piles on the floor, but I have a little fountain, damnit.) and finally, the challenging task of establishing a connection to that thing they call the internet, which, by the way, I still don not have – I am tethered to my iphone to connect. This is because Internet companies are fucking ridiculously incompetent. I’ve been waiting a month for the installation people just to call to set up an installation, which of course doesn’t mean they will get it right or even do it the first time. So on that front, yay Spain.

The neighborhood has welcomed me with lots of love, manifesting in graffiti of the same theme, which I share with you here.

Old factory wall that remains in the empty lot beside my building, soon to become a park. The wall is staying.

North side of the building next to me, will be one entrance to the park.

Same artist, a few blocks away

Letter slot on a storefront after hours.

This tag was up so high I couldn’t get a good photo of it. It’s much cooler in person.

I’ll post more Love as I find it around the ‘hood!

Summer in the city

August in Barcelona feels like it’s three months long: muggy, still days with the sun burning into the evening hours, until it finally relents and turns into the most gorgeous evening light you have ever seen. A glimmering soft pink that is a photographers dream, hanging in the air for far longer than should possible, making you check your watch over and over to see if time has actually slowed.

Laundry takes ages to dry in the humidity, unless you are lucky enough to live high enough that your clothes hanging off your balcony get a few hours of direct sunlight. Each day is much like the next, hot and as slow as the street cleaners shuffling off to a bit of shade for a siesta. I work in the mornings, then later take dips in the buoyant Mediterranean, too salty to hold in your mouth but far more easy to float on than the Pacific Ocean, to periodically cool off while slowly broiling on the beach. Or I find some shade in the park and swat at the bugs while I read. It’s far too hot to bike ride, other than to get somewhere to cool off, until the sun is close to setting, which seemingly takes hours for it to do.

I feel like the fact that I even go to work makes me strange. My friends have weeks and weeks of time off. Half the businesses are closed for nearly the whole month, and shorter work hours are in place for those businesses that remain open, if it wasn’t for the hoards of tourists week to week, the city would feel empty.  This is when all the Spaniards leave the city and go spend the month at their small cabins on the Costa Brava and the expats residents, like me, go home for a  visit.  Which is what I want to do, should be doing – but work prevents me from taking enough time off to make the expensive and extremely long flight worthwhile.

So this summer I walked through the streets, studying the “closed for August” signs and wondering where these people might spend each August, and where I might spend mine next year.

Open letter to squatters who took over the building in the plaza near where I live

Dear squatters who took over the building in the plaza near where I live,

I have a few bones to pick with you.

First, I know you think you are making a statement by breaking into and occupying private property. I know this because I actually dated a few boys who squatted when I went to University in England oh so very long ago. I thought they were cool and edgy and sometimes I even stayed in them with said boyfriends and the rest of the punk rockers or otherwise who lived in such establishments. I can forgive the old me for these beliefs and actions because I was 17 and liberal and, it goes without saying, ignorant. Sure, many of you may be in your early or mid twenties, but more than a handful of you appear to be well beyond that.

I understand the feelings of camaraderie and maybe even power of a group that believes it is “beating the system”. But you guys, you are too old for this. You don’t even have any system here to beat. The state gives you money every month even though you have never had a job in your life (at least not that you told the government about) and your healthcare (albeit at standards far too low for my taste) is free. You will also get retirement money, having never paid taxes in your life. It won’t be much but enough to buy that nasty beer I always see you drinking and the occasional baguette.

You can steal electricity and water and even hang your laundry out so that we see you actually DO laundry, but the entire neighborhood still thinks that you are dirty and an eyesore and are pissed that you just lowered their property value by hanging your ridiculous signs off your balconies. Like any of us in the neighborhood give a shit what you think you stand for. We see all the booze bottles and trash piled outside your doors every day.

