A quick trip to Girona!

After our day trip to Montserrat we hoped in a rental car for a weekend away in the nearby medieval walled town of Girona. For some reason we didn’t have high expectations but boy were we ever mistaken! It’s a beautiful quaint little town that should be everyone’s list of places to visit when in Spain.

We were visiting at the start of winter so the streets were fairly empty. I can only imagine what it’s like in the summer!

We strolled around the town …

Walked along the wall edge …

… posed for some photos on said walls …

… walked on some bridges …

Those yellow ribbons are symbols of Catalan independence. This is a pretty staunchly separatist town! As seen by this massive Catalan flag …

… and more yellow independence ribbons, this time in the old town …

It’s really a beautiful town, Girona, with a meandering river going through the center of town. This picture doesn’t do the beauty justice – I blame the cloudy cold weather.

… and its filled with beautiful squares that must be packed in the summertime …

And some beautiful doors too!

The last season of Game of Thrones was filmed here too. These steps are where there was a famous scene where one of the leads rode a white horse up the steps!

We are definitely going back to Girona!

A Day Trip to a Monastery!

As we suspected we would be, we’ve been fairly negligent so far in our adventure here in exploring Spain. We’ve focused on European travel at the cost of not exploring our own back door. Well, last weekend we tried to rectify that. The girls had a 5 day long weekend (*love* Europe!) and they refused out-of-country travel and insisted on staying closer. Spoiled kids!

Our first day of travel we took the (local) train …

… to a famous monastery in the mountains just an hour or so from Barcelona.

It’s called Montserrat, and to be honest, I don’t know anything about it. It’s Catholic (duh) and there are still some clergy walking around, and there’s an opulent church …

What we had come for is the amazing setting. The monastery is perched on the side of a bare rock mountain-side.

We took a funicular train thing up the hill to get there, and it went super steep …

And then we took a hike out to a visit point under a cross …

Instead of taking the funicular down we took the Gondola. The sign says it was made almost 100 years ago! Safety third!

But it was an amazing view on the way down!

Then it was back to Barcelona to get ready for a weekend trip to Girona!

London for the MW ceremony

For the last 10 years I have dreamed of entering Vintners Hall in London and becoming a Master of Wine. Ten years. In times of doubt or anxiety I would envision myself walking up to the podium, in an effort to give me the motivation I needed to continue the journey.

Well, it finally happened. And it was the highest level of euphoria I have *ever* felt in my life. Walking in from the back of the room to thunderous applause was an absolutely incredible experience.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before all the MW ceremony stuff we had a bunch of other things to do! First thing was a little touristing of this fantastic city!

Emma found an old school telephone booth to horse around in …

And we went on a double decker hop-on hop-off bus tour, always a great way to see a city…

… and that included a boat ride on the Thames too …

London is really a beautiful city! As I see it, the only other city in the world that can compare with London is NYC.

Then it was time to get the celebrations started! We started with a dinner at 67 Pall Mall, but on the way Emma spotted the pop-up window display (actually Berry Bros & Rudd wine merchants) for the tailor shop in the movie, Kingsmen! Super fun!

Then it was on to the club for dinner with the family!

I need to mention how special this was for me to have my entire family there. My family from Barcelona, and my parents flew in from Toronto for this, and my brother flew up from Switzerland. If I hadn’t had all their love and support through this entire MW journey, I don’t think I would have made it through to the finish line. It was so special to have dinner with them all the night before the ceremony.

The next day it was all about the ceremony!

As the Brits would say, I got all “suited and booted” …

… and off to Vintners Hall!

Where the places were arranged and ready to go …

Including this one!

Before the festivities there was picture time, where all us new MWs had our picture taken with the current Chairman of the Institute, Jane Masters (yes that’s her real last name – Jane Masters, Master of Wine!) …

And we had opportunity for family portraits too! Again, I have to say how great it was to be able to have my family there for the ceremony.

And then the most important picture was set to be taken, the group shot of all the new MWs, though I couldn’t help but ham it up with a selfie before hand …

And here’s the real one!

