Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dave Visits Barcelona

There are days when I look at my Facebook feed and enjoy all the languages. One of the benefits of having lived in so many places is having friends from all over the world, all over the world. On the up side, I'd like to think it means I could find a place to crash within a few hours of almost anywhere on the globe. On the down side, it can make it a bit tough to meet up with some of those friends on a Saturday night or, sometimes, to even just connect.

When it does happen though, it's extra special like when my good friend Dave from California came to Barcelona for a two-week visit:

Dave and I met about ten years ago at work. We hit it off almost immediately partly because we are both originally from Philadelphia and partly because...well, I can't remember. It just kind of happened, I guess. Whatever.

Every time we go back to San Diego, we stay with Dave. This past March, it was for about half the trip. He and his dog Miles are great hosts who live in a great house near the beach. Dave makes it easy as he likes to cook (and is really good at it) and share a good bottle of wine. Diana and I pushed and pushed until he finally committed to coming to Barcelona in the fall.

Waiting for our fish to be prepped over at La Boqueria:

Getting the chance to spend so much one-on-one time with Dave made me both happy and sad. Happy because it was super nice to be able to share my daily life with such a long-time good friend. We went to the Sagrada Familia one day,

which impacted Dave even more than I would have ever imagined.

There were the meals together like at the Colombian place and, my current favorite, tapas at El Xampanet:

We even went shopping together! In other words, boy-bonding at the highest level.

But, all that Dave time also made me sad because, after he left, it occurred to me how much harder it is to make good friends as you get older. Anyone who's over 30 might realize upon reflection that most, if not all, of our good friends are those we made when we were young. (I even came across an article theorizing as much.) Yes, the downside of being a bit nomadic is that some of your best friends might be half way around the world.

But, like I said, it makes getting together that much more special. Looking tough (with Gara) in Barceloneta:

Diana and I really enjoyed having Dave over. He's an easy guest and, best of all, we got to play Parcheesi almost every night! It something he introduced us to when we visited a few years ago and that we enjoy. And, like a good guest, he even let us win a few rounds. So nice.

A lovely afternoon in Sitges:

A couple of days before Dave arrived I found out that I needed to make a quick trip up to Dublin. I was bummed to say the least. After Dave flew almost half way around the world, I would need to be gone for a chunk of time. But a day later I got a crazy idea and sent him a message. Would you be up to going with me? The hotel's paid for and you'd only need to buy a ticket.

Guess where this flight with these two crazies was headed!

Side note: I'd forgotten until writing this that Dave and my first week working together was spent up north of San Francisco on new manufacturing operation I was developing. I remember it ended up being a really fun adventure.

Anyway, Dave got to check out a wee bit of Ireland while I was working and says he had a great time. Unfortunately we didn't get to hang out too much but it was still great to have him along. Oh, and if you find yourself on a Ryanair flight and there's an emergency, make sure to remove your shoes, earrings, glasses, and dentures when evacuating.

I once heard a saying about aging that goes "the days are long but the years are short". I can't believe how fast time flies especially those two weeks Dave was here. Whoosh! Like the wind.

Here's to good friends, whatever language they speak and wherever they happen to be!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Caretaker - Memories In A Bottle

I lived in California for a bit less than twenty years and, since leaving for a "six-month trip" almost six years ago, I've only been back a handful of times. Of course, I have a ton of great memories. During the last trip in March, Diana and I went with Gail and Chuck to visit Gail's long-time friend Trish and her husband, Randy.

Randy's quite the wine connoisseur and was nice enough to lead us through some of his collection. It's not often I've sat down with an expert to talk about and try various wines. One of the things that gave me a charge was how Randy (and Trish) often combine travel with his (their?) love of wine, be it in California, Europe, or some other place. We all talked about some of our favorites and why and I mentioned that one of mine when I lived in San Diego was Caretaker, which comes from Trader Joe's.

Caretaker's a Pinot Noir from California's central coast, which is the area between Los Angeles and San Francisco. From what I understand, it's made for Trader Joe's from multiple growers' grapes. For me, it's a pretty good, easy-to-drink wine.

