2007 Europe getaway and escape, part 1

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2007 EUROPE GETAWAY AND ESCAPE – PART 1
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After what seemed like an astronomical amount of preparation and planning we finally took departure from our home at 6:30 AM in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.
First by foot then by bus to the city center toting two small back-packs and our computer bag we boarded a taxi to the airport.
Our 15 day trip getting to Europe that began April, 19 took a convoluted route on a variety of conveyances by foot, by bus, by taxi, airplane, shuttle, ship, train and ultimately bicycle.
The secret to this type of travel is the science of traveling light with only carry-on luggage.
This was going to be more than just a getaway trip. This was going to be an escape.
Starting in Yucatan, Mexico with the strange and interesting out-back world of indigenous Maya still practicing multi-millennium old rituals in their housing and their dress, their language and lifestyle is contrasted in Merida with its mega-stores, monster sub-divisions and raging traffic putting on average 53 new automobiles per day on the city streets.
When I first visited Yucatan more than thirty years ago I arrived captaining a new fishing trawler while I was delivering it to a new Mexican buyer. That trip across from Florida traveling at ten and a half knots took two and a half days…we would now traverse that same distance in an hour and a half in the comfort of a jetliner.
Winging our way over the tropical Florida Keys with its uniquely colored topography in gradients of greens and blues conjured up found memories of our lovely winters more than thirty years ago sailing through those enchanted waters when Arab oil embargoes made the place into a sailor’s heaven. And yes Jane and I could still name each and every one of those distinctively different Florida Keys and all of the anchorages that we called home in those unforgettable years back then.
Miami was another case; Thirty years ago the tallest building on the Miami skyline was the federal building, now it is totally lost in the myriad of towering sky-scrapers and construction cranes resembling downtown Chicago.
We had two reasons for visiting Miami this trip; one was to pick up our new Dahon folding bicycles and the other was to board our cruise ship “Voyager of the Seas” for a twelve day trans-Atlantic crossing to Barcelona, Spain.
A word about those bicycles;
In our lives I don’t think that we have ever given more thought or shopped as hard as we did for our innovative Dahon fold-up bicycles. The persistence proved to be well worth the effort. They turn on a dime, climb steep hills, slip effortlessly through pedestrian traffic and shift up to bound cross-country toting our luggage.
The ultimate plus of these ingenious little contraptions is that they miraculously fold-up in seconds to a suitable size to ship on bus, train or plane.
In the airport they serve as our luggage cart.
A word about our cruise ship; “Voyager of the Seas”
Built in Finland in 1999 the Voyager of the Seas with a passenger capacity of 3,840 was at the time the worlds largest cruise ship.
I will not bore you with all of the cumbersome facts and endless statistics but it is worth mentioning here the fuel consumption of this ecology wrecking decadent form of diversion and transportation.
It takes one gallon of fuel to propel this monstrosity just 17 inches.
On our twelve day trans-Atlantic crossing the per passenger consumption of fuel amounted to 8, 767 gallons. (That means that Jane and I consumed 17,534 gallons of fuel on this segment of our trip alone.)
The grand total for this trip amounted to a staggering 27,179,448 gallons. More than twenty-seven million gallons of fuel in just twelve days and this ship runs 365 days a year!
The rest of this story we will tell with captioned photos.
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In the above photo Jane rides a Miami street with her new Dahon folding bicycle and we spot this Dade County police car sporting its homicide logo that conjured up memories of billboards that used to line Florida highways back in the 1970s and 80s. Those signs read; “SEE FLORIDA LIKE A NATIVE”, and below that logo was a loaded revolver pointing in your face. Florida hasn’t cleaned up its act yet.
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Arriving in style Jane and I venture aboard our cruise ship at Dodge Island in downtown Miami for our Saturday departure along with thousands of other departing sea travelers.
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Aboard ship is Jane, with Dodge Island, Miami and Biscayne Bay in the background. We used to call this town home when we lived at Coconut Grove back in the 1970s.
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Striking out across the broad Atlantic Ocean we leave Florida behind as we see the deep inky blue waters of the Gulf Stream turned up in our ships wake and enter the seas of the fabled Bermuda Triangle.
