It’s Amazing Race Time again…….

If there was only one show on TV that I could watch, it would have to be The Amazing Race. The new season is starting this Sunday night and I am psyched up!  I have always believed that getting there is sometimes half the fun.  Now that premise is disputable concerning our most recent Barcelona adventure.  We definitely enjoyed the being there more than getting there but had our share of fun along the way.

In case you have never watched or just need a refresher, 11 teams start out and go from place to place through clues and meet obstacles and challenges along the way.  Each week one team will be “the last to arrive and be eliminated from the race.”  It is just delightful to me to see the different places that they go and the adventures that they have.  I can truly say that I am a little sad when it is over every week and can barely wait until the next.

Having looked over the teams for TAR 13, I have to make my winner’s pick of Terence and Sarah.  I think their New York state of mind will give them an upper hand.  That is if they make it past the first week.  The first week is completely luck and there is no good rhyme or reason as to who goes home.

So 8pm tonight you know where to find me, cozied up in front of the TV watching Phil and the teams make it to the first check in.


Back to Business

This abbreviated week has been about getting back on track at work and in my daily routine.  The jet lag has really stayed with me and thrown my schedule off for most of the week.  Up at 4:30 or 5:00 am and ready for sleep at 8:00 pm.  That seems to be slowly fading.  One person at work reluctantly said that jet lag is harder to get over as we get older – wait a minute! I heard that.  I am not old.

As I plunged into my pile of email earlier this week and weeded through the interesting stuff and the non interesting stuff – this one fell into the interesting pile. 

Part of the sustainable efforts that we promote in architecture, also deals with employee health.  LEED credits can be awarded to a project for promoting the health of their employees.  Here is an innovative idea that seems to be catching on.  A desk that doubles as a  walk station (click for a great article in the New York Times with all the details).

I think it is a great idea and I for one would love to get out of the stairwell and legitimately walk and work.  I am not sure I could use it for any kind of conference call.  Sure I know how to use the mute button, but when I need to interject a comment can you imagine the breathlessness and how would it be perceived.

I guess the main question is are you one of the coordinated people that could use such a device or just another worker’s compensation claim waiting to happen?  I really like the device and think I am coordinated to use such a device.  After all, I can walk and chew gum at the same time.


Coming Home

After one last terrific breakfast and a uneventful taxi ride to the airport, we are on our way home.   We decided to spend the last of our Euros on the taxi instead of trying to exchange them at the airport. 

Breakfast everyday was such a delightful surprise to me.  I didn’t expect much more than croissant and fruit if that.  There were three buffets of foods.  One just of fruits -every morning kiwis, ( I can’t wait to share with everyone how they cut and eat their kiwis)pineapple, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and strange things I had not seen but were great.  Then cheeses, brie, bogrus (?), and many different hard cheeses.  Many different sliced meats – turkey, smoked turkey, fish, ham, dried hams and salamis.  Also salad – it seems Europeans eat some salad for breakfast.  They  had hot dishes with potatoes, sauteed vegetables, bacon and scrambled eggs.  And then there was one last buffet of cereal and pastries.  yum!  As I am waking up in Salem this morning I am wondering were it is.  Oh,  back to reality.

Taking off from BCN we were treated to a slightly cloudy but stunning view of the shoreline of Barcelona.  We could easily pick out our hotel and some of the sights we had been exploring.  Barcelona is a beautiful city.

The plane ride home during the daylight was much nicer than the overnight flight over there.  Even though we lost an entire day and stayed up way way past our normal waking hours, it seemed easier to me.  The movie and most of the video system was not working properly on the plane.  We were able to watch the plane’s progress and play games.  Trivial contest between the passengers was fun but simply became addictive after about five hours.  By the 7th hours or so Matt and I were plotting way to go distract the guy in 32B as he was winning most every round.  

Customs went smooth, despite Matt’s perpetual guilty look.  I had picked up a few things in the Barcelona airport that were more than 3 oz. of liquids so I had to open up the checked luggage and  repack it.  Then we had a three hour wait.  That is when the serious jet lag hit us both.  However tired we were, it was nice to hear English again, understand every word that was spoken to us and use dollars.  Here is Matt doing his best impression of Dali or just trying to stay awake, you decide.

