Farewell for a While (I think)

Today’s post may be the last for 2 weeks. I’ll be more or less out of position to post anything. I’ll be in London, in fact. If it turns out that I am wrong about that, you’ll see a post next Wednesday. Otherwise, even Odd Godfrey will just have to wait. See you on the 17th!

NonoWrimo?

The forest reclaiming a picnic spot in the Nationalpark Eifel, Germany. Photo by Steve Fey
The forest reclaiming a picnic spot in the Nationalpark Eifel, Germany. Photo by Steve Fey

(More about this and many other pictures in future posts.)

I recently took a twelve-day, eleven-night trip to Western Germany, with side trips to France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland. My Internet was pretty spotty. We had it in the apartment (Wohung) which we rented for seven of the nights, but connectivity ranged from too slow to be useful to just useless. This is relevant to the title of this post because I keep my work on a drive provided by Microsoft in return for us subscribing to Office 365. It’s a good way to be sure that my work is safe, and generally accessible, unless, that is, I get stuck somewhere that has a bad Internet connection.

I did some things, mostly involving social media and email, but I didn’t want to risk damaging my manuscript, because how would the world ever survive without it, you know? So, for the time I was gone, up until, frankly, today, it was entirely Nonowrimo for me. I did open the file a couple of times this week (we got back late Sunday evening) and read some things, but I only got over my jet lag as of the morning of this writing, which is Sunday, November 6th, if you’re wondering. One week to get over jet lag? I agree, that sounds excessive. Never before has it taken more than a couple of days, and last time I flew back (from Rome) I didn’t notice a thing.

So, here’s the writing related part of this post, what I did today was start my next chapter, and plug away until it was done. That’s what I do most weekdays, but as I’d missed most of three weeks, I did that on a Sunday as well. I’m drafting, which was the most fun part when I was just starting out, but which now is the difficult part. I have to come up with a reasonable framework for a story, with a lot more detail than my initial outlines, and that takes some real mental muscle to pull off. Revisions are easier, because there really are rules to follow for such things. But for the original, unedited version of a novel, nobody knows what going to happen next, at least not in detail, and least of all the person writing the book.

There is no making up all those chapters unwritten due to vacation stuff. So I write them now, one chapter at a time. That’s how it’s done, folks, one chapter/paragraph/word/letter at a time.

Hope this was helpful.

