Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Mean Egg







On our last day with Kate and Devin, we all ate hard-boiled eggs for breakfast. Not so bad yet, right? Kate and I ended up eating ones that had been kept next to raw eggs in the fridge and...a few hours later we were hit in the gut with samonilla. So, it was an interesting 6 hour bus ride back to Madrid. Poor Scott was smashed in a corner because I INSISTED that I must splay myself across both seats. For the next week or so, I was completely out of it. I don't know if any of you out there have ever had this affliction... I won't get into details, but you can imagine. I didn't leave the apartment for many days, and the whole time I had a troupe of either knome miners, or an acrobatics team frolicking in me. They even kept me up at night- I had to drown out the racket by watching movie after movie (some advice- if you are ever feeling sorry for yourself because you are sick, watch a depressing war movie and you will be happy that you have both arms, etc.) Poor Paul and Jes, I was a bump on a log for so long, and eventually Scott dragged me to the emergency room. This was a very interesting experience. After laying on the waiting room floor for 10 min, I finally got my own stretcher in the hallway. This was my home for the next 4 hours. I remember just watching everyone go by, and eavesdropping on why they were there. A kid got the wrong leg X-rayed, a girl busted her ankle falling off her fancy Spanish heels (ha ha!), a grandma thought she had chest pains and then proceeded to tick off all her afflictions...it would have been more amusing though, if I didn't feel like something you scrape off your shoe, or if Scott hadn't been banned from the hallway. Finally, I was admitted and got to practice my Spanish by recounting what happened and how I felt. I naively assumed that once they heard that I hadn't eaten in a few days and hadn't had many fluids that they would RUSH to get me care, but as it was, they just nodded. Apparently, that isn't life-threatening. They did some tests and gave me an IV as I waited for my results. During this time, the shift changed, so I was once again in the hallway, right next to the freezing cold breeze of the cigarette-break alley, I had dropped my water bottle, my IV was done, I had a needle in my arm, and everyone was ignoring me. In short, I was ready to go home. Finally I reached out and grabbed a passer-by- hopefully they were staff but I loved them no matter what because they took the needle out. The lab stuff came back in a folder and I shuffled through it, looking for a bill. I asked the nice lady 3 times if there was anything else I needed to do, but she told me to go home. I shuffled as fast as I could without passing out to get Scott and scurry out of there, in case they realized that we hadn't paid or given insurance info. As is was, emergency treatment is free for all in Spain- good to know. I spent the next couple of days still trying to recuperate and not be a blob when Paul and Jes' friends visited from Ireland.

We were to head to San Sebastian after Madrid, and planned to take a night train up there. Here was another interesting transportation experience. We were all ready, with our tickets and after 2 hours of waiting, went down to board the train. Scott had called and asked three separate times to make sure that it was fine that we brought our bikes on the train. He was assured it was, each time so we were confident that we could cruise on this one. Not so. Some crabby man with a big belly grabbed our tickets and shook his head. NO! We told him that the people selling the tickets said it was OK, prompting him simply to say, "well, they're wrong". Scott ran up to the ticket counter again, to ask. They again assured him it was OK. The train man again said no. So, Scott ran up again and traded our tickets so we each had our own compartment- they said it was one bike per compartment. run run run. Not so! said the train guy. run run run. What do we do? run run run. The train left, without us on it. Thankfully we were able to stay at Paul and Jes' for that "night" (ended up being three hours) before we took a bike-friendly train up to San Sebastian...

More Visitors!!






We were so exited when our friends from home came to visit. So exited were we, that we took pictures of ourselves, exited. Anyhoo, we had a blast for the week that they came and tried to cram in as much Espana as we could. We stayed at another great timeshare, thanks to Scott's mom, and participated in some of their activities. Scott took some more Spanish lessons and we all went to the wine education class. That was funny, while we were tasting through everything, there were a few groups of people from the UK, Norway, etc. who proceeded to get pretty tipsy. The whole thing kind of degenerated and by the end, we just watched as the ladies flirted with the teacher, and the REALLY tipsy Norwegian lady tried to help out by collecting all the paper cups, when really she was ramming into everything, spilling the wine.

We made a few day trips, one to Ronda which is the birthplace of modern bullfighting and has an incredible gorge, Sevilla and Jerez to try the sherry (ew)though I loved the cities and Scott picked up an awesome bota bag, and of course Granada to see the Alhambra and the town itself. That place was absolutely incredible, everything is so intricate and beautiful! As the day wore on, more and more tourists arrived- it was probably when we saw the most people from the states- packs of them coming off the tour buses and moving as one pushy mass through the place. It became a fun thing to watch as the guards regulated on the "no flash" rule. They mean it! And many of the self-important tourists can't imagine why these mean guards would deny them their RIGHT to have a photo of the old bowl in the museum. They came ALL THE WAY TO SPAIN... anyways, it was great to see a place that I have been wanting to see for so long.

