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London (2)

Monday 10/28: The weather forecast for today included “hurricane-force winds.” The wind rattled the doors, waking us up around 6:30, and took down one small tree on our block (and by “small” I mean really small — a sidewalk tree about six feet tall and three inches in diameter — actually, it might have been hit by a car) and also caused some transit disruptions, which we were able to avoid by taking different routes, so, although it was a substantial storm and did hit some people hard, it didn’t affect us much at all.

Breakfast at our B&B at 8:00 again. Our breakfast companions were a different couple, no kid, but like the couple from yesterday they were also visiting an adult child at Greenwich University. We did a load of laundry at the local launderette (not quite dry, but dry enough) then walked down to the dock to catch a ferry to Embankment (I had checked while the laundry was going that it was still running despite the weather, which it was except for the London Bridge stop) and then a tube to Baker Street. We had lunch at a place called Nourish, apparently new, where we each got a wrap with hot tandoori chicken and then your choice of items from the salad bar to complete it; nummy, healthy, quick, cheap. Then to Madam Tussaud’s to squash (“mangle”) a penny (a real penny for once, not a cent as usual) before waiting for Kate’s surprise at a nearby bus stop.

The bus was a little late, but when it finally arrived it turned out to be a double-decker plastered with Harry Potter billboards, which took us to the Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour at Warner Brothers London (where the HP films were, in fact, made, but which is actually about an hour’s drive from the city). I had not even known that this tour existed, and it was a fine surprise.

The tour was great — a very enjoyable visit to some of the actual sets (including the Great Hall, Gryffindor boys’ dorm and common room, potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office, and Diagon Alley) with many original costumes, props, models, and special effects on display (including the gigantic Hogwarts Castle “miniature” — approximately the size of our house — and an impressive animatronic griffin). Highlights included the prosthetics and practical effects department, with Warrick Davis and the effects guy on a large screen, clips from the film on a second smaller screen, and the actual gizmos on display and moving below them. One of the staff members who answered our questions had been an extra (not really a surprise) who told us that he’d been one of the students in the big welcome feast in the first film; the food had been real and had gotten extremely rank over the many days of filming. The extras were also encouraged to carve their initials in the tables for verisimilitude. The tour ended in a room decorated as Ollivander’s Wand Shop, where the walls were lined with wand boxes bearing the names of every single person who worked on the films.

We had dinner at the tour cafe, which was actually very good and reasonably priced (I had a “jacket potato” with chili), then took the tour bus to the tube to Docklands Light Rail and then home. To sleep about 11:30.

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Tower Bridge as seen from the Thames ferry

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Harry Potter studio tour entrance

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Me and Hagrid’s costume in the Great Hall set

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Kate on the Great Hall set

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The house points counter (barely seen in the films). Apparently its creation caused a shortage of colored beads in the Czech Republic

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Wig cart

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Fleur’s hat and hat form

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Even without the initials RW, we’d know whose bed this was from the ghastly hand-knitted coverlet

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Toast racks!

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A small part of the very cool “graphics created for the films” display

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The disembodied head of John Cleese

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The disembodied head of Robbie Coltrane. This creepily realistic animatronic head was mounted on the shoulders of a 6’10” actor wearing built-up boots for full-body shots of the full-sized half-giant Hagrid

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Many of the original “white card” set models were on display

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Kate in front of the enormous Hogwarts Castle “miniature”

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A small part of the wall of wand boxes in the last room, showing the names of everyone who worked on the films

Barcelona (4) + London (1)

Friday 10/25: Woke up too early, washed some clothes, then walked to bar Centric for breakfast: cafe amb llet (Catalan for cafe au lait) and a “bikini” (toasted ham & cheese, so called after the Bikini Club which made it famous). Stumbled on a used CD shop, then took the subway (there were keen mosaics in the station) to Casa Batllo, which is apparently pronounced “bayo,” the T being silent. This curvy, organic apartment building by Gaudi has an underwater theme and was the most comfortable and livable of the buildings we’ve visited; Kate said she could move right in.