En Route – The Hunt For A Pig Hunt

After our long day of rowing, we wake up feeling sufficiently provisioned and fueled for at least a few weeks.  I give the internet one last try, but it still won’t work. I am also very tired of rowing.   Our plan is to hit several anchorages on our way back to Puamau (where Mario lives) to see about that pig hunt.  We hang our bananas from the stern arch, weigh anchor, and say a loving goodbye to Atuona.   The wind is up, and we have a brisk sail through pass between Hiva Oa and its next door island, Tahuata.  For the first time, Andrew and I feel like we are “cruising”.  Hanamenu Bay is our first anchorage destination chosen purely for exploration.  Previously, all our destinations were “on the route,” chosen because they take us further along our path.   This first anchorage is on the leeward (dry) side of the island; we set our anchor between large black cliffs covered in golden vegetation.  A black sand beach is nestled at the furthest point inside the anchorage, with a handful of abandoned huts.  Our friends on Ostrika invite us over for sundowner cocktails.  The next morning, we up anchor early for a 10 mile, upwind sail to the next anchorage: Hanaipai.  We can’t help but fire up some Stevie Miller Band and set our sails for maximum speed.  We have to catch Patrick and Paula in their 55 foot Oyster!  The waves are not too large, and the wind is piping at 20-25 knots.  We set our jib, a small corner of our genoa and a triple reefed main sail.  This set maximizes our ability to point high without being blown sideways and heel over too much.  I hand steer so we can maximize our speed on the wind shifts — and just for fun.  I start our tack at about 60 degrees off the wind, build speed, then use that speed to climb higher into the wind (and point more directly at our destination) until we start to lose speed.  Then, I fall off again to gather speed.  We successfully keep an average of 6 knots and keep up with our bigger/faster friends.  We pass by a running waterfall and sheer cliffs as we enter a lush, green anchorage with brilliant blue water.  Sonrisa lets down her anchor with salt spray in her hair and a big smile on her face.   The next day, we set sail again for another quick upwind beat, this time, to an anchorage with clear water and a white sand beach.  Finally, water that is safe for swimming.  We swim over to the beach, explore a bit, and snorkel with some colorful fish.  Andrew scrapes off the green slime and small animals that are growing on Sonrisa’s hull above her antifouling paint.  She is relieved to be looking pretty again.  We invite Ostrika’s crew over for dinner. I prepare a small hen served in sauce made with bacon, shallots, carrots, celery seed, saffron, and green olives served over brown rice, and Andrew experiments with a bread pudding for dessert. We serve the hen with a Chardonnay from our shakedown run to Santa Barbara in April 2015, and the bread pudding with a bottle of Dolce we bought on a trip to Napa Valley with Katrina Harris and Jamie White in 2012.  Today, we are the version ourselves we like best:  enjoying nature, cooking for friends, and sailing.  We wait out a storm for a second day in this anchorage, safely tucked away.  It rains so much that we gather enough fresh water to clean Sonrisa’s decks, do a large load of laundry (now how to dry?), and take two fresh water showers. Otherwise, Sonrisa bobbed safely in place on her anchor.  Andrew swims despite the rain.  Everything is wet, so may as well go swimming.  I stay below, process pictures, and look longingly at the pretty beach just outside our window.  I’m try to cling to my dry status as best I can, but sweat is the other option inside Sonrisa with her hatches closed. When the sun clears the next day, we romp forward on another upwind leg to Puamau. All in all, it took us four days to cover twenty five miles around the island and end up back at the same place we reached in two hours via vehicle just a few days ago.  We took the “scenic route.”

Source: En Route – The Hunt For A Pig Hunt

There are some excellent pictures, which you can see by clicking the link above this line.

A Trip Around Europe Part Four and Last

Phew! Went over space and into a fourth post! Well, it was a long trip and no mistake. I’m going to start back in Paris on the way to the Gare du Nord. “Gare” is what they call a train station in Paris, but I have no idea why. You want someone who speaks French, visit your local high school or college. This station, the “North Station”, is the one where trains to and from England depart and arrive. The nicest of all these trains is the Eurostar, which is faster than greased lightening and very comfortable. Most of the station is pretty ordinary for a train station, and recently updated so it’s clean and nice looking. The Eurostar berths behind a security wall of glass and border guards. In fact, I have entered and left France many times. In 1976 I was in and out of France about five or six times, and I’d landed in France on this trip, but never ever had any French customs agent or border guard so much as showed up, much less looked at my passport. To board the Eurostar I had to get a French border guard to stamp my passport. Anybody can come in, but woe to him they don’t want to let leave, I guess. And, talk about convenience! The English border turned out to be right there the Gare du Nord. There’s a nice waiting lounge but it was almost time to board so we didn’t linger.

Trains are so damned much nicer than airplanes to travel on there’s hardly any comparison. And some, like the Eurostar, go about 150 mph so they get you where you’re going pretty quickly. In fact, given the distance between London and Paris I’m pretty sure that with the time to get to the airport, go through security, check in, and mess around at the other end retrieving luggage and into town that the train is quite a bit faster over all. We put our luggage in the luggage compartment right in our car, took our reserved seats, and waited about ten minutes until the train almost imperceptibly started to move. Within ten minutes we were out of Paris and into the Northern French Countryside, which was fairly flying by (ironically, since you can’t see anything when you’re the one flying.) Northern France looks a great deal like Southern England and the Midlands too. All of those places look remarkably like Seneca County Ohio where I grew up. And that, I suppose, explains the attraction the place had for my ancestors: it looked homey. Does to me, too, even though I live out in the Mojave. Our train arrived at St. Pancras station, right in the heart of London. A short ride on the Underground to Paddington Station, a short walk and we were at our last hotel. It was a lovely place, and a room on the second floor (it would be the third floor in America) with no elevator provided some much appreciated aerobic exercise getting the bags up and down. We had reservations for a posh French restaurant (heh) in Notting Hill, but we were too tired to make the trek, so we ate at a Garfunkels. Don’t think it’s owned by Paul Simon’s sometimes partner, but that’s the name. It would play in the US; I had a cheeseburger.

