August 22, 2012

The Move is Official

This blog has officially moved.  The new address is  Thanks for your readership here, feel free to check it out there.

January 20, 2012

Howdy Denver!

Nothing's better than a spontaneous trip at the last minute. My sister's down here for a few weeks working and invited me to join her for the weekend so I hopped on a plane yesterday afternoon and landed in lovely Denver last evening.

First things first, this is the friendliest city I've ever been to. I was here about 17 years ago and that was the overwhelming impression - the people all smile and are nice and pleasant and all around lovely. Nothing's changed, it's still the same that way. I think it's partly because they make everything around you pleasant. Like as soon as you land at the airport, which is huge, you have to get on a train to take you to baggage claim. The doors to the train open to a lovely little ditty, last time it was Yankee Doodle, I didn't recognize it this time. Then as the doors are closing a nice male voice comes on a politely tells you where you're off to. Then you get to the parkade and instead of the floors being called P1 or P2, they are the Cowboy Boot level, or in our case, the Horseshoe Level. Then we get in the rental and turn it on, and happy little tune goes ding ding ding. How can you not smile with all that cheer around you?

Today sister was at work so I took myself off to check out the things I missed in downtown last time I was here. Some chatty cathy male started talking to me about half way in and now I know his birthday is Feb.14, his mom's is Feb.21, he's originally from California, lived here for 12 years, and wants to move to Missouri next year because it's quieter and there are more there. I started my tour cruising up 16th Street Mall and decided to duck into the Federal Reserve for a free tour. The security guards, who were so pleasant and cheery and not menacing at all, laughed when they heard I was from Canada and then asked me politely to go through the scanner and then told me to have a great day. I was disappointed at how small the museum was but the upside was I got to "make" my own money and then left with a bag of shredded cash which every tourist is entitled to. It's worth about $165 but it wasn't accepted at Starbucks :-(

Then I headed south to go to the Mint but no way would they let you in without a reservation so I had to scratch that from my Capitalism tour. I managed to get in to the State Capital just in time for the almost last tour and enjoyed checking walking around and hearing about how heavy all the chandeliers are in the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives Hall, and the Senate. They weigh a lot.

A bit of shopping later and it was back to the burbs where we are staying while we're here. Spent a nice evening having dinner and then going to see "Mission Impossible". Du-umb. Tomorrow is as yet unplanned but I'm sure there will be more happy people and cheery little tunes all around.

July 25, 2011

The End

After spending all of Friday getting over the previous night's dulce de leche, I got out of bed to shower and go with the family to Gibraltar on the southern tip of Spain. Once again lots has been written about it so I'm not going to rehash anything here. But here's what I do have to say about it.

Gibraltar still belongs to the British so you have to bring your passport when you cross the border at the airport. We parked on the Spanish side and walked over and to get to the main town, you actually get to walk or drive across the airport's lone runway. When a plane is ready to land or take off they shut off the runway similar to a raised bridge deck or train crossing and wait for the plane to do its thing before opening everything up again. We were up in the siege tunnels when a plane took off and could clearly hear the loudspeakers as the security personnel was basically yelling into it, telling pedestrians to clear the runway.

We spent the early afternoon touring the rock, including the caves, a brief stop to hang with the Barbery apes, and then a walk through the siege tunnels on the northern end. Gibraltar is far bigger than I imagined and it creeps me out a little to think it's still a small bit of land belonging to the British with a very small toehold on the continent. Obviously they've hung on to it tenaciously but still, what if Spain decided to close access to the ports or shut down the overland route?

While we were having lunch in a British pub, Mom saw a wedding party enter the neighbouring church. Later on as Dad and Andrew were exploring the rock by cable car, Mom and I sat in the church to keep cool while we waited. We ended up talking to a fellow who turned out to be the florist who handles all the weddings in that church. That day there were 3 weddings and when there are multiple weddings on the same day, the couples end up sharing the floral arrangements. This is fine when they agree on the same thing, like all white bouquets for example, but when they have different ideas it obviously creates more work for him. Like the first bride of the day who wanted red and white arrangements - he got to work earlier than usual to stick the red flowers in. As soon as that wedding was over and all the guests had left, he went back into the church to take the red flowers out so the next party's requirements of all white were met. Once he lined the church pews with calla lilies, and as he was talking to the bishop or whoever, someone came in and walked off with all the lilies. Klassy.

