Travel plans are becoming the main topic of conversation. I wanted to
go to SE Asia earlier this year but Peg was not enthused. However, we
are going to Central Europe (fka Eastern Europe). The route:
fly/take train into Sofia, Bulgaria or Istanbul, whichever has the
best deal from Madrid. Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech
I signed us up for a newsgroup the other day, rec.travel.europe. I
was not sure if this would turn out to be of value. Thus far some
people have been helpful, telling us about prices, problems and
experiences in Central Europe. Most have had a good time. There have
been some petty thefts and hassles with officials who seem to want to
collect a ‘fine’ for things like having your feet on the seats. I
believe the reports of thefts. Regarding other matters, people are
either foolish travelers or their problems were a result of the
impositions they claim. One theft involved drugging a sleeping train
traveler while they were in their sleeper. A friend of ours had this
happen to him in France several years ago.
Despite joining the Europe travel newsgroup, we cannot come up with
cost projections that we feel comfortable with. Right now it seems
that we can count on an average cost of about $20 per night for the
two of us in decent accommodations, maybe private residences. Food
seems to run about $10 per day each, eating out. If this holds true,
then we are just fine.
It is also hard to know how difficult and inconvenient the travel will
be, although we also have a Berkeley guide. They give plenty of
information but how difficult things are depends on how well each
person responds to the challenges.
I want to return for my 30th high school anniversary on August 1.
Working that in without spending a fortune on air is another
challenge. We (or at least I) will need to have completed our tour by
We have been talking about buying a small truck like Emilia’s and
sleeping in it at night in campsites or just out in the countryside.
Visited the exposition at the Instituto Alemán. Emil Schumaker’s
water colors and gouaches are supposed to be important but we were
Went to Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. This is essential for visitors to
Madrid. The Thyssen-Bornemisza family collected most of the art over
only two generations. Most of it is here and the rest is in
Barcelona. The collection was gifted, I think, to the Spanish
government. The collection is housed in the Palace of Villahermosa .
It’s exterior is a good example of Madrid’s neoclassic architecture.
The interior has been remodeled to house the art.
I am really tired of religious art except the examples here are so
good, in such fine condition and so well displayed that I enjoyed this
part too. I recall one Jesus that was so realistic that it spooked
me. It did not look like it belonged among this old stuff yet it was
14th or 15th century too.
In the basement is the Macke Exhibit. Macke (1887-1914) is fun to
see. He lived in Germany when Expressionism was developing. I think
that this is also when Impressionism was strong. “His artistic
evolution started within the framework of Impressionistic and Post-
Impressionistic French art.” (museum brochure).
The handsome brochure (available in English) says that a basic feature
of Expressionism is the use of pure color for expressive ends. I do
not know what this means. I think that Macke’s best work is his
watercolor. I think also that there is some cubistic aspects to his
work. I do not recall seeing anything else anywhere in watercolor
that is as cubistic as his.
Afterwards we went to Emilia’s piso, in the south part of city. Emilia
is a professor of Communications and excels in Student Decor.
Scattered about were some delightful examples of Salvation Army
Nouveau. In one room, done in Good Will Rococo, you could not even
see the floor. Her 13th (top) floor flat commands a view of jillions
of similar apartment buildings. There are two balconies. Her floor
is a beautiful parquet. She has three bedrooms.
Emilia has been ill with flu. Peg and I, her sister Nina and Maria
Eugenia came to visit. I have a hard time understanding Nina. At one
point she is talking on the phone and I swear she says, “No way.”
Emilia confirms what I heard. She explains that in Chile they use
quite a few English expressions. They do not always carry the same
meaning. No way is a sort of swear word, I think, but it means the
same as it does in English.
Maria Eugenia is married to Jaime and with Nina they own the little
cabin outside Madrid. Maria Eugenia arrives in Nina’s car.
Apparently Maria Eugenia left her keys locked in her car. Her son
came and got the car later and while Maria Eugenia finished with some
patients, Nina took the metro to Emilia’s. It took me at least 20
minutes and Emilia’s help to figure this out.