Got out of there about noon, walked to Lizarran, a Basque pintxos (tapas on sticks) place for lunch. After that, really brain-dead, took bus back to hotel and fell over. Then, after our nap, hit grocery store Carrefour, then the Boquieria market for juice, empanadas, candies. We were looking for a cafe, or even a bench, to sit and write some postcards but there was NO PLACE TO SIT DOWN! Many cafes, but no open tables…

After wandering for an hour we finally sat on some steps in the plaza outside Santa Maria del Pi. A couple of Americans, just arrived in country, were talking about getting Sagrada Familia tickets from the ATM and we offered them some advice. Wound up chatting for a while, nice people, nearly fannish; they shared some pintxos (things on sticks) with us and told us that the church would be having a choral contest, but we elected not to stick around for it (though this explained the groups of women in matching costumes that crowded the square). The pintxos were good so we went to where they’d come from, bar Irati, and had some more for an early supper (though the restaurant part of the bar was closed and there was no place to sit down, they brought out a chair for Kate).

Still hoping for a place to sit and write postcards, we headed for some cafe but wound up at bakery/cafe La Pallaresa, where the waiter came up with an expectant expression and we just ordered chocolate and churros (I had expected a menu or something but it’s just as well, that’s what we would have ordered anyway). The chocolate was thick and rich, maybe a bit too bitter, churros crisp but not as fresh as some. Wrote some postcards, returned to the hotel, checked in for tomorrow’s flight, synced and backed up photos, wrote these notes, to sleep by 10:30.

Even though I didn’t get a lot of what you’d call “use” out of my Spanish study (as most tourist professionals spoke English and much of the local communication was Catalan, not Spanish), I don’t regret it. I feel much better about my coping skills here than I did in the Czech Republic, where I did not have the local language at all. I think I would like to keep on studying with the Duolingo app, but I don’t know whether I’d rather keep on with Spanish or switch to French. Then again, realistically, with no deadline I probably won’t really keep on with it…

Saturday 10/26: Awake 8:00, breakfast in hotel, packed up, checked out, cab to airport. Brief moment of panic when I realized we’d been waiting in the place where you wait for your gate to be assigned as though we were at the gate, but there had been no announcements and I had not been keeping track of the time. But we got to our gate a few minutes before boarding started. Uneventful flight, decent chicken wrap snack on board.

Arrived Gatwick and walked about a billion miles to immigration, paused after leaving secure area for ATM and another meal (ate at Joe’s, not bad for airport food), because stupid and cranky. Decided to take the train to our Greenwich B&B because a cab would be awfully expensive. We had some difficulty finding our connection at London Bridge station but did eventually make it onto the right train with all our luggage (and off again ditto). It was only half a mile to the hotel from the Greenwich train station but we took a cab anyway, as just lugging our bags from one end of the station to the other was a schlep. Our B&B, “Number 37,” is a delightful little place with a charming host and a tiny little room (so small it uses an umbrella stand as a trash can) but tastefully decorated with a fine selection of books on the shelves.

After tea, graciously provided by our host, I walked to the TI for transit passes. I arrived just after it closed but did get to see Cutty Sark and the dome of the pedestrian tunnel under the Thames, neither of which I’d known were here. I must confess that the streets near the train station looked pretty bleak but now that I’d had a chance to explore Greenwich I was charmed. A fan of naval history could happily spend several days in Greenwich without visiting central London at all! Also stopped in a used record shop and a candy shop before returning to the B&B.

Greenwich has just about every kind of restaurant you might expect to find on a British high street. We wound up having Indian dinner at Mogul, recommended by our host: chicken with pulses (a sweet and spicy sauce), lamb with spinach, okra, all very good. We showed up at 6:45 and the place was half empty, but by 7 they were turning people away, so we were very lucky in our timing. After dinner walked around the area a bit, then made an early night of it.

Sunday 10/27: Awake 7:00 for 8:00 breakfast — clocks changed overnight; it wasn’t GMT here when we landed yesterday but it is now. A typical English egg-and-bacon B&B breakfast, but with homemade muesli and yogurt, very nice. The other guests were a couple from Yorkshire and their 5-or-6-year-old daughter Poppy, rather entertaining.

