Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lisa's Belly Dancing Birthday Party

For Lisa's birthday this year (and last year), she wanted to belly dance. So our lunch group shook our booty to the direction of Lisa's belly dance instructor. There were so many of us, we spilled out my French doors and into the garden.

And of course we dined splendidly on potluck and wine. I tested my culinary skills with barbecued chicken wings and a Waldorf salad. Dessert was chocolate queque from Robin's.

How I Passed Riteve

Every year in July I have to get my car inspected. Although it's hard to believe, because of all the exhaust fumes from cars, trucks and buses, Costa Rica has strict emission controls and other standards for every vehicle on the road.

In the past, I gave my car to a mechanic to fix anything that Riteve might fail me on, and to bring my car to Riteve. This year I decided to bring the car there myself and save a little money.

Friends told me that my chances of passing Riteve would increase if I looked sexy. So I put on my push-up bra and a low-cut top.

It worked! Although there were several warnings on the report, my car passed inspection.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Barcelona - the last city on my Spain tour

On May 18, I arrived at the train station in Barcelona, excited to meet up with Jasmine and for us to explore this awesome city. Also arriving this day was a sore throat that would develop into a cold. But I couldn't let that stop me.

Our first night in the city was low-key. We walked around the neighborhood of our hotel, and found a great little restaurant called Lia, where we had pear salads and homemade toasted beer.

On our first full day in the city, we walked all over. To our mutual delight, we found that we were very compatible. We both liked to amble and take in the sights, and we both loved to window shop, especially for jewelry! The stores exploded with colorful clothes and avant-garde styles.

The Picasso Museum was interesting. We saw his earlier work and how he transformed his style over the years. We wandered around the Passeig de Born area and found an outdoor cafe for lunch. We split a great sandwich and salad and basked in the sun.

We kept being portally challenged. I walked into a glass door, and Jasmine stumbled over a threshold. We shared laughs and created memories. At the Sant Jaume Square, I asked a man for directions (yes, those city maps were still confusing!) to La Boquería. He turned my map around, as my eyes followed his finger, I stepped on his foot. I looked down, mumbled sorry, and realized he had a prosthetic leg. He hadn't even felt my foot on his shoe. I thanked him for his help and started to walk away, when Jasmine noticed that he was collecting money and looking for a sponsor for his long-distance bicycle trip. He called himself "the lone paraolympico." We put some money in his hat, and he gave us each his card. He was a very nice, humble man.

We got distracted on our quest for La Boquería, and ended up having gelato on La Rambla, the main boulevard to see and be seen. While we were sitting, eating and taking in the sites, fans of two opposing soccer teams vying for the King's Cup that night were parading up and the down the street, singing, cheering, and waving flags and banners for their teams: Atletico de Madrid and Seville. The atmosphere was festive, and I took a few pictures. One was of a female fan, and just as I snapped her photo, a man came up behind her and made a face. She had no idea he was there.

That night we walked and walked, and to our surprise, we ended up at the harbor. Barcelona has done a beautiful job of building a modern mall and big boardwalk at the water's edge. There are hundreds or thousands of expensive boats docked there, and loads of seafood restaurants.

In the morning we stopped in at the Palau Guell, but there wasn't much to see. So we ambled along La Rambla. We found one kiosque that sold grea, colorful and cheap (2 Euros) earrings and bracelets, and we stocked up.

Then we found La Boquería and our senses exploded! What a colorful indoor market with so many food items! I bought trail mix, chocolate, and sausage. There was every food under the sun.

We walked north along La Rambla. We forced ourselves to see the cathedral, a main site. It was nothing special. We reached the Placa de Catalunya, the main square in the city. It was upscale, busy, bustling, and could have caused sensory overload, but not for me. I loved it! Further north on the Passeig de Gracia, we got to La Pedrera, an apartment building that Gaudi built. It was round and curvy, with chimneys on the roof that were shaped weirdly and used for ventilation.

Ron, my Spanish-class friend from Sarasota, had given me a recommendation for Mediterranean seafood at Port Vell, the harbor, so we walked down there. When I asked for El Rey de la Gamba (The Shrimp King) restaurant, I got three different answers. We walked all over, after we had just walked the length of the city, to find it. It was worth the walk, though. We shared a carafe of sangria, paella, and black rice (rice with squid ink, garlic, shrimp, clams and cuttlefish = marvelous!). It was more than we could eat, so we got it to go, and left it out for a local tom cat near our hotel. Buen provecho, Tom!

