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Monday, April 21, 2014

Snowboarding In The Pyrenees

This trip was overdue. Like maybe six years overdue.

See, when I lived in California, I went snowboarding a lot. Starting waaay back in the winter of 1992-1993, sometimes I'd go a couple of days per week and, one year, I went somewhere around 70 days, which is pretty amazing if you consider that I was living near the beach at the time.

In many ways, southern California and Catalunya are similar. Both have good weather (although San Diego wins that contest hands down). Both are located along beaches and both have mountains with snow just a couple of hours away. Surprisingly, I haven't gone even once in the entire time I've lived in Barcelona or in Germany. Well, after an almost-six-year (!!!) absence, I'm back in the snow, this time in the Pyrenees:


I think part of the reason I haven't gone is that, although Diana likes skiing (I know, she's not snowboarding...yet), it's not the must-do activity that it used to be for me. Plus, it just wasn't enough of a priority, believe it or not, and the chance to go never "just happened". I can't believe I just wrote that. How wrong! Well, thanks to our friends Juan and Carol who have a house in the Cerdanya, the chance finally "came up" to go for a bit of late-season snow play.

Diana tearing it up:


Since it was a fairly long time, I didn't know what to expect of my maybe-forgotten ability. But, within about 10 seconds of strapping in, I was off and full of smiles!


I was extra impressed at the size of the "local" mountain, Masella. Local mountains in southern California tend to be fairly small but plenty entertaining. I really don't need a huge or particularly steep mountain but a big, spread-out mountain is definitely more fun. People in Barcelona kinda' turn their noses up at the local mountains much like their California counterparts. But I didn't have any problem at all and, like I said, the mountain was plenty big enough for me. Look at the size of this bowl (and that's France on the other side of the valley - cool, huh?):


But surely this "smallish local resort" must be packed with people, right? Hmm...not at all. I don't think I waited more than maybe eight minutes for any lift all day, and, owing that the Spanish can't resist eating a big-ole' lunch in the afternoon, the place was empty from about 1:30 p.m. until we wrapped it up for the day. Look at this ~2:00 p.m. lift line (or lack of):


Because I could, I decided to shoot a quick video, camera in hand, going down one of the slopes. The flying tomato, I'm not, but still a fun day!


I was also impressed with my relatively-beat-up rental equipment. The boots were decent and the board, although well-used, also was okay. As I've already brought all my snowboard clothes over from the U.S., I definitely need to bring the snowboards I still have. After all, they're all ones I made myself while working in the industry a bunch of years ago. So, I'll be that guy out on ancient equipment next time you see me out there! Ha!

And, of course, before I forget, the required selfie showing the Cerdanya valley down below and France (and maybe some of Andorra but I'm not sure) beyond:


Completely random but we stopped on the way home in Cercs, which is a town where you can visit an old coal mine. The tour begins with a hard-hats-required train ride into one of the tunnels:


The train, which is powered with fantastic-smelling diesel fuel, travels about five minutes - maybe a half mile into the tunnel:


The guide then leads the group back out of the mine on foot. Along the way they show you the glamorous life of a miner. Note this happy guy working away in a room held up by giant car jacks. Looks fun!


The tour reinforced my decision not to enter the mining field. Probably the best part, though, was the Village-People-like photos we got:


Snowboarding and coal mining! A combo made in heaven! And I waited almost six years for this experience! Don't worry, I'm already considering buying a season pass for next year. Hell, they're a relatively cheap 140 euros and it might make me go a bunch. Wanna' join me? I'll even stop by the mine on the way back if you'd like.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hospital Sant Pau

No, dad, I'm not IN the hospital. Everything's okay. I'm AT the hospital.

Growing up, I had my fair share of hospital visits. My parents lived in fear pretty much my entire teenage years anytime I was out on my bike, skateboarding, or just hanging "down the park".

I can remember two times I came home after falling off my bike looking a bit like something from the zombie apocalypse - once while jumping (bikes) in the park and the other while riding home on "the boulevard". Both involved trips to the local emergency room in Philadelphia to get pieces of not-me taken out and what remained sewn back together. So often, my mom, on one occasion, said to my dad it was his turn.

They used to tell people I had a wing of the hospital named for me. I'm not sure but chances are slim I'll ever have a hospital, or even just a wing named for me...but if I did, maybe it'd be nice if it were at the newly renovated Hospital Sant Pau here in Barcelona:


The Hospital Sant Pau is a series of modernist-style buildings located about three blocks or so from the Sagrada Familia. Designed by local should-be-more-famous-than-he-is architect Domenech i Montaner, construction started around 1900 when the city was in one of its boom times.

They've recently open their doors for free public tours after an extensive renovation. Diana and I rushed over to check it out especially after hearing they'll soon charge something like 15 euros ($20 U.S.) to get in!

A close-up photo to give you an idea of just how ornate these buildings are - this is just the front gate. Makes me want to get my face sewn up here!


The daily hospital's activities moved to a new nearby facility (nope, haven't been there...yet) a few years ago and they decided to renovate the now UNESCO-listed buildings. As with much of the modernist architecture in this area of Spain, such as those by Gaudi and his contemporaries, the level of detail and the variety of materials used is impressive. Check out this hallway:


The buildings have been re-purposed over the last couple of years into meeting and office space for various organizations including a part of the World Health Organization. They've done a great job renovating and adding in modern facilities without ruining the original spaces.

An example of some new offices inside one of the updated buildings:


The building below is in a cleaned-up, but-as-yet-unrestored building very similar to the one above. If you look towards the back of the room, there's a black-and-white photo that shows the hospital back in the day complete with some patients sitting on hospital beds.


A restored theater:


...and two-story hall:


Getting to visit the hospital while not having blood exiting my body was quite the pleasant experience. I think I'll try to do it again someday. I know it'd probably make my parents happy. Or relieved. Or both.

One final view of the central, straight-outta-ComptonDisney hospital courtyard:



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Calçotada 2014

Every country in the world has its own traditions. Some involve keeping things very clean. Some related to fertility and egg worship. Some even involve giant bedding and drums! But my favorites are always those centered around food. How about a pointy-cabbage festival? Or maybe a wine-drinking one? Well, guess what, Barcelona and Catalunya are no slouches when it comes food-related traditions.

Right around the beginning of March every year, people all over Catalunya can be seen carrying bags full of what appear to be giant screen scallions. These onions are called calçots and they're generally cooked and eaten at barbecues called Calçotadas, which I've written about before. As luck would have it, Vladimir decided to invite the "familia Latina" (our group of friends - lots of whom are Latinos) to his apartment to do our very own caçotada!

Me and Marcos, who's not a Latino, washing the soil off the calçots (by the way, that funny letter-c-looking thing is pronounced like an "s"):


Marcos and Vladimir manning...and I mean MANNING...the grills:


At a traditional Calçotada, onions aren't the only thing served up. There's usually some regional sausages and other meat grilled as well. Marcos is our resident meat expert, and apparently grilling pro, so he did lots of the honors while David helped out by keeping the fires burning hot:


I've mentioned it in past stories but I don't like onions. For some reason, calçots are different. Maybe it's the tradition. Maybe it's the fun of being around friends. Or, maybe it's that mysterious, but delicious, Romescu sauce (the red sauce in the yellow bowl below) the calçots are coated with. Either way, calçots are always delicious and the parties are usually even better:


Yummy! Big onions dipped in sauce! What could be better? Leiris and Vladi doing it right:


Thanks to Vladimir for hosting us again and to the familia Latina for making it such a fun time. I'm already looking forward to next year's version!