In the morning we checked our bags at Paddington Station (’cause that’s where the train to Heathrow takes off) and went on an open-top bus tour. There are a slew of tour companies offering such things, and we both wished we had done ours on our first day, not our last. We learned all sorts of neat stuff, such as there is “London” the metropolis, and the “City of London” which is a lot smaller, and guarded by Griffins.

Griffon Guarding London
The Reverse Side of a Griffon on Guard at the City of London

Here is the rear end of one just inside the city limits from the City of Westminster. Westminster is the home of the Queen, Westminster Abby, and Parliament. The Tower of London is, as you might expect, in London proper. Westminster refers to a monastery that used to be there, the West Monastery, which in the English way got chopped and mashed into Westminster. I’d always wondered.

On the day of the tour, Starbucks was giving away free Lattes in London. The tour stopped at the ‘Tower of London for half an hour, so I stopped in and, shazam! they gave me a free tall latte. I don’t normally even care for Starbucks, but at that price I’ll say it was the best coffee I had during the entire trip!

The plane was leaving at 3pm so when the tour was about over we walked across Green Park outside Buckingham Palace (her majesty was at home but didn’t wave at us) into an Underground station (marked “Metro” as in the other two cities but nobody calls it that) and rode back to Paddington to take the train home. It was sad that the vacation was over, but honestly, I’m not sure I’d have lived through much more. There is absolutely, positively no place like home. We had lunch at Heathrow airport, which is better than you’d think, and boarded what was to be a pretty uneventful flight. Right next to us sat a bevy of bride and bridesmaids headed to Vegas for a bachelorette party. I may have been sad when the perfume they’d drenched themselves in wore off, but I don’t think so. It was over ten hours, so I watched a couple more movies and read a book for a while. After landing we got to go through customs again, but for the first time in the short line! Woo-Hoo! Long before the wedding party had their bags, we were riding home, the last two miles of a long, tiring and rewarding journey.

Afterwords

A story about a rental car in England: We rented a car from an agency near our hotel in London in order to drive to Brighton and Stansted, which we did. Driving on the left is no problem, but sitting to the right to drive is. I’d done it before, and at least caused no physical damage to anything (unlike a previous adventure.) A couple days later, in Barcelona, I got an email statement that said I was being charged 800 pounds for damages! I didn’t see any damage so I asked for an explanation. It came back quickly: I’d put diesel in a petrol car! Huh? Never did such a thing in my life. Somebody at the rental agency was running a scam, but how to prove it? Well, friends, I’d saved that receipt. We called the station at Stansted, which confirmed that I’d bought unleaded regular. Then, as Tami’s firm has a London office, she contacted a colleague there, who transmitted the (bad to somebody) news that we could prove we were innocent. Yesterday I got the email apologizing and telling me of my full refund. They get 58 pounds, no more. And the pound has slipped against the dollar meanwhile, so it actually ends up costing less than it originally would have. Hah! I’m virtually certain that the scam was by some employees, and not in any way the policy of the company. As I said in part one, you don’t see too many out and out scams in England.

We did a lot of travelling about, but honestly that may not be the best way to go about it. Another time I’d consider getting a place to headquarter and maybe taking trains or driving for day trips. Be a lot less tiring, I imagine.