After breakfast we walked down to the TI but arrived a bit before it opened, so strolled the grounds for a while. Weather very blustery, with a big storm in the forecast; my hat blew off and got more than half a block before I managed to intercept it. At the TI, obtained Oyster cards and looked at some nice exhibits about the naval hospital etc., then proceeded to the Naval Museum, where we saw the orientation exhibit, East India Company exhibit, brand-new exhibit on Nelson, and the hall of ship models, leaving much more unvisited, but admission is free and we can theoretically go back. I bought the books of the Nelson and East India Company exhibits at the museum shop.

Lunch at Rivington Bar & Grill: venison & mushroom pie (with a ceramic pie bird in it) for me, Sunday roast beef with Yorkshire pudding for Kate, side of squash, expensive but very good. Visited the antiques market next door, then went back to the room for a nap, awaking too late for more touristing. Had a decent fish & chips supper at The Pier (since 1900) then back to the room for an early night of television and blogging. Feeling a bit blah, what with the weather (still blustery and cold) and Kate’s knee and all being a bit of a drag, but still having a good time.

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Shop window on La Rambla

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Beautiful Barcelona bakery

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Mosaic of a submarine in the subway station

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Exterior of Caca Batllo, aka The House of Skulls or The House of Yawns

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Tiled interior light well at Casa Batllo adds to the “enchantment under the sea” theme

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Kate with one of the delightful hand-carved doors

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This is the servants’ quarters in the attic

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“Dragon” roof tile detail

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Ham cone. Ham cone. HAM CONE!

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Now we are in Greenwich. It’s different from Barcelona

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Quote without comment

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First known European painting of a kangaroo. Not from life.

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The first letter Horatio Nelson wrote after losing his right arm. “You will excuse my scrawl.”

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Nelson’s spark. (Okay, fork/knife.)

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And, finally, the jacket Nelson was wearing when he died. You can see the bullet hole in the left shoulder

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There was a whole room of these beautiful ship models

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Receipt said “deer pie.” Blackbird is just a serving suggestion

Barcelona (3)

Thursday 10/24: Awoke promptly at 8 for our 9-10 am timed entry to Sagrada Familia. Had breakfast in the room (yogurt, leftover pa amb tomaquet and cheese), then stopped at the ATM and a “cafeteria” (as they are called around here) for cafe amb llet (“cafe latte” in Catalan) on the way to the subway. The tickets we managed to get via Ticketmaster and the ATM yesterday worked as expected and we dodged the line, also avoiding the crowds later in the day.

Sagrada Familia is much less blobby and termite-like inside — truly amazingly light, airy, and clean. It’s still under construction (a holy construction site) but is fully roofed in, though some windows are still clear glass and many towers remain to be built. It’s hard to imagine this design being accepted back in the 1880s, it’s remarkable even today. Though, as with Casa Mila, it’s more similar to other Barcelona structures of its ilk than you might think from seeing it in isolation (e.g. other churches here have openwork stone towers). The crypt and a few areas behind the altar look more conventional, but the nave is organic and futuristic.

Gaudi was plainly a genius. He liked to work in plaster models and then translate directly to stone, without formal plans, and this work continues with a substantial plaster shop today, despite the availability of computers. Gaudi’s designs, with catenary and hyperboloid curves, were only an implementation of what he had in his head.

After leaving the church, we had lunch at nearby Rincon de Leon: spinach & garbanzos, pork chop with red wine sauce, patatas fritas, arroz con leche. Very simple, but remarkably good and cheap given that it’s one block from the country’s biggest tourist attraction. Then we took the bus to Casa Batllo but, alas, found it closed for a private function. We admired the exterior and some other buildings on its block, and stumbled upon ruins of some Roman walls being excavated, before taking the bus to the City History Museum, which includes an extensive basement full of Roman ruins and the hall where Columbus gave Ferdinand and Isabella his trip report. Then we wandered the Gothic Quarter in search of hot chocolate and churros, with a short detour into a torrone shop. We wound up at Caelum, a tea-shop-cum-old-fashioned-pharmacy which apparently specializes in foodstuffs produced by monks, where I had “chocolate deshecho” (just good chocolate melted in hot water, very very rich and not too sweet) and a pastry that tasted kind of like a grown-up Rice Krispies Treat. After that, we hit comics shop Continuarà, where Kate got a bunch of comics in Spanish and I got a little Tintin rocket.

Back to the hotel around 7:30, fell over until 9:00. We awoke not hungry and still footsore, so stayed in for the rest of the evening (dealing with photos, blogging, etc.). A very good day.