And then it was on to the ceremony!

I actually don’t really remember walking on stage to get my MW. It’s all sort of a hazy blur, but I do remember feeling a sense of relief!

There was a fantastic after party at Vintners Hall, during which the Bollinger flowed and flowed!

With still more selfies, this one with my honey …

(I’ll save the pictures of the raucous after-after party for private viewing on request!)

The next morning was a little rough, to be sure. I needed a little (non-vinous) reinforcement while I stared longingly at the piece of paper I’ve been pursuing so hard all these years!

But that wasn’t the end of the celebrations! My brother took us all out to the famous River Cafe for lunch the next day! What a fantastic spot! I’d never eaten there before and it lived up to its lofty expectations!

Where he got the sneaky idea to make a shortcut to getting his MW …

And then it was off to the airport for the flight home to Barcelona, with framed MW under my arm!

With that ceremony the journey to the MW has come to an end. But now a new journey begins, one with me as an actual MW.  A journey where I can continue to learn, can add value to the world of wine, and can contribute to the Institute of Masters of Wine!

Cambridge visit before London for the MW ceremony

{Please excuse the lateness of this post – it happened 2 weeks ago! – but we’ve been super busy with the follow on and visitors! I’ll catch up soon, I promise!}

We spend a glorious 5 days in the UK last weekend. An amazing, packed, glorious 5 days.

We started with a couple days visiting our dear friends Tim and Jo in Cambridge. Tim and I go way back – we worked together at Sequus Pharmaceuticals when Melinda and I first moved to California. God, that was over 18 years ago! We have seen them intermittently on holidays over the years, once in the Lot et Garonne and another time in San Francisco & Carmel. They’re both the loveliest people, and have two beautiful girls, Esme and Phoebe.

We landed, got picked up by Tim and arrived to a gigantic feast at their house and Tim opened up some great wines: 2010 Les Hauts de Smith, 2006 Castelnau de Sufuiraut, and 1995 Warre’s Port! Thanks Tim!

The next day we toured around Cambridge, to check it out as tourists but also to show Alexis around the colleges, as she needs to apply for University next year! Yikes, how did that come up so fast!

Jo is an honest-to-goodness certified Cambridge tour guide – the training she took was extensive – a year long. We loved all the insights and history she gave us.

What a crazy beautiful “campus”! In quotes because the colleges of Cambridge University aren’t really it’s campus, rather they are the residences and social and well-being centers for the students. And boy are they beautiful …

The rule is you’re not allowed to walk on the grass. Unless you’re a “fellow” of the college. My dad is allowed to walk on the grass at Kings ….

I think Alexis is standing in front of King’s in this one …

And here’s a crazy old one, I forget the name. The room block on the left there is so old it doesn’t have indoor plumbing and they can’t retrofit it in! The students need to walk to another wing of the building to find toilets and sinks!

Oh, one more, just for the hell of it …

All that walking made me and Tim thirsty so when Melinda and Jo went off to hear some lovely choral music at Kings. Pictures we’re allowed inside, but here’s one of the line-up to get in!

… and Emma and Phoebe went off to explore town …

… Tim and I snuck off to the pub for a pint (or two!) …

But then Tim and Jo showed us the real surprise of the day – they had put on a fireworks show just for us visiting! (Not true, ob – it was Guy Fawkes day!)

Then we went for the classic English meal of Indian food! But the lovely new British Indian – aka fancy!

We sure don’t get much Indian in Barcelona, so this was sure a treat!

The next day we went down memory lane and I was able to visit the house I lived in when I was born!

And also the house we lived in when we were in Cambridge in 1978!

A fantastic, albeit too short, visit to see Tim and Jo and Esme and Phoebe, and to explore the town of my birth!

And then it was on to London for the MW ceremony! But that’s for a different post!

 

 

Berlin Day Four – Heading home. Sunday October 15th

Steps: 7,885

Four years ago in Paris on holiday, our most memorable meal was one on the banks of the Sienne. We got a baguette, some cheese and charcuterie, a bottle of wine (come on who am I lying to, it was two bottles) and laid out a blanket with the other Parisians and watch the boats go by. Top memory! Here’s a blast-from-the-past photo:

Oh, one more for old times sake!

