Thursday, 5 December 2013

Travels in the US - Part 3 of 3 - San Francisco

Another 4 hour flight over Arizona and New Mexico brought us to San Francisco and its scary airport..the runway starts just a few meters from the water's edge or so it seems. There were serious doubts that our two suitacases would arrive with us as the Austin Airport ground staff had taken an agonisingly long time to search our suitcases, because they happened to be locked. Some search equipment was faulty and we had to go to the far end of the airport for the search. Then a very stressed out baggage handler seemed to think that there was not enough time to get the cases to the other end where our plane awaited.

San Francisco
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Anyhow, despite Marisol's apprehension and the strong probablity against a convenient outcome, the suitcases appeared on the carousel, where our friend Jerry had agreed to meet us. It transpired that Marisol had her unique effect on all of the electronics as Jerry's car keys and his gadget for toll payments both failed. But nothing that a combination of IT knowhow could not fix!

Cable car and Lombard Street
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

We were soon driving down the usual maze of US highways in this quaint (manual) VW, which Jerry has lovingly owned through his postings at Washington, Frankfurt and now San Francisco. After a brief rest stop at Jerry and Margarita's home we headed straight across the Golden Gate bridge for a lunch across the bay in a small town called Tiburon. Later we drove around the famous undulating hillside roads in SF, with Jerry urging his car through traffic, as we drove around the more famous sites. This included Lombard street and its snaking section down a hill, with a million Japanese tourists, and finally parked near the Coit tower. In the fading light while we walked down the hill at Coit, Jerry's VW began to spew smoke from the engine, and appeared to be on fire! Oh dear, too much action for the poor car for one day. We patched up the car as best, and made it home to call it a day (a long day which had begun at about 4am in Austin!)

Coit Tower
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Over the next week we had relentless tourist action, as Jerry and Margarita showed us everything there is to see around the SF and the bay area. We drove through Sausalito to Tiburon on day one, then later in the week we drove to Palo Alto and to the hallowed grounds of Stanford. On another day we were invited to Jerry's daughter Carolina's home in Mill Valley, where Marisol took my photo in front of Avatar's Punjabi Burritos, which later led our friend Loli to comment that this perhaps referred to a Donkey curry! We also spent some time with Andres, the elder brother of Carolina who also lives in SF just down the road from his parents.

(more photos via link at the end of this post)

There were further excursions to the stunning Muir Woods, which is the last remaining forest of the famous Redwood trees. A magical place which we did not want to leave. A wrong turn of the GPS had given us a fantastic tour of the surrounding area with its spectacular scenery of mountains and the Pacific and an extra twenty miles to our route! We approached the Muir from the far side and we did not see the famous trees, which are generally more than 100 meters tall, untill we were within the car park!

Muir Woods
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

We could not really come this far and not include a trip to the Napa Valley to taste some wines, and we picked one winery with a beautiful castle, suggested by those in the know. The drive through the valley was nothing short of spectacular, but the wines at this winery turned out to be average, for us honed on the Rioja wines. The winery specialised in Italian grapes and just like in Australia, we found the wines overpriced. The barman who attended to us was rude, and at one point when he ignored my request to not serve the last few drops of a bottle to me, I tipped the contents of my glass into the sink. He was loudly angry with me and proceeded to treat us badly while trying to chat up some ladies who were also trying out the same wines.

We left but as I was leaving I let him know that we found him very rude, which led to further loud outbursts from the man, an arrogant Italian. As we were making our way out the manager approached us and asked what the commotion had been about. We apologised for having made the fuss, but explained how we had been treated. The manager was very apologetic for the behaviour of their staff and immediately offered to refund all costs (which we duly accepted). Generally we found people to be utterly polite and this was definitely an exception.

De Young Museum
(more photos via link at the end of this post)

In between there was enough time to walk around SF, China Town, the famous Fisherman's Wharf, the Painted Ladies (some brightly painted town houses), and a visit to the De Young Museum of Modern Art. This turned out to be a delightful building (Herzog and de Meuron) with some excellent exhibitions, including one of recent works of David Hockney some of which we had seen already in London and Bilbao. Here we found that the most recent work in the show had only been completed a month before, perhaps a few days before the exhibition opened. It was a rainy day and it was lovely to be indoors at this beautiful space set in wonderful park grounds. 