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Not Hobbiton, this is Gaudi’s workshop on the Casa Familiar grounds, where he spent the last 14 years of his life

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Note the quality of the light from the stained glass windows, which transition gradually from red to blue over the length of the nave

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Pipe organ

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Nave, looking back from the altar

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The windows are abstract and contain a lot of text (there’s a lot of text all over this building)

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Beams of light

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Yes, this angel is playing the bassoon

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The annunciation of the construction cranes

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Columns branch like trees, with an ellipsoid knot at the branch point illuminated with electric light

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Not all the stained glass is in yet

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The large central tower is just barely beginning to be built

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Casa Batllo and its neighbor

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Enjoying the lovely mosaics

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4th-century city wall

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Roman ruins beneath the city museum

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The hall where Columbus told Isabel and Ferdinand about his trip

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Dancing bear

Barcelona (2)

Failed to mention in last post: cylinders every few blocks on the street in pairs and threes are municipal garbage “aspirators:” basically they slurp the trash (or compost, depending on which one) away under the sidewalk like a giant vacuum cleaner or pneumatic tube. The chocolate “Minbari” in the photo was actually a monk of a certain order; chocolate is associated with these monks because for a time chocolate (with stimulating properties, but not a “food”) was considered okay to eat during fasts and they came to specialize in it. The chocolate museum was inside a school for pastry chefs, and included views of classes in session (airbrushing, writing with icing, rolling out marzipan) in a huge teaching kitchen with giant windows facing the courtyard.

Tuesday 10/22: Awake ~6:00, the more fools us.

Walked to Caravelle for breakfast ~8:00, but found it closed, so had coffee and a chocolate croissant at Forn de Betlem bakery. That was not enough, so we walked to Boqueria market for more. The market was just getting going for the day and featured stall after stall of truly beautiful vegetables, meats, fish. We sat at a stall called Kiosko Universal, specializing in seafood, where I ate tortilla (egg & zucchini) with pa amb tomaquet (bread spread with tomato and olive oil) while being stared at by sardines.

Next we took the subway to Sagrada Familia. The ticket machine insisted on a PIN for our credit cards, which we did not have, so we bought our 5-day passes with cash instead. We wound up taking a longer route than was strictly necessary because the shorter route would have involved going up to the surface, across the street, and down again to the opposite track and Kate’s knee is not happy with stairs.

Sagrada Familia is amazing, overwhelming, like a giant alien termite mound plunked down on the city… but we only saw the outside of it because the line was blocks long and the rumored shortcut of buying tickets from a nearby ATM could not be made to work (turns out the rules have changed, you can pick up tickets purchased online, but not buy them, at the ATM). So we bailed and went to Casa Mila instead, stopping at shop Vinçon on the way to look at clever and intriguing designed gizmos & housewares.

Casa Mila, aka La Pedrera (“The Quarry”) is one of Gaudi’s last projects, an amazing organic apartment building. Much of the building is still private apartments, but you can visit the roof, whose mosaic-clad chimneys and stairwells are famous; the attic with its catenary arches; and a top-floor apartment where some contemporary 1905 furniture shows just how alien this place was at the time it was built (it was compared to a quarry, a cliff inhabited by dragons, and a parking lot for alien spacecraft). But, on the other hand, nearby buildings have similar massing and fenestration (sorry, I lapsed into architect-speak, I mean overall building shape and placement of windows), bay windows, and coloration, so that, weird though it may be, in context it’s not as weird as it appears if you see photos of it in isolation.

We hit the wall hard around 1:30 and headed for a nearby restaurant Murmurs (not much connectivity on my phone, I saw that it had 4 stars on Yelp but little else in the way of details) but passed cafe Mauri on the way, and it looked good so we ate there instead. We had a 3-course lunch (vegetables, salmon, cake) which was merely okay, but it was pretty and served quickly in nice surroundings when we needed it. Took a cab back to hotel, where we found the heated towel rack had been turned on, as requested earlier, so washed some sox and underwear then napped until 4:30.

After some discussion about what to do with the time remaining until our show tickets, took the subway to a little magic shop, El Rei del Magica (since 1898!), then bus to Creps Barcelona for a very nice simple dinner of salad and crepes before the show: Pink Martini at the Palau de Musica! Kate had learned just a week ago about this show and when we found we could get tickets we jumped on it.

