Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tuesday: Alhambra

For many, many more pictures, check out my Alhambra album.

The Alhambra, located in Granada, is one of Spain's great treasures. I can describe the trip, I can post pictures, but the feeling and the experience is unimaginable.

We were up at zero-dark thirty, grabbed a bite and hit the road. We went east to Malaga, then north and east again. The roads are well-marked, and once you hit Granada, finding Alhambra is simple. Figuring out the parking was more difficult, you park, pull a ticket and pay when you leave.

Next you walk down to the admission gates. We bought a guidebook, I am glad we did. We skipped the audiotour. The Nasrid palaces are so popular, you are assigned an entry time. We had to hustle to get down there at 9:00, we'd parked at 8:30. It was chilly and damp, and in winter there is a lot of restoration work going on. We finally found the line, our map wasn't too specific and there was more than one way to go. Yikes. But there were only a handful of tourists in line. One man was upset that it was hard to find the way to the line, the nice guides and docents kept shuffling him off to another place in line. He complained a lot to us as we spoke English. I think the guides spoke more English than they were letting on, and I don't blame them.

We had to wait for a guided tour group to enter, then we were allowed in. There isn't a set plan for going through the palaces, but the way through flowed fairly well.

The Nasrid palaces are Moorish structures, with elaborate arches and vaulted ceilings, fountains and courtyards. When the Christian monarchs came in, they acquired the palaces and knocked openings in walls to make them into one vast palace. We were disappointed that there were no lions under the Fountain of Lions, they're in the shop so to speak. But as the other tourists and the guided tour went at a faster pace than we were moving, Larry and I often were in the grand and awesome rooms all by ourselves. I swear you could hear the history leaking off the walls. I won't go into details, if you look through my facebook pictures, each place I snapped has a description.

We left the palaces and entered into a series of gardens along the walls. We didn't go up into the many guard towers. There were gardeners out, and one friendly little red cat. She trotted up to us along a low wall, and purred and asked to be petted. I put my arm down and she curled up in the crook up my elbow, snuggled in my cape. When we walked away, she trotted into the gardener's shed. I was impressed by the way the Spaniards were caring and careful of the feral cats.

We explored other parts of the Alhambra, the cistern grounds, more gardens, the Medina, the archealogical digs (no, you can't go down in them. we skipped the cathedral, becasue my feet were dying from walking on cobblestones. King Philp's palace is interesting, it has a wonderful museum which is free for tourists. And of course, we found the gift shops, one was dedicated entirely to inlad wood. Nice! One had a dress-up as a Moor portrait gallery, I wish I'd insisted we do that. By this time, the groups of school kids on field trips arrived, which changed the energy in a fun and interesting way.

We went through the Wine Gate into the Alcazaba ... which means citadel or fortress. This is the oldest structure, with massive towers and remains of homes and baths behind the great walls. Larry climbed the high towers, I was exhausted by now. We skipped the Generalife gardens, I just wasn't up to plants and sore feet.

On the way to the car, an old gypsy lady stopped us and told our fortune, read our palms, in Spanish, after handing me a sprig of rosemary. Really, she had the shawl and the hunch, as if she'd stepped from central casting. No gold earrings, though. She told me I was faithful and kind and a good mother. Two out of three ain't bad. Still, we were careful and hung onto our purses! Larry gave her a handful of coins, three Euros something. She insisted we give her five Euros. We shook our heads and kept going ... you don't get to set the price for begging, do you? So I think I have a gypsy curse as a souvenir.

Hint: if you are going, get there early.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday: Ronda

I was unfamiliar with the city of Ronda until we got to Spain. I saw a picture of the way cool bridge on a tour pamphlet in the resort lobby; we decided it would be interesting to go see that. But there was so much more!

Ronda is an ancient city set high atop rocky outcroppings along a river. There were cave dwellers in prehistoric times, then as animals and crops were thrown into the mix, settlements were built on the plateau. The Romans came in, possibly the Phoenicians beforehand. Then the Moors, and the Christians. All the cultures overlap and contribute to the depth of the history.

Breakfast was early and we set off into the sunrise. We drove up from the coast through San Pedro. Figures that we were there just in time for all the parents to be dropping kids off at school, traffic was simply awful, clogged and slow. We missed a turn at one of the roundabouts and ended up behind some factories. We figured it out after much grousing at each other.