We’ve made a commitment to making sure we do a picnic on every trip on our adventure in Barcelona. The nice thing is that it gets us to explore the markets of every city. Emma found a great market for us to load up on provisions…

So on the morning of our departure, we found a great little spot on the canal near our apartment and laid out a mid morning spread.

Please excuse my squinting! At least I wasn’t like the group of 20-somethings down the way who were clearly having a relaxing morning after having just left a nightclub. It was 10am and they were having one last drink in the morning sunlight before heading off to bed!

It was a beautiful morning, and a beautiful part of Kreuzberg…

Canal boats, swans, the works …

A great way to finish our trip in Berlin!

So what were our takeaways from Berlin?

1) Berlin is, well, Berlin! There’s no other place like it. Art (not just graffiti), great food, pretty cool fashion. I was really surprised at how great the food scene is in Berlin. We had only one dud meal out of 10+. And what’s not to love about having a fast currywurst and a pilsner standing at a counter!
2) There’s serious history here. And the Germans really own it, as Alexis would say. We can’t learn from the mistakes of our past if we don’t fully acknowledge it.
3) It is way more international than I thought it was. German was the first language for at most 50% of the people there. And the foreigners were not just tourists or part of the large Turkish population. Berlin’s got huge numbers of non-Germans living and working there.
4) I’m not sure I could live in Berlin. As we got out of the terminal in Barcelona, the warm Spanish sun hit my face (Berlin is cold!), I saw smiling Spaniards (Berliners didn’t strike me as the warmest and happiest), and felt at home. Ahh.

 

 

Berlin Day Three – the Wall! Saturday October 14th

Steps: 16,888

Come on, there’s some serious history in Berlin, right? You’ve got all the Nazi and war history, but when the word Berlin pops in your head, what do you envision. Yeah, the Wall. Built in 1961, it cordoned off West Berlin until 1989! For 28 years there were two walls, with a death strip in the middle, around the entire 40+ kilometer circumference of West Berlin.  Crazy! Places like Brandenburg Gate, once a bustling excise gate, didn’t have non-military people walking through it for 28 years!

So we had to check it out as much as we could. We signed up for a bike tour to take us around the highlights.

Alexis got to do a little spray painting again at one section …

Emma too …

We got the famous stretch of the wall at Bernauer Strasse…

… a site of many escape attempts and successes. And of tunnels under the death strip. Now it’s home to a Google incubator called the Factory …

Sigh. “Progress”.

But next door they did keep a stretch of the death strip intact as a memorial. Crazy to think that this snaked on for 40+km. For 28 years.

We saw one place where the S-Bahn was barricaded so that a train could not barrel through and escape to the West.

Oh, and we saw a Trabant rally! Hilarious! Stinky little lawn mower engine things!

Why am I adding this picture of satellite dishes to a Berlin Wall post?

This building was in the West, and right on the edge of the Wall, overlooking it really. When Germany had it’s big influx of Turks to the city, the Turks didn’t mind being next to the Wall. The rest of Berliners considered those dangerous areas, as the East Germans could start shooting at any moment. But the Turks had come from way worse situations so they jumped on these apartments! So why the satellite dishes? So they can get news (and prayers) from home!

Our guide had a great knowledge of the Wall, and he certainly had no problems discussing difficult topics. When one of the Israelis on the tour asked about the height of the wall he replied, “Nowhere near as tall as *your* wall.” Nice! Addressing the 500 pound gorilla in the room straight up.

At one point on the ride back, we were going through a park, and a youngish German woman walking her dog started having strong words in German with our guide (he’s a native Kenyan, by the way, that’s important to the story), and he started replying very loudly, in German, with the only words I could recognize being “Eva Braun”. After he had calmed down, I asked him about the altercation. Turns out the lady had yelled at him to get rid of us tourists, and then addressed him directly saying “get the fuck out of here too, you fucking monkey.” He replied by calling her Eva Braun. Yup, true story.

