Tuesday, May 18, 2010

5/18/10 Hi from Yuma, AZ. Yes, this is the wrong time of year to be here because it is starting to get hot, but we drove down for Elaine's final dental appointment. She was supposed to get her permanent implant installed yesterday but because the lab wasn't working yesterday afternoon, we have to go back today. It was kind of eerie to experience Algodones at this time of year because we are used to it being full of gringos getting dental work, new glasses, cheaper prescription drugs, cheaper booze, and a long line at the immigration line to get back into the USA. But yesterday the place was fairly quiet and it took about 5 minutes to get through the border. The good news is that our car had been successfully repaired and returned to us on Thursday, so we were able to drive down in our car, and stay overnight on Sunday with Darran & Marielle in San Diego, and last night in Yuma with our cruise friends, Rick & Denice Osborne. Hopefully, the dental work will be done this afternoon and we can head back north. It was only about 95 degrees here yesterday, and we were mostly inside buildings, so the heat didn't bother us.
Last week, while waiting for our car to be repaired, we mostly stayed at Park Sierra and tried to go through accumulated mail, take care of paperwork, clean out our shed, etc. Had a couple of doctor appointments and learned that yes, as Elaine had suspected because of my snoring situation, I DO have sleep apnea. Now I have to pursue treatment options. I thought this was mostly related to being overweight, which I mostly am not, so this was a surprise. But it does explain why I have morning headaches when I wake up. We both will be having other appointments in the coming weeks, such as colonoscopys, etc. I won't bore you with any other age related health complaints....
In downloading pictures from my camera, I came upon a few from the past few weeks that I want to share with you:
On our last day in Barcelona, our friends Duane & Dorothy McCarthy came in on the Voyager of the Seas so we were able to have a wonderful afternoon and evening with them. We went to the Picasso Museum (free on the first Sunday of the month), had appetizers and wine at our apartment, went out for a nice meal at an outdoor restaurant, and took them to the Plaza Espanya where the magical fountains had so entranced us the night before. It was just as fabulous when we were there with them and the weather was better so we stayed longer.
Here we all are at the restaurant:

Here is another look at the fountains:

When we finally arrived back in San Diego, we stayed with Darran & Marielle and one of the activities was joining Darran when he walked Daisy, Marielle's sister's dog. You can see that it was a sunny, beautiful day and Darran & Elaine both look healthy and cute:

Almost as soon as we arrived back at Park Sierra, some Australian friends, Kay & Brian Blinco joined us there. They had been in the USA for 2 weeks and had spent part of that time finding a big van and a trailer that would sleep 6 because they are traveling for 6 months with their adult daughter, and her 3 children. Here is a picture of us all which was taken on Mother's Day at the brunch which was provided for all of us in our park clubhouse.

It was wonderful to reconnect with them again because we met them 10 years ago on our Intrepid Travel tour in China, and we have kept in touch through e-mails. So far they said that they have been very well treated in America and we hope that continues as they travel everywhere, since we were very well treated in their country when we were there in 1999.
Saturday there was a dinner at Park Sierra to honor all the volunteers who do so much to keep the park functioning well and keep the costs down for all the residents. We helped our friends Ken & Janice Ryder who did a wonderful job planning and executing all the cooking for the meal. There were also lots of activities, such as a cakewalk, where Elaine won a cake to take to Darran's the next day. The emphasis was "hats off" to volunteers, so everyone wore decorated hats, and here is a picture of our great neighbors, Alan & Carol Rodely wearing their hats.

Carol loves gardening, so her hat has that theme, and Alan got his Rastafarian hat on their last cruise in the Caribbean. They are so cute! It is social events in the park, and all the delightful neighbors and friends there that make this such a great place to live whenever we are back.