Alejandro is one of Peggy’s students at the advertising agency. Peggy
has arranged to have drinks with him and his girlfriend. We meet them
at Plaza Castilla, which I arranged with Alejandro as he could not or
would not do so in English with Peggy. This is an all Spanish
language night, which is fine by me.
They take us to a bar near a park. This park is teeming with kids in
their late teens. Alejandro explains that since the kids have little
money, they drink coke and wine mixed and stand around outside.
Despite the crowd, there are few problems except that the locals
complain that the kids piss everywhere. There are no toilets for them
so they go into the hallway of the underground parking lot. We walked
through it and obviously it is scrubbed down regularly as I cannot
Recently there was a demonstration here by the homeless. Many young
people were evicted from vacant housing after people complained about
them squatting in the apartments. “Where are we to go?” they asked in
It was an Irish bar that Alejandro had chosen. He prefers stout and
other Irish brews to Madrid’s ubiquitous light beers. We were served
by a woman from Galway. She works here once a week and teaches
English the rest of the time. She likes Spain, she said, although her
schedule was a bit difficult. She would go back to Galway but says it
is still difficult to find work there, although the Irish economy is
After we drank a stout or two we went to our piso. On the way home we
picked up a rotisserie chicken from our favorite, Gago’s. We also got
some patatas ali oli, then made a salad. It felt like we were living
the life style of the Spanish, for once: we ate at 11:30 p.m.
Alejandro’s girlfriend, Mirella, has a degree in geology. She has
never worked in her field. She is about 30 years old and has a job
now as an administrative assistant. Even this job was hard to get and
it temporary. Her co-workers ask her why she works so fast and gets
so much done. She and Alejandro say that this is a typical Spanish
attitude. They seem to think that if they work hard, the work will be
done and their services no longer needed. She wants to impress her
bosses with her commitment to working but I am not sure if even the
bosses care about things getting done too fast either.
Alejandro says that he often works late into the evenings and works on
weekends some also. His bosses are always surprised that he has his
work done on time.
When he moved to Madrid from Barcelona to take his current job in
advertising (he is the art director), his parents followed. He is
considering a job in Barcelona and says that his parents will move
back there if he gets the job. Her parents live in Barcelona.
Fundación Juan March. Paul Delavux, 1897-1994. Paul apparently did
not see many women with their clothes on. And most of the ones he saw
had very large brown eyes. They appeared naked and large-brown-eyed
in every conceivable social situation. I like his stuff and try to
draw some of his paintings.
Salamanca is our destination, about 200 kms from Madrid. About a week
ago Emilia asked if it would be acceptable if she brought another of
her ‘intercambios’ along. This meant that there would be five people
in her tiny furgoneta; her vehicle, I have learned, is in this class
of trucks. We thought it would be too crowded but suggested that she
ask if the boyfriend was husky or not. She joked that she was afraid
to use the term ‘husky’ as she had learned it with ‘dog’ as in ‘husky-
dog,’ which she pronounced as if it were one word.
Negotiating about passengers
Some negotiations followed. We offered to take the train or bus. She
said that would eliminate half the fun. Emilia is typically Spanish,
I think, because getting there and back is most of the fun. Stopping
for coffee and the like are the epitome of travel for her. We offered
to rent a car for ourselves. She said that would be too expensive and
we couldn’t talk to one another as we drove. How about a car big
enough for us all? Even more expensive. Finally we said we were
highly flexible but would rather not be miserable on the way there and
back. All this happened over a period of several days and phone
calls. In the end, she managed to find out that the boyfriend was
skinny and to borrow her brother’s car. It is not much bigger than
her furgoneta but has four doors, a much smoother ride and more
powerful diesel engine.