Berlin Observation #5: Racism is alive and well in Germany! But hey, they don’t have a lock on it – look at the USA! #MAGA!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin Day Two – Graffiti – Friday October 13th

Steps: 17,511

We had so much fun on our second day. We started with another great breakfast, this time at Bastard. Yumm. Then we rushed to our main event for the day, a street art and graffiti tour with Alternative Berlin!

It was great to learn from an actual graffiti and street art expert what the difference is between the two. It can be subtle. And it’s not as simple as illegal and legal. Here’s Declan giving us some lessons.

Some of this stuff is super dangerous to create.  And not just from a getting-caught perspective. This one below, created by the “cooperative” called The Berlin Kids, was created in less than 7 minutes. They had to break into the building and break onto the roof, then with spotters on the street looking for cops, one person rappelled down the side of this 10 story building spray painting as he went. And this building is practically next to one of the busiest U-Bahn stations in Kreuzberg!

You also start to recognize the same graffiti “artists” all over the city. The Berlin Kids were pretty prolific.

As were the 1UP gang, which stands for One United Power:

There were also places where legal blended with illegal on the same wall. On the wall below, the dead animals was a commissioned piece by ROA, who’s super famous. The 1UP gang did the “LOVE” using a technique called Heaven Spot, named due to the fact that the painting is done while dangling over the side of the building. Hence “heaven” as you’re risking death. This one was made with rollers, with another 1UP member holding onto the belt of the painter. The toilet bowl is another famous street artist, who’s work you can see all over the world.

Oh, and my San Francisco friends, here’s some of the work ROA has done in SF – http://www.unurth.com/ROA-San-Francisco

Some of the street art is really small and detailed. Here’s one that was hand-drawn on the spot on the street. The artist, a woman, draws images of strong girls. This one is only 12-18 inches high, and the artist drew it in broad daylight. She wore a high-vis vest, and had her 10 year old daughter next to her, so nobody looked askance.

Speaking of gender balance of the artists working the streets of Berlin, our guide said that for street art it was about 50-50, but for graffiti it’s closer to 85% male.

A huge piece that we all really loved is a famous one, called Cosmonaut, by Victor Ash. Erie and haunting.

There was one commissioned huge piece that took up an entire side of a building, by the Brazilian twins OSGEMEOS. Supposedly one started from the top and one from the bottom, and they didn’t tell each other what they were drawing (other than obviously it was a figure of a person).

The thing about street art that struck me was how temporary it is. Look at the Wikipedia link photo for the image above. See how much it’s faded? These artists do all this work and they know that eventually the environment will destroy it.

The tour also taught us that there’s often a backstory you don’t know about unless you really dig deep. Look at the image below. There’s some more rappelling graffiti on the right from The Berlin Kids. Then on the top left there’s some Heaven Spot from the UF Gang. But what’s that “just” in the bottom left. Look at the scale of it. How did the artist paint that? Nope, not spray paint. Nope, not roller and brushes. He used a fire hose! Emptied it, filled it with diluted paint, pumped it full of pressure, fitted a custom nozzle on the end and let rip. Not impressed? Well, here’s some more details on the artist. An incredible activist, and a daring and brave photographer. Once I heard about JUST as a person, I thought about what he stood for each time I saw a piece of his on the street.

Some of the street art is wild looking when seen from afar…

.. but then you look closely and see the detail …

Berlin Observation #4: Berlin really is covered in graffiti. Covered!

After our tour through the Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain neighborhoods we ended up in a street art production warehouse where we got to get our hands on some spray paint cans!

With the help of stenciling technique here’s what Alexis made…

The graffiti and street art tour was one of the absolute highlights of our trip to Berlin. Check it out if you ever go to Berlin!

Oh, just gotta throw this in here cuz it did happen that day. We were racing for the train in the station. I wasn’t getting in anyones way, or shoving people aside, I just saw a gap in between two people and went for it. Well, some German dude, maybe 60 years old, puts up his elbow and throws it at me, connecting solidly. Clearly didn’t want me making the train. Made be lurch over into Melinda, stepping on her feet at full speed.
Same thing happened on the street. We had stopped to check directions, and this older lady with her shopping cart clips me with it clearly on purpose, as if to say, “Stay the fuck out of my way, this is my sidewalk!” Wow, nice.