We also were lucky enough to be able to share Thanksgiving with Kate and Devin...we made a HUGE feast, of course including some pork products (I think they were lucky enough to have pork EVERY day they were in Spain), we also had some cornish game hens, duck, it was very decadent. I can't remember if it was the same night, but we also practiced using the bota bag to drink wine and trying to get the most distance. Needless to say, shirts and even pants were ruined that night.

Cabo de Palos

I know it has been too long, but I thought I would share a few moments of the last part of our trip, as well as photos. I forget even where I left off, but the last portion of our trip was a bit of a blur (or maybe that's because I am now back in the states and it seems so far away). We stayed for a week in Cabo de Palos with my mom and stepdad, visiting some family friends who live there. The water there was incredible- we snorkeled in Nov. and saw our first octopus- who would have thought! We also hiked in some incredible hills nearby where Roman coins had been found. Apparently they had all been scooped up (forgetful Romans, dropping their coins anyways...) we did however see alot of pottery sherds near areas that were probably sisterns- that satisfied the anthro nerd in me. The whole week was filled with good food, good wine, good company...we were sad when they left but we then met up with Paul and Jes at the resort...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Malaga

This is unfortunately going to be a very quick entry- we are in a resort in Malaga now, which is great because it is far from a city, but also happens to be far from affordable internet. This place has been pretty fun, though Scott, Paul, Jes and I were the youngest here by FAR, but we have made many friends. Just today Scott and I helped out with a Tortilla Española lesson, and we have been taking Flamenco classes offered here at the club. It is like camp for those in their golden years. To be honest, I think they are kind of wondering what we are doing here. Dominating the ping-pong table, that´s what! I will try to write more if we can find a place that doesn´t ask for your bank account balance before you get online...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Cabo de Palos...

...is where we now are, but so much happened since I last wrote in Madrid. Thanks to the hospitality of Paul and Jes, we have been able to experience many sides of the capital. We figured that we must include a Real Madrid game and saw them play Valencia- a very exiting game. The group of men in the row in front of us were so into the game that one cracked his head on the metal bar behind him from his uncontrollable spasms. Even though the players were quite far away, it was much more exiting than watching it on TV.
What else...we took 2 day trips, one to Toledo where the special minerals in the river there have been used to make swords for centuries. Every other window is full of swords and knives and makes every man regress to about 8 years old. Scott and Paul even had a choreographed sword-fight that ended up with 2 broken umbrellas.

Scott and I headed to Segovia for a day as well, to see the aqueduct and the castle while avoiding getting blown into the moat with the strong wind. In the city itself we also made it to the museum of anthropology which was very interesting, but I think even an anthro major like me gets to a saturation point when after a while, all the displays blur together into endless glass cases of chunks of pottery and shards of rock, with confusing maps and arrows. The better displays were that of the Mudejar art and architecture.

One highlight was going to a convent where cloistered nuns sell sweets. It was a mini-adventure, you buzz the button that says ¨nuns¨, then over the speaker a nun tells you how to follow the arrows in the dark corridors to find the place to buy the pastries. Once there, there is a lazy-susan type of thing, so you can´t see the nun behind it, but you can hear her and you spin the thing with your money and she spins it again and you get your treats. We took some photos and felt sort of bad, but, she couldn´t see us unless they have some sort of convent security-camera.

Scott and Paul finally opted not to get the leg of ham, mostly because they have fine taste, and the kind they wanted costs 130 Euros a kilo. These pigs get their own pasture and eat only acorns for the last 5 years of their lives. It really is delicious and luckily enough, we have been able to try some, though I must say I am slowly reaching my limit of pork products here. Scott on the other hand seems to have become somewhat of a porkivore, and justifies it by the avian flu. Sure.

We went to see two bands from Seattle and Portland, which was very fun- we ended up going to hang out with them after the venue was turning into a dance party of 16 year olds. Scott and I had a 7 am bus to catch the next morning, so we made the clear choice of staying up all night, watching Zoolander while we packed. I coninue to be amazed by these Spaniards- how do they stay up all night and function the next day?! At 4 am we saw people twice our age tottering home from the bars, and these were not ¨drunks¨either, they were the same older women who grumble about prices and cut in front of you at the grocery store, then you see them early in the morning, singing and having a great time. Maybe that´s why they are so crabby during the day. Anyways, Scott and I made it to the first metro of the day, at 6am on a Saturday and assumed we would be the only ones on it. Actually, the station was packed with teenagers returning from ¨Botellon¨, basically, drinking in the parks all night with hundreds of other teenagers. It was interesting to see these partying kids, most of them either still wasted or passed out by this point, on the same metro as people fresh from the shower going to work and reading the newspaper. I guess Scott and I were somewhere in between...