We returned to the beach, called La Barceloneta, the next day, by bus. We ate right on the beach, then I stayed there sipping tea and resting the cold in my head and a sore knee, while Jasmine walked the beach. I started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first of a trilogy by Stieg Larsson. Ooh, what a good and different book! I got to talking to some young adults on vacation from Switzerland. People-watching produced a naked older man covered in body paint, with his penis flopping around. It was a long one. I guess he wanted to show it off. Everyone he passed did a double-take. Sorry, I wasn't fast enough with my camera.

There was no time to rest after our afternoon out before we headed to Montjuic. We walked downhhill to the Metro, and took the funicular up to Montjuic, then a bus to the Magic Fountain. We waited with the growing crowd to watch a colored water fountain show set to music. It was great! The darker it became, the more we could see the colors reflected in the water. The last song they played, after classical, Spanish opera and Spanish popular music, was about Barcelona. It was very moving.

I met Ron and two of his pilot friends for breakfast the next morning while Jasmine stayed in the room and rested. It turned out that when Ron flies into Barcelona, he stays at a hotel only two blocks from me. At the restaurant, he introduced me to the heavenly tortilla española, an egg, potato and onion omelet. After breakfast, Ron walked me up the hill, past my hotel to Montjuic. I had no idea we were staying so close! We could see the diving boards used in the 1992 Summer Olympics from the front of my hotel!

During the day, Jasmine and I went to see the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral designed by Gaudi. I understood where the word "gaudy" came from. The details, taken by themselves, were admirable and based on nature, but put all together, they made a monstrous mess.

Next we took a taxi to Parc Guell, another Gaudi design that made me believe he had to have been on drugs. There were curvy walls and benches, but lovely views of the city.

Everywhere we went in Barcelona there were performance artists looking for a handout - human statues, musicians, singers. At Parc Guell, I sat next to a headless man. I put some coins in his bag and he got up to pose with me.

That night Jasmine and I met Ron and a friend of his from Barcelona, Mar, for a tapas run. We started at Bar del Pla with beer, fried artichokes, pan de tomate, little fried fish, and something with a fried egg, sausage and french fries. Mar was a delight. She educated us about Castilian and Catalunyan Spanish and the way of life in Barcelona. And she taught me how to flip open a Spanish fan.

At 11pm, we left and went to another hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We had more beer, sauteed mushrooms in oil and garlic, jamon ibérico that was smooth and sweet, more pan de tomate and a seafood salad picadillo. The food was delicious, and I was grateful to have been shown what to eat by a Barcelona native.

The time with Jasmine flew. Just before she left to fly back to Athens, I went to an ATM to make sure I would be able to withdraw enough Euros to last the next couple of days until I returned to Costa Rica. I ran into the same awful problem! I couldn't withdraw any money. I went to three different ATMs, all the with the same result. Thankfully Jasmine loaned me enough to tide me over, and when I got home, I sent her a check. I don't know what it is about trying to get Euros on a Sunday.

With Jasmine gone, I decided to spend a relaxing day at the beach. I put on my two-piece and rented a chair and umbrella. Although there were many topless women there, I decided not to risk sunburn on my delicate skin. It was warm enough to lie in the sun, but too cool to go in the water. It would have been a peaceful day at the beach, but vendors constantly walked through the crowd calling out, "Cerveza, agua, coca-cola, Fanta, cold beer, sexy beer, tattoos, pareos, vestidos, massage..." Finally one passed by with samosas (pastry filled with vegetables). It was very good.

At the beach, there was a group of about 15 people in their 20s and 30s who had brought props: a 50s orange molded plastic chair, a beautician's pole-mounted hairdryer also from theh 50s, wigs, hats, strap-on butterfly wings, an orange paper parasol, a 2'standing doll, a black tutu, a ukelele, and a few other things. For hours, they entertained themselves, and me, by posing in and around the chair and hair dryer, and taking pictures.

That night, I found a great little cafe in Plaza Real and had another wonderful meal: pan de tomate (addictive!), mussels and red peppers. Ooh! I had to go home to Costa Rica so I could stop eating wonderful food.

On my last full day in Barcelona, I took Mar's and Ron's recommendation to go to Montserrat, a sacred mountain where a black statue of Mary and Jesus was found in a cave. I took the hour-long train to get there, then a cable car up the mountain. The views from the mountain were spectacular. I sat in the cathedral and heard the boys choir. Then I took the train back to Barcelona, talking with two young women from Belgium along the way.

The next morning started at 4:10am, with a taxi at 5, and cappuchino and a granola bar at 6. I flew from Barcelona to Madrid, then from Madrid to Costa Rica.

All in all, it was a great trip, good to get away from my routine, and an appropriate way to celebrate my 60th.