During all of this I felt the need to take a very flexible and
inclusive position. I said 1) we would be willing to use most any
form of transport, 2) stay in a youth hostel if it meant others could
save money or be more comfortable, and 3) said nothing that suggested
that we did not want anyone else to join us. I think that being any
other way would have made Emilia feel we were being selfish. She
already knows that we have lots of money compared to her and most
Spaniards and may be extra sensitive to anything that smacks of
We traveled, then, with two 22 year old kids from somewhere in
England. Hillary and Daniel both teach English here. She teaches
young kids and some adults too. She has a college degree but I do not
think it is in Spanish or philology. She had been diagnosed manic
depressive. This diagnosis gets her a disability check but, I think,
only if they are living in England. She came here to improve her
The road to Salamanca goes over the Guadaramas, taking us into a cloud
bank. We emerge on the other side of the bank to find the weather has
gotten colder. We make our way into town and after a thirty minute
struggle, we find a parking place. We walk to the Plaza Mayor and pop
into a cafe for a coffee. Through the large plate glass window we can
see much of the Plaza, which is known for its architectural
consistency. I find it a bit boring architecturally, but that is
sometimes the price of consistency. But it is grand. It was built in
the 18th c. in the Baroque style. The mansions that form the plaza
are three stories high with austere iron balconies.
My Favorite Sites
We see many famous sites on this day and the next. My favorites are
the two Cathedrals and the Roman bridge. The bridge is solid looking.
At first I couldn’t find out how old it is but I feel sure it was
built sometime between 217 BC and 200 AD. Hannibal came through here
in 217 BC. He must have been on his way to the Alps. A brochure that
the helpful tourist office later provided confirms my suspicion by
suggesting that it may have been built under Emperor Vesposian around
The two cathedrals are connected. Peg writes:
The old one is 12th century, and a great example of High
Romanesque, which one does not see very often. The new one is
Medium High Gothic. The fact that you walk from one right into
the other one makes anyone able to see immediately the difference
between the two styles.
Gary again (I have to write this in as the indentations that I have
place in the last paragraph do not always survive the internet and
thus some readers think that Peg is still writing)
Inside the old cathedral it is noticeably darker. In one corner is a
small chapel. On the wall is a painting made in the year 1265. It
was made to look like a tapestry. It is in great shape and I really
We wandered into one of the University buildings. This building has a
simple but attractive courtyard. It is part of the School of
Philology (I am not sure of the spelling in English; the word refers
to the study of languages, I think). Salamanca’s university had some
8000-10,000 students in the 16th century. It was the best in Europe
at the time. Eventually the admission standards only allowed the
wealthy to enter and the quality of the scholarship declined.
Michener goes on about this, becoming, so it seems, quite upset. It
is just recently that the institution became respectable again.
Lunch this day was the worst I have had in Spain. To make matters
worse, Hillary decides to become a grump. She glares and fumes.
Emilia has told us that she and Husky are having difficulties being in
Spain. He is returning to England next week. That decision is making
it difficult for Hillary to pay the rent. On top of this, the
landlady is giving her a hard time about the rent payment. The
landlady wanted the rent to be transferred to her account directly.
Now she claims she did not get the right amount and wants Hillary to
pay the difference. She is also telling Hillary not to use the
heating system and Hillary does not know how to turn it on.
Hillary says, “People say how bad British cooking is. I don’t think
much of Spanish cooking. It’s all the same and no good.”
I survived lunch and Hillary’s grump.
This is Holy Week (Semana Santa). There are processions this evening
starting around 9 p.m.
First we get settled at the youth hostel that Emilia arranged. This
was a step up from her usual arrangement, which is to sleep in her
truck in a campground. Peg and I have never stayed in a youth hostel
(as opposed to a hostal, which in Spain is a hotel without a
restaurant). We were nervous about having to share our sleeping room
with strangers. However, we were able to obtain a room meant for six
with its own shower and toilet. It was no great bargain. It cost
2500 ptas per person (about $18). Peg and I have spent less in Spain
and not had to share with young people who intend to stay out until
all hours (they came in at 3 a.m. but were quiet as church mice).