We arrived at the box office when it opened at 7, but was told to pick up our tickets inside at 8, so we had a drink in the lobby and admired the architecture. There was absolutely no signage about Pink Martini anywhere, but we spotted Thomas Lauderdale smoking and talking on the phone in the courtyard so we knew we were in the right place. Just before 8, I spotted an employee and asked where to pick up our tickets, and was told we’d have to go in the front door, so we walked around the building, but at 8 we saw a line form in the lobby from the door we’d just been turned away from. We were just about to schlep back around the building when the front door did open and we got in line behind all the other people. The line seemed interminable, but it was probably only about 20 minutes until we got our tickets. Where to go from there was unclear, but right then (8:30?) a bell rang and the doors to the hall opened. We were among the first in our seats, and the show started right at 9:00.

The Palau de Musica is a fabulous Catalan Modernist building, full of mosaics and glass — a riot of materials including brick, stone, and wrought iron, and an amazing stained-glass ceiling. The show, too, was fabulous, with Storm Large using the power of pure undiluted sex to have the audience eating out of her lap. Whenever I see Storm performing with Pink Martini I am reminded of She-Hulk’s tenure with the Fantastic Four — she brings such an amazing physicality to her performance, quite different from China Forbes’s cool intellectuality, though their voices are similarly powerful. She performed in a gold lame dress which covered her from shoulders to heels while leaving very little to the imagination, and won over the crowd by speaking in a mix of Spanish and English. Thomas, too, gave a couple of speeches in Catalan, and they invited every native French speaker in the audience up on stage (including a charming little Vietnamese girl) to sing along with the band for “Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler.” Cab back to hotel, got to sleep by 11.

The process of getting the tickets felt messed up and amateurish but, in retrospect, it actually went like clockwork. The problem was that we’d been told box office at 7, doors at 8, show at 9, but the reality was doors (to lobby to pick up tickets) at 8, hall opens 8:30, show at 9 so it all felt terribly disorganized and behind schedule. We also did not know that the hall was actually quite small and could easily be filled in half an hour.

Wednesday 10/23: Awake about 8, breakfast in hotel by 9, writing in our diaries at the table til 9:30. Plan for the day: Catalan history museum, obtain Sagrada Familia tickets for tomorrow, maybe a stitch-and-bitch at a local yarn shop at 5.

Getting those tickets wasn’t easy, but after great struggle, we managed to defeat the combined forces of Ticketmaster and La Caixa. You have to go to ticketmaster.es to order and pay for the tickets, then find one of the ATM machines of bank La Caixa that has the “print your tickets” feature (not all of them do, and the website that lists them is entirely in Catalan and covers the entire country), and then — this is the bit that took over half an hour to figure out — you must insert your card in the machine before doing anything else (you can begin the process by touching the screen, but if you do this you will not have an opportunity to insert your card later). The process is complicated by the fact that, although La Caixa brags about their multilingual ATMs, many key screens are only available in Catalan and there is considerable foofaraw around “mini cards” which will not fit in the machine. Also, the whole procedure has changed recently and will change again (maybe to go away completely) after January 15.

Having obtained the tickets, we took a bus to the Catalan History Museum, which is very well laid out and informative. We toured 3/4 of one floor (of two floors of permanent exhibition, never mind the two additional floors of temporary exhibits) before hunger compelled us to seek lunch. As we were right on the seafront, we wanted seafood, and though bar El Pescador (The Fisherman) was right there and got good reviews it had no seafood on the menu, so we proceeded to our second choice: Can Majó (on Almirall Aixada, which we of course called “Admiral Ackbar street”) for a delectable (though expensive) lunch of gazpacho, salad of green beans and ham, and paella. Everything was top-notch, but I think we are agreed that we don’t need to order paella again; it’s too salty, too fishy, and too difficult to eat.

Back to the museum for the rest of Catalan history. The museum was only about 8 blocks away, but we seriously debated taking a cab for the sake of Kate’s knee; we wound up hoofing it, but probably should not have. We learned a lot about the Catalans, including their predilection for backing the wrong side. They backed Carlos (vs. Felipe) in the Wars of Spanish Succession and for this they lost their independence for nearly 300 years. They also wound up on the wrong side of Franco, and many others, but they got self-rule back in 1980. And we got to stand inside a life-size section of one of the first submarines, a Catalan invention.