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Above is our floating 137,276 ton, 1,021 foot home; “Voyager of the Seas” docked at our first port of call; Hamilton, Bermuda.
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Inside our luxurious floating palace is this glitter and glitz three story dining hall where Jane and I are three times a day treated to pampered elegance of lavish gourmet multi course posh extravagance. Pictured above the waiters gather together to harmonize and sing to the dinner guests a welcoming song. (It sure was easy for Jane and I to fall into this mode of sumptuous self indulgence.)
***
Every day we would receive a message over the PA system in our cabin from our glib tongued entertaining Norwegian captain spiced with up-dates on interesting ship data.
These messages would always be followed with typical Scandinavian humor;
“Man who stands on toilet gets high on pot.”
“Man who jogs in front of car gets tired.”
“Man who jogs behind car gets exhausted.”
Jane and I grew up in the upper-Midwest with this type of corny humor and loved its silly simplicity.
Our Norwegian Captain was also a talented exhibitionist who several times during our voyage took to the stage in our nightly entertainment playing his guitar and singing.
He happened to be every bit as good as any of the entertainers hired explicitly to perform and our captain also coordinated the operation of the ship at the same time.
Our days at sea were filled with intellectual lectures, movies, craft presentations, ice skating shows, and trivia quizzes in English, German and Spanish just to mention a few diversions. Sports activities too numerous and diverse to talk about here were suited to all ages and tastes. Food was another diversion available 24 hours a day with coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and buffets. Lounges, bars, nightclubs, video game parlor and a gambling casino entertained. You will just have to go to the ships web-site to see it all.
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This is the main salon and promenade of our floating community. This Las Vegas look alike is four stories tall and nearly a third of a mile long with a decor of Scandinavian drab.
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In mid-Atlantic Hamilton, Bermuda is home to the mega-rich off-shore tax dodging corporate types that quietly live in this bastion of colonial British isolation.
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Everything in Bermuda is prohibitively expensive but we just had to sample their famous Gosling’s BLACK SEAL rum famous since 1806.
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Rescue at sea, the US Coast Guard flew 800 miles off shore to pick up a sick passenger.
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The Straits of Gibraltar with Africa behind and the Iberian peninsula of southern Spain north of the distinctive “Rock of Gibraltar”. This is our second port of call at this most southern point of Europe. Last time Jane and I were here the British pound was also at $2 and that made everything prohibitively expensive.
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Our second time to Alicante, Spain revealed enormous growth of this costal region.
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This is the real Spain completely out of the tourist loop.
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Jane and I were the only two people to disembark the Voyager of the Seas at Barcelona with bicycles and as you can see we are traveling light with only those two packs and a computer bag for our three month stay in Europe.
Barcelona…the bicycle city is the second largest city in Spain and the largest city on the Mediterranean Sea with more than three million.
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The view from our hotel room is spectacular looking out at this UNISCO world heritage Sant Pau Hospital designed by the Gaudi prodigy Lluis Montaner.
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Spain certainly has affordable wine. This 99c wine was $20 a jug in the ship.image0181.jpg
image019.jpgView down Gaudi boulevard from the Sant Pau hospital to the Gaudi church begun 1885.
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A small portion of the Sant Pau Hospital that covers three city blocks ornately designed.
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This is a week-day off-season when the mob of eager tourists throng the Gaudi Sagrada family church that was begun in 1885 and is scheduled for completion in 2026. The church is a real cash-cow raking in big bucks in admissions and attracting thousands of tourists to the city every year.
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Here is a glimpse at this wondrous monument to architectural design that went far beyond just lavish…without copying others Gaudi set his own standard of uniqueness that is nearly impossible to copy.image0231.jpg
After 122 years of construction this colossal monument is an inspiration to the dogged determination of these dedicated autonomous Catalonian people who still maintain their own language within Spain.image0241.jpg