We arrived in Cartegena (after sleeping most of the 6-hour ride) and it was WARM! The day began and I was wearing jeans and a down jacket, and by the time we got to Cabo de Palos, I was in a tank top and a skirt. This area is interesting because it seems that many ex-pats have made their homes here on the coast. Because of this, the announcements in the grocery store, the menus etc. are in English- something we were not used to hearing. We also got a fun treat last night- we have been watching TV at times here just because it is a novelty, futbol, etc. Last night we saw a program in English that was hilarious. It was just like the Saturday Night Live sketch of the 2 NPR ladies. It was these 2 women from England, sitting in a room somewhere with a Spanish flag in the background and about 10 paper plates with indistinguishable blobs on them. It turns out it was a regular language program and it literally went like this,
lady #1- Which fish would you like to learn the parts on?
lady#2- well, I´m not going to touch them, but this one doesn´t smell so bad.
#1-OK, this is the head, and you will remember from our lesson of the body parts that it is called the CABEZA
#2- CABEZA
#1- CA-BE-ZA
#2- CA-BE-ZA
#1- Cabeza
#2- Cabeza
#1- right, Cabeza
#2- hmmm. Cabeza
#1-yes.
#2-well, I won´t be eating that.

Riveting. We watched the whole thing and now it is our second favorite European show after the life-size puppets and wandering news reporters.
In the next week we will be exploring the area more with my mom and stepdad, in a car! What luxury. Until later...now we are headed to the Mar Menor for some cleansing salt/mud scrubs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Madrid, finally!

We are finally here in the big city... our last stretch of cycling and we are adjusting to that. After leaving Barcelona we continued down the coast a couple of days. Since September has passed, finding a campground has been a bit of a gamble but on the coast we were pretty lucky. More scenic, hilly riding and pit stops that many times would coincide with viewing a Roman arch or ruin. We got to ride through the hometown of Gaudi and briefly saw the town of Tarragon. Our sightseeing has been a bit limited, as we have 2 bikes loaded down with everything and Scott´s had to ditch the kickstand. His bike was weighted down so much it was bending his frame. So, one of us would have to bikesit and take turns seeing something- same with grocery shopping- it has been so fun when we have actually gotten to pick stuff out together and figure out the mystery meats.

We turned inland near Reus and started up into the deserted hills. The whole time we went through this area we didn´t see any other tourists, let alone many people at all. The landscape many times looked like something out of a Dr.Seuss book, the geology is amazing- many times the hills looked to have been sculpted and small, incredibly old towns have been built up around these higher areas, with worn red rock showing through to become parts of walls, streets, roofs. There were also many Mesa Verde-esque cliff dwellings- some looked just as old and some looked like they may have heating and indoor plumbing!

Our map that tricked us about the camping before didn´t even try to pretend that there was camping anywhere near us, so it was interesting riding throughout the day, wondering where we would sleep that night. Our first was in a almond/olive tree farm. We had noticed (with not a little relief) that there were no cats really in this part of the country, then as the workers left and the sun set, we first heard, then saw at least two packs of wild dogs running around. They actually seemed harmless enough- just to be playing, but as Scott was outside fixing his spoke he did ask for the pepper spray. Other nights were spent in the forest, off the road and hidden from sight. I had read in our guidebook that hunting season here has offically started so Scott and I wore whatever our brightest clothing was, making interesting fashion statements when combined with out ¨woodsy¨look of not bathing for a few days, and riding pretty hard over the hills.

One thing we realized, a little too late, as it turned out, was that we couldn´t find supermarkets as readily as in other places, and therefore couldn´t get one day´s supplies at a time like we had been. Because of this, we ended up having some interesting meals, including stale bread and warm turkey baloney for breakfast, and stale bread with condensed mild (not reccomended, and possibly to be added to the weird food entry). Even when we did find stores, they had very little of what we were looking for. For example, one had every kind of oil you may ever want or need, and PLENTY of fresh rabbit, but that was about it. Many didn´t even have bread or produce, and we really wondered where the locals got this stuff. We figured there must be hidden places in people´s basements, dealing bread and carrots, making sure those dirty people on bikes didn´t see the transactions. We even tried to follow a few who seemed to be carrying fresh baguettes, but they just walked a little faster and clutched their precious bread closer to them. We did see a bread deal go down at a gas station, so maybe they are travelling vendors. We were sitting under the overhang waiting in vain for the rain to stop and we saw that alot of townspeople were milling around. It was not because of the Scott and Sarah show, which we were used to by then, but the bread guy pulled up and made deals from the trunk, then sped off while everyone walked home with their bread.