The Triple A map gave a different name for the two lane highway, but it took us there anyway. The drive in to the mountains is steep and at some points, quite spectacular. There were few places to stop for snapshots. It even snowed on us! When we stopped for fuel, Larry fussed about which pump to use. I had it figured out. The servicios behind the station were cold, cold cold! I was still glad to see them.

As we drive into Ronda, Larry turned east instead of following the older Sur del Ronda road. We came in through the newer sections of town. Very small one way streets and no visible parking. We finally found a parking garage under the plaza in front of the cathedral near the bull ring. That just sounds cool. As we walked over to find the tourist information center, we stopped and bought cheesy tourist keyrings with our names on them. Glad I can go by Margarita if I like! I passed up a tile picture in a shop set in the side of the bull ring, my one smallish regret. Very pretty and would have gone well on my tourist art wall.

The tourist center is tiny but great. You can buy tickets for the museums and sites in Old Town there, a ticket package gives reduced entrance fees. If I'd had my student ID, it would have been even less. The map claimed there were bathrooms behind the tourist center, but they were locked for the winter. Gah!

First we went into the New Bridge. This is the bridge we thought was Roman in the pictures, no, it was built in 1751! That's "new". It is still in use. Inside the bridge were interesting bits of history and pictures.

Next we went to the House of the Giant. This is named for a sculpture the owner found in a stream and brought to display in the house. It is pre-Roman, possibly Phoenician or ???? The house is an example of the overlapping cultures, a museum showing how a Moorish home was built over an original Roman dwelling, then converted into a Christian household. Fascinating!

A step across the tiny plaza brought us to a museum dedicated to a pupil/contemporary of Picasso, Peinado. Cubist, very good, but not my main thing. Beautiful little museum. There was a painting of a cubist skull I rather liked. One section of the gallery was sketches for paintings of nudes. My, my. And those led to what was assuredly taken from a private notebook. Wow. Not for the eyes of children or blushing virgins. Graphic, to say the least.

We got lost in the narrow streets a bit, then found the Palace of Mondragon. This immensely and lovely home has been converted to the city museum. All sorts of objects, art, displays, maps, dioramas, grave stones, and even prehistoric homes to walk through. Overwhelming, but intensely educational. I could spend all day there. wonderful views over the valley.

As we headed to our fifth site, we stopped at a little place to eat. Actually, the owner was out on the sidewalk, hustling folks to come in. We were cold and hungry, so in we went. Nice place, although the menu was limited. We had an excellent platter of tapas; Iberian ham and chorizos and a type of sheep (?) cheese. I ordered the meatballs so we'd have a bite of hot food. The bread placed on the table... that was not free, which is a little misleading, but hey, it was filling and nummy. Of course I had a glass of wine. By this time, I'd gotten the hang of ordering red table wine. I didn't see the pastries until we paid. No fair! They were lovely and looked decandently delicious.

We wound our way down to the last site, passing all sorts of interesting looking places ... The Moor's castle, and old home or three, the arch of King Philip. We walked down long low terraced steps to the Arab Baths. This sits lower to the river, below the stone walls. The baths had been restored somewhat. We watched the short animated film describing how the bath house had operated. A donkey walked in a circle harnessed to a wheel, moving buckets which scooped up water into an aqueduct set in the top wall. The water was heated in a furnace room, and then set to flow under the floors of the rooms. The first and smallest room is the Hot Room, the next is the Warm Room, and last is the Cool Room. The Cool Room was a gathering place to gossip,play games and get a massage. There were rooms for women, and a large entrance area with alcoves for changing and having cool drinks. I loved it.

We walked back up the steps, which was getting difficult for me, I was wheezing. We crossed the Old Bridge, built in the 1600s. Looking down to the east we could see the "Roman" bridge, which was not built by the Romans at all. We hiked up terrace after gardened terrace. Lovely, even if it was wintery. There were feral dogs who challenged us, but we hissed at them and waved our arms and the canines thought better of coming near us. By now it was siesta time and the little shops I wanted to go back to were closed for a few hours. We retrieved the car ad headed back to the resort. Of course we drove over the New Bridge and through the narrow little streets of Old Town and out the ancient city gates. Way, way cool!