Berlin Observation #5: Berliners (Germans) have some boundary issues. Meaning they don’t like their boundary being encroached and will enforce it with violence!

{P.S. We had dinner that night at Industry Standard. One of the best meals I’ve had in a long time!}

Berlin Day One – Tourist Time! – Thursday October 12

Steps: 22,764

It’s hard to write about travels and fun in Europe when there is so much pain back home in San Francisco. In the US in general, really. When times back home waver between brink of nuclear war and repeated mass shootings, it’s now got horrible wild fires in wine country. Many of our friends have been evacuated, and at least one has lost their home. What is going on here?!?! If the locusts come then that’s the last step before the apocalypse. So heartbreaking to see from afar. Hang in there, Northern California!

But we had already booked this trip to Berlin so off we went! Almost didn’t make it, as the budget airline we were on, Air Berlin, just declared bankruptcy. Yikes!

We landed late Wednesday night and checked into our AirBnB in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. This was a former West Berlin neighborhood that is super trendy and hip. Melinda and I ran out for a late night shwarma and realized, yup, this is really gritty neighborhood!

Berlin Observation #1: The street lights in this town suck.

But on awakening the next morning, we realized it was also a really pretty neighborhood. We just couldn’t see it the night before. And we went down the “wrong” road to our shwarma place. One block over and its super nice old buildings and little cafes and restaurants.

After a killer breakfast at Spindler, we got going because we had a super full and touristy day planned Thursday – we wanted to fit in as much as we could.

Got to get up to the top of the Reichstag building. (Tip: You need to register before going, or they won’t let you in.)

The view up there was awesome. All those buildings you see here past Brandenburg Gate weren’t there when I was last in Berlin in 1990. They were all part of the Death Strip of Potsdamer Platz. Amazing to see. The first building past Brandenburg Gate is the US Embassy. Primo land right there they got!

Emma had some fun once we got down and through Brandenburg Gate. Amazing to think that no-one (from the public at least) walked through the Brandenburg Gate for 28 years. Crazy. #NoMoreWalls

Just past the US Embassy, they reserved almost 5 acres of Potsdamer Platz for the Holocaust Memorial, or as it’s officially called: The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Alexis commented on the official name, “Wow, the Germans are really *owning* it with that name.” Yes, they definitely are.

The memorial is a field of concrete pillars, of various heights, from half a meter high to maybe 3-4 meters. Some are very straight and some are slightly tilted. They’re arranged in rows, on an undulating ground. There are no names anywhere, and nothing to explain what it all is. But walking through you get this sense of disorientation, and of darkness, and a feeling of orderliness combined with chaos. A very powerful memorial, unlike any I have seen. But powerful, very, along the level of the Vietnam War memorial in DC.

It’s hard to put the feeling of the place in pictures, but here’s a couple attempts:


 

There was also a “Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted by the Nazi’s”, though it would probably be safe to say “murdered” there as well. It was a much much smaller memorial, but a very powerful one. Brought tears to my eyes. It’s a monolithic block in the middle of a beautiful green space, with a small window. Looking in you see black and white newsreel type footage of same sex couples kissing. There’s joy and love in that, but then the footage shows them getting “caught” by disapproving people. They brush off the glares and go back to kissing.

I mentioned to Alexis that the construction of the memorial wasn’t straight. She groaned. Dad jokes.

We hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus to quickly see some of the other sites in Berlin. As touristy as they are, we are fans of the hop-on-hop-offs everywhere we go. You get to see so much of the city so quickly.

The big East Berlin radio tower:

The Victory thing (Statue? Tower?) in the Tiergarden:

The famous bombed out church in the Ku-Dam area:

Jumped off the bus, got on the U-bahn and headed to lunch at a great place called Brlo. A brewery in a bunch of converted shipping containers. Super great food, super great beer. And schnapps. Had to do it.