And finally, why I like Las Vegas best of the four cities I mentioned in part one. Put simply, it’s in a country where absolutely anyone is free to leave any time from any port they like. We don’t have border agents checking people leaving. I have no idea why anyone does have such agents. That’s pretty cool. Also, Las Vegas is a heckuva place for entertainment and food. I know places where I can get literally the same local foods we ate in each of the three cities, and it will be authentic, too! I don’t need a passport for anything at all. I know where everything is (mostly). And it’s fun to watch people here. The first time I was in Europe I thought people looked kind of weird. Now, not at all. You’d have to go to some extremes to make a Las Vegas resident think you look weird. In fact, I’m not sure you could do it. Come visit and give it a try: kudos if you get on the news! And teenagers in Spain and France dress just like teenagers here, which is to say terribly. In England they make them wear school uniforms, so I don’t know exactly what they wear at home, but if it isn’t exactly the same stuff I’ll be surprised.

Honestly, I’ll bet France is the greatest country in the world if you’re French. The United Kingdom is the greatest country in the world, if you’re a citizen. And Spain is a great country too, best anywhere, if you’re a Spaniard. But, know what? I’m none of those things. I’m an American, and this is where I like best to be. In a lot of ways, my favorite part of the trip was when the border guard at McCarran said, “Okay, have a nice day!” and waved us on. I love foreign travel; I always learn some good stuff and enjoy the people and food, but boy oh boy, there’s no place like home!

A Trip Around Europe Parte Dos

As I was saying, we took off from London for Barcelona at about 6am. We landed at 9 or so due to the fact that Barcelona keeps its clocks an hour ahead of London. Since it’s due South there’s no good reason, but the longer evenings were kind of nice. I’d never been to Spain before, even though I started learning Spanish when I was six, or seis. My sister was taking Spanish in college and needed someone to practice on, so she picked me. I’ve had people from Mexico tell me that my accent was decent. In Spain everyone was all anxious to use English with me. Probably because I sound like a Mexican or something. I did find out that, while I do speak Spanish, it isn’t all that well. The good news is that I can understand it better than I thought I could, and by the third day I could read it almost as fast as I read English. That was actually pretty cool.

Thing is, though, Spanish isn’t called Spanish in Barcelona. At least not by the natives. The public signage is all in that language, but the names, and a lot of signs and labels in public buildings, are in what we call Catalan. They call it Catalun, and the province Catalunya. That’s Catalonia to us poor outsiders. Since Catalun is in fact a Spanish language, and can be used in official business, that makes Catalun Spanish, innit? And Spanish? That’s Castillian, or Castillano. Castillian is to Spanish what Oxford is to English, so no wonder they though my accent sucked. Well, anyway, we got a cab with my Spanish and Tami’s English and got to the second nicest hotel we stayed in. Not only was it not next to an airport in a wilderness, but the room was big and you could get wireless. It cost us 40 Euros to get to the hotel with the tip. On the way I saw my first suicidal Spanish motorcyclist, but he failed and rode on.

A bit of Roman aqueduct and wall incorporated into modern Barcelona

The city of Barcelona is a pretty cool place. For one thing, they have miles of beautiful beach. Mediterranean beach, in fact, and the loveliness of the blue water is hard to overstate. But, bonus for me, Barcelona used to be a Roman town a while back. The Romans always built aquaducts because they had to have their baths. Pictured here is a bit of Aqueduct and Roman wall that has been incorporated into the modern city. Roman Stuff and It’s Still Being Used? How cool is that?

Well, okay, you don’t care, but I like it. There’s a bridge in Spain that’s 2000 years old. The builder carved into the side that he had built for 1000 years. Underestimated himself by quite a bit, he did. Actually, there are quite a few bits of Roman construction still being used in Barcelona. Seems it was a vital international seaport even in those days.

More about that Catalan language: it’s sort of cross between Spanish and French. I wrote that I can read Spanish, but I’ll state right here that I almost can’t read Catalan at all. It’s based on Latin, but it’s weird. Wanna leave? Try the sortido. In France it’s “sortie” (like the military action where you “go out” from the main force). In Castillian it’s “salida.” See? How weird is that? All the subway stations have Catalan names, although the announcements are in Sp . . . Castillian.