Done with museum around 4:00. Took the bus to Granja M. Viader, a cafe and deli famous for the local specialty of hot chocolate and churros (since 1870!). A nice reviving snack, but frankly I’ve had better hot chocolate; we will have to try some others. Also bought some yogurt for tomorrow’s breakfast. Back on the bus 2 more stops to the hotel, where we dealt with photos etc. and napped until about 8.

Not very hungry, we walked to nearby bar Elizabets for a little nosh of tapas before bed. A happenin’ place in a happenin’ neighborhood. I’m getting bolder with my Spanish, even though most tourist professionals speak at least some English and my Spanish is kind of approximate, it feels good to communicate in one of the local languages. We had pimientos al padron (mildly hot green peppers fried and salted), pulpos a la Gallega (tender, spicy slices of sauteed octopus tentacle), pinchos morunos (skewer of spicy, tender pork served with crunchy toast), and a plate of manchego cheese which, of course, came with pa amb tomaquet, all washed down with a bottle of cider. Probably more than I should have eaten, but so tasty. We did save some of the cheese and bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. Back to room for blogging etc. at 11:00; to bed around midnight.

Oh, one last note before the photos: the Catalan word for “market” is mercat (pronounced “meerkat”), and, of course, a supermarket is a supermercat. I keep thinking of Laura Anne Gilman.

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Barcelona (1)

Sunday 10/20: Arrived in Barcelona after an uneventful flight via Amsterdam. After checking into our hotel and a brief nap, took a walk to Plaça de Catalunya and down into the Bari Gotic (Gothic Quarter) where we saw some Roman sepulchres and stopped into a torrone shop for a sweet treat, followed by tapas at Bar del Pi (“I’m scared to go in there, which tells me we ought to do it”): anchovies, patatas bravas, empanada de verdura, champignons and a brief stroll through the hopping streets of La Rambla, getting to sleep around 10:00.

Monday 10/21: Awake for an hour in the night, but got back to sleep until after 9:00. Breakfast in hotel, where we learned that “macedonia” means “fruit salad” (not, as you might guess from the yogurt label, “coyote”), then to the local tourist office for various tickets and passes.

Decided to take the tourist bus around town for a quick orientation, but after obtaining our tickets we found that there was a huge line for the bus at Plaça Catalunya. So we walked to another stop nearby, with a detour into the FNAC department store book dept. in hopes of finding a Catalan phrasebook. We found one, but decided not to lug it around for the rest of the day.

The stop we walked to was for the blue line (we wanted red) but we got on anyway and took it a few stops to a place we could transfer, then rode the red line 3/4 of the way around to orient ourselves. Rather than the loudspeaker spiel I expected, this bus had multilingual audio with free earbuds. Dozens of earbuds could be seen on the roofs of the bus shelters, having been tossed there from the bus’s open top.

Before preparing for this trip, I had thought that Catalan was a dialect of Spanish (like Bayrisch in southern Germany) or a nearly extinct language (like Languedoc in France) but it is neither: it is a thriving independent language — in some ways closer to Italian than Spanish — with a strong regional (wants to be national) identity. Like Scots, it is a point of differentiation and rallying point for partisans who were swallowed up by a larger power over a hundred years ago. Like Welsh, it is given equal status with the conquerors’ language (signs at the airport were in Catalan first, then English, then Spanish). I don’t regret having learned Spanish before coming here, but seeing the amount of Catalan in daily use here is an eye-opener.

We got off the bus near the port, at Palau de Mar, the walked to restaurant Casa Delfín near the Santa Maria del Mar church for a late (2:45) lunch: tuna & tomato salad, grilled asparagus with Mahon cheese, bread with tomato, chickpeas with blood sausage & spinach, rice casserole de la casa (= with shellfish). Yum. After lunch it was 3:30, and the church was closed until 4:30, so we headed to the nearby Chocolate Museum. Got rather lost looking for it, but it was an interesting neighborhood to wander in.

