I’m cruising in Greece!

Just a(nother) quick update. I promise promise promise I am going to blog about Paris, Amsterdam & the other sites in the Netherlands that I visited AND Portugal. Internet time has been rare and – since I decided to take things down a notch in Portugal – I’m spending more time reading and journaling, which I wanted and needed to do.

On Saturday I flew from Porto, Portugal to Madrid for a brief stopover enroute to Greece. I had booked a very inexpensive week on a Classical Greece EasyCruise early in my planning, knowing that I may not even make it. But after ditching Turkey, I found reasonable flights between Spain and Athens so I decided to take the cruise. I am very glad. Not only is it a teaser for a longer visit to this region (Greece, Turkey and, of course, Italy are on the list) but the cruise is just what I needed right now. I will be in one place – my own miniscule cabin – for an entire week. I have my tours prebooked and have already met some fun friends on the boat. And I can get a desperately needed pedicure, ha! Life should be easy for this week.

By the way, it finally happened. I was tired and hungry and faced with nothing but sweet pastries and dry ham sandwiches for breakfast. So I did it…I ate a McDonalds Egg McMuffin. And it was damn good. I even got fresh-squeezed OJ (they have to upgrade in Europe).

In Madrid, I immediately ate some tapas. Oh how I missed tapas…I’m not really sure why I ate anything else in the evenings!?. I then went to the Reina Sophia museum to see Picasso’s masterpeice Guernica“. My interest in the Spanish Civil war, as well as World War II, greatly increased during this visit to Europe. American soil feels very removed from most of the affects of World War II….even Hawaii feels like a foreign country when you visit it (admit it…) Over here it is so clearly still a part of the collective conscious in a different way than at home. And as a visitor, it is very powerful to see a picture in a building lobby of the bombed out shell it was in WWII and to see how profoundly these wars influenced the art of the time. Guernica is/was a town in the Basque country of northern Spain where, in 1937, Franco allowed his buddy Hitler to try a new technique on the town: carpet bombing. There is much debate around both the intention of this air raid and the casualty details, but the bottom line is that the town was effectively incinerated and much of the civilian population died horrible deaths. The news shocked the rest of Europe – remember this type of air raid (or perhaps even air raids period) was a relatively new concept at the time. The leftist Republicans of Spain claimed it was done on purpose, which would be a war crime. The Nazi’s claimed it was an accident — the first example of “collateral damage”?

At any rate, Picasso was working on a commission for the Paris Worlds Fair (?) and quickly switched gears to paint Guernica. The museum has various studies he did for the mural (it’s huge) plus a series of photos taken as the work progressed. These are fascinating because they show how the mural contents changed as time went along. There are also works by Dali and many others, of course, include Joan Miro. I really enjoyed the museum and want to amend my previous statement that I don’t like or get modern art. It is abstract art that I don’t get.

Sunday morning, I got up insanely early to fly from Madrid to Athens. It took 4 metro trips, a plane ride and a taxi to reach my ship! It is a small ship – about 250 passengers – and the demographic is totally mixed (although mostly American and British). This type of “interest cruise” is a new concept for them – usually they do party cruises around the Greek Islands. They seem to be are testing ways to extend the season. It is chilly at night (about 50 F) but in the high 60’s or low 70’s during the day. Today it was sunny, cloudy, windy and rainy at various times. We are cruising to various ports overnight, where we pile on the dreaded tour bus and get to visitin’ historical sites. At night we have drinks and dinner and they are threatening us with disco contests and the likes.

There is even a guest lecturer from Cambridge – a lovely postdoc in Archaeology named Michael. He seems very knowledgeable and a good speaker (ie not overly academic), so we hope to re-learn our history in easy-to-digest bites. I feel like I will learn quite a bit. I am ashamed to admit I remember next to nothing from my schooling on ancient greece…in fact today we learned that “Greece” didn’t even exist until recent history. But more on that later.

I am at an internet cafe in town right now…it is prohibitively expensive and unreliable on the ship, so I will likely be out of touch for most of the week. I fly to Barcelona on Sunday night. Cheers!

Pais Vasco II: beach fun

Every time I’ve gone to the beach recently, I’ve had a blast. An easy but awesomely good time. San Sebastian was no exception. It also marks my introduction to Rugby and La Copa del Mundo 2007!

I stay at a tiny hostel which was basically a relocated Irish dude named David’s home. It is legit and set up well, it’s just his house and he runs it. He moved to SS five years ago.

There were 4 twin beds in the room (yay – not a bunk bed in sight!) I hung with my 3 roommates and random others the next 2 days. In the bed on the left….sweet Katie who is from the US, a recent grad living and working in London, trying to figure out her next move as she has a soon-to-expire student visa. To the right…2 guys from Denmark – old friends on vacation – Anders & Chris who were there to party. Both spoke perfect English plus Chris speaks Porteguese. I love how so many Europeans are multi-lingual.

I arrived about 7pm and plans were being laid to watch the New Zealand-France rugby quarter-final match at an Irish pub down the road. Even David’s 80 year old aunt was excited! Of course I joined right in and went on to learn quite a bit about rugby. Later that night we partied on the beach a bit – they have an elevated boardwalk that runs the length of the beach. Underneath the boardwalk they have clubs that open all night and the partiers spill out on the beach. I’m not into the clubs so I just enjoyed hanging on the beach. I think there were some late-night swimmers but I found the water too chilly for anything but my feet!

SS is a pretty 2 kilometer shell-shaped beach with 2 small “mountains” on each side of the harbor exit. The next morning, Katie and I went for a hike up the one on the right. We had a really rough start after running into a gravely injured kitten. It was traumatic and all I’ll say is that a nice British gentleman carried that kitten on the hill with his bare hands, following a local I’d flagged down and explained we needed a vet who would work on a Sunday.

After that incident had passed, we walked to the top to have a photo op and seek out some reputedly awesome homemade sangria. We found it and had a great afternoon talking and drinking sangria in the sun. We both got a little sunburned! Photos to come. By the way, they were playing Tom Waits 😉

That night, we headed to watch the Argentina-Scotland(?) match. I was the only person pulling for Argentina – I always route for the team from the Americas. We watched it standing in small bar with locals munching tapas. It was seriously perfect.

The tapas in SS are pretty cool. They are called pinchos(sp?) and look like fancy crostini or sushi. The displays are so pretty and fun to look at for a food lover like me 😉 Bars compete for your attention by making awesome dispalys.

Huh, I just noticed that I abbreviated San Seb as SS. And SS are the first letters in Sparkle Search. I’ve been thinking it’s pretty safe to say I have my sparkle back – therefore I shortened the name of my blog to Operation SS. I’m sure the SS will eventually mean something else too, but that is to figure out later! I digress…

I ate A LOT of tapas in SS. Another great thing about them is they are cheap! That night we had probably 5 small beers or glasses of wine each, plus tapas until we were full for 15€ a person. Hello Paris??? Your basic glass of wine in Spain was so cheap and I totally didn’t appreciate it at the time. I mean, I didn’t really realize how affordable it is to eat and drink well there.

There’s not much more to write on SS, although I feel like I had a grand adventure…apparently doing nothing! Seriously, with nothing really to do or see, just eating and drinking and being at the beach always makes the mind relax in a certain way…few choices, less stress. It was a great respite before moving on to Paris, which is what I did the next day.