Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29, 2014 -- Perpignan, France

Today's entry will be mercifully short. I took a Spanish train from Girona, Spain to Cebère, which is just on the French side of the border. There I bought a second train ticket to Perpignan, which is not too far from the border and not too far from the Mediterranean coast.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

June 28, 2014 -- Girona, Spain

This is my last day in Spain for now. If all goes according to plan, I'll enter it again on foot lugging my backpack across the Pyrenees in less than a week.

Today was not much of a sightseeing day. I went to the railway station and figured out the cheapest way to get to Perpignan France tomorrow. I buy a ticket here tomorrow from a vending machine and use it to get to Cebère, just on the French side of the border. There I buy another ticket to Perpignan from a French railways vending machine.

I did see this group of people dressed in old military uniforms shouting and firing off a canon.  Someone was talking into a loudspeaker in Catalán, which I could not understand. Finally I got someone to explain to me in Spanish that it was a reenactment of a battle between Cataluña and Spain. To you and me, Cataluña may be part of Spain, but to many people here it's an occupied country.

I also took another walk along the top of the city wall where I observed the construction shown in the following picture. I guess the soldiers up there defending the city had to take care of bodily functions, too. Incidentally, anything that fell through that hole would have fallen on the attackers' side of the wall. This gives a whole new meaning to the expression s...., well, use your imagination.

Friday, June 27, 2014

June 27, 2014 -- Girona, Spain

I took a regional train from Barcelona to Girona today, working my way north toward France. I could have taken an Ave (bullet train) and arrived here in just over a half hour, but that would have cost real money, whereas the regional train was about one-fourth the price. However, the regional train seemed to stop at every cow pen and rock pile, so the trip lasted almost two hours.

I had booked a dormitory room for two nights, but once again my good looks came to my rescue. The young lady at the front desk gave me a double room for the same price and added that I would have the room to myself. Don't worry! I have the door securely bolted, just in case she gets any funny ideas about sneaking up here in the night and taking advantage of me.

As you may know, Gerona is the place where many pro cyclists live in the off season and train in the nearby mountains. I took the following shot of a cycle clothing shop just doors away. I couldn't go in the shop, because, unlike Barcelona, most shops here still observe the old Spanish custom of closing from one to four in the afternoon for a siesta. I wouldn't mind having one of those jerseys, but I'll bet they're very expensive. (By the way, you can click many of the pictures to see them in a larger size in a zoomable window and then close the window to get back here.)

I had been told that the farther one gets from Barcelona in Cataluña, the more Catalonian nationalism comes to the fore. Here almost all written information is in Catalán, and almost none is in Spanish. Someone who doesn't read basic Catalán might have trouble getting around (I can read enough to get by). There are Catalán flags everywhere, as illustrated by the flags hanging from six of the balconies in the following picture, but I haven't seen a single Spanish flag. There are also signs in Catalán and occasionally in English, but again none in Spanish, calling for Catalonian independence. One shop even has Catalonian passports for sale, although I don't think I would try to use one at a border crossing.

There are baby grand pianos in public places all over the city, and anyone who can play is welcome to sit down and do so. They make me wish that I weren't such a cultural ignoramus who has never learned to play anything more complicated than "Three Blind Mice." This piano is on the steps leading up to the front entrance of the cathedral.

The following two shots are of the cathedral. I didn't go in, because there is an admission charge. I am not religious, but somehow it seems to me to be sacrilegious to charge people to enter a house of worship, but the Temple of the Sacred Family in Barcelona also charges a steep entrance fee. In Spain, being an atheist seems to be financially advantageous. Did the people who run these churches ever read about Jesus and the money changers?

The old  part of the city is still half surrounded by the old city wall. I read that sections of the wall were built in three different epochs: in the Roman times, during the time of Charlemagne, and in medieval times. I walked along the top of the wall, which is quite high above the ground, but I didn't get any pictures of it. The following "selfie" was taken where one of the city's narrow passageways turns into a staircase.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

June 26, 2014 -- Barcelona, Spain

I'm leaving today, and I spent most of the day getting ready. I washed clothes this morning and hung them out in one of the patios to dry. More than 10 hours later they are still damp. Then I went to the train station and purchased the Tarjeta Dorada (Golden Card), which enables old people to ride the Spanish trains at a reduced rate.

In the afternoon I walked around the port and the old part of the city.

The broken plate glass bank windows, of which I published a photo in yesterday's post, were replaced today. 

In the afternoon, a man had what appeared to be an epileptic seizure just in front of the hostel door. He was lying on the asphalt, but by the time I saw him, one man was lying under him, restraining the guy's arms and holding his head in his lap to keep him from battering himself on the pavement, and another man was lying across the guy's legs to restrain them. A passing cyclist called an ambulance, which took a long time to arrive. It finally did, however.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 25,2014 -- still in Barcelona

I have one more full day in Barcelona before I head north first to Gerona for two night and then on to France. That means I will start the Camino in a week.