And we noticed that just down the road from Jerry's place a huge set of tents housed a Cirque de Soleil show. So we made our arrangements and one evening walked over to see the performance. We were not disappointed, it lived up to its reputation. It was called Amaluna.

(more photos via link at the end of this post)

Not to be missed, we managed to squeeze in a visit to UC Berkeley campus just hours before catching our ten hour flight to London and on to Bilbao and home. This brought back memories of the heady days of student unrest in the sixties and the seventies, Haight Ashbury, Kerouac and Ginsburg. Alas the Haight Ashbury district of SF is a shadow of its past and how I saw it the first time I was in SF about thirty years ago.

And so finally the saga of the suitacases. The travellers life is hard. We arrive at last (after 24 hours) at Bilbao, and were the only passengers whose luggage did not show up! While we wondered what to do with a sinking feeling, an airport worker walked up to us and asked "where have you come from". We revealed glumly that we had come from San Francisco. "Oh" she said "come with me". We rushed over to another carousel where luggage that needed to go through customs appeared and sure enough there they were!!!

Many thanks to Jerry and Margarita

A long and wonderful trip was at an end..and we proceeded to ride out the jet lag with smiles on our faces!
Click here to see more photos from San Francisco

Monday, 2 December 2013

Travels in the US Part 2 - Austin with Grandkids

A short flight took us on to Austin, with a lot of turbulence on the way. There was a half hour delay while we waited for the US Vice President to leave Austin, with the whole airport shut to normal flights. Fortunately he was delayed and they opened up the airport so we did not have to wait longer. Manjeet was waiting for us at the airport, and with our hire car we followed him home down a maze of highways. About half way the storm caught up with us and the visibility was so bad that we had to stop on one side of the highway, until we could see where we were going.
If it was not for the VP, we would have been home before the storm.

See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

We were soon home and began to enjoy our stay with Manjeet, Almu and our two grandchildren Manjeet Jr. and Nicolas. They are both at ages which have their different charms and it was great fun to watch and engage in conversation, play and laugh with them. Manjeet is almost three and talking in both English and Spanish and learning French. What is more he would often say 'That is not how you say that' if you repeated a French word that he had learnt.
Jito at school
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

It was also hard work, and we realised that we no longer had the stamina to either play or look after them for long periods, as we may have done in our younger days with our own kids. Fortunately for us, both spent long hours at the nursery school that they attend, which gave us time to recover and go do some shopping and enjoy the Austin area, which is indeed very beautiful. Among all the lakes and rivers there were also lots of nice eating places and we did a lot eating too (it shows).

Canal walk at San Antonio
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

Midway through our stay my birthday came around, and Manjeet and Almu took us down to San Antonio and treated us to a stay at a really great hotel. San Antonio was wonderful. They have managed to construct a canal all around the centre of the city and one can walk along the canal at a lower level than the street without having to tackle traffic and road crossings. The walk is full of restraurants and cafes plus entrances to large shopping malls.
Dancers at the Day of the Dead celebrations
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

While we were out on the canal we noticed a commotion at one point and followed the people who were making a way to what turned out to be a market where thousands of people of Mexican origin were celebrating the day of the dead! There was music, dance, food and a market with stalls and where people were having their faces painted. Plus there were lots of little alters displaying the 'Day of the Dead' kind of materials in pseudo installations to remember loved ones departed. Since we had not been to one of these before this was quite interesting for us.
Marisol and a Day of the Dead display
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

There were also a few sights to see, which included some old Spanish missions and the Alamo which was not as spectacular as we expected but historically significant as the famous battleground between the Mexicans and the Texans. Just down the road was a museum which had a roaring dinosaur on display, with which the boys were fascinated, but terrified at the same time. It was really funny to see their reactions to this mechanised display and we could hardly tear them away from this display. At one point I gave a jolt to Manjeet while he was watching the dino with his mouth open, and he nearly jumped out of his pants! Reminds me of my own uncle 'MamaJi' used to do the same to me.
We all really enjoyed San Antonio.
The San Juan mission in San Antonio
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

The weather was altogether lovely and throughout the stay in Austin we used summer clothes and dreaded having to come back to northern Spain, which by all accounts was awash with rain and getting cold. There are a few shopping malls and two large Outlet malls, and we spent a lot of time (and money) at these locations making sure we had obtained everything on our long shopping lists..