Berlin Observation #2: The public transportation here is awesome! We got around Berlin entirely on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn and buses (in the former West) and trams (in the former East).

That night we went out to “Street Food Thursdays” at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg. A huge market converted into street food stalls every Thursday night.

Awesome vibe, great drinks, great food. On the way home we passed by some great graffiti, a foreshadowing of what’s to come on Friday – a Berlin Graffiti and Street Art Walking Tour!

Berlin Observation #3: Everything in this town is covered in graffiti!

A trip to the Rhone! Wednesday Oct 4 to Friday Oct 6

Steps: Wednesday 10,103, Thursday 10,825. Friday 11,689.

One of our goals on this adventure was to travel. A lot. I mean, really a lot. We got waylaid a bit at the beginning by our lack of internet, as it’s really hard to book flights, accommodations, really any planning or research at all without the interwebs. We pulled together a long weekend in Lisbon with cafe internet, and that was great. And we’ve got Berlin next weekend with the kids. But as soon as we saw on the school calendar that both the kids were going to be away at some sort of school glamping overnight trip for three days, Melinda and I looked at each other and said lets get out of here!

So where to go, where to go? We only had three days and two nights. And we wanted it to be a non-kid-friendly sort of place, so places like Rome and Paris were out. Let’s do a wine trip, we said! Burgundy was a high possibility, but looking at the map and flights to Burgundy (which is an arrival in Lyon) we thought how about going south through the Rhone Valley, end up in Montpellier and catch a high speed train home. The plusses of this plan were that I’d never been to the Rhone before, and they’re some of my favorite wines, and secondly, if we were taking the train home then I could bring wine home! No airport security to snag my wine!

We left the house before the kids were even away on their trip Wednesday morning, and hopped an easy (and cheap, like 43 euro each, one way, cheap!) flight to Lyon.

From Lyon it was a short 45 minute drive to the first major wine district of the Rhone – Cote Rotie!

I couldn’t believe how steep the slopes were. I knew from books that it was steep and terraced, but I had no idea. What a ludicrous job it is to tend those vines!

Had a beautiful old-school-French lunch right on the Rhone river in our next major wine district, Condrieu…

We continued our drive down the Rhone Valley with our next destination an appointment at M. Chapoutier, one of the bigger, but still excellent, wineries in the region. We had a lovely vineyard tour and a great tasting and then settled into our “Gite”. When we were looking for accommodation in the Rhone, Melinda stumbled upon this set of houses owned by M. Chapoutier. I was skeptical as I’ve heard Gites can be rustic and some even require you to bring your own linens and such. This one was the opposite! Nestled in the middle of the Pavillon part of the Hermitage vineyard, this was our own two-story, one bedroom, top of the line everything, oasis in the Rhone!

Who could ask for a better view from your bedroom window than this!

Had a lovely dinner in Tain Hermitage at a spot called Les Mangevins. Check it out if you’re ever in town. We happened upon a great walking bridge over the Rhone (you know me, always searching for good transportation infrastructure!).

The next morning Melinda and I woke up well before dawn and hiked up Hermitage for some pre-dawn views!

Sorry, don’t know how to properly insert videos into WordPress. Just click this link:

FullSizeRender

And some views of Tain Hermitage…

After checking out of our Gite, we jumped in the car and headed south to meet up with our friend Laely Heron (of Heron Wines) in the Southern Rhone. But first I had to make a stop at another famous wine district of the Northern Rhone called Cornas. Steep, but not as steep as Cote Rotie or Hermitage, but full of little nooks and crannies in the hill.

