Wednesday, July 27, 2011

For better or for worse?

The Germans do many, many things better than we do.

Their public transportation and streets in general are immaculate except for cigarette butts. And graffiti. But I think they like their graffiti, otherwise wouldn't they clean it up? Public transportation is used by people of all socio-ecomonic groups.

They use almost exclusively use led lights.

They have the fancy toilets where you adjust the flush in accordance to the mass of your deposit, so to speak. Everywhere. And a way to stop the flushing if your deposit has already gone down.

They have very few obese people. I attribute this to: biking all the time, small portions of food, and dogs.

They bike everywhere, as I've mentioned. People of all ages. It's convenient, the paths are well constructed, it's just amazing.

The food portions are small, and they raise the price significantly for a larger size. Let's take ice cream for example, say a one scoop (ball, they call it...) is 2 Euros, but two scoops is 3 Euros. In the US, the next size up would be somewhere between 20 and 50 cents. A larger soda will cost significantly more than a small one.

They have a ton of dogs, and the dogs can go everywhere. Everwhere. Food court in the mall. Museums. Restaurants. Anywhere. I think walking these dogs helps keep them up and moving.

They do a great job with recycling. They even have Goodwill type boxes beside their other recycling things. They have opportunities to recycle everywhere.

They have a ton of electricity, and they love to use it. They conserve water, and paper (claiming they're almost out of trees) but run electricity like it's water to us. They have ample wind farms and even a nuclear power plant right IN Dresden, thought I heard they're going to close it.

They heat the whole outdoors. Seriously.Heated garden terrace.

It's not all amazing, though.

Germany is TERRIBLE at universal access. There are hardly any accommodations for handicapped people. If you're in a wheelchair, tough noogies. There are only about 1 in four tram stops that are wheelchair accessible. There are stairs and cobblestones everywhere. Spain was much better, but not nearly as good as the US. I just couldn't believe how glaring it was that there were NO ramps, NO handicapped bathrooms, etc.

The Germans and Spaniards have two horrible habits. Smoking and tanning.

Seriously, Americans look much younger than their European counterparts because most of us don't smoke and most of us don't tan.

Don't you worry 'bout Big Tobacco. They've got all of Europe to sell to.

This is also why they waste so much electricity with heaters and things outdoors. Smoking inside is illegal, so most restaurants are in the street next to the restaurant with oodles of umbrella-ed tables. Some umbrellas even have a heat source.

So, you can sit inside and sweat because they don't have air conditioning, or your can sit outside and be second-hand smoked to death.

It's a really tough choice. Really, it is. Especially Since they don't have air conditioning. You either swelter in somewhat smoke-free air, or feel comfortable in smoky air. It's a good thing my doctor told me to continue my asthma meds until I returned from Europe.
Smoking room at the Barcelona airport.

Smoking room at a mall in Germany.

The bong store.

What more can I say?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mobsters at Salamanca and other Barcelona eating adventures

The first night we ate at a restaurant called Salamanca. The employees were almost exclusively men.

They wore ties and the place was swarming with these waiters.

Some also guarded the perimeter because pickpockets might approach. There was a very assertive female employee that went to town verbally on a group of six men with a dog. They appeared to have been under the influence of something, and they had questionable hygiene.

They sort of worked as a team, but there seemed to be a strict social hierarchy. The lower waiters fought among themselves. Victor overheard one telling another he was going to kick his ass.

They wore towely things over their shoulders, and instead of brushing down a chair or table that had tree debris on it, they whacked at it like boys in a locker room towel fight.

(As an aside, they seem to smoke a lot of pot in the beach area. Maybe it's legal.)

They worked hard to usher the people into the restaurant. Everyone who walked by, they would hold up fingers to indicate how many people and try to pull them in.

Victor spied fresh seafood and fell into some sort of trance.

Here's the menu:

Yep, I was officially going to starve in Barcelona, too. *sigh* And just look at those prices!

They brought this soggy pinkish bread. Turns out it is a delicacy: tomato rubbed on lousy white bread with olive oil and salt.