Towards the end we returned the compliment, by letting Manjeet and Almu go off for a quiet couple of days, while we looked after the boys. This was a tricky operation as we had to figure all the details of a complete day and night. This involved a myriad of tasks not forgetting the drive to and from the schools. Fortunately we had a GPS (or two!) and with shrewd programming we made sure we could do the school trips without getting lost.
But the experience was nothing short of lovely but exhausting, and we were relieved to see Manjeet and Almu return and take up their parenting once more!
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

There was also the day that Manjeet's school teacher invited me to go and read a story to the kids and the the 'trick or treat' expedition for the kids on Haloween night which turned out to be a lot of fun. At the reading I was really impressed by the attention span of these little kids while I read from 'But No Elephants' to them. They listened for 10 or 15 minutes and asked lots of questions! At Haloween we carried pumpkin baskets and enthused the kids into walking upto every doorway in the neighbourhood, then reminded them to say the words. That evening at home too they showed great interest in waiting for passers to come up to them and ask them for goodies, and they remained glued to the porch outside the house for a long time.
The trick or treat expedition
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

On other occasions I accompanied Manjeet to his Tuesday football game where his team the 'Lentejas de Tejas' roughly translated 'Lentils of Texas', played their first game of the season and won comfortably. We met some of Manjeet's colleagues, Spaniards fortunate to have nice jobs overseas, and another couple with whom we had dinner, and who could have formed a United Nations with Manjeet and Almu, as they were from Serbia and Iran.
Nico and Jito
See more photos from Austin - link at the end of this post

By the time two weeks were over the kids had got used to seeing us everyday and we had grown accustomed to their company. So when the time came to take our leave it was hard, but we were also looking forward to our next port of call... 
San Francisco!

More photos from Austin

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Miami and the wedding of Jessie and Joe

We had been planning a trip over to the US to attend the wedding of Jessie and Joe for some time. As many of the closest family members were unable to travel due to age or other pressures, it became even more important that Marisol and I show up in Delray Beach, about 50 Kms from Miami in Delray Beach. To take advantage of a long trip we had also arranged to spend some time with Manjeet and our grandchildren in Austin and then to mosey on over to San Francisco to take up a long standing invitation from our very good friends Jerry and Margarita. More about that later.

Fortunately for us Iberia saw sense and changed our first connecting flight so that we would not have to rush over from one terminal to another in Madrid in less than 45 minutes with our hearts in our mouths and our wedding clothes in our left behind suitcases. By the time the depature date arrived we had been told that we would take an earlier flight and have plenty of time in Madrid. Turned out to be fortunate as our flight was 30 minutes late leaving Bilbao! We had still taken the precaution of packing our wedding outfits in our hand luggage, just in case.
Sangeeta, Marisol and I 
(More photos - click link at the end of this post)

We arrived in Miami to our waiting hire car and our trusted friend the GPS, without which we would probably be still driving around Florida looking for Delray Beach and our hotel, given the US romance with huge infrastructure of roads, with their service roads and endless possibilities of taking a wrong turn and be forever lost on the freeways. After a brief scare when our spanish GPS with our manually loaded US maps would not respond and finally sprang to life, we arrived at our hotel with an air of someone who knew what they were doing and where they were going!
Jasvinder, Birinider, I and Marisol
(More photos - click link at the end of this post)

The wedding was very special, where we caught up with many family folks who we had not seen in many a year, and some who we only knew from emails and had never met. A very intimate but very classy wedding held outdoors at a very nice venue. There was a fantastic attention to details right down to a tube of sun tan lotion amongst a host of goodies for guests arriving at their hotels.