Friday, May 07, 2010

It is Friday morning at 8AM and we are driving up I-5 from LA towards Fresno. So we are into the 5th day of travel now and we AREN"T HOME YET!!!!! Here are the details:
On Monday morning when we checked in with US Airways for our 10:35AM flight which would have gotten us to Orlando at about 8:30PM (layover in Philadelphia), they said the plane was "broken" and since they were using a smaller plane, would we accept a move to an American Airlines flight that would get us to Orlando several hours sooner. Sure. So we took the first AA flight to JFK and when we arrived were informed that our next leg, to Orlando, had been canceled by AA and they were moving us to a Delta flight. That one didn't leave for 6 hours but was supposed to get us there by about 10PM. Then we sat at the gate for over an hour because the pilots were late, and had to wait on the runway, so we didn't arrive in Orlando until after 11PM. When we called our hotel for the shuttle to pick us up, they said it stopped running at 11 so we would have to take a taxi costing approximately $30. Because we were trying to get on the 7AM flight the next morning and would have to be back at the airport by 5AM, thus requiring another $30 taxi, we decided to just stay in the airport. Although we checked in at about 3 AM for the standby list, we were numbers 11 & 12 to get on the first flight and only 8 made it on. We then tried to get on every flight to DFW and every one was full and some had huge standby lists. We were numbers 35 and 36 on some of the lists! It didn't help that AA had canceled the 9:20AM flight. There were also big groups of high school kids on school trips filling up the planes, and apparently there was some kind of a golf tournament for AA employees and a bunch of them were flying standby back from that. By 6PM, when they told us there were no seats on any of the remaining flights, we got on the internet and booked a flight at 7:30PM on Delta that went from Orlando to Atlanta, and then on to San Diego, and it only cost $268 for both of us, which was actually a few less dollars than we had given for our standby tickets. So we arrived in San Diego at 11:45PM and Elaine's son picked us up and we crashed at his place.
Now for the next part of the saga. We enjoyed a nice morning with Darran and about noon packed up our car and headed for Fresno. This was now Wednesday. We made it through the LA area and were just starting to climb into the mountains when our car lost all power. Managed to get it pulled over to the side where there was a wide shoulder and when we got the hood up, it was smoking like crazy. Called our insurance company and they said they would have a tow truck out in 45 minutes. We were able to tell them exactly where we were because of our GPS. Somehow they screwed it up and it took 2 hours before we were finally towed. And we were only 3 miles from an exit where the gas station/tow truck was located! By now it was after 6PM. So they took us to a motel and said they would diagnose it the next day. The next morning they decided it was the clutch and they couldn't fix it there. It was going to cost about $800 to have it towed to Fresno. So we rented a car and drove back to Park Sierra, quickly got our RV ready to travel and drove back towards LA. After stopping overnight last night at a WalMart in Bakersfield, we have now returned the rental car, picked up our disabled car with our tow bar, and are heading back to Oakhurst to have it fixed at an automotive place recommended by other RV friends. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS!!! Thank goodness the cruise and our time in Barcelona were so fabulously fun because the last 5 days of trying to get home have been rather Hellacious!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

5/2/10 I know that I just did a long blog entry yesterday but last night we went to The Magic Fountain of Montjuic, and we LOVED it. The magic fountain is a spectacular display of colour, light, motion, music and water acrobatics - if you mix all these elements together in just the right combinations, you end up with pure magic! I think you will agree with me when you see a couple of the pictures we took last night. And the music that was playing while the fountains of water danced around and changed constantly in height, color, intensity, and arrangement was fabulous. We stayed for over an hour and the music changed with each little show. Then there would be a short break and another, different display would start.
For those of you who want more info, here are the times:
October to April
Fridays and Saturdays
Music sessions: 19:00 19:30 20:00 20:30

Summer: (May to September)
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Music Sessions: 21:00 21:30 22:00 22:30 23:00

To get there, take the Metro to Plaza Espanya and walk a short way towards all the fountains. The main event is at the biggest fountain and it is best to try to stand on some of the overlooks around it, or sit on the steps, because then you can hear the music too.
Here are a few pictures:
These are the little fountains leading up to the biggest one:

The colors were constantly changing:

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Saturday May 1
Today is the first overcast day we have had in Barcelona since we arrived, and there have still been periods of sunshine. It has been a wonderful afternoon for exploring. We just started walking and ended up at Parc de la Ciutadella which is fairly near our apartment. There were people all over the lawn areas, just sunning, and almost everywhere we turned there was an incredible building, sculpture, or fountain. Here we are in front of a huge fountain with many figures spewing water and a huge golden chariot with horses and a historical figure, but we never found out who.