The Chocolate Museum ticket was a bar of quite good chocolate. The museum itself, rather small, was notable for many amusing translation errors in its signage and for a story of the mythological history of chocolate that prompted Kate to comment “Even the story of chocolate begins with a woman in a refrigerator.” The museum also featured many marvelous sculptures in chocolate, including a bigger-than-life Komodo dragon, a pietá, Tintin on the moon, and a Minbari(?). How do they still look so good after being on display for years?

From there we walked to the nearby “House of Three Dragons,” formerly the zoological museum, now just a cool building, then back to Sta. Maria del Mar for a visit to the spacious and quiet church with some excellent stained glass. Then took the tourist bus back to Plaça Catalunya, followed by a quick stop at FNAC to pick up that book & some others. Upon leaving FNAC: gee, it’s getting kind of dark… Wait, how did it get to be 6:45? Back to hotel for a nap — we seem to have stumbled into a Spanish schedule.

Dinner (8:30) at Cachitos. Montaditos (tapas on crusty bread): crab & pineapple, goat cheese & honey, and foie gras & fig jam. Entrees: grilled squid stuffed with potato; macaroni with cheese & “Iberian meat.” Desserts: tarta de pera (pear cheesecake) and torrija (white bread soaked in milk and egg and caramelized on top, with ice cream). Back to the room by about 10:00; to bed (after messing with photos and such) around midnight.

That was our first full day. Tomorrow will be a busy one.

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House of the Three Dragons

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Civic garbage “aspirators” (they suck the garbage away like a giant vacuum)

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Picturesque street scene

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El Born, where we had lunch

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Chocolate Pietá

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Chocolate Komodo dragon

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Chocolate Minbari (not really)

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David and Kate with chocolate Tintin scene

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Chocolate Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy

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Me and a friend

Where I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going

I’ve been pretty much absent from all social media for the last month or two. Sorry about that. At the moment I’m at the Portland airport, headed for Barcelona. We’ll be there for a week, then half a week in London, then a week in Brighton for World Fantasy Con.

The plane boards in about twenty minutes, and I feel very unready for this trip. I have been studying Spanish every day for about two months, using the Duolingo app on my phone (which is marvelous) and the Pimsleur audio lessons, so that’s something. I know from previous trips that no amount of language study is enough, but anything is better than nothing. I have also not really made plans for what we’re going to do once we get there, but Kate the master trip planner has done plenty of research.

The main reason I have not prepared for this trip as well as I would like to have done is the same reason I haven’t been blogging: I’ve been finishing up a novel. Here’s the elevator pitch: “Arabella and the Marsman is a YA Regency Interplanetary Airship Adventure. Arabella is a Patrick O’Brian girl in a Jane Austen world — born and raised on Mars, she was hauled back home by her mother, where she’s stifled by England’s gravity, climate, and attitudes toward women. When she learns that her evil cousin plans to kill her brother and inherit the family fortune, she joins the crew of an interplanetary clipper ship in order to beat him to Mars. But pirates, mutiny, and rebellion stand in her way. Will she arrive in time?”

I completed the first draft just before the Worldcon, so that I could send it off to a bunch of other writers for their feedback at a novel critique retreat at the Oregon Coast called Coastal Heaven. I got some great feedback from them there, along with a lot of great writing and industry advice as well as great food and hanging out. I also got feedback from a number of other writers via email. Most of the people who read it really liked it!

Coastal Heaven was right after the Worldcon, and I really wanted to get the novel revised and into submission before departing for Europe. And I did it! I finished it on Tuesday and sent it off to an editor and an agent that very day. Both of them have responded with enthusiasm to the concept of the novel and promised rapid turnaround. I’m trying not to be too optimistic — I’ve had my heart broken before — but I really do think that this novel is a lot more straightforward, commercial, and dare I say salable than my previous two, as well as very entertaining, so I have high hopes.

I also have a bunch of writing-related news that has not gotten posted while I’ve been head-down on the novel, including: Old Mars, including my “Wreck of the Mars Adventure,” is now available for purchase, as is Mad Science Cafe, which includes a reprint of my “One Night in O’Shaughnessy’s Bar,” and the audiobook of my novella Second Chance releases on October 22 and is now available for pre-order.

So. That’s what’s up with me. I hope to blog extensively about the trip, including pictures and everything.