He did put a nice post up about his views of the architecture on his Matt Writes blog

After a short flight back to Roanoke, which we were told had people gasping in the back because it was so turbulent.  We both slept mostly through it.  We were happy to see our luggage (with nothing dripping out of it) and our chauffeurs.  Mom and Fish came to pick us up.

Today is about acclimating and getting back to the real world.  I am so happy to have had this experience and once again see other people and know that we are similar.  From the tourist bus on the first day of traveling, I noticed a local woman walking that was particularly tall and leggy.  At the same moment the two British ladies behind me noticed her as well.  Their comment to each other was “she has legs up to her armpits”.  While I have heard the phase a little differently back home, it is still the same.  I turned around and we all had a good laugh.

It is good to be home. ~K

Barcelona – Day Five, Saturday

Day Five, Matt was back on the tourist track. We first ventured on the metro to Casa Mila aka Casa Pedrera.  Once again I got disoriented coming out of one of the metros many stops and Matt was able to get us in the right direction. 
As we meandered a bit we stumbled across a Dali exhibit which again displayed the ongoing theme of pulpo.  Our getting a little lost just reinforces my belief that all things happen for reasons, some are more evident than others.  Eventually we made our way to Casa Mila for a once in a lifetime tour of another Gaudi building.  It was simpler than the previous Casa Batllo and more commercial.  The courtyards, curving facade and roof scape gave the building its personality.  We have great pictures from the roof top.  Most all the other landmarks can easily be seen from this vantage point.  Behind us in this picture (that a slightly confused but nice German tourist took for us) you can see the Torres AGBAR and Sagrada Familia.   You can also see my wild Barcelona hair by this point.  I think I am relaxed here.  Wouldn’t you agree?
After Casa Mila we decided to walk to the the Gothic Cathedral but first wanted to get lunch on the way.  Lunch at 2:30!  We got on a side street to avoid the crowds and found a nice cafe that had a clean bathroom and was good.  We had marvelous calamari and Matt ended up with carpachio – raw thinly sliced beef.  That was the only thing I wouldn’t try the whole trip.  Pulpo yes, raw meat no.
After lunch a few more blocks and we entered the Barri Gothic.  Here the streets are medieval meaning they don’t follow a grid and get very random.  It is easy to get lost at this point but we managed somehow to stumble into the cathedral.  It too is unfinished.  Perhaps the churches should charge more money for entrance to get more construction completed.  Both of the Gaudi residence buildings Batllo & Mila had hefty admission fees are were both restored beautifully.
After a nice and somewhat uninformed walk through the cathedral we stopped for Gelato and headed to Las Ramblas.  This is a wide center walk with lots of street vendors and mime type performers.  The toilet guy was the best in my opinion and he seemed to be making the most coin.  I found a nice pair of glass earrings for my one and only purchase on the trip.  We then found ourselves at the very south end of Las Ramblas and decided that a nice slow walk to the hotel was doable. 
Back at the hotel Matt and I were exhausted with feet on fire.  We decided that we hadn’t done everything we wanted but made a heck of a dent in Barcelona.  We decided that was it for us.  We were both ready to come home.  So we had and easy evening of it.  I walked to my favorite cafe for a wonderful mixed salad with tuna, avacado and feta and Matt had a piece of pizza with sweet ham and mushrooms.  Nothing extravaggant but just right.  ~K

Barcelona – Day Four, Friday

Matt spent the morning and early afternoon attending a SolidWorks training session.  I ventured up one of the nicest streets I have been on for a solitude walk to Parc Ciutadella.  I walked up the back side with no entrance, but I could hear the birds and other animals just on the other side of the wall in the zoo. 

As I ventured along the walk I came upon a most unique buidling. This one is a bit out there.  I tried to understand what the red fins were trying to represent.  I couldn’t figure it out.  The only connection I could make was the rough edge of the demolished building.  Perhaps the fins were emulating that edge?  Not sure but it seemed to be a building that attracted alot of attention.  Other more professional photographers were stopping by to photograph the same.