We did stop at a big leather factory place, but it was pretty touristy and expensive. extremely nice leathers and furs, but far, far out of our price range. Eu79 for plain men's leather gloves.

Pictures: the New Bridge, the statue of the Giant, House of the Giant interior courtyard, inside the Mondragon Palace museum, tapas, me!, entrance to the Arab Baths, the cathedral above the car park. You can see the entrance to the parking garage if you look closely.

Link to my Ronda album

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sunday, Gibraltar and the Barbary Apes

Sunday morning, we got up early, ate breakfast and headed west for the Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock is, of course, the massive peak guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean. Huge! This has been occupied by the Moors, the Spanish and now the British. Fascinating layers of history, and I should have bought a good guidebook before we went. I dislike not knowing just what it is I am seeing.

The drive was easy, the road well-marked. A national highway and all that. I did notice that that stretch of the coast looked exactly like ... old California. Rolling hills, oak trees, cattle. And new California too with wind farms and a refinery. No wonder the Spaniards took to our West Coast so readily. It really did look like home to the Andalusians.

Crossing into Gibraltar is ludicrously simple, you just follow the lanes of traffic marked Nothing To Declare. The gal at the border just looked to see we had passports in hand, not that they were ours or any of that. Then you drive across the runway of the airstrip. Turns out you can drive pretty much as high up the Rock as the cable cars go. A winter day with wind and rain, not too many tourists about. Parking wasn't too bad, but I think in summer it would be impossible. The roads are tiny and narrow with many blind spots. The shops are closed on Sunday, a good thing, because there's a lot of duty-free shopping for high-end goods.

We drove around, went to the southernmost point and tried to see Africa. We could seeing a looming dark mass, I guess that was it. Unless it was still Spain, which might have been what I was seeing. Hard to tell! The wind was so fierce, it shoved me around, nearly off my feet. There was an impressive Moorish structure and a lighthouse. Drove around some more, looked at the old military installations and the nifty houses and buildings. Then we drove to the cable car terminal, but the cars were closed due to high winds. There was an independent tour guy who had a little van, he rounded up a bunch of us and took us up to the major sights and sites. It was pricey, but worth it not to have to walk up in all that wind and damp. Although we had driven right up to where he stopped to buy us tickets. The Pillars of Hercules monument stands behind the ticket office, and there's a long story about Spanish silver dollars, aka pieces of eight, being impressed with the pillars, which gave Americans their dollar sign. America used Spanish dollars long before we minted our own.

Anyway, we saw the Cave of St. Michael, a natural cave which has been used since prehistoric times. Lots of drippy stone and wet. It was a hospital at one time, but now it is a music venue. Cool. Nest we stopped at the Ape's Den, the remanants of an old stucture at the top of the Spanish Stairs. This is where one of the troops of Babary Apes lives. There are six troops and they do not co-mingle. You aren't supposed to feed the apes, but our guide had treats and a stick to fend off the alpha male. Alpha was a big bully, naturally. The babies were adorable, but if you paid them attention, the asdoloscent male went, well, ape-shit. I held my arms our, hands clasped, as suggested, and sure enough, the ape hopped up for a photo op. They aren't dumb. The ape was tugging at Larry's pants leg, and suddenly climbed up onto his shoulder. I whirled around and shot a snap, but it didn't turned out well. Larry was near the guide, sure enough the ape reached over and snagged some extra treats. If you climb the short stairs at the Den, you can see the Med and the Atlantic at the same time. One is blue-grey and choppy, the other green and smoother.

Next we went to see the Great Siege Tunnels. These were blasted out facing the mainland by the British. I have no idea what the conflict was about, but I'm thinking the Brits were taking the Rock around then. I need my history book. There were mannequins in some of the enclosues, and one behind a door who would trigger on movement and shout, "Who goes there!" One nervous Brit on the tour kept warning me not to be frightened. Poor guy, everything frightened him, it was his first journey outside of England. He wouldn't even walk down to a pub in his own hometown! He was quite proud he'd made a day trip into Spain for a meal. Wow.