We returned into the wintery evening. The brochures told us the route
of the processions and we joined the growing crowds on the one lane,
house-lined street. Vendors were selling a sweet wafer, like the ones
you get in the U.S. that have a cream filling. These had no filling
and were only one wafer thick. They were about 5″ in diameter.
At a little after nine the drums started. Thump, thump, thrrummp. A
slow and somber beat. Then marchers appeared. They were wearing
conical heads that extended about 15″ above the crown, and which
covered their faces except the eyes. Their robes, white ones,
extended to the tops of their shoes.
Why are they going so slowly? We will be here all night!
Then trumpets, just trumpets, maybe 20 or so, bit into the frozen air,
walking in time to dirges. Step, hesitate, step, hesitate, like in a
wedding procession. Somber music in the somber beat. In unison. No
talking. No singing. No faces visible except the musicians’. Then we
see the Jesus figure coming, perched on a float.
Jesus and then Mary float by, a thousand eyes peering
We had seen some floats earlier in the day in the cathedrals. There
were four arms on each end extending from under the float. It looked
like about 10 people on each end would hoist the float. I found that
they squeezed in more than I thought and there were maybe 20 people on
Slowly Jesus approached. Thump, thump, thrrummp. More trumpets. The
speed remained a constant turtle’s pace. At last the float drew even
with us. On the side of the float there is a screen-like material,
perhaps wicker. I guess they want the float to get air underneath.
As the float trudged past I happen to look down. I see feet
protruding from inside the float. I counted them. There were about
60 people inside the float, in four rows. Maybe 100 people were
carrying this thing and if one of them fell, especially one inside the
float, many would be injured. As I thought more about what they were
doing, I realized that they had to remain in perfect unison or someone
would trip and fall. Now I understand why this procession has to go
so slowly. The result of a fall would be disastrous.
About 20 minutes later, Mary arrived. About the same number of people
were carrying Mary, dressed in a nun’s outfit. Her garments reminded
me of the middle-eastern origins of this religion. And I thought
about how Islamic fundamentalists wanted women to dress that way now.
Maybe not looking just like nuns, but damn similar.
Mary’s float moved differently. All 100 or so people took two steps
forward and one step back, of course and by necessity, in perfect
unison. It made Mary’s float make what looked like tiny circles, I
guess because of the weight shifting from one foot to the other.
Quite a fancy maneuver, maybe a death defying one.
The next day we went to the Museo Art Nouveau. Beautiful glass and
other works housed in a stained glass roofed building with a stained-
glass view of the Roman bridge. Tons of gorgeous stuff that is way
beyond my meager talents to describe.
Throughout the week we watched other processions, in Madrid,
Malaga, Valencia, Seville, and other cities, all broadcast on TV.
They take place every evening throughout Holy Week. The
processions are sponsored by various fraternities that seem to
compete with each other to see who can put on the most impressive
procession. Some people are still really moved by these figures.
To us the practice seems left over from the Middle Ages, when
people were illiterate and statues were used to explain the
doctrines of Christianity to them.
Happily going nowhere, cold outside. Most stores are closed due to
Easter holidays. On Sunday the Rastro is open. We are thinking about
reducing the amount of luggage we carry with us on our journey to
I call the phone company several times to find out what to do to shut
the phone off and get our deposit back. Three of five I spoke with on
separate occasions said that I could go to a particular building in
the central zone, tell them what I wanted to do. They would calculate
the bill, return anything we were owed, and shut off the phone. They
all said not to wait until the last minute, maybe a few days before we
had to leave.
Spanish tortilla, at last!
I have finally learned how to properly make a Spanish tortilla . A
Spanish tortilla has nothing to do with a Mexican one. The former is
an omelette. It is about 2 inches thick and usually about 6 inches in
diameter. It has potatoes and onions, and that is normally all there
is. I have seen green peppers in them but only in Salamanca. The
tortilla is normally served at room temperature.