The proceedings got off to a great start with the meeting of the two families the day before the wedding, where we got to spend time away from all the fuss with Joe's parents and some of the other members of their family. We hit it off with Joe's parents straight away and when it came out in conversation that they had been owners of a VW caravanette in their younger days, we began to warm to them even more, because we too had owned one when I first met Marisol. More common experiences emerged but as always too little time and we agreed to carry on the conversation by all available means.
Jessie and Joe's wedding ceremony
(More photos - click link at the end of this post)

Joe (the groom) is quite a fishing enthusiast so there were many elements of the wedding with the fishing theme. Notably the rings were delivered at the ceremony by Graeme, Jessie's little nephew, at the hook end of a tiny fishing rod! The ceremony was quite emotional with a quite a few tears shed by both the bride and the groom, and even the lady who officiated the ceremony.
Jessis and Joe with Jasvinder, Birinder, and family

Afterwards there were the usual photographs, and we had been invited to participate in a surprise for the bride and groom in the form of a routine where six couples did a short dance to a tune of their choice. It was meant to be mostly Bhangra music, however as we did not know any tunes, they let us dance to Jailhouse Rock! This caused quite a commotion and a video taken by Manjeet was seen by our contacts around the world.
At Jessie and Joe's home in Delray
(More photos - click link at the end of this post)

At South Beach

After all the action had quitened down, we spent a few days just driving around Miami and catching up on the touristic bits. The South Beach was a lovely place, however we found that the sea was a bit rough compared with Laredo, where we live. All in all there are a lot of rich people living in huge beachside homes up and down the coast, and the streets in Delray Beach were crawling with Ferraris and Lamborghinis and other expensive machines.

Not a bad place to retire to, if you have a healthy bank balance!

Soon it was time to say goodbye and onto our second stop - Austin, Texas.

See all the photos from the Florida trip

Monday, 26 August 2013

Murals in medieval churches in Spain

At a gathering of Artists and Poets friends, the owner of the restaurant where we stopped for a long (perhaps 4 hours) lunch, which is typical in Spain due to the after meal conversations called the 'sobremesa' literally 'over the table', offered to show us around the local medieval churches which are dotted around everywhere, and some of which are now not in use and being conserved as tourist attractions or national heritage. 
Everyone knew how good these old churches can be and often house visual treasures only to be found in Italy and Spain. So everyone agreed and off we went on out of the way roads and tracks. We were not disappointed..'you will be surprised by the interior' he said. Both the churches we visited contained frescoes which were both visually stunning and very different from the usual church material in their representations.
Here are a few pictures to illustrate..the churches we visited were the Santa Olalla de la Loma and the San Juan de Mata de Hoz, both near the little town of Olea a few kilometres south of the hill station known as Reinosa in South Cantabria.

The San Juan Church Murals

Santa Olalla Murals

The Mural with the Last Supper (including fish)

Thed Mural depicting Hell!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A stroke of luck - or five - on the same trip?

It maybe that once in a while one might have a stroke of luck when on a long haul trip, although its more likely that it is the other way around, but to have a series of lucky breaks on a single trip with couple of babies in tow, then the angels are looking after you and you would be forgiven for buying a few lottery tickets on the day (although I do have my own view of lottery tickets which will have to wait for another post). This was the case for Manjeet,  Almu and our two grandsons Jito and Nico on a recent flight from the beaches of Spain back to Austin, which involved three different flights and some tight connections!

All went well until the Madrid-Dallas flight which was delayed an hour, but on arrival it turned out that there were severe storms in the area, and all flights in and out of Dallas were affected. While queueing for an hour and half at the immigration, our gang discovered that all flights to Austin had been cancelled, except for some reason the one they were on. At the end of the immigration control they discovered that their flight had been delayed but scheduled to leave in a few minutes. With the prospect of spending a night in Dallas with a big count of luggage and babies and more, they decided to have a go at catching the flight which was in another terminal with a security check and a check-in of their luggage with potential queues on the way.