The guide showed us some other bits and pieces, then drove us into the middle of the Old Town. By now we were hungry and found a wonderful little restaurant called The Penny Farthing. I had calamares, with chips and veggies and a salad, but I wish I'd gone with the tandoori. Larry had lamb and couscous. We were sitting right where we could see over the counter into the kitchen. The cook was Morroccan and once a chef at a five-star hotel. He was delighted Larry had chosen the coucous, it was truly excellent. They did take Euros, but you have to tell them first so they can figure the bill. Gibtraltar uses English pounds.

I took a lot of pictures on the walk back to the car. Again, I need a history book! I also hit the tourist shop that was open, bought kitschy things, a fridge magnet with a lucky ape penny, a shot glass, postcards. Then the rain came pouring down and we decide it was time to head home. I wish I'd stopped on the Spanish side for a long shot photo of the Rock, there was no good place to stop on the way out.

Pictures: The Rock from halfway up, the Moorish palace (?), windy me, the map, I think I can see Africa, the Pillars of Hercules, Larry with my purse, Me and the Ape, Apeman, Ape, seige tunnels, the Penny Farthing, around Old Town, old gravestones set into the wall of the Tragfalga cemetery.

I have posted many more pictures on Facebook and provided links:

Tomorrow: Ronda and I wish we'd had a chance to stop and take pictures on the windy mountain roads!

Monday, February 9, 2009


I was feeling much better on Saturday; Larry went down to reception and asked about the open air markets. The one we had heard about was not nearby at all; the gal told us to go to one in La Cala Del Moral. This is not a huge market, and Saturday was not the Big Day. Still, we checked out the yummy smelling spices we could not take home, the rugs and the tablecloths, the fresh fruit and the candysellers. There was overpriced costume jewelry, and stockings and clothes, and beautiful tiles. I wish I had got the one that said, "Beware of the cat" in Spanish. Darn! We did buy several scarves, fun and cheap. The pashima scarves are soft, but the ones in the bags smell funny. We looked at leather, because Andulasia is famous for leather. It is also expensive, but the sellers are very honest and tell you which is leather, which pleather and which plastic, or made in China. Although one seller told us lambskin was antelope. Not bad for broken English. And "boool" is cowhide. LOL. I found a triangular-shaped bag with a zipper strap that made either a backpack or a purse. I could wear it across my body, so everything I had was right in reach. It has a flap across the front with zippered pouched under, and a zippered compartment on the back. It was perfect, I made Larry carry it most of the time! You will see it in later pictures. One man selling baby sweaters asked Larry is he were Canadian. We just don't look American!

Next we went to Marbella, downtown, but missed Old Town as the tourist info was closed. Still, we found what we were looking for, the Dali statues. First we had to stroll along the boardwalk, dodging post-siesta strollers and street hawkers from Kenya. Most shops were closed, and the beach was dark and stormy. There were fiberglass statues of elephants on the beach, I have no clue why. We passed a man and his friend who had a giant sand sculpture.... they had tarps to cover it at night, and a blanket with a basket for coins. Very cool. We tossed down some Euros, and took a couple pictures. In a group of British tourists, one lady was digging in her purse. "My camera's gone!" As we walked away, I could hear her friends asking her where she had it last. I hugged my new bag tight to my body, remembering all the pickpocket warnings. I felt bad for her. Lost or stolen, either sucked.

Then there it was ... a promenade from the sea to the old park, full of Dali sculptures. Right there, where you could walk around them, touch them, get silly with them. I have few words to describe them, I was so awe-struck; they were wonderful! I want a Cosmic Elephant for my yard! That would be the Dali elephant, not the beach elephants. I took so many pictures, they have their own album on Facebook. It says the link is public, I don't know if you have to join to look at them. Let me know, m'kay?

After supper in the room, a nice omelet with tea, we walked down to the row of tourist bars and restaurants for a drink. We found the Harp Bar, a little Irish place. Very Irish and homey and friendly. The folks who ran the bar were definitely from Ireland, and many of the regulars were retired and living in Spain, or worked in the tourist trade there. I had a half-pint of Guiness and Larry had a pint. Real Guiness, on tap, flown in fresh, tasty and dark and yummy! There was Irish music and darts and biliards in the cellar

Pictures: The ice cream truck, open air market (I never did get a really good picture), the sand castle, Larry in the park, the Dali sculptures. As I said, all the Dalis are on Facebook, plus a Marbella album.

