Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And now, the conclusion

Back when I was a youngster and my family would watch Star Trek: TNG every night, it was always tough at the end of the season when they would do the cliffhanger episode that ended the season with "To Be Continued". Then when the next season started, they would start the first episode with "And now, the conclusion". Unless it was one of those three part episodes, in which case they'd say "And now, the continuation." And you'd be like, damn, I had to wait all this time for the end of the cliffhanger, and it's still not going to be over after all that?!? Well don't you worry, there will be no continuation here, only conclusions.

Apparently, from the last post, I indicated that we spent night 9 in "some nice hotel along the way to Barcelona". My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I think that puts us at June 18, the day we were supposed to arrive in Barcelona. And what an ARRIVAL it was!!! But before we get to that, there was some climb in very southern France that we considered doing before deciding we were all tired and it'd be best to go straight to Barcelona. So just keep that tidbit in the back of your mind as you read about.... THE ARRIVAL IN BARCELONA!!

Here's the setup: I'm in the passenger seat of the minivan with Jay driving and the bikes in back. We're leading the way, since I have the maps and the GPS unit. I repeat, I have the GPS unit, so we're navigating. Meanwhile, Nelson is driving the BMW SUV behind us, with Jayme, Tiff, and Mary all riding with him and the rest of our luggage. Did I mention that I had a GPS?

So the GPS tells us how to get to the hotel we're looking for: Arc de la Rambla, in the heart of oldtown Barcelona. Sounds quaint and quiet, don't it? Ho ho ho.... Anyway, we're heading Southeast on C-16/E-9 and everything is going fine. Then all of a sudden we cross B-20, we're about 4 miles from our destination, and the population density quintuples and quintuples again in a matter of a minute. I'm staring at the GPS trying to figure out which street we should be turning on, but there's a new street every 50 meters, and it's really frickin' hard. Somehow we ended up on Avinguda Diagonal (thank you google maps, where the hell were you when we were driving!) and that's when the shit really hit the fan.

The GPS is telling us to turn right on Carrer de Balmes, but the right lane (on a huge, busy street teeming with every conceivable mode of transportation) is advertised as for taxis and busses only. But, we're stupid Americans, so we ignore all the signs and barge right into the lane, preparing to make a right turn. But we get stuck at the light, right before we turn. And then some dude on his bycicle comes up to our car and is like "No puedes something something en la calle a la derecha!! I know enough to know that means "You can't something something to the street on the right", and being the next Sherlock Holmes, I put two and two together and figure he means, don't turn right here, idiots. So we decide to skip the right turn, but tremendous traffic (did I mention it was rush hour!!!!) made it impossible for us to merge to the left. Meanwhile, Nelson was unable or unwilling to merge into the taxi/bus lane, so he had to speed ahead of us (that's right, ahead of the car that was navigating!) when the light turned green. Like I said, we couldn't merge, so eventually we decided to just go for it in the taxi/bus lane, traffic laws be damned.

Things were totally hysterical at this point. We couldn't even see Nelson's car anymore, and to make matters worse, another, almost identical BMW SUV showed up a little bit behind them, confusing us even more. We stayed in the taxi/bus lane for probably a mile, with the GPS continually screaming at us to make a right turn, then recalculating the route when we missed it. At one point, it told us to make a U-turn to the right, directly in the face of oncoming traffic. Whee! I don't even remember when we finally managed to turn right, nor do I remember how we caught up and passed Nelson's car (that was a real miracle), but somehow we made it and didn't hit/kill anyone/anything.

And that's only the first half of our ARRIVAL story. Now for part two.

So we arrive at L'Arc de la Rambla hotel, and it's nice and fine and everything. But we reserved two hotels online, one a bit cheaper than the other but is within walking distance (only 0.5 km). We figured it was cheaper because it didn't have internet access. HAHAHA. Excuse me, forget that for the moment. Anyway, after checking at L'Arc, we walked over to the second hotel, Hotel Barbara. It was a nice walk through old alleyways in a diverse neighborhood, although we kind of noticed a slight change in the apparent economic status. And then we saw the hotel sign. And then we saw a bunch of scantily clad women standing on street corners (more than a few of whom looked more like men, if you catch my drift). And then we realized why it was cheaper. We probably could have gotten an even cheaper rate if we asked for the "half-hour" pricing. It was really quite funny, although if we had done the bike ride earlier, we wouldn't have arrived until after sunset, and then it would have been much much less funny.

So we high-tailed it back to the original hotel and hoped that they would have two rooms available. Thankfully for us, we did. It ended up being good, because both Nelson and I (as well as Jay) needed to use the internet. And that was our introduction to Barcelona. Our ARRIVAL, if you will.