But what do you do in Barcelona besides swim and look at stone walls? Well, there are a couple of cathedrals. One, Gothic and traditional, is named for St. Paul. It’s nice, but honestly, Gothic cathedrals are a drug on the market in Europe. Really, you can’t swing a dead cat without it landing in a transept! But the other cathedral is called “Sagrada Familia.” That’s Catalan, but I’ll bet you can figure out what it means. (Familia is the same in Castillian.) Now Sagrada Familia is not Gothic, although a few of the decorations are in that style. This place is modern architecture. Wanna see? Sure, check this out:

Hyperbolic Vaults
The highest point inside Sagrada Familia ofBarcelona

This picture is looking straight up at the highest point of the ceiling of Sagrada Familia. The roof is vaulted, make no mistake. Hyperbolic and Parabolic vaults. No stiff Gothic arches here, just, well, what it looks like. Notice all the light coming in? That’s Modern Architecture 101: you let the outdoors in. The architect, named Gaudi, is justly famous for his work on this and other structures. The poor guy was killed in a traffic accident, but his successors have carried on for a century since. They hope to be done by about 2050, more or less. Pope Benedict (you know him, right?) dedicated the place in November of 2010. Prior to that it had to have been the biggest parish church in all of Spain, if not Europe.

Modern Stained Glass
Stained Glass in the Modern Style

The next picture (by the way, when I compose these pictures appear next to the text. Not sure what happens when I publish) shows how Gaudi used stained glass. I know, heck, all those old Gothic barns use stained glass, but I’ve never seen any that glows like this stuff.

Gaudi said once (or so I’m told) that you don’t want to flood the place with light, because that would blind people, and blind people can’t see. The light, he said, had to be just right. A Goldilocks principle of modern design.

Ah, yes, but how’s the food, you ask? Let me tell you, I don’t have the name of the place, but maybe Tami, who saved their card, can add it in a comment, but the first night there I had black rice and seafood at a restaurant not far from the old Roman town. It was the best damned seafood I’ve ever  tasted! I resisted the urge to go back because I wanted to try as much of the different food as I could, but looking back I regret that decision. It’s on a street narrower than the room in which I’m sitting, and man is the paella good! No, good doesn’t cover it. If I was the creator and wanted paella, I’d call this place for take out! Also there’s a lot of tapas served in Barcelona. Tapas means snacks, if you’re not in the know. Unfortunately for my opinion of Barcelona Tapas, there’s a tapas joint about a mile from my house in Las Vegas that’s at least as good as what I had in Barcelona. So, good tapas, but meh!

Barcelona has a lot of parks. One by our hotel led straight to the beach, which was most excellent. The biggest one is the Parc Mont Juic. Oddly, if you just pronounce that like it was English you’ll probably be close enough. It’s Catalan, like most of the place names. There’s a castell (more Catalan) up there and the view is amazing!

Barcelona Harbor from Mont Juic

This picture is of Barcelona harbor as seen through the trees in front of the castle.  The Mediterranean looks sort of small on a map, but as you see it goes on forever, just like the Pacific. Or Lake Superior, even. The castle was used by somebody to bombard the city once, which makes me wonder how that person ever got to the castle in the first place, since you have to go through the city to get there? Maybe they flew?

We also visited “Las Ramblas” a couple of times, even had dinner there once. It’s actually several streets with “Rambla” in their name, and it’s adjacent to the old part of town so there’s lots of shopping and places to stroll.

It’s really easy to get around in Barcelona using their fine Metro (subway). One place we went on the Metro was to the Pobles Espanoles, first constructed for a World Esposition in the early 20th century. There you find areas representing the various provinces of Spain. In the Andalusian section you’ll find Flamenco with more fire than I’d seen it performed with previously. We went there on the last night, enjoyed the show, caught the last few seconds of a fountain show with music in front of the big museum of art, and got back to the hotel (Vincci Maritimo) in time to be  rested up at 4:30 am to catch our 6 am flight to Paris.

A final note about the hotel: the Vincci Maritimo is in every respect a completely fine and wonderful hotel, save that the beds owe much to a marble slab. I’d go there again. It’s near the beach and the Metro, and the staff is positively wonderful. I’d hit the mall for a bit of padding before bedtime, though. (The mall is a block away, and it’s just what you’d expect of a mall — I got a latte at Starbucks there.)