Today I went up Monjuïc in the morning and to the port in the afternoon. Let's start with the port first. The first picture is of a statue of Christopher Columbus on top of a very tall column. You may think he is pointing west toward America, but he is actually pointing south. Fifty years ago, when I first visited Barcelona, I made the mistake of asking one of the local wags why he was pointing in the wrong direction. This was during the Franco dictatorship and not long after President Eisenhower had visited Spain. According to my informant, when Ike saw the statue, he was aghast. He told Franco that something had to be done. Otherwise, when the Russian army reached Barcelona, they would know from the statue which way to go to reach America. Franco gave in and had the statue turned 90 degrees counterclockwise to mislead the Russians. It is up to you whether or not you choose to believe that story. I'm keeping an open mind.

I went up Monjuïc in the funicular (in Western Pennsylvania we called those things inclined planes). Before I took it, I didn't realize that this funicular runs through a tunnel most of the way, so there is nothing to see but the tunnel walls. There is also an aerial tramway going up the hill from which the view is supposed to be spectacular but which charges tourist prices. The funicular, on the other hand, is part of the city's subway system, and one can ride it for the modest price of a subway ticket. As you can see in the following picture, it even looks like a subway train, although if you walk from front to back inside the train, you walk down a series of steps.

There is a lot to see on Monjuï. It has wooded parks, a number of museums, and the Olympic Stadium, left from when Barcelona hosted the Olympics. Here is what it looks like inside.

Finally, here is a picture of the bank building just a few doors down the street from where I am staying. I don't remember its looking like that yesterday. Someone tried to smash the windows and the scrawled on them in Catalán "You can't evict popular culture." I asked a local about it, and I was told that a group of squatters was evicted from a building where they had lived for many years, and since the eviction, there has been a constant stream of violent incidents in protest.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24, 2014 -- Barcelona

Today I walked from the "youth" hostel to Parc Güel, a public park that was designed by Barcelona's famous architect Gaudi. You may have heard of the Church of the Sacred Family (Temple a la Sagrada Familia) whose construction began in1882 and which is expected to take 30 more years to complete. That is one of Gaudi's works.

I last visited Parc Güel with my daughter Inge decades ago when she was a teenager (I might meet a disasterous end if I revealed how old she is now). Then the entire park was free, but now there is a charge and long lines of tourists at the most desirable parts of it. There are also notices around the park supposedly posted by its neighbors in Catalán, Spanish, and English protesting the admission charges and the fact that the City has paved over areas of the park that were previously green.

The following picture is a "selfie" showing the City of Barcelona below. The gray is not smog. It was a cloudy and slightly foggy day, a perfect background for a foggy old man.

Barcelona has thousands of interesting buildings, many of them old apartment buildings. Even someone as artistically ignorant as I can appreciate them. The following photo shows one of the several buildings that caught my attention as I walked  to the park and back.

A strange substance started falling from the sky as I walked home. Being an unsophisticated yokel from Phoenix, I had no idea what it was until I asked a passer-by. He said it's called rain.

Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23, 2014 -- Barcelona, Spain

I am dead tired, but I finally got here. I did have quite a bit of good luck in Atlanta, however. As I was waiting for the plane to depart, a steward came up beside my seat, grabbed me by the shoulder, and whispered into my ear, "How'd you like to fly up front?" The flight was overbooked, they needed my aisle seat, so I was upgraded on the spot to business class. If you've ever flown business class on an intercontinental flight, you know that it is many times as luxurious as so-called first class on domestic flights. I was served a gourmet supper and breakfast with unlimited Heineken beer. My seat extended into a flat bed, although I stayed up all night reading and didn't take advantage of it.

Barcelona certainly seems dingy compared to the way I remember it. You notice from the lack of maintenance that the country has fallen on hard times. I took the train into town from the airport (about one tenth the price of the airport bus) and was surprised at how dilapidated the airport train station was. 

I find the people here mostly very friendly, even if I cant understand a word they say when they talk among themselves. My Spanish is pretty good, but most people here speak Catalán to each other, which is the preferred language all down the Mediterranean coast. They are happy to switch to Spanish for me, however, with one exception. When I asked the shuttle bus driver at the airport which was the stop for the train station, he answered in Catalán. 

I am very tired after missing a night's sleep, so I hope what I've written makes sense. I hope to have something more interesting to write tomorrow.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 22, 2014 -- Atlanta, Georgia

Things are going better today. I walked to the airport, about two miles, because there was no bus early enough, and my plane left on time for Atlanta. The plane to Barcelona is parked at the gate, so I assume we'll leave here on time. As I just emailed my cousin Susan, if I make it onto the plane, I'm going to chain myself to the seat so that thet can't kick me back off this time. The plane appears to be a 777. I was hoping for an old 747, because they make inefficient use of space, which means that I can find a nook to stand out of everyone's way and stretch my legs on a long flight. At least I have an aisle seat.

I am astounded at the size of this airport. Now I believe the claims that it is the world's busiest.