Eventually I reached the northern most gates of Parc Ciutadella.  What a great place!  Beautiful walks with lush vegetation, fountains, statues, a lake with row boats and some very strange people.  This group of young people were doing some sort of martial arts exercise to a tambourine.  It was bizarre and most stopped to watch.

Once Matt got finished with his Solidwork’s training session, we decided this would be a great afternoon to go to the aquarium.  It was suppose to be Europe’s largest, so we had high hopes.  Devon joined us for this event.  He was having a rough time of the afternoon.  He lost his reading glasses and left his SD card out of his camera.  Through it all he remained positive and we all had a good time.  We enjoyed having him along.  Back to the “Europe’s largest aquarium….. if that is true I wouldn’t want to see any others.  Having been to a few, this was not on our top ten list.  Although we made the best of it and we learned and saw new things, it wasn’t the cleanest, coolest or nicest aquarium we have visited.  The highlight was teh long moving tunnel.  Sting rays, sharks and other bizarre fish swam around us and overhead.  We finally get the answer to our burning question… pulp of what?  pulpo is octopus.  Now we know and that alone was worth the price of admission.

After the aquarium, we decided to hit up our favorite gelato stop and walk leisurley through the barconetta neighborhood.  Here the guy is spading out bitter chocolate and mora (blackberry) for me.

I had walked a blister on my toe and needed to stop at the pharmacia for more band-aids.   Turns out band-aides don’t translate so well, but the very nice young sales clerk talked me through.  she knew no English and I was limited on my Spanish.  Eventually I just took off my shoe and sock (always a good idea to use graphical representations if possible) and we got right to it.  Pretty much like a band-aid just a different name.

After sunset Matt and I tried again to see this one modern building called Torres AGBAR.  It is shaped like a crystal egg and lights up at night on Fri – Sun.  We tried earlier in the week and it wasn’t lit, but it was tonight.  We struggled to get this picture from a distance.  Once again we finished the day on tired feet and had absolutely no trouble sleeping in our hotel room.  ~K

Day Four’s Pictures

The other side of Barcelona

Flaming Palm Tree

Flaming Palm Tree

If you listen to Kim, you might think that the world over here in Spain is Gaudi-shaped. I admit freely that Gaudi’s stuff is certainly cool, almost as cool as Dali, but if you look around, there were penty of other things to enjoy about Barcelona as well.

Starting at the Roanoke airport, they have a flaming palm tree sculpture. Even though Barcelona is at about the same latitude as Roanoke, Barcelona has real palm trees, and Roanoke only has the flaming metal variety.

Another thing you might notice is that you never see Kim in any of these pictures. Of course there is a great reason for that. That reason is that I’m a terrible picture taker for whatever reason. I bought

Wanna bite 'o burrito?

Wanna bite?

her a nice camera for her birthday, and so she uses it. Here she got me trying to share my burrito in the Atlanta airport. That burrito turns out to be a cherished moment. While the food here in Barcelona has been good, it has not been very substantial. I was telling Kim tonight that it seems like I spend a fair amount of money on food here, but it’s a bit like eating air. It seems to have no substance.

We tried to prepare for the food situation here by practicing on a tapas restaurant in Charlottesville. Tapas turns out to be an expensive way to approach meals, but once we figured out that “pulpo” means “octopus”, our tapas adventures became somewhat more satisfying. Of course we learned that at the aquarium rather than before we ordered the “pulpo”. “Pulp of what?” I asked. “Pescado?” “Si, si!!” So the waiter agreed, and I thought we had pulp of fish coming, not that I knew what that was either. We thought maybe ground fish, but no. It was octopus. With a lot of paprika. Somewhere inbetween spicy mushrooms and chewy bicycle tube rubber.