Fortunately leaving Gibraltar was far easier than leaving Granada so we were able to get back to Fuengirola with enough time to head to the beach for supper. The beaches there are beautiful, more than 4km long with soft sand. The whole strip reminded me a bit of Miami without the art deco, and once again demonstrated how humans love to be out in the sun with its rays on bare skin. Some more bare than others, and unfortunately it's never as great as you think it's going to be.

The next morning I flew with the parents back to Barcelona for one more day before heading home, while Andrew left for two days in Seville. We spent a lovely day cruising the Old City again and finished the day and vacation with a trip to Montjuic, site of the Olympic stadium. At the bottom of the mountain, close to Placa Espanya, are the fountains and even if the music selection is a bit cheesy, the displays with lights are quite fantastic. Much more elaborate and bigger than the Bellagio in Vegas (did I really just write that???)

And after almost 24 hours of travel time, I'm writing this last post from the comfort of my own computer. About to crash after spending two great weeks of touristing, vacationing, catching up with old friends, and taking in a whole new country, I'm glad we went and the whole trip was worth every second.

That's all for this trip, hopefully the next adventure is not too far off.

July 21, 2011

Lost in Translation

Yesterday we went to Granada to check out the Alhambra, a 13th, 14th, and 15th structure from the Nasrid dynasty. I won´t give details here, everything that could be said has been said so I don´t need to try and add to anything. Rather, this post is about how being a North American has taken away certain coping mechanisms.

We are so used to cities and towns being laid out on a grid. This makes it very easy to find your way around, especially if one way streets are limited. Here, however, as in most European cities, it´s rare to find things laid out in such a methodical way. Cities grew up around the centres so their maps resemble the spokes of a wheel or a mishmash of streets. This is fine if you´re from one of them but can be confusing if you´re not. Take Granada for example, not only were the streets wrapped around like snakes, none of them had street signs which meant we couldn´t even get a point of reference once down in the Old City. Or was it the New City, or the Moorish quarter? Our GPS unit sucks big time, it´s more confused than we are I think. What I found disconcerting about this, apart from being lost and 32 degrees out and everyone´s tired from a long day, is that all of a sudden it felt like my coping mechanisms had gone the way of the street signs. I sat there feeling like an idiot for not being able to find my way out of there.

We tried asking people where we were on the map but here again we hit road blocks. Some said map was too small, which I doubt to be true since we ended up being pretty close to where we meant to go in the end. What´s probably more true is that people don´t read maps. I tried with two ladies, they had no clue where to find us on the map, and this became more apparent the more people you asked. I find that odd, that an entire group of citizens can´t find where they are on a map. Maybe this is more due to the fact they are from the area and perhaps they find their way around by points of reference. Once again I´m led to believe that North Americans have standardized life so much that if we´re met with a challenge like this, we don´t cope as well as others might.

And the other thing I find strange, and kind of hate myself for saying it, is how surprised I am by the lack of English speaking. When I lived in The Netherlands, or visited other European countries, even in the Arab speaking countries, it was something of a badge of honour for at least the younger generation to be able to string a few sentences together. They saw it as survival in the sense that their countries are generally small, who´s going to learn their language, or that the world is developing with English as the common language, it might be necessary to adapt if you´re going to keep up. Here, you are hard pressed to find anyone of any generation you can have a basic conversation with. Maybe in Barcelona it´s a bit easier, but even there it was difficult. And these are international places, you see and hear so many languages, to not pick up the basics is hard to understand. My sense is that they´ve dug their heels in and will not learn English. Maybe it´s because Spain is a large country, relatively speaking, and doesn´t move much outside it´s borders. But I wonder if that is part of their current economic problem, that they see themselves in isolation and don´t understand they are part of the larger world stage. It´s a surprise when other countries start telling you how you have to change your rules. I wouldn´t like it either.

Anyway, back to yesterday, our rental car is gutless as evidenced by our inability to leave our car park. There was no way that thing was going to make it up the steep incline in one go and in the end it required a team effort, Dad reefing on the e-break and Andrew revving the engine in the hopes it would propel us forward. It probably took 3 minutes of starting, revving, and stalling before we finally got to the top at which point the power in the garage went out and we couldn´t give our ticket to exit. Once again it was a Griswold experience. I´m not sure if I liked Granada in the end, it was reminding me of those creepy towns in American movies where a family inadvertently gets stuck in a town full of inbreds and everytime they try to leave they arrive at the same intersection which sends them back to town centre. Alhambra was great, the rest, well, I don´t need to go back.