I found it by "starting at the bottom", which I've used in both Germany and Spain with good results. Since I already know that price is, for the most part, what someone else thinks something's worth (read: "somewhat arbitrary"), I do a little basic research about local wines then start with the lowest-priced bottle for each grape/type I want to try and begin working my way "up" until I find something I really like. From there, I try a bunch of each of that type of grape/wine until I find a favorite. At that point, I have an intersection of price and (one) wine type from which I'll maybe try something like 50% more expensive - just to see if there's a difference worth the premium. I can then repeat this for each type of wine someone recommends and/or I want to try.

Now, granted, I have to work my way through some crappy wines but I learn a lot about what's grown locally and at low cost. (Don't worry, if the wine's really crap, it gets tossed out.) This is the way I found Spatebergunder while in Germany, Granatxa in Spain, and Caretaker Pinot Noir in California. And, as people who are into wine already know, they have commonalities.

During our visit that evening, someone asked me if I had Caretaker recently and if I still liked it as much now that I've tried so many others. I hadn't but, as you can see, the local Trader Joe's had it in stock so I picked up a bottle to take back to Barcelona.

Vladimir was over one afternoon and we decided to open the bottle to see what we all thought. As I transferred it to the decanter, I immediately had memories pour into my head. The smell alone reminded me of so many good times in California. Sort of like hearing an old song, truly amazing. And surprising. I also remembered that Randy said something similar; about how different wines triggered different memories for him.

So, what's the verdict?

Over the past few years, I've found wines I'm not a fan of and others I've enjoyed a bunch. There are certain characteristics I like more than others. Mostly, I've enjoyed the process and experience. The taste? Yeah, I was a bit surprised, it's still one of my favorites. But, in terms of memories-per-bottle, Caretaker wins hands down!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Saint Augustine Florida

I'm not sure if it's a window into my soul but, for me, life is a series of paths crossing, choices, luck (good and bad), and experiences. Part of my life goal, to learn something new every day, is trying to get to know as many people, places, and cultures as possible and to try to never say no to an opportunity.

Sometimes all of those things happen at the same time in the same place and the results are pretty amazing. For example, you randomly cross paths with a new person (or maybe happen upon a new place, etc.) and getting to know that person changes you and/or makes you learn something new about yourself. These chance encounters are the chips in the chocolate chip cookies of life. Yummy delicious!

On our last full day in Florida, Diana and I, on the recommendation of her friend, drove up to Saint Augustine, which is a small coastal town about two hours or so north of Orlando:

In a sort of life's random-paths-crossing, we were surprised to see the whole town decked out with Spanish flags and red-and-yellow banners. Look again at that photo above. We knew before going that it was founded by the Spanish in the 1500s but, wow, they seem to be a bit Spain addicted or something.

Well, it turns out that Saint Augustine played a major role in the Americas for Spain for hundreds of years. Oh yeah, and the king and queen of Spain happened to visit on the same day we were there. Small details...

Oops. Little did we know when we set out that the whole city was celebrating 500 years since its founding with a big party, which the king and queen would attend. Had we arrived like 20 minutes earlier, we would have seen them on the balcony below. Argh, no wonder there was so much traffic getting into town!

Talk about coincidences. It'd be like you live in the United States and you come to Barcelona randomly one day and the president's there. It made for good photos around town with all the bright colors, cool flags, and all.

A fairly empty, non-peak-season look down Saint George (Sant Jordi, en Catala) Street, which is the main tourist shopping district:

Saint Augustine reminded me, for some reason, of Cape May, New Jersey, which is near Wildwood. Well, and I guess, in a way, La Jolla too. There are lots of cool old buildings, the beach is right there, and it's a lovely place to spend the day.

After some time trying unsuccessfully to meet up with the king and queen and then eating a fabulous southern-style lunch, we walked over to the San Marcos fort. Just two weeks earlier(!!!), we were at the beach in Porto, Portugal, sticking our feet in the other side of the Atlantic!

Yes, (we're aware) life's pretty good for this world-traveling duo! But, after all, that's a part of the goal, right? At least for me it is.  How to learn and squeeze in as much life as possible into our precious-few trips around the sun?

Thanks to everyone who I've met along the route. Yes, the places are great. The food and wine are good too. But, really, at the end of the day, it's the people who make it. Thanks sharing the ride!