Alejandro’s girlfriend told us how to make the tortilla and for some
reason her method worked better than the one we had learned from a
woman we had dinner with in Barcelona in 1992. Here’s what she said
to do: Chop the potatoes and onions, making them no bigger than the
size of your little finger (I diced them and that worked fine). Fry
them in olive oil slowly. You do not want to caramelize them at all.
When they are done – no crunchiness at all, just real soft – rremove
them from the pan and mix them into the eggs that you have beaten very
thoroughly. Clean the frying pan, add new oil and pour the
egg/onion/potato mixture into the pan. You want the pan to be warm,
not cold or red hot, when you add the egg mixture. Cook under a slow
to medium flame until one side is done and then turn the tortilla onto
a plate. This means that the top of the tortilla has to be dry. Then
put the tortilla back into the pan and cook slowly until the bottom is
done and only slightly browned. The amount of egg to potatoes/onions
is about four eggs, two medium potatoes, one medium onion. You want
the mixture to have little or no free egg running loose.
Spring weather departs
Spring has again left Spain…Today, we went outdoors for a
couple of hours, walked around downtown, and it was about 45
degrees. Most of the snow had melted from the Guadarrama, until
last Tuesday, when another dusting occurred. Ski season
continues in the Pyrenees. Here, on Friday, we had hail (2
minutes), sunshine (5 minutes), black clouds (3 minutes), snow (1
minute), sunshine (1 minute), rain (2 minutes), repeat. I hope
this is the last cold front.
We’re starting to wind things up here. Two more weeks of English
classes, then Arlette & Dani arrive. Then David.
The BBC is doing about five hours on Ancient Egypt tonight. Last
Sunday, they did six hours on Rome. Starting with a performance
of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Then an hour on the Roman
Coliseum and how it was used, an hour-long documentary on
Augustus Caesar, then an hour on Nero. Really wonderful
programming. Hope this evening is as good. A great way to spend
a cold evening, if you ask me. I think I could manage to stay in
the Balearics or Canaries for the winter if I could get Via
Celtic music of Galicia
We went again to the Teatro Madrid. This time the offering was
folkloric dance and music of Galicia, the Celtic province of Spain.
From my readings last year I recall that these Celts came from France
,extending the Celtic migration from Central Europe. Only in Galicia
and in Brittany are there vestiges of Celtic culture on the continent,
so far as I know.
The costumes were numerous and outstanding. I think that there were
as many as 30 people dancing, singing or playing instruments at a
time, all wonderfully outfitted in traditional dress. There were, I
think, up to five bagpipes on stage at once. Joining the bag pipes
were drummers and a tambourine.
The music is unmistakably Celtic but it is different from Irish,
Scottish and Britannic traditional music. The only instrument not
present in Irish and Scottish versions is the tambourine. At least, I
cannot recall a tambourine in same.
As with other performance we saw in this series, the traditional dance
was combined with ballet.
I liked everything about this performance, even the seats high in the
nosebleed section. Our view was excellent albeit distant. However,
seats a few rows behind us did not yield a full view of the stage. We
certainly got our 1000 pts worth ($6.50 per person.)
Negotiating with Fernando
On March 30 I had called Fernando, our landlord, to tell him that we
were leaving. Fernando called on the 15th to tell us he had the
electricity bill (the light bill, they call it: la factura de la
luz). He came over and we paid him for two months, about $90
including water, which was $20 of the total. This takes us through
March 15 and he did not ask for payment for the rest. I decide not to
bring it up since the refrigerator door remains in need of repair or
replacement, and he has never done anything about the roof. These are
not big problems for us other than a higher electricity bill because
of the refrigerator door. Maria had told us that most Spaniards would
have paid less in rent until these things were fixed.
“We are going to fly to Sofia or Istanbul,” I said. “Joder,” he
exclaimed. “Then we are going to Romania,” “Joder,” he said again.
As we told him about each step in plans for Central Europe, he would
say, “Joder!” This means literally, “Fuck!” This is a very common
way that people in Madrid talk. It’s fuck this and fuck that. I
think that in English would might say, “Wow.” That’s how I would
translate joder here.