Today is for recovering, sleeping in the sun and rotisseriĆ­ng my body for a full tan. And I´m going to ponder this regimented life we lead back home and figure out if there´s a way I can relax a little more when I get back.

July 18, 2011

Long Way Down

The weekend in Copenhagen was great, not so much the city, can´t say I´m a fan, but the time with everyone from the trip was exactly what I think all of us needed. When you are not with the people you share experiences with, it comes out in a torrent when you finally do meet again, and it turned into 2 days of reminiscing and reminding each other what we went through. There was a lot of catching up, drinking, dancing, and just sitting around and relaxing. The rest of it I´ll leave in my memory banks to be restored only when with the Culture Vultures. But I love them all and have no problem posting that.

Since I was leaving at 4am from Adam and Anne´s place outside Copenhagen, I decided to stay up until the cab came which meant it was the long haul from 9am the morning before. I got back to the airport around 5am and was greeted by that overwhelming stench of sausage. The flight back to Barcelona was fine and I was able to pull myself together enough to get cleaned up and head into the city for the day. I went to La Padrera to check out another of Gaudi´s feats, and ended up having to press rewind on my audio guide 1000 times as I kept blanking out and not understanding what was going on. After that I managed to down a coffee and resurrect a little, but wandering around Barcelona with no sleep for 36 hours was difficult and I´m a little surprised I wasn´t mugged as I must have looked totally vulnerable and out of it. I wanted to sleep at the airport on the way to Malaga but that didn´t happen, so by the time I landed I was on the edge and ready to rip someone´s head off. I looked for my dad or brother and when I didn´t see them, figured I had not communicated that they were supposed to get me. I had no phone number and didn´t know the address of where we were staying. I found the internet but the f"·$%ing @ key was nowhere to be found and I was cursing at the computer when I realized there was a line of sympathetic people behind me. Finally I stomped back to arrivals and saw Dad and Andrew there. Turns out people aren´t supposed to come from outside to the arrivals so they were waiting there but I never saw them. Then they start telling me about their trip from hell with the ill functioning Tom Tom GPS unit which is geared for North America and not Malaga. Took them ages to get to the apartment and I guess by the time they had to come back to get me they were at the end of their ropes. So the Block family was more like the Griswolds last night and only a long sleep could save us all.

But, we managed to get to the apartment and I´ll describe it this way although it will probably make people roll their eyes if it doesn´t give them the totally wrong impression. I have to explain that the happiest place in the world for me is definitely the lineup to the Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland. I love the night ´sky´, the fireflies and the slightly humid, sticky air that surrounds you before you get on the boat. Well that´s what I thought of when we got out of the car and entered the complex. The lights from the other apartments were lending a warm glow to the courtyard, the sky was dark but still luminescent, the crickets were chirping, and the air was sticky and warm. Mom was sitting on our deck waiting for us and it was just like coming home after being away a long time. I´m very grateful for this part of the trip, not just because we are staying in a great place, but because it´s where we´ll chill out and take it easy for a bit. We´ve got a few places to visit in Andalucia, but we´re all agreed that hanging by the pool, going for walks, and eating meals on a patio is what we want to do for now. And that´s fine because the end will come too quick and we´ll have to head back to our busy lives in Canada. May as well enjoy the sun and relaxation while we have it, and it´s pretty great just to be together for this time as well.

More to come when we can pry ourselves away from the water.

July 14, 2011


I've been to a lot of airports in the world but I have to say it was a first to deplane in Copenhagen and be greeted with the overwhelming smell of cooked sausage. Lots of it. Wattup?

The airport is not far from the center so when my bag was finally the last one off the conveyor belt it only took about 20 minutes to get to Central Station, and then five more to get to my hotel. Which apparently is in the middle of the red light district. I was just looking for cheap hotels when I booked. Really.

Jim was already here, Arnout was stuck in Amsterdam because of a massive rain storm, so Jim and I headed out for dinner, quick and definitely not cheap. What is up with the price of this country? I've pretty much blown a hundred dollars in less than 3 hours and all I've got to show for it was a burger and 'small' beer. And the new Outlandish cd isn't even out, what now????