Tomorrow: Gibraltor and the Barbary Apes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Friday Morning

We woke in the morning, still off schedule from jetlag. The floors were cold, so I sniveled about my sore knee and made Larry get up to make breakfast for us. The swelling in my knee had gone down, leaving a lovely bruise and some scuffing which eventually formed a scab. Mmm-mmm, good.

Breakfast was tea with milk and sugar, toast and eggs and bacon and juice. The hot water kettle heated water in a flash, but if you got any moisture down in the plug or socket on the base, the breakers would flip. Too much water in the kettle would boil up over into the handle and down into the plug. Not all that safe, but great otherwise, LOL.

I mentioned I had cold sores before I left. I did, three of them, one on each side of my upper lip, and one below. The Zorivax seemed to be helping, but then I was using Abreva, so I am not certain. What I do know is that I shouldn't have been using Zorivax while traveling. It messes with my system. That, and we'd been drinking tap water from the Madrid airport, not suggested normally. After breakfast, I was not in good condition ... I was very glad Larry had picked up some Imodium at the SLC airport. I'd forgotten to pack it. I feel as if I were being punished. But the medicine, some tea and the bidet set me right. By noon I was up for a little exploring.

We drove up and down N340, mostly checking out what was in the area. There are old stone towers up and down the coast, faros ... I do not know how old these are, I need to do some research. I tried and tried to get a good picture of one, but they're all fairly inaccessible. The one you could get close to was on a roundabout and I was too close to get a good picture!

We found access down to the beach; the wind kept snatching my scarf off my head. Two guys were fishing and catching small fish, but big enough to eat. We scrounged for beach glass and I found a bit of nifty sea-buffed blue and white on red clay tile. I will make a pendant from it! I took a lot of pictures, but had the camera on normal instead of landscape. All my outdoor shots had a blue tint. I've tried to fix it, but not with perfect success.

Next we found a little grocery store, LIDL. We never did figure out how to use the shopping carts; they were all chained together. I think you had to put a coin in. We did have the foresight to carry a shopping bag, our big Ikea bag we'd picked up in a thrift shop. You have to pay for your plastic bags if you do not have your own bag. We purchased water, wine, jam, mustard, lunchmeat, eggs, gouda and ... pads. Yes, Aunt Flo paid me a surprise visit. Oh yay. I had some supplies, I always carry them, but geeez, falling down, cold sores, the runs and now this? Argh.

Grocery stores ... we went to the LIDL a couple times, and to the nearby and much larger SuperSol. The Supersol is perfect for picnics; it has a deli and a bakery and a nice selection of take away snacks and fresh produce. The LIDL had a larger store, but we only went to the small one. LIDL is cheaper for water and wine, a liter brick of red table wine was Eu69. That's a buck and it lasted all week! G00d stuff. Larry got some "sidre" ... basically hard cider, but it was a little skunky and old.

We decided dinner would be simplest right at the resort. There was one other table with guests. The off season can be very, very slow. We had red wine with our meal because you cannot get a glass of water. Water and wine cost about the same thing. We had delicious calamari to begin; I had chicken curry with "sultanas" (raisins) and Larry had pasta. His was shrimp in a cream alfredo sauce made with sherry. Oh yum. The food and service were very good. Not cheap, the bill ran to Eu28 and then there was a tip. We asked and the waiters shrugged. Whatever you like, they said, this is not like America. Although they only knew we were Americans as they had already asked Larry if he were Australian!

If it seems as though I am fixated on money, indeed I am. We both were concerned for the first couple of days, the dollar is not strong and the tourist and airport facilities are not inexpensive. Once we began finding our way around and shopped locally, we felt a bit better. If we had to pay full resort prices for meals, we'd not have any money leftover at all!

Pictures: a brick of wine, Larry making breakfast, the view of vacation villas from our balcony, us on the beach, a fisherman, LIDL grocery store. I ended up filling my memory card and did not bring a spare. I was smart enough to bring a voltage converter so I could charge my camera battery! I do plan on putting more pictures up on Facebook in albums, and maybe Flickr if I can scrounge up my password.