But Victor was happy!I asked for "plain tap" water, and they brought me a 1.5 liter bottle of water. I was embarrassed and started laughing, but then I noticed that a few other table had the outsize water bottle, too.

I ordered the alleged house recommendation: potato, egg, and ham.

Ugh, ick. Greasy, squishy french fries, two fried eggs, and some sort of heinous red bacon-y fat disgusto meat sort of product.

I ate most of the french fries, and the waiter brought me "plain" bread.

Look at this view from my seat!

And I got to watch the mobsters work, bring food to customers who hadn't even ordered it, and fight over the bill.

And everyone smokes and smokes and smokes. It's inescapable.

The meal was 113 Euros. Yikes!

Don't you worry 'bout me, though. By Saturday night I had found something to eat.
Oh yeah, that's me. At a beachside bar called "Ona Beach". (Get it? On a beach?)
I'm drinking a "sex on the beach" cocktail and eating...that's right...a grilled cheese sandwich!

Here's another meal.

Victor's appetizer:
Baby octopi! He really misses seafood when he's in land-locked Porkany...I mean Germany.
Victor's dinner: seafood paella.

My dinner:

Why yes! That is spaghetti with shaky cheese on top!

Absolutely beautiful flight. Amazing. We flew over the Swiss Alps, Versailles, and finally I glimpsed, for the first time, the Mediterranean Sea.

It looks JUST LIKE the pictures. Aqua and indigo contrasting with the current. Cliffs on one side, beaches on the other of many peninsulas.

As we descended, the beaches stretched out before us, bordered by the city and then the Pyrenees. Amazing.

Yada yada yada.

My thrill and enjoyment slowly slipped away.

I had been in charge of booking the flight and hotel. I did it at about, oh, 1 AM on Heritage Days weekend.

I had written down the hotel name and reservation number in my iPhone.

Confidently, I told Victor to tell the cabbie ('cause Victor speaks Spanish) "Coronado Hotel". Victor asked the cabbie if it was a nice hotel. The cabbie replied "Cheap". Victor gave me the, "You booked a whorehouse?" look. I protested, saying that it had fabulous reviews on TripAdvisor.

We arrived, and Victor looked around dubiously. I insisted, "All the hotels are small; that's how it is in Barcelona."

I presented the confirmation number to the casually dressed receptionist. She insisted that there was no reservation. I took out my computer to show her the screenshot of the reservation. She said no, and asked me to find the confirmation email. I asked her for the Internet password, which she provided, and tried to find my email confirmation.

Internal colorful language abounded.

I apologized to both Victor and the receptionist. I mined my email, but could find nothing. Victor was trying to calm me down, while saying that it was OK because this hotel was clearly questionable. Then he took his camera and photographed me in my frantic state.

Here we were, in Barcelona, with a hotel that wouldn't admit I had the reservation. In high tourist season.

The receptionist seemed to take pity on me, and asked to see my computer again. She said, "23", as in I'd made the reservation to start on July 23. It was July 22. She checked her computer again and indicated that they were booked. Of course, her English is challenged, my Spanish is useless, and Victor is the only one who has the full picture.

I start searching for other hotels. 550 Euros is the price on the first one that comes up. I am now officially dissolving. Victor is trying to be reassuring, but can't really hide his amusement.

She asks again, and looks at my computer

And he's just hoping we can get out of the hotel.

She says, "Hotel CONDADO," and points my screen. She indicates that we are at Hotel Coronado. Victor asks her to call us (a second) cab.

He says, "How did you get that mixed up? Why did you think it was Coronado?"

I'm mortified. Here is my boyfriend, who speaks Spanish as a first language, and his stupid gringa girlfriend screws up the names of the hotel.

"The explorer," I stammered. "Coronado, I taught about him." I was referring, of course, to Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, about whom I had taught fifth graders about 12 years ago. "What does Condado mean? Does it even mean anything?"

"Yes, it means 'county'."

We got into the second taxi, the cabbie says, "Yes, is a nice hotel".

We arrived, my reservation was still for the wrong three days, but we got their last room.

Crisis averted.

I'm very behind on blogging, but as Victor said, "We can see things or you can blog".

