Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Catalonia Tourists

Wednesday April 9 2008

Kiwis Paul and Madonna have a place in a village outside of Vic (an hour from Barcelona) in Catalonia - a 1590 mill (that still runs on Sundays for show). The Raven and I caught a train from Madrid to Barcelona with them.

The mill is on a Route, the "Ruta dels molins," and the "Ruta del romanic," a maintained walk along a creek where many old mills and churches and ruins from the 16th and earlier centuries lie. These also connect with well-marked GR 2 trails that connect with other trails all across Europe, for bikers and hikers... and of course people use some of them for riding also.

The Raven and I stayed with Paul and Madonna and caught up on our sleep and our work. We took some walks along these trails when we needed a break from our work.

Paco was here this week to do some work also; and then Saturday, we became tourists.

The Raven came along, and Paco was happy to show him the sights of Catalonia. Paco and the Raven are good buds.

Our first stop, Girona, is an old Roman town with much of the old part of the town still well-preserved and functional. We wandered along the winding cobblestone streets, (the Raven did have to help navigate with the map a few times), along and around the fortress walls, and a Gothic cathedral with the real old bells that knock feathers off when they ring, and Arab Baths, and the Rambla - the main walking street of shops. The Raven was fascinated with some of the cobblestone streets, especially one where he could sit in the center of a star. There were a curious number of shops with designer handbags and purses for sale. You could also buy an authentic coat of armor, if you so desired to look like or fight with a sword and shield and lance like a Roman; and, to weaken your enemy's knees, there were an abundance of chocolate shops! We couldn't resist going in one and came out with bags of chocolate, filled with liqueur, nuts, and coffee beans - enough to knock Paco and the Raven out in the car for a while. I rationed out the chocolate coffee beans and kept a buzz till Monday.

From there we drove to Besalu, an even smaller and more charming medieval town with an old stone bridge over a river providing a picturesque - and, in the old days, protected - entrance to the fortified village. We wandered the streets, and the Raven visited with various Birds of Art in some of the shops - including two of his fans who would like to be birds like the Raven . We had lunch outdoors in the mild sunny weather, overlooking the river and old town.

Nice place for a spring visit. I wonder how many of the Raven's ancestors sat on this bridge the last thousand years?

A Raven in Madrid

Monday April 14 2008

The day after Al-Andalus, Steph and the Raven and I caught a train to Madrid. Steph was flying out early the next morning to Malaysia, and the Raven and I would meet Paul and Madonna the next day, and catch the train with them to Barcelona, and onto their place outside of Vic.

The Raven and I had time to tour around Madrid, the capital of Spain, a bit. We saw the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), which was the principal royal residence from 1734 to 1931. We found a music store and picked up several of Jose Soto's music CDs to take home with us. The Raven enjoyed listening to an accordion player, and gave him some money, because I used to play the accordion when I was little. We strolled along the Gran Via - Madrid's main street, the Raven frolicked in tulips, and we stopped for a Starbucks. Of which there were many. There may be more Starbucks in Madrid than in Seattle. Europeans are not as obsessed with coffee as we are - or at least not in the same way. The to-go cup of coffee is a permanent attachment to the hands of most Americans. Here the Europeans take time to sit and enjoy the coffee and the company. Their version of to-go coffee is drinking it standing at a counter.

We actually got lost several times in Madrid (which is not so bad), and the wandering around was really an excuse for wandering around looking for our hotel. The streets are at angles, many of the tall, old buildings look alike, there are lots of little plazas everywhere, and the buildings are tall enough that you can't use anything tall for a landmark. Finally we figured out that when we saw a big poster of George Clooney staring out of a poster on a certain wall, that was our plaza and our hotel was across from it.

Our hotel was a cozy little affair... and in fact I had to get us a double room because my suitcase and the Raven and I would not all fit in the single room!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Al-Andalus Day 8: The Finish - La Beata

Saturday April 5 2008

What a great adventure! Following 40 horses and riders, give or take on a given day, around Andalucia, Spain on an 8-day endurance ride! The Raven hopes to return next year and ride in it.

The last day was a fun one... here the Raven is looking after Steph's saddle.

There was a great party in the hotel afterwards - tapas and more tapas for snacks, beer, wine, and champagne for drinks.

Everybody wanted to hang with the Raven (gotta watch that Paul and Madonna ).

The party went on into the wee hours of the morning in the flamenco disco, where Jose Soto sang a few songs with the band - fabulous!

The Raven had a wonderful time... and now it's time to sleep for a week or two!

Al-Andalus Day 6: In Concert - to Antequera

Thursday April 3 2008

After another day of photographing riders and horses on the Al-Andalus trail, there was a big fancy dinner party for everybody in the evening.

The Raven dressed up and attended, posing for pictures and joining everybody for dinner.

A divine duck was served... yes, the Raven eats ducks if they are put in front of him.

He tried to eat Steph's dessert, but she was unwilling to share.

Al-Andalus Day 3: Montenmedio

Monday March 31 2008

The Raven's been working hard taking photos (and frolicking in yellow fields of Andalucian flowers) during Al-Andalus and he's not getting enough sleep. He had a little too much wine after today's 60-km ride to Montenmedio, and passed out in the sun while taking photos of the horses vetting in.