Pacific Northwest Reading Series: Seattle area 10/15, Portland 10/16

This is just a quick reminder that SFWA’s Pacific Northwest Reading Series is having our next events in Seattle and Portland this coming week!

On Tuesday, October 15 in the Seattle area, we’ll have the multitalented Peter Orullian, along with local favorites Kay Kenyon (replacing Brent Weeks, who had to cancel) and Greg Bear. The University Bookstore will be on hand again selling books and all the authors will be available to sign.

When: Tuesday, October 15, 2013, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: Wilde Rover Irish Pub & Restaurant, 111 Central Way, Kirkland, WA 98033

On Wednesday, October 16 in Portland, Peter Orullian will be joined by Kay Kenyon and Terry Brooks. Wrigley-Cross Books will be selling books and all the authors will be available to sign.

When: Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave. Portland, OR 97211

See http://www.sfwa.org/for-readers/sfwa-northwest-reading-series/ for more information on both readings. Tell your friends!

I hope you can join us! It should be a lot of fun.

In better news… novel draft complete!

I see that I also have some good news to share which I have not yet blogged. I’m going to a one-week novel critique workshop on the Oregon coast immediately after the Worldcon, for which I just recently finished the first draft of my YA Regency interplanetary airship adventure, currently titled Arabella and the Marsman. This is my fourth completed novel and I feel really, really good about it, though there’s still at least one more edit pass to go before I start submitting it. I’ve already received some very positive feedback on the draft.

This draft took almost two years to write (11/11/11 – 8/4/13, counting from the beginning of the outlining phase) and I have been SO CLOSE to the end for a long time now. When I hit the end of what I thought would be the penultimate chapter, I wrote one perfect, summarizing sentence and I realized that was the end of the book. I had a whole denouement planned out, but it wasn’t necessary. I cried. This was in a coffeeshop in Seattle and I’m pleased to say that Kate and Janna were both there for it.

Sometimes an ending sneaks up on you. This happened to me once before, with the All-Star Zeppelin Adventures story “Love in the Balance,” and I think that’s one of my more powerful endings. We’ll see if people find this one satisfying.

Heading to the airport, en route to Texas for the Worldcon, in just a few minutes! See some of you there.

Kidney stone :-(

On the treadmill at the gym yesterday morning, after working out with my trainer, I had what I thought was a stitch in my side. But it rapidly got worse — a LOT worse, to the point that I had to stop and lie down on the floor, and I also had chills and cold sweats, plus I felt like I really needed to urinate but there was nothing coming out. It was bad enough that I went straight from there to the ER (our nearest ER is, as it happens, less than a mile from the gym) without even showering. Kate met me there.

THIS is what all the fuss was about?The doctor, when he saw me, said “You have that kidney stone look. I can diagnose that from twenty feet away.” They gave me IV saline and morphine, and the pain declined from a 6 to a 3-4 pretty quickly. By the time they wheeled me down to get a CAT scan it had fallen to a dull ache, and I spent the rest of the afternoon half-dozing in the ER bed. After a couple of hours the CAT scan results came back: it was indeed a kidney stone, about 3mm, and it had already passed into my bladder (that, not the morphine, is why the pain went away so completely). They sent me home with a prescription for oxycodone if I needed it, a little strainer, and instructions to drink a heck of a lot of water and strain my pee for the next 24 hours in hopes of catching the stone. The stone came out in my very first pee and it didn’t hurt a bit. I’m going to continue to filter my pee until tomorrow, though, in case there are any other bits to catch.

This all happened instead of a planned lunch date with my friend Shannon. I texted her about it as I was waiting for Kate to pick me up outside the ER, and when I said “This too shall pass,” she replied “Okay you are feeling fine. ;-)”

So the bottom line is that I’m fine now, if a bit achy and woozy, and clear to travel to Texas. The doctor did see some “nodules” in my lungs on the CAT scan and recommended I see my primary doctor for a more thorough lung screen as soon as I get back, but they are very likely nothing to worry about. I also need to take the kidney stone to a urologist for an analysis — knowing the stone’s composition may help me avoid future such experiences, through changes in diet or some such. (The CAT scan showed a second, smaller stone in the kidney, but it might never cause any problems.)

Whee. Also ow.