On a nearby plaza was their version of the Arc de Triomphe:P

The zoo was also in this park and by the time we had walked around the perimeter of it, we were pretty tired.
On some other days of exploring we have come across street vendors and have bought a few items because they were artistic and priced reasonably. Here is Elaine at the stall of a gal who makes some pretty painted leather belts and necklaces:

And at Park Guell there was this innovative way to display earrings for sale:

One of the main occupations here seems to be sitting at outdoor restaurants with a coffee, beer, glass of wine or a meal and chatting the hours away. There seems to be a few tables and chairs in nearly every open sidewalk space that is wider than usual.

The weather has been sunny and warm for most of this week, so everyone has been reveling in it and the open-air seating has been very popular.
In our little apartment in the El Born district, we have been enjoying trying many of the local delicacies. Here is one of the wines recommended by our local supermarket/wine shop and we have found it to be much to our liking:

There are many different kinds of olives on offer, sometimes in deli windows and sometimes in buckets, such as these:

One of our favorite kinds has both green and black olives, little pickles, and small onions in it.

In our last blog entry we mentioned that we had been to Park Guell, which was created by the most famous Barcelona artist and architect, Antonin Gaudi. A few days ago we walked over to several of his other buildings. They are so different, they stand out from all the other buildings on the street. Here is the front of the one called Casa Batllo:

The balconies and windows in the front are very unique and distinctive:

There was such a long line we decided to skip the interior, although we saw some pictures of it and it was so amazing that we hope to see it on another visit. The house next door to it was by another architect but also distinctive.

Just down the street is another of Gaudi’s buildings called La Pedrera. It is not nearly as colorful as it doesn’t have any of the glass mosaic pieces decorating the front.

It’s main feature are the wrought iron balconies.

The most incredible place we have visited so far was Montserrat. This is a monastery complex, built very high up in the mountains about an hour’s train ride away. It is astounding that it was built several hundred years ago because must have been very difficult to reach at that time. To get there we took the metro to Plaza Espanya and a train towards Manrasa and got off where the funicular or rack train left for Montserrat. You can also take the cable car instead, but if you do, you have to get off at a different train stop. The mountains are very steep, which is why a funicular is required. Here is a picture of the mountains that I took through the train window, so it isn’t very good but it shows some of the steepness.

When we arrived at the top, we could see that the large rock faces still towered over the buildings:

There were 2 more funiculars on top that we took to get to other parts of the mountain. Here is a picture of one of the funicular tracks:

And here is a view of the complex taken from one of the trails we hiked after we got off the funicular towards Santa Cova, the cave where the children saw the vision which is why this is such a holy place.

There is a very beautiful basilica, here is a picture of the front.

where there was a performance by the boys choir.

There were so many people in there that I couldn’t take any pictures of the interior splendidness, and then when we went back later to do it, the lights were off! The biggest attraction is the black Madonna, which was found in the cave (I think) and we went through the special area where they have her on display.

There were solid silver doors leading to this chamber and also many beautiful gold and multicolored mosaic insets in the walls. After all this ornateness, it was refreshing to walk outside and see this magnificent view as we left the complex.

Tomorrow is our last day here and we discovered that the Picasso Museum, which is just down the street from our apartment, has free entry because it is the first Sunday of the month. So we will be meeting our cruise friends, Duane & Dorothy McCarthy, who will be arriving on the Voyager of the Seas, and touring that museum. Then we will bring them over to see our cute little apartment, serve them some good Spanish wine and various local delicious appetizers such as black and green olives, pate, various cheeses, good baguettes, and then treat them to dinner at a local place. There are so many small and good local restaurants that it is hard to choose! They have allowed us to stay with them in Houston before a cruise and entertained us lavishly another time, so we are happy to have this chance to reciprocate. Besides, it is fun to have friends join us at various places in the world when we travel. Why don’t YOU plan to do that the next place??!! It will be India in November…..