First the check-in, where they needed to convince the staff that they could still make the flight, something the counter agents found doubtful. Somehow they convinced the check-in agent to check-in their bags. Next up was a security check which looked like a half hour wait in a queue, but Manjeet eyed a fast-track lane and Almu turned into a Hollywood star and pretended to be a lost, tired and confused mother of two who needed help as she walked up to the fast-track. The security guard at the entrance to the lane was convinced and let her in, with the last second addition of the suddenly materialised Manjeet.

Next up was another queue which also had to be negotiated, and again at the merciful fast-track the agent happened to be arguing with another passenger while our (not that easy to miss) gang of four slipped past! At the gate of the flight they arrived just in time to find that not only had their seats not been assigned to someone else, which would normally have been the case with so many cancellations, and that they were still in time to catch the only flight to Austin that evening.

The final piece of a blessing in disguise was that their luggage did not make it on to the Austin flight. Manjeet and Almu had worried about how they would manage to get their two kids, several large suitcases and two push chairs and car seats into their car to get home. As it happened because the luggage arrived the next day, a nice man from the airline took their luggage in a van to their doorstep the next day, just like the doctor ordered.

Some folks are born lucky, or perhaps the collective prayers of the family and friends create a protective aura that looks after us when we most need it.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Venice and the Biennale

When our good friends Maria Jesus and Massimiliano, who happened to have lived in Venice in the past, told us of their plans to visit Venice and the Biennale, we could not resist going on the same flights and the same hotel and just tag along with them.
Massimiliano, Marisol (with shade) and Maria Jesus
Venice Canal
St Marks square
Venice was hot and sweltering, but being seasoned travellers we had brought our umbrellas to create our own shade..we had been in Venice on earlier trips but being shown around using short cuts and amusing stories of past residents and remaining palaces was not to be missed.
The Art on display was just amazing with many countries pavilions and exhibitions all around the city.
Spices at Arsenale
Estati Uniti (USA)  pavillion
After staggering around in the heat, it has to be said that this year the main events in the Gardini and Arsenale were great, but the associated events all around the city were slightly disorganised. Many were closed on three or four days of the week, and others had haphazard hours so that you never knew if they were going to be open when you arrived. Many were located in odd places which were hard to find and the not to be forgotten Sarajevo pavillion which appeared to be unreachable, and only visible from the Arsenale side of a lake!

Raining gold coins

Comments in the press say that the standard of art this year is high and it is one of the best events of recent years, and its true that mercifully most of the art is by young and talented artists with very few of the hyped and dead artists' stuff that I find dreadful in modern art events. There is a lot of attention being paid to Chinese artists and they have installed some stunning shows. The glass exhibition at one incredible palace was remarkable and the Russian pavillion with its exhibition dedicated to Danae from Greek mythology, was my favourite. It had a huge installation which took up all the rooms and had raining gold coins which were cycled through the installation with visitors participation. More about the installation here. (and even more here)

After all the walking, eating and enjoying the fantastic Venice setting we are once again back at home ... and its raining :-(

135 Photos from Venice

Sunday, 16 June 2013

What day is it? Monday - We must be in London!

A couple of weeks ago we found ourselves in London for various reasons, chief among them was the SAL exhibition (called Take It or Leave It) in which Marisol was participating. Not too far behind was the wedding of Natalia, daughter of our friends Rafael and Rosemary and of course not to be missed was my opportunity to sample the delightful food from all over the world that you can find in London.
The first stop was the ARTHouse gallery in SouthEast London where the SAL group of artists which included Marisol, were to exhibit their latest work. Marisol's 'The State of Things' had an installation that reflected the broken economies of many of the European Union countries, whose initials can spell PIGS and more.
The broken PIGS

Then it was a hectic round of the latest exhibitions at all our favourite galleries including the National, RA, TATE and the Saatchi..all of which worth seeing and not to be missed several galleries in Cork Street,and Saville Row, plus an exhibition at Sotheby of the forthcoming auctions which include a big Indian Modern art collection. There was also the Pinta exhibition of Spanish and SouthAmerican art at Earls Court, for which we had several complimentary tickets.