Prices of package deals are falling the closer we get to the last
minute. A week in Mayorca in May is now running about $280, airfare,
hotel, breakfast and dinner, per person. We have not received
confirmation from our travel agent about the week in Galicia. Each
time I call they have to find out whom we spoke with the first time we
came. This seems typical of business organization here, very ad hoc.
So you have to write down who you talked to so when you call, you can
get the same person or others can find your file.
We walked past a woman begging downtown. Each time someone gave her
only 25 pta. coins, she would throw them away! A man nearby had
observed the same thing and now he runs out and grabs them before
anyone else does. He practically pushed me out of the way as I was
reaching for a coin.
Palacio de La Granja
Saturday the 18th to go to La Granja with Emilia. La Granja is a
palace that is like Versailles in style, but not as grand. It was
built in 1720 by the Bourbon, Philip V, the grandson of Louis XIV.
Five times a year they turn on the fountains. We lucked out and today
was one. The fountains are magnificent works of art. They are fed by
a small lake on the hill behind the palace. The water from the
fountains can go no higher than the lake, but that means a height of
about 50-75′. The display is quite impressive.
La Granja is not far from Sevilla but we got there not via the highway
but via the mountain pass, which was lined with snow 2-3′ deep.
Been visiting Central Europe cites on the net. Some have been quite
useful. We have found some useful information from rec.travel.europe.
We have corresponded with people who have been in some or all of the
countries. We found out about one nice sounding hotel in Prague for
$28, another one in the countryside for up to four adults also for
$28/night. This is the cheapest decent sounding stuff in Czech we
have seen. One woman wrote to say that she stayed in a youth hostel
for $15/night in Prague. Prague sounds quite expensive compared to
the other countries. Not sure why.
I have decided that we can keep within our $2000 budget, although
we’ll be moving around a lot.
Yesterday we picked up Dani and Arlette at the airport. The day
before Nina and Emilia had given us a dress rehearsal on how to get to
the airport. It’s not that hard to get to the airport but for some
reason, perhaps because Emilia seems to get lost easily, they thought
this was necessary. Anyway, if you know what an airport symbol looks
like, can read any language as long as it has the word ‘airport’ or
some derivative in it, you can find your way to the airport in Madrid.
Nonetheless, it was quite thoughtful of them and offered yet another
example of their thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity.
After getting Dani and Arlette, we went to the cabin that Nina owns
with her dentists friends, Jaime and Maria Eugenia, two super charming
and delightful people. We ate roasted chickens, tomato salad and
bread with red, rose and white wines.
Weather: sun, rain, hail, high wind, dead calm. At times we could
see Madrid on the horizon, those two leaning towers of the Plaza de
Castilla clearly visible when we were not in clouds.
We had French in one corner, English in another and Spanish in a
third. Polish in a fourth. Emilia has made friends with a former
student, also named Jaime, who has a girlfriend named Joanna, who is
from Poland. Her grandmother is here visiting and grandma, who cannot
be much more than 55-60, speaks only Polish.
Afterwards, Jaime and Maria Eugenia invited us all to their piso for
paella. The paella was only the second one he has ever done. It was
very good. He made a fish stock, added it to the rice along with a
little fresh, good fish. Bread and wine. Quite simple yet elegant.
And we only had to wait until 10 p.m. to eat.
We took Dani and Arlette to La Granja, Segovia, Avila and El Escorial.
Emilia lent us her little truck. After 8-9 times getting in and out
of that back seat (two doors only), Dani and Arlette were pretty worn
out. The little truck is a bit noisy and underpowered, and so five
hours of driving can make you quite tired.
Dani and Arlette like to see the countryside, and have less interest
in museums and cathedrals. This trip gave them a lot of mountain
scenery. Our Lady of Every Cathedral only took us into two churches,
the magnificent and huge one in Segovia and the one at El Escorial.
The next few days were occupied in seeing more of the local sights with Dani and Arlette.