We decided that we deserved a night in a pension after many nights of camping in the woods, and a full day of riding in the rain. That was probably the most challenging day for me, and I ALMOST wished that we were back on the Barcelona freeway at night, on the wrong side. Almost. Poor Scott was trying to encourage me to just make it to the next town, but for a while I thought it sounded SO much more reasonable to huddle under a dirty tarp in the mud and feel sorry for myself. It didn´t help that the roadsign people don´t seem to share the same measurement system, so we would be riding and see that the next town was 25 K away, then 6 K later, it would all of a sudden be 32 K away. Just writing this, even now it doesn´t seem like such a big deal, but at the time I was thinking that there should be some legal action taken against whoever was responsible that hopefully involved them riding this distance on a bike in the rain. The rain itself was needed here, and the swelling clear streams and lakes were beautiful so I tried to be happy about it. I was happy that we had left Barcelona when we did though, we saw that the rains there were flooding the metro and washing cars into the sea, and in other parts of the country there was 4 cm of snow!

The area a couple days out of Madrid was really breathtaking, in many ways. There were many valleys and dramatic cliffs- mostly pine but everywhere there was the bright yellow of changing aspen set against the red, white, blue and purple of the hills. We had the roads to ourselves for the most part, so we got to look around, and breath deeply the smell of fresh rain and wild lavender.

The pension we stayed at was an interesting experience. It was the only place to stay in town, and run by a family who also ran the attached grocery store. We got a room in their house and the son, Ricardo did all of the transactions- it seemed that he was the little brother and was forced to do everthing. Five minutes after he showed us where to store our bikes, he took our money for the room, then 20 min. later was in the family grocery store chopping up a hambone, then picking out muffins for us, with a smile the whole time. We haven´t been able to make warm food since we have the wrong kind of stove here, so we feasted on canned peas and peaches while watching Spanish TV, in complete bliss. I don´t know if it was because we hadn´t seen TV for a while, but we were thoroughly entertained by a cooking show, and the way that Spanish news reporters wander around in frantic circles. We ended up staying in another pension the next night, we liked it so much (and REALLY didn´t feel like asking to sleep in someone´s muddy yard). We stayed in Tendilla, which I think must be some distant relatives, and stayed above a bar. We were thinking of going out to eat at the restaraunt, but it didn´t even open until 9:30 which was WAY past our bedtime, making us realize how much we would have to adjust! One funny thing about sleeping in the pensions was how out of place we felt. I felt like all of our stuff, including ourselves got 100 times dirtier and smellier as soon as we were indoors in a clean environment. The first night I could barely sleep and I described it as similar to when my family used to let our dog in on Christmas. He was an outdoor dog, and very obedient, so he would come in, but sort of cower in the corner and wait to go outside again. Being on a bed felt pretty foreign! I got over that pretty fast, though and now that we are in Madrid it feels so nice to be staying in our friends´cozy apartment. We plan on seeing and doing as much as we can here, and there is plenty. We hit the Prado the day after we got here, but will have to go again as we had celebrated our arrival the night before until the wee hours and all the potraits seemed to be looking at me and saying, ¨wow, Sarah- you should be in bed¨.

If anyone knows of places we must see or go to, let us know...there seems to be an endless supply, though I was dissapointed to see that Scott and I missed the international road sign convention here last week- (really!) I would have had some questions and perhaps some constructive criticism for them :)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Off to Madrid

Barcelona was incredible. I only have 5 min. on the computer, so let´s just say that there was so much to see and do that we walked about 20k and still saw just a fraction. Highlights were, the olympic park, the food market, la Sagrada Familia, to quickly name just a few. Now we are heading off to Madrid- down the coast some more and then cutting in and over some mountains. We will see how the route goes because when Scott mapped it out, he thought the green part on the map was the mountains, but it is actually the flat part- perhaps we may have to change. We will be going through some of the most isolated, desolate parts of Spain. That´s about all the guide book says because I think they assume that after reading that, you will make the decision not to go there. It should be interesting and I am sure we will meet all the cats.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Barthelona

We have arrived in this incredible city, after an eventful journey down the coast. We had elected to take this route because it was ¨flat¨ and ¨relaxing¨. I am not so up on my European geography, but apparently, the Pyranees run pretty much into the ocean. The ride was incredibly beautiful and challenging. The coastline was like Highway 1 times 5 which would make it Highway 5, but for all the Californians, it was anything but. The Med was exquisite and it was quite an experience to pass the border on a two-lane highway mountain pass. Scott has insisted that we have been in a James Bond movie since we hit the coast(For Your Eyes Only).

