Wednesday, August 21, 2013


In Madrid we didn't do as much as we could have. For instance, we could have seen the royal palace, but we weren't terribly interested in seeing some old furniture with gold flake so we didn't. The big thing we did do is go to MoMa to see some Picasso and Dali paintings. I can't say I was very moved by Dali and even Picasso isn't my cup of tea, but standing in front of Guernica and thinking about what the painting represented and its impact on the world was something special. unfortunately pictures were not allowed, but we did get a few other good pictures. 
From Madrid Aya was going back to Japan then on to Cyprus so we said goodbye the next day and I was a one armed man again. In the afternoon I boarded a train to Algeciras where I would eventually make my way to Tangers in Morroco.

Monday, August 19, 2013


In Granada Aya and I enjoyed evenings of tapas and sangria then watched flamenco dancing in the square. This was very enjoyable, but of course the big attraction in Granada is Alhambra, the Moorish palace built/occupied from approximately 700 to 1491 when the last ruler signed it over to Isabella and Ferdinand.
When we went it was evening and there didn’t seem to be a large amount of people there. We were advised to get tickets beforehand which we did, but people that queued up to buy tickets got in just as quickly as we did. The sprawling grounds have a good number of gardens and beautiful views as well as some of the most ornate architecture I have seen. I could get used to living in a place like that.

The next day we were to take a train to Madrid so we thought we had better do one more night of bouncing from bar to bar for tapas and drinks. We each had a couple more drinks and felt like we had a full night so went home. Aya wanted to use the computer in the business center so I went up to the room alone. About ½ an hour later there was a frantic knock at the door and Aya brushed past me when I opened the door. More or less we determined that Aya’s threshold is about 1 drink and anything more might be trouble. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Basilica La Sagrada Familia

First order of business in Barcelona was to visit the Basilica Sagrada Familia, also known as that awesome church that Gaudi built (disclaimer, he didn't actually build it but designed it). Unfortunately the architect Antonio Gaudi, whose wonderful architecture is all over Barcelona, died when hit by a tram. This was well before the basilic was finished, since it still isn't finished and Gaudi was unlikely to live to be 174 to see its completion in 2026 anyways. Work has carried on and continues to, some of which can be seen in the lower levels of the Basilica where there is also located a museum to the history of construction. The designs within the building are mad by today's eye and I am sure they looked like craziness 100 years ago as well. It seems like much of the designs were brand new and people weren't even sure they would work, but they have.

I joined the 2.5 million people who visit this UNESCO world site each year and by that I mean that I started by standing in line for 1 hour in the Spanish sun because I hadn't reserved tickets in advance. The line curved around the front of the building and down the block threatening to reach right round to continue on to the next block. Many people saw the line and turned around. Babies cried and women fanned themselves with cheap Chinese fans bought from Chinese street hawkers taking advantage of the line (the Chinese are everywhere, seriously everywhere). Eventually we got in.

Amazing. I don't know how else to describe it as its not really like anything I have seen before. For some reason I felt like it had been built by lizard people. Columns rocketed to the ceiling in a curvy fashion, stain glass colored the faces of passersby in green, blue, orange, and gold. The depiction of Christ, hanging and yet covered by some kind of canopy was strange. It made me think that there was Christ, under the big top, and this was all some circus. We didn't stay too long as we had little time in Barcelona and wanted to see other things, plus were a bit tired from standing in line so long but this set a nice tone for the rest of our sight seeing in Barcelona.  

100 Flights

A couple of years ago a friend had commented to me that his wife had just taken her 100th flight and I joked if she wrote them down in a book or something each time she flew. He had said that they had a flight delayed and so to pass the time started to count the flights realizing that she was about to make her 100th.

I can't say for sure that Basel to Barcelona was my 100th, but I think so. Flying 100 times doesn't feel like a lot, but I guess it is. When I first started flying I was nervous each time, especially when taking off. I still get a bit nervous during take-offs, but more so during landings now as I know that about 2/3 of all crashes occur then. Not a happy thought, but learning more about air travel also has lead me to realize that commercial flying is incredibly safe: by most estimates I have somewhere between a 1 in 25 million and 1 in 50 million chance of being involved in an air crash depending on which airline I am taking. Compared with train travel flying is much safer though travel by train is pretty safe.  Its much safer even then driving and way more safe then walking or biking. It seems odd to think of walking as dangerous, but walkers and bikers are subject to being hit by cars, who kill them.
I guess it is the lack of control that most people fear. Is this pilot trained sufficiently? Likely so. We should really be asking that question each time we enter a vehicle.
In any case, I made it through 100 and I will likely make it through 100 more. Here we go, into the wild blue yonder! 

On Germany

I finally made it out of Penang for the summer. It was a relief from the heat, montony, and living alone. It felt great to watch Penang drift away in the clouds. After a long series of flights from Penang to KL, KL to Amsterdam, and finally Amsterdam to Basel I was greeted by my uncle, wife, and in laws. As my aunt and I would later find out, it was my 5th (I think) time to visit them. Since I had rested pretty well on the flight, and on the floor in Siphol in Amsterdam, I was able to spend the first evening up with them. Over the next few days my uncle drove around the 4 of us (mom in-law, dad-inlaw, aya, me) to various places and my aunt made delicious meals for us at all times of the day. It was very relaxing and they were great hosts. We had just enough time to visit Neuschwanstein, the reference for the castles at every Diseneyland, and to go to Interlaken (actually not, but a village close to there whose name I can't remember) for a nice view of the Alps and to see one of the coolest waterfalls which carved its way through the mountain from glacial run-off. We also spent some time in Bad Sackingen wandering around and the town and the Rhine R. On the last night we had my favorite meal and then my uncle, dad-in law, and me got excited looking at a book of maps. After 4 days my wife and in-laws were off and I stayed on for another two days spending time with the family before heading to Barcelona to meet up with Aya. I really enjoyed my stay and can't wait to see them all again, whether in Germany or somewhere else (come to Japan Nielecks! I will meet you there!)