Marisol at a Subodh Gupta installation

In between our friends Adrian and Luna had invited us to one of their performances at a small shop in Dean Street. We were not disappointed..their work is always excellent.

Looking up the Shard building - So tall that your turban can fall off looking at it!

Marisol and Anil
Then we had plenty of time to walk around and catch up with our many friends in London..they know who they are so I wont mention them all! Except Anil and Hannah who are special and we had them in mind when we made our trip to London.
Me - at the summer pavillion, Serpentine gallery

The men's at Dishoom restaurant..the Hindi word is Bawa..draw your own conclusions!
And the restaurants! We tried all our favourite cuisines..only to be found all together in London! Anil introduced us to a new Indian restaurant called Dishoom, with an ageing Mumbai Cafe decor. The visit to the mens room had a surprise in store for me..although in our party only I could read Hindi! 
A special mention though for the kitchen of John and Loli, who put us up at their 5 star home within a stone's throw from the Abbey Road studios and the iconic zebra crossing made famous by the Beatles. The meals they fed us during our stay were worth a Michelin or two!

The happy couple - Natalia and Tom

Finally the wedding of Natalia, daughter of our friends Rafael and Rosemary, who we have known since Venezuela, before Natalia was born, which was a fantastically sunny and lovely day and the icing on the cake of a flying visit by our friend Jerry from SanFrancisco, who attended the wedding and flew all the way back again the next day, all the more remarkable after his heroic antics in an operating theater recently. The wedding was full of events to remember, including fainting ladies and a police chase of our boat on the Thames!

A marvellous two weeks in our old hunting grounds!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Med Cruise - It is all over - back to Spain (6)

So that was it..our suitcases had already been delivered to the plane, we gathered at the airport, again marshalled into our flight and back to Madrid. Overnight and we had enough time in the morning to catch the big exhibition by all women artists at the Canal Foundation about a protest on the subject of Generic violence mainly against women. There were works by luminaries such as Yoko Ono and Abramovitch and many more.

Then it was to the airport once again and take the Ryanair flight to Santander and home.
With our suntans and a thousand photographs to remember the cruise..

Med Cruise - Mykonos and Athens (5)

Another day another Greek Island - A whole day of sailing and the following morning we were moored outside Mykonos. Another idyllic island with narrow meandering streets and lots of tourist shopping and restaurants. Greece is supposed to be in a financial crisis. Not in Mykonos! prices were high, though one old lady in a patio outside a typical house tried to explain to me that the things were really bad. I tried to sympathise, but it turned out that her woes were not financial but with the rise in crime and theft.

We looked around at the tour guide spots, such as the wind mills, which were not in the best of condition, and the little Venice, which was also a bit run down and not really anything like Venice. Still in a small island where there is nothing much to write home about, the little things become important.

However it was a very pretty island, but we were soon back in the boat, the sun deck, jacuzzi, the cocktails, entertainment and a nice dinner.

The last stop was Athens and we had another excursion booked. After the experience at Istanbul this was again a good idea as we were able to pack in a lot of sightseeing in eight hours.The tour guide was a very informed man, who tried to give the tour party a thorough explanation of aesthetics and mathematics associated with the Acropolis and other mythical buildings, boring many to tears but fascinating all the same.
Olympic Stadium - Athens

 Aesthetics at the Acropolis

He was also very critical of Elgin (as one would expect since Elgin literally carved out the marble panels in the Acroplis and transported them to England) for his criminal activity, and to further annoy him (and the Greeks) one of the boats on which the marbles were being taken, sank and many of those priceless panels were lost for ever.
Marble panels at the Acropolis

If I remember correctly, there were some 60 or more panels and just one of them came up for auction, and fetched something like 50 million Pounds! Not surprised that they are now asking for them to be returned.

It was a thrilling experience to see all these monuments that we had heard so much about.