Second. A word about your adopted hair-dos. I know you believe you are being edgy with the business in the front, party in the back hair-dos, but I hate to break it to you (OK that’s a lie, I’ve been dying to tell every single one of you this) but mullets are not progressive. You did not invent this hair do. The Germans have embraced this contemptible look for nearly 30 years. Mullets are, in fact, passe. They have had their heyday, and just because you were little kids during it’s near decade in the spotlight, you can’t lay claim.

Oh sure, you fancy them up by making them more disgusting than a straightforward, brushable shag by adding dreadlocks to the party in the back. Sometimes, you only have a clump growing out of the middle of the back of your head. I have to tell you that either way, the dirty clumps of hair sprouting out the back of your cranium resemble sprouting long, uncoiled poops. Hiding beads and metal bits in the them does not distinguish from plain old poop coming out of the back of your head, it just adds to the effect.

And that is really all the time I have for you.

Sincerely, Me.

Edit: here is a shining example of the hair style in this post…

And here is a spy shot I took while waiting in line at the market of one the squatters nasty feet:

Have a Sh*tty Xmas.

It’s Navidad time here in Barcelona (aka Xmas to us North Americans), and of course that means many, many days off for the Spaniards. For example, I am at the tail end of a 5 day weekend.  Which would be great if I were working and if anything was actually open. But other than quite a few street markets selling jamon, antiques, and yes, Xmas stuff, the pickings are slim.

Usually I am not one to acknowledge this time of year other than to make fun of what a scrooge I am and to let others berate me because of my generalized annoyance at all things referencing this holiday. Which I enjoy, by the way.

Take for example the Xmas tree my father made for me last year. Tumbleweed, spray painted black. Cardboard and duct tape base. I think this is an accurate reflection of my spirit of Xmas.

That being said, there are a couple of traditions here I like because they either a) are slightly obscene or b) rather violent and slightly obscene. Thusly, I find them pardonable.

First we have the crapping log (El Caga Tió). This is a log with a face and hat that children beat with a stick while demanding and threatening it to shit turrons (sickeningly sweet nougat, served up in slab form), cheese and hazelnuts. For real, those three things. They even have a song in Catalan that goes like this:

Caga tío, (crap, log!)
caga turró, (crap torrons,)
avellanes i mató,( hazelnuts and cheese,)
si no cagues bé (if you don’t crap well)
et daré un cop de bastó (I’ll give you a smack with a stick.)
¡caga tió! (so crap, log!)

The log wears a blanket and is beaten by children while they sing. Then the blanket is removed to reveal the treats and shared among those present. In some versions of this event the log is then thrown into the fireplace and burned.

Here is a stack of  smiling logs awaiting their fate at a market.The second tradition has to do with the Nativity scene, which most households build. These consist of more than the baby Jesus and a handful of holy rolling onlookers. These are a full blown affair with hills, lakes, barns with animals, farmers, and abundance of food being prepared and it is all quite realistic, for example you can buy farmers slitting the throats of pigs on tables, complete with a pool of blood on the ground. Or toothless old ladies spinning yarn. Or ironmongers hammering horseshoes. The choices are endless.

Or, you can create a more bible oriented nativity,set in the desert, complete with elephants, camels and chariots. In any nativity you’ll find devils, angles; usually a priest or two.

But in any Nativity, there is always a Caganer. This translates to “shitter” and it is exactly that: some dude taking a poo right in the nativity. Yep. And there are lots to choose from. From traditional Catalan figures to famous people to politicians to cartoon characters.

Notice how every single figurine is squatting...?

But it gets better. Not only is the Caganer squatting with pants down, he (or she) always features a pile of poo just under the naked, protruding rear. (Click here to view other celebrity caganers, or buy one for your own nativity. Or whatever.) And sometimes, perhaps it’s a charming new trend, a nativity also features a Pixaner, which translates quite simply to “pisser”.

You can bet my mom will be receiving a Caga tio, a Caganer and a Pixaner for Xmas. They will be added to her Xmas decorations, along side her Incredible Hulk snorkle that decorated her tree last year.

Because nothing says Christmas like poop.