The next day we spent walking around Barcelona, checking out the beach (Tiff and Nelson went in for a swim), then this huge cathedral that's been under construction for hundreds of years and isn't scheduled for completion until another 20-30 years or so. That amounted to about six miles of walking, so everyone but me and Tiff took the metro back to the hotel, while we walked. It took about an hour (another three miles) to get to our hotel, but it was a nice walk. The area of town we were in was really nice, so long as you didn't go too far to the west (i.e. near Hotel Barbara!).

I had a plane to catch at 8:30am at the Barcelona airport, so naturally we went to bed early and... er, wait, no, we didn't go to bed early. After we ate dinner, me, Tiff, and Jayme and Nelson walked down to the beach for a little night swimming. It was a log of fun and there were far fewer people. Plus the moon was out, so it was really cool. Oh yeah, and they groomed the sand (wtf!!) for some bizarro reason.

After packing everything up, I didn't get to bed until 3am or so, and then had to wake up at 6am to catch my taxi to the airport. Things in the Barcelona airport went fairly smoothly, except when I walked up to the check-in counter and confidently said "Buenos dias!", and then the women responded and said something in Spanish I couldn't understand (oops). But other than that, everything seemed fine, at the time (queue ominous music).

After a two hour flight to Dusseldorf (yes, Dusseldorf), Germany, I arrived in a land where I really didn't know the language or anyone at all. But, thankfully, many Germans speak English (the reverse is not true, sadly -- stupid Americans). I had about 1.5 hours to get checked in for my flight to LAX. At first, I almost walked straight out of the airport, but suddenly saw a path on the ground for "Connecting flights", which I followed after talking to someone about where to go to reach my connecting flight. But I had a funny feeling about my checked bag, so I asked a woman behind a ticket desk at the Air Berlin counter what the deal would be. After looking at my baggage claim ticket, she realized that my bag was going to stop in Dusseldorf, since I didn't show the woman in Barcelona the documents saying I was ultimately ending up in LAX.

I still had an hour at this point, so I wasn't too worried. She told me to contact lost and found and ask them for help. Trouble was, I didn't know how to contact lost and found. The woman I asked gave me directions, but I assumed I was to look for a lost and found office, instead of a little buzzer and intercom to get their attention. So I set off for a fun trip around the Dusseldorf airport that had me leave the airport building at one point, go up floors, then down floors, and basically all over the place to the extent that I really started panicking. I finally found it with about a half hour to check in, and the people were really nice and explained they were wondering whose bag it was, since no one picked it up off the mat. Then I hustled over to the check-in counter, almost left my passport at a counter in front of the check-in counter (but fortunately I still had to present it for check-in, so I never went far away from it). Finally I arrived at the gate and bought a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels to celebrate surviving Dusseldorf.

The flight to LAX was cool because I sat next to this 14 year old kid that grew up in England, the Philippines, Thailand, and finally Los Angeles since a year ago. And he was fluent in German. Pretty cool. We had a good time making fun of each other for most of the trip and it made it seem a lot shorter than 11 hours.

And that's it for Europe (for me anyway -- Tiff and her family are still in Europe doing a bit more biking in France)!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Updates from the Europe trip, now that I'm in the USA again

Time for an offline blog entry! It's 9am on the morning of the 18th of June. I'm sitting in a hotel room in Southern France somewhere, and we have to make it to Barcelona tonight, so we have about 3-4 hours of driving to do today, but probably (although who knows with this crowd!) no biking.

My last entry was quite awhile ago. Let's see... Was it the first hotel we stayed at in France? The one in St. Jean de Luz?

Day/Night 1: British Airways (June 9)

Day 2: Phantom of the Opera

Night 2: Sofitel at Gatwick airport in London

Day 2: Arriving in Bordeaux, getting the bikes, driving to St. Jean de Luz, avoiding striking truckers, and biking 38 miles to St. Jean Pierre de Pied or something like that

Night 3: St. Pied or whatever

Day 4: Jay and Tiff bike to Oloron (50 miles!), while the rest of us drive there to find a hotel and a bike shop

Night4: Oloron

Day 5: First climb (Col du Marie Blanc)

Night 5: Can't remember where we stayed (need a map!!)

Day 6: 7 hour hike straight uphill; trail went through a tunnel filled with water that was thankfully closed; ate at a bowling alley

Night 6: same as last night

Day 7: Second climb (col du Tourmalet); wet and cold at the top, but a great little restaurant with some awesome french onion soup

Night 7: stayed at a little hotel on the way to the next spot and had amazing food from a little magician (Father's Day)

Day 8: Off day from the bikes, we decide to head south into Spain in hopes of better weather, but it's actually worse through the tunnel; we go for a one hour walk along a road in a beautiful canyon; I say "Donde estamos?" to some dude working at a gas station

Night 8: Stay at a 3-star hotel back in France with wireless internet and talk to Jeffra with Tiff, Jayme, and Nelson on the webcam

Day 9: Third climb (Col de Mente plus another one before it); Tiff and Jay say it's the toughest one, but I thought the toughest was the first one; my legs feel like lead after doing it!