Our visit by bicycle Sunday afternoon to the bay front where the number of Barcelona’s lavishly ornate parks and monuments even put the Italians to shame.image0251.jpgimage0261.jpg

Christopher Columbus is held in high esteem here judging by these ornate monuments.image0271.jpg
Round one of a typical Spanish meal that always includes a bottle of good red table wine.
image0281.jpgThis town is made for photo-ops and bicycles.

image0291.jpg Main street bedecked with Gaudi classical architecture and throngs of tourists.

image0301.jpg12th century church in the Gothic end of town with narrow streets and ancient structures.

image0311.jpgBarcelona known as the city of the bike has introduced these novel rental stations where you can pick up or return the bicycle you have rented by the hour, day, week or month. The BICI rental stations are conveniently located near bus, train and subway stations so you can pick up your bicycle at one station and return it at any other. We saw these neat distinctive bicycles everywhere. I don’t know what they did but Barcelona residents were
universally kind and considerate to bicyclers be it on sidewalks or busy city streets.

image31a.jpgThe morning we left our hotel room at 7:00 AM we made the six kilometer completely downhill ride to the train station gliding every centimeter of the way and we even beat the morning traffic. What a pleasant way to get to the train gliding across town through beautiful monument filled parks and wide avenues with clearly designated bicycle lanes.

image0321.jpgWe flew first to Mallorca aboard Air Berlin, then over the Alps to Munster, Germany.

image0331.jpgWe wanted to cool off when we left Yucatan and here was our chance in northern Germany. Though it was cold wet and raining, believe it or not we were prepared for it and it even felt good, exhilarating and very invigorating to say the least. Check out Jane’s rain gear and the official May-pole in the background.image0341.jpg
These are the kind of roads we came all the way to northern Germany to bicycle.

image0351.jpgGerman bread and French wine are more reasons that make this trip worthwhile.

image0361.jpgOld churches always make for interesting photo-ops and we make good use out of our little folding bicycles for getting around to these places that the tourists miss most.

image0371.jpgOur first day in Nordhorn, Germany we meet our old friend Wilfried Humbert coming home from his engineering job by bicycle.

image0381.jpgThese bicycle information signs not only give distances and directions but also designate different special cycling routes and are found very conveniently located at intersections.

image0391.jpgJane is back on her 40 year old Swedish cross-country bicycle equipped with fore and aft saddle bags and stocked with the various types of clothing we need to cope with the variety of weather conditions here. We even carry German outfits that resemble snow-mobile suits and knee-high rain boots. We are fully fitted out with emergency repair equipment and picnic supplies plus our thermos filled with hot coffee. We roll along at 22 kilometers sustained and do over 40 km a day on average…this is the place for it!

image0401.jpgOur friend Karin Humbert and Jane, we meet at the Saturday market in the city center.

image0411.jpgCross-country biking with out friends Helga and Tilman Stürmer with their map and sat-nav. We ultimately follow Helga’s map.

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Lunch at home in our garden is quiet and very private. French wine, German bread and hot mustard plus special Dutch hot chili sauce from Thailand make eating here worth the trip plus interesting and spicy. Our apartment in Nordhorn is totally push-button even with electric windows and our fold-out patio awning rolls in and out by motor.

image0431.jpgThe north German country side is full of interesting historical novelties that are seldom visited by foreign tourists like this 1802 vintage wind-water powered mill that was recently fully restored and is completely functional.
It is interesting that all of the communities and local points of interest in this part of the world are connected by lovely paved bicycle paths. Our little folding bikes roll along and keep up with the big German models.

image0441.jpgThis is the Grenz a place that was set aside for the border between Germany and Holland and now that the border is open it became a corridor for recreation with a bicycle path.

image045.jpgThe Grenz border has bicycle information to both Germany and Holland

image0461.jpgThis part of the world of the heavily wooded Grenz area is ideal for biking.

image0471.jpgThis very same fine dinner wine sold in Holland for 2.29 Euros sells for 99c in Spain.

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