One interesting thing about camping when the season is all but over has been the pack of cats that lurk and emerge with the sunset wherever we go. They were presumably well-fed during the high season, but now that it is over, they are getting bolder and more desperate. At our last camping in France, Scott and I made friends with one of these cats, confusing affection with hunger. We bought it a bag of food, and this just created cat fights that we heard throughout the night. This cat was so grateful that it wanted to be associated with us, and showed us in the way that it knew, by peeing on our tent in the night. This was not the effect we were looking for. We were more hoping for a long purr and knowing grin, but we got the pee. From then on, even after diligent scouring, our tent has been the subject of curiosity and competition among the campground cats. Scott would like to add that is really smells like New Zealand Savignon Blanc, but after the Provence lavender spray we got, I think it smells like cat pee in the lavender bush. We did make a great friend at our second campsite in Spain, South of Girona (Haribo´s main factory, for those who are wondering) who Scott named Small Paws. She seemed to not be so interested in the pee spot as in us, for which we showered her with affection. While we were giving her some scratches, thunder and lightning surprised us all and after Scott gave me a sweet, pleading look, Small Paws spent the night in our tent, after Scott shoved her face in the pee spot and made her promise in cat language that she would NOT pee there. She didn´t and she spent most of the night in his sleeping bag, purring loudly. We miss her, and wish we could have taken her with us.

On our way down, we went to Dali´s exhibit/theatre in his hometown, Figueres. It was an incredible experience- exhibits that are a whole room- one whole room is a living room from afar, but when seen from a certain angle- a portrait of Mae West. Very unique. We are exited to explore Barcelona tomorrow and are taking a few days rest. For those who ever plan on camping in Barcelona, DON¨T. Every road becomes a freeway and I can´t tell you how happy we were to lay on our thermarests last night, after negotiating the city for 6 hours. We will be updating soon, and we appreciate all the feedback and comments!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A quick review

I thought I would quickly go through the food that we love here and the weird stuff we have eaten. Our knowledge is a bit limited, seeing that we only eat cheap stuff from the grocery store and have not gone out to eat since Switzerland, so that explains our weird nominations. (This, in case you are wondering is the kind of thing we discuss on our bikes, or, like a few hours ago when we had quietly been riding and gazing at the Pyrenees and Scott says to me, "do you think that Justin Timberlake looks like Orlando Bloom" "Um, yeah, kind of...why" "oh, I was just wondering if they like to cycle" Clearly. They do look alike, though. But I digress...

Favorite foods

Belgium- the waffles, of course, with little yummy chunks of sugar in them
Holland- Fred and Ed Hazelnoot Pasta (hazelnut paste) Basically nutella in a squeeze bottle that, in an emergency, you can squeeze right into your mouth.
Denmark-the danishes, of course, each bit of it was like the best inside part of a cinnamon roll.
Norway-either the reindeer or the soup that Doris made
Germany- the potato pancakes at the Brewery, and the pretzels
France-the cheese and baguettes.

Now, the weird stuff we have eaten:

Malteaser- you may have though, as I did, that this is a tasty treat found in the frozen section that is like a malted yummy thing in a bite-size package. I bought one for each of us, and Scott took a BIG bite of his, and it apparently is some sort of yeast starter with the consistancy of water and corn starch. Not a treat.
Horse meat- well, we don't speak french and we are bargain shoppers in the meat section so put two and two together. What tipped us off was the it tasted WEIRD and there was a picture of a cowboy on the package and one had the Italian translation which Scott was sad to read. No more really cheap salami. Ew.
The grossest fondue chenoise ever- This was in Switzerland and Scott and I were treaing ourselves to our first dinner in a restaraunt, and we should have known because it was the one restaraunt so it didn't matter what it tasted like. The broth had a weird koosh-ball looking thing that was maybe seaweed but we were really far from the ocean, you get the idea.
Gross cheese- This is bound to happen, again refer to the bargain shopping. We were eating this one that was so slimy and it was a windy day and getting everywhere, even in my hair and after choking it down I realized why it was grossing me out so much. It smelled like goat poop. Insult to injury, there was no running water, so I had the smell on my hands for the rest of the day.
That is all I can think of for now, but I am sure there is more.

Right now we are headed toward the windy section right at the border. This part of France had been really interesting- flamingos and bull fights and beautiful beaches. Next stop...Espana!