Me and Devon

Me and Devon

Here I am with Devon, another SolidWorks addict from California. Since we’re kind of on the food theme here, Devon and I are at the table in the hotel’s restaurant. Barcelona, and maybe all of Spain and Europe, seems to not believe in three things to the same extent that Americans believe in them: Water. Ice. and Air Conditioning. Water is always purchased here, and it is always bottled. The tap water is really an awful cocktail of who knows what. When you do get water, it is generally room temperature or very close to room tempurature, and it never comes with ice. Air conditioning as we know it in the US does not exist here. To some extent it’s a nice thing not to be blasted with frigid air when you come in from the heat and you’re a little sweaty, but there might be an inbetween kind of thing. I sweat a lot anyway, but here I find myself sweating even inside. We found several situations where it was cooler outside than inside. The halls of the hotel here are more than a little warm, and the rooms only cool down to a certain point. So when Devon and I are eating breakfast, I don’t have water, and I won’t drink the milk, which at room temperature, just doesn’t taste right to me.

Again on the food topic, as we went around downtown Barcelona on the tour bus, we saw an inordinate number of Pizza Huts. Of all of the possible food to export from the US, why this? We saw a few McDonalds, several Pizza Huts and I think one Burger King. Just about anywhere you went you could get a “hamburgesa y papas fritas”, but it just doesn’t seem right to get something like that here. It seemed common to have fried eggs on top of french fries. At least one small restaurant we ate at called this combination an “American” dish, which surprised us Americans.

Who needs turkey legs, who wants a pig leg?

Who needs turkey legs, anybody want a pig leg?

It’s easy to see that a chain like Outback or Applebees wouldn’t make it here. Spain seems to focus on ham products more than beef or chicken. Here is something we saw in a city trash can just along the street. You could find the whole pig leg in any deli, but we didn’t expect to see the hoof and all just sticking out of a trash can. I half expected to see people walking down the street gnawing on pig legs the way you might buy a turkey leg at a fair in the US.

As for the Gaudi architecture, in particular the Sagrada Familia, I only have two things to say:
staring up, mouth open

staring up, mouth open

staring up, mouth open

staring up, mouth open

Barcelona – the sustainable side

I am most impressed with this city´s sustainability.  Everywhere we go I see something that I am wishing we had.  Here are just a few of the green things I have noticed….

Mass transit is a way of life here. You could easily live here without a car.  From the looks of it most locals don’t have a car.  Also the cross walks are all set back off the corners of the intersections just a bit and the crosswalks are giving their own right of way.  It is pretty interesting to see the pedestrian movement. 

Recycling prevalent on many scales.  Trash cans at the beach were even arranged in groups of three to promote sorting.

There is a free bike program for residents.  BiCiNg is the name of the program.  (BCN is the city code for Barcelona) People go up insert a card and a bike releases.  They ride it to wherever the closest station is to their destination and then they put it back in the locked rack.  I understand it is free.  This is a great benefit.  People are riding these everywhere.  They seem like decent bikes.

To go along with the biking the city has many designated and well marked bike and walk paths.  The city as a whole is extremely pedestrian friendly. 

There are so many amenities for the residents of Barcelona to enjoy.  Parks and green space is highly developed and used well.  Street cleaners are everywhere constantly sweeping and keeping the areas looking nice.

Here is a solar panel to runs the lights on this buoy.

In our hotel room (at the hotel AB Skipper) the sustainable features really catch my attention.  Just inside the door a second card reader requires you to put your key in, in order to operate the lights.  So when you leave you take your key and your lights go off.  Leaving no unnecessary light wasting electricity.  When you return and insert your key all the lights come on.  This also makes it really hard to lose your key in your room.

The toilet has a water saving dual flush feature along with a cool design integrated with the shower.

While this is not one of my favorite features I assume it is a huge energy saver for the hotel.  The thermostat is set at 19 C and can´t be changed up or down.  It is mostly comfortable and we have only needed to open the window once the first night to cool the place down more than we were allowed by the thermostat.

Also as an addition to this post….as we were leaving I noticed a solar grid on the roof.  there was more sustainably to our hotel than met the eye.  Sustainable efforts seem to be more main stream in Spain than a feather in the cap, as they are in the USA.

I also recently read an article about how Barcelona/Spain would be planting a significant number of trees in the years to come.   It is an ambitious initiative.  ~K