When I was growing up my parents bought a set of encyclopedias called World of Child Craft or something like that. In the 'D' book was a picture of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, 'D'enmark and I was so taken with the photo that all my life since I've dreamt of seeing it. After dinner Jim and I paid to get in and so I was taking care of one of my childhood dreams, 34 years after first seeing the picture. It is lovely, very touristy and a bit kitschy, but it totally lived up to my expectations. It's not very big but still manages to stuff in about 36 different types of restaurants and a bunch of amusement park rides. We ended up seeing the ballet pantomime about a harlequin and the love of his life, after which we went back to the hotel to see if Arnout had checked in, and he was sitting there waiting for us.

This part of the trip will be low on tourist activities as I'm here for a reunion with old friends, and judging by the 3 hours we just sat in a bar in Tivoli, it'll be long on conversation and catching up. It was 9 years ago that we all met to drive from Istanbul to Delhi on a big blue truck with red and yellow stripes. We were all together for 3 months, some went on to Nepal and another few months of travel. It was a significant time in my life and one that has largely disappeared from conversation as no one back home was on the trip. I'm sometimes saddened by the fact that the biggest experiences in my life have been shared with people not from home, but with others from different parts of the world. The upshot is that now I finally get to relive that time with the people who experienced it all together - it's as if a part of my life that's been sleeping for so long has finally woken up and gets to talk about it with the people who know it best.

So now it's off to bed to prepare for two days of partying. I will take my camera to the reunion because something makes me think there needs to be a record of the next 48 hours which may very well be forgotten or fogged over. After all, it can't be a reunion if we don't reenact some of the shenanigans that went on the first time...

July 13, 2011

Fruits and Jewels

Today was a slow start, we eventually started moving around 11am when we headed to Mercat de Boqueria, a food lover´s paradise. Mostly fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses, there were a few pastry stands and places where you could buy spices. The fruits were a sight for sore eyes. So far most of the food here has consisted of sandwiches loaded with meat and cheese which is fine if you like it but not so much if you´ve been told you´re allergic to half of it. My favourite sandwich name is the ´bikini´ and I haven´t bothered to find out why they call it that, if I knew I might not laugh so much. There was every imaginable fruit under the sun in this market, and every stand was packed with colourful fresh juices on ice. I downed a strawberry and then chased it with a blackberry banana. There were also little cartons of fruit salad and it all tasted like it was grown next door, no California hothouse strawberries to be found.

Next we made our way over to the Palau de la Musica Catalan which is consistently described as ´jewel box´and ´garden´. It´s a music hall built on the grounds of what used to be a cloister so the buildings around it filter out much of the natural light. To compensate for this the hall was constructed using as much glass as possible and the overhead light is let in through what is called ´a drop of light´, a giant, intricate, stained glass skylight which drops into the auditorium. The acoustics were lovely as demonstrated by the organist playing ´Jesu, Joy of Man´s Desiring,´ in a short, impromptu concert. The rest of the building is magnificent, a little more ornate than my personal taste goes for, but you can certainly appreciate what they accomplished in creating it.

Dad went back to the apartment to wait for my brother to show up while I accompanied Mom on an emergency trip to the dentist. My dentist office does not look like this one. We entered a cavernous, modern and very sleek reception area, and were then directed to the waiting room. We sat on leather sofas which rested on marble floors in front of high-def TVs and a huge, marble fireplace. Two hours later we were on our way and reunited with Andrew who had just arrived from the airport.

We were going to go up Montjuic this evening to see the fountains on display after sunset, but baby was ti-erd, so we opted to show Andrew La Sagrada Familia and then settle in for an early evening. The problem with doing these whirlwind trips is that you knock yourself out trying to get everything ready before you get to the airport, and then you force your body to adjust to a whole different time zone while walking miles in the heat to see everything you can see. It´s a pretty great place, but I now know why I hate being a tourist and why living in a city and seeing things at a slower pace is so much more desirable.

Tomorrow will be an early morning as I have to get to the airport and make my little detour up to Copenhagen for a few days. The group I traveled with in 2002 is having a reunion and it timed just right so that I could make it. I haven´t seen most of these people in almost 9 years so it will be the first time we get to reminisce as a group and I am so looking forward to hearing how people interpreted the experience. It´ll also be a nice break from the heat as well so perhaps I won´t look like an oil slick for a few days.

More from Denmark...