We met up with Laely at Clos Bellane, which is in the most northern part of the Southern Rhone. Stunningly beautiful vineyards…

And we had a couple tastings with Close Bellane’s owner and winemaker Stephane Vedeau. He’s very very talented, and, um, quite handsome…

Laely took us on an awesome tour. Here’s the kind of energy she has – this is the itinerary she laid out for us:
1) Tour and taste at Clos Bellane
2) Lunch in Gigondas at Nez!
3) Tasting at Domaine du Gour de Chaule
4) Drive to Chateauneuf du Pape, tour of the old Pope’s summer palace
5) Vineyard tour in Chateauneuf du Pape
6) Back to Gigondas and a visit to the vista-point at the Dentilles
7) Vineyard tour in Gigondas
8) Champagne on the terrace at Hotel Les Florets
9) Race home to change for dinner
10) Dinner at L’Oustalet in Gigondas
11) Home to bed to pass out!

Laely’s incredible! Here’s some shots from our day with her.

The obligatory “entering the town of …” shot.

The famous galettes of Chateauneuf (and Laely’s boot)

Laely in CdP…

Me and Melinda and the “Dentilles”

The next morning Laely had to leave early for a trip to Alsace, so Melinda and I made our own itinerary, which was loosely based on trying to find the best croissant in the Southern Rhone! We tried in Sablet, then in Vacqueras, then in Beaumes-de-Venice. It was a hard challenge but we got it done! (Best one was at Duperon Harry in Beaumes-de-Venice, in case you’re interested!)

Here’s a gratuitous picture postcard shot of the quaint and beautiful Beaumes-de-Venice…

We drove on down and hit Avignon before our train. Did a tour of the grandiose Popes palace…

And had lunch and checked out the view in this beautiful town. It wasn’t summer so it wasn’t crazy crowded. Stunning town, Avignon is!

Then it was a (supposed to be) quick jaunt to Montpellier before our (almost missed) train back to Barcelona. Only 3 hours away.

So a fantastic blitz-fast trip through the Rhone. But just so much fun to take advantage of being so so close to France! Can’t wait for another fast and fun trip with my honey!

Next stop, Berlin!

A Question of Safety – Wednesday October 4th

Steps: 10,302

With all the press that the Catalonia independence movement has gotten internationally (and the Ramblas terrorist attack before that), many people have made comments to me about my safety. Directly on email, and on social media, people have admonished me to “Be safe” or have asked “Is it safe over there?” Let me tell you my thoughts.

Safety in Barcelona in general

Okay, I haven’t felt this safe in a big city in, maybe, ever. Sure there’s crime. Sure there’s pickpockets (and everyone eventually falls prey to those buggers). But I’ve never seen any crime or danger. We’ve been here 6 weeks and I have yet to see any signs of aggression in public. Come on, how many of you in other places see “men” getting all agro outside a bar? All the time! And you rarely see public drunkenness here, and when you do it’s tourists stumbling on Las Ramblas. I was coming home from a bar at 3am and saw a young woman alone on a bench on my street searching for something in her bag. That would never happen in the USA. Never.

Safety with the Independence movement

We went down to both the pro-independence protest and the pro-unity protests. Both had hundreds of thousands of people. Police were hard to find in the crowds or around the fringes. And the people there were absolutely calm and non-violent. Same with Election Day. No violence did we see. Note that the only violence you see in the media is from the police! And the last people they’re coming after is some expats.

Terrorists

The terrorist attack on Las Ramblas a couple months ago was horrible, and shook the city to it’s core. There have been two Mosso armored vehicles parked at the top of Las Ramblas ever since the attack, right where the terrorist started his rampage. Unfortunately terrorist attacks happen everywhere now, and we are on our guard, but I feel we can’t let the terrorists win by restricting what we want to do with our days.

Relative safety compared to the rest of the world

A friend on Facebook told me that she had some American coworkers who were reconsidering a business trip to Barcelona. Are you kidding me?! Americans worried about their safety abroad?! They need to look hard in the mirror. It is waaaaay more dangerous in the USA. Just look at guns. No-one has them here. And the States is filled with homicidal (white male) gun-totting nut-jobs! The frequency of occurrences of me getting scared for my safety in (liberal peaceful) San Francisco is an order of magnitude higher than here in Barcelona.

So don’t worry, friends. I’m safe. Melinda’s safe. The kids are safe (Alexis got home last night at 4:30am from a nightclub – yeah, she felt safe the whole time). It’s all good.