Night 9: some nice hotel along the way to Barcelona

Day 10: end of this blog post, but not getting you all the way up to date. More later!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Still in Oloron

Tiff is currently sleeping (which she darn well should, since she biked over 50 miles yesterday and almost 40 the day before that!), but I haven't been able to, so I got up a bit early to write a blog post. I just uploaded some pictures from London. The Phantom of the Opera was great, even though we were all really tired since most of us didn't sleep very well on the flight over the Atlantic. After the show was over, we hiked about two miles or so (with all of our luggage, since we didn't have time to get to our hotel before the play started), until we got to the train that took us to the hotel at the Gatwick airport. We got to bed around midnight or something, then had to wake up at 6:30am to catch our 7:55am flight to Bordeaux, France.

In Bordeaux, we spent a couple hours trying to find the DHL place and unpack our bikes, then we drove for another couple hours to St. Jean de Luz, where we started our crazy bike race. It was a 38 mile trek that was mostly flat, but my bike and Tiffany's both were not in good shape, since it had been a long time since we cleaned them and they got jostled around a bit from shipping. So we arrived in St. Jean Pierre de Piet, or something like that, after about 2:30 of travel time. We met up with Mary, Jayme, and Nelson at the hotel, where the people were very nice and let us keep our bikes in the basement. We made it just in time for our dinner at 8pm (although fairly exhausted).

After the quite nice dinner (I had duck and probably the best roasted potatoes I've ever had), Tiff, Jayme, Nelson, and I went for a walk in the town, up to a creepy fort where there were ghosts, goblins, and other such things. It was also pouring rain, so we got soaked. But definitely worth it. Then we headed back to the hotel around midnight, and woke up at 11am the next morning. Neither Tiff nor I were quite ready to wake up, but that's the way it goes! We spent a few hours eating breakfast, looking at the maps, and trying to fix my bike, but ultimately I decided I shouldn't ride it the way it was. So I got in the car with Nelson, and Jayme and Mary got in the other car and we drove to Oloron. Tiff and Jay got on their bikes and also took off in that direction. Fortunately, once we got to Oloron (a 50 mile trip), we found a bike shop and a hotel to stay at fairly quickly. Also, the bike shop mechanic was an incredibly nice guy who did a really good job fixing up my bike. Sadly, the main hotel person was a jerk who didn't like us very much, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I think we've got another fairly long ride today, but hopefully not too long, because my legs aren't that strong and Tiff's knee is acting up. Also, there's an enormous smell of chocolate pervading this town that we should really try to find, but don't know if we'll have time.

That's pretty much everything so far. I'll check back in later, hopefully. (See the pictures!)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Checking in from Oloron-Ste-Marie

Here we are in our hotel where I just got internet access for my laptop. We also just got Mary's phone working. I biked for one day, Tiff and Jay for two days. It's been full, although there hasn't exactly been much of a break yet.

Adios for now.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Almost en route

I'm hanging out in the Denver airport with Tiff and her parents. I'm eating a pretty good sandwich I made at Mary's house right now. It had turkey meat, tomato basil bread, provolone cheese, and cherry tomatoes cut in half. That last bit about the tomatoes is actually kind of important, because one of them had a will to be free, and went flying from my lap, deflected off my right pant lag, and landed face up on the ground. The seeds and juice decided they were happy on my pants, though, and declined they continuing trip down to ground level. I tried to pick the seeds off, but the juice wasn't going anywhere. Thankfully, Mary had her Tide To Go (TM) and we got rid of most of the juice. Hopefully Her Majesty's Theatre will accept my slightly red pants.

Speaking of the theatre, we'll be leaving from DIA at 8:15pm and arriving the next day at 12:15pm London time. Then we have a bit less than seven hours to get to Her Majesty's Theatre to watch a showing of Phantom of the Opera. It should be a good show, but the people behind me may have a hard time seeing around my backpacking backpack, since there won't be time for us to get to the hotel and then get back to the theatre. Should be interesting!!

Once we arrive at the hotel after the show, we have to wake up early for a 7:45am (or 8:45am, too early whichever it is, according to Mary who's currently sitting across from me in the airport) flight to Bordeaux, France. Then we pick up the bikes and go for 38 miles uphill all the way. In the rain, most likely. Should be very interesting!!!!

Ta ta for now. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up the posting throughout the trip.