The next post should be from Barcelona.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

July 21, 2014 (redux) -- Phoenix at home

Well, I did get on the plane to Chicago to begin the first leg of my journey to Barcelona, but shortly thereafter I and everyone else got back off. Chicago was socked in due to severe thunderstorms, and it was obvious that the plane wouldn't take off for hours and I would miss my connections. So now I'm re-booked on Delta for early tomorrow morning. There is no bus early enough to get me there on time tomorrow, so I plan to walk. It's probably less than two miles to the Sky Train station from my house, and if I can't walk that carrying my gear, I shouldn't be attempting the Camino.

I called the youth hostel in Barcelona over Skype and changed my reservations (otherwise I would have been charged for the first night even if I didn't show up). Thank goodness for cheap telephoning over Skype and for the fact that I speak Spanish. The guy on the desk at 1 a.m. Barcelona time was not likely to be a fluent English speaker.

June 21, 2014 -- Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix

Well, I'm finally underway,or almost underway. I'm sitting in the United Airlines Club at the Phoenix airport drinking a cappuccino and waiting for it to be time to go to the gate for the first of three flights that will take me to Barcelona, Spain. 

I rode the airport's Sky Train for the first time. How much cheaper it is to get to the airport now than it was years ago when I would have had to take a taxi or have someone drive me. I took the bus to the Sky Train (years ago there would have been no bus on that route on Saturday), took the Sky Train to Terminal 4 and then the free shuttle bus to Terminal 2. Total cost at senior citizen rates: a buck for the first bus.

This terminal is almost empty. When I went through security, the workers were standing around chatting and seemed to be happy to finally have a customer. 

I have one more hour to sit around here and drink free coffee and beer before I have to go to the gate. Sitting in that jammed plane isn't going to be nearly as pleasant as sitting here at this table with only two other people in the room. The first flight is to Chicago with United. Then I fly with Lufthansa first to Munich and then on to Barcelona. I picked Lufthansa, because that airline has always been generous with free on-board German beer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17, 2014 -- Four more days till departure!

This trip is starting to get real. I have everything prepared except for the things that have to be done the morning of departure such as putting timers on the lights and shutting off the water. I went cycling this morning with the thought of doing some interval training, but then I reconsidered the intervals. What is the sense of getting in better cycling shape when I'll be off the bike for more than three months beginning Saturday? Being an exercise nut, I did get in 53 miles, but most of those miles were at a moderate to easy pace.

Monday, June 16, 2014

June 16, 2014 -- Five more days

I hiked a few miles yesterday with the backpack, and even the few pounds I was able to get off it made a difference. I could feel the improvement in my legs.

In just five more days I depart for Barcelona, and I'm beginning to feel excitement.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

June 14, 2014 -- Still More Preparation

I leave for Barcelona one week from today, and I'm still not ready. The main problem is that my backpack is still too heavy, even though I still have a few things to pack. Since my last entry, the backpack weight, including water, has escalated to 28 pounds (13 kg). I plan to spend a good part of this morning trying to get the weight down. What can I eliminate? For a short hike, carrying almost 30 pounds including food and water might not be much, but for my old legs, it's too much to be carrying day after day, week after week. One of the items about to be set aside os the detachable keyboard from my tablet computer. I'm a fast touch typist, so doing hunt and peck with an onscreen keyboard that keeps getting in the way will be a sacrifice.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

June 5, 2014 -- More Preparation

I did manage to get everything I plan to take stuffed into my backpack. Well, there are a few small items to throw in yet, but they will fit. The problem is the weight. The recommended backpack weight for the pilgrimage is no more than 10% of a person's body weight. My pack weighed in at 22 pounds yesterday, and that doesn't count food and water. I'll have to live from what's in that backpack for more than three months, and I can't find any way to get it down to 10% of what I weigh, as chubby as I am. So, I've decided to work on the other side of the equation. I've ordered two family-sized pizzas, a large bag of chips, and a 12-pack of beer for supper. I'll make that 10% goal yet!

I've got all of the lodging arrangements made up until the day I start hiking across the Pyrenees. I emailed a private refuge (that's what the pilgrims hostels are called) yesterday to make a reservation for the first night on the French side of the border, so that I can do the hike through the Pyrenees in two days instead of one. So far I've received no answer. I want to start off in easy stages. After all, I will be 72 years old

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Getting ready for a second attept -- June 4. 2014

It's been three years since I unsuccessfully attempted to do the pilgrimage from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in Southern France to Santiago de Compostela, but I am now preparing for another and (given my age -- almost 72) probably final attempt. I fly to Barcelona an June 21, and after about two weeks in the Cataluna region of Spain and Southern France, I'll hit the trail again. Last time I had to turn back because of a shooting pain in my left leg caused by an injured sciatic nerve. I am still susceptible to sciatica in that leg, but this time I am going to try to take it easier on the back (sciatica affects the leg but is actually a problem caused by a pinched nerve in the back, I am told).

I've got most of the stuff gathered together that I plan to take, and now I have to see if it all fits into my backpack. That is one of today's projects.

Entries to this blog may be sparse in the next few days, but beginning with my arrival in Barcelona on June 22, 2014, I plan to write daily journal entries and upload them to the blog every day that I can find WiFi access.

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