Within hours of the hotel debacle, we swam in the Mediterranean. This is apres swim.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just pictures

This is in the "Hi Mom!" category.

At a restaurant

Neustadt Market.

For immature audiences only, part 4

I'm going to try really hard to NOT make this a daily thing.

I mean, I'm a grown woman. I should not be giggling like a 12 year old, right?

OK, you either.

You CAN look away...

Don't say I didn't warn you...

So this is your last chance to close this...

Yep. That's right. Is this how they take their vitamins? Eat their yogurt?

Germany's answer to "#1 in the #2 business". Notice the sweet little heart above the I.

What? Maine wants to bring billboards back? This ad alone is a good reason not to.

Criminy, I just explained what a douchebag was to the boys. That was bad enough. (I don't think they'll be calling anyone that for a loooong time.)

This is right out in public in the train station.

You've heard of a laundromat, right?

Sadly, I still have more discoveries to share with you, but that's enough for today.

BikrGürl continued...

I'm sorry I had to end the last blog entry quickly. We went to barbecue at one of Victor's co-workers houses. It and...wait for it...pork!!!! There was also Hähnchen, or chicken, and garlic bread on baguettes. And wine. And vegetables, but I'm still nervous about, you know...E-coli. This party is another whole post.

So, back to the bike...

A bit more scenery...

I call this the Jesus Christ boat.

The sign says, "I am the light of the world...Jesus Christ". By the way, I have yet to see a Catholic church here. Actually, I've only seen one church. I haven't seen any schools either.

Did I mention it was pouring? That's why the backgr
ound is gray.

Some lovely buildings. They have so much character.

I lost the bike path somehow. No worries. More houses to look at. Yay!

However, where did that path go?

I found myself on a narrow street, so I hopped up on the sidewalk. The sidewalk on this side of the road was about as wide as a doorway. So I drove ca
refully. Don't-fall-don't-fall-don't-fall-shit-there's-a-car-this-would-be-a-bad-time-to-fall...

Yep. Crashed. The car slammed on the brakes. I tried to fall safely. I think I removed the fingerprints from my hand trying to hang onto the sidewalk instead of falling into the road. It didn't work.

I thought, "At least I have my license on me. They
can ID the body".

I landed, did a quick inventory, decided I would li
ve, and jumped up, pulled up the bike, and scooted to the side.

The car did not even check to see if I needed help or was OK! In fact, I swear I could almost hear the tires squeal!

There were no other witnesses. This was good, be
cause I mounted the bike and started riding. And the seat had turned sideways. I probably looked pretty dumb.

Anyway, I was a bit shaken, but I forged on (after fixing the bike seat). I
just needed to find the river and get back on that damned path.

I drove into an industrial area. Concrete factory or something. I kept going. Eventually, I got behind some sort of business/industry and was at
a dead end. Or an alternate universe.

First I saw this:

Well how 'bout that. I didn't know that the Oscar statues were made in Germany.

In my peripheral vision I saw something else...odd. I turned to see this:

The only thing that could have made this enormous head freakier is if it were attached to an enormous naked body.

If that wasn't bad horror movie...out of the corner I my eye...

Can you hear the horror movie stabbing scene music in your head? Because I did.

Eventually, I got myself good and lost. I did come across a beautiful garden center, but that's another blog.

I was getting pretty nervous about how in the world I would find my way back. But then I relaxed. I'd just get in a taxi and have the cabbie take me and the bike back to "4 Eisenstradgje: Alexander Pushkin Platz". At least Victor was careful to teach me how to say the address when I got here.

Then I relaxed and eventually found my way back.

Here was a random sighting:

Yep, a horse grazing. In a patch of overgrown grass on the edge of the river. In the middle of the city. No house, no barn, no owner nearby. Okie-dokie.

Now, cue the Darth Vader theme:

Poor Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany (like the President).

Oh, speaking of President, I found myself defending President Obama by asserting that he doesn't dye his hair black! The BBQ people insisted that he has gray hair and he dyes it. Of all the foreign policy discussions! This is the American government issue they want to discuss?