Tomorrow: the open air market, Dali statues in Marbella, dinner in.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


The Ford Ka.

One thing about the Madrid airport is that it is sprawling. We arrived to rainy skies and a chill wind. You could feel the plane wiggle sideways as it landed.

We had our Air Europa reservations, but needed to check in and get our boarding passes. They sent us around to another section of the terminal, quite a hike and you could only take the little luggage carts part of the way. We found the desk and checked in easily, then hiked back to where we started. ARGH. I was glad we had a good long break between flights, but it was a little much. The meals in the airport were ludicrously expensive, MyLarry rustled up some water for our camelbak bottles (actually our cheap knock-offs, we left the good bottles at home.) we dug into our granola bar bag. Larry found a better exchange rate and changed the remainder of our vacation dollars.

Unfortunately, our gate was right next to one of the smoking rooms. They are enclosed, but there are no doors. If the smokers go all the way in, there's no problem, but the carts aren't allowed in there. A group of expensively dressed young women were standing in the door so they could dig into their bags on the carts. Their cigarettes weren't in the room with the fans to suck the smoke away. It kept drifting over to me. If looks could kill, I'd be doing life. I detest self-entitled bints.

After much milling about, with more and more people jockeying for a place near the front, the gate opened. Larry and I were near the front. As I walked down the breezeway, I stepped in some water which had snuck in and slipped. Smack! Straight down onto my left knee, all my weight. Larry and another man picked me up and set me on my feet. I got onto the plane and it was rapidly apparent I had really smashed my knee hard. Finally, after we were in the air, the attendant brought me a sick bag full of ice. Geee, thanks. You know if this had been an American carrier, I'd have had a wheelchair at the far end. Yes, it was that bad initially.

The flight was short, and Malaga is not a big airport at all. We found the car rental desks easily, even if they do call them car hire. The agents spoke English, and all the signs were in Spanish, English and German. Larry's license was gladly accepted. We paid for a full tank of gas (Eu35) , plus glass and tire insurance for Eu20. The car was a tiny, and I do mean itsy-bitsy, Ford Ka. Standard. Larry missed gears at first because it was so different from his semi. Ya think? we headed out into the night, it was cold, dark, rainy and windy, but warmer than Utah!

The driving directions to the resort weren't the best, but also not the worst. We were to take A-7/N340/E-15 to the Sitio del Calahonda. What we didn't know was that we had to be careful not to get on the toll road, AP-7. We did. That was alright, the toll is an exit toll and they don't count how far you've gone, so it was just Eu2.35. Not too bad, but if you're on a ramp/road entrance that is marked "pease", that's the toll road.

We got to the resort area just fine, but the directions weren't clear where to turn. We asked directions at a police box (that's what they call them in Japan). Soon we were checking in. The keys had tags on them that you slipped into a reader when you entered the room. This turns on the electricity while you're in. The fridge is on a separate breaker, but you must have the key to have power. It is quite common to pay a set fee for electricity when you check out, our fee was Eu21.

The rooms were nice, we had two bedrooms, two baths, a small kitchen, and a living room. The balcony was spacious, it was bigger than half the condo! I was happy to see a bidet in the master bath. Still, for size and furnishings and extras, our Worldmark/Wyndham resorts are much, much nicer. The difference was that the Crown Resort has a bar and restaraunt, plus pools and a spa, workout room and even babysitters. There's entertainment during the peak season. Worldmark has the pools and gyms, but not all the extras.I thought I took a picture of the resort, but there's so many shots I can't find it quickly!

The floors were tile and very, very cold. There were three little oil-filled heaters which we cranked up right away. We'd ordered a "welcome package" because I knew we'd be in late. That was OJ, margarine, six eggs, a small pack of bacon, milk, instant coffee, tea, sugar, and some of the most wonderful malted whole grain bread ever. English brand of bread, simply heavenly. The milk was EU in origin, which means it comes from almost anywhere in Europe. Whole milk, wow! It was so rich it tasted sweet, but there was nothing added. It almost tasted like coconut milk it was so flavorful. Oh, this was not free or a gift, it cost Eu22.

Tomorrow, my horrible first morning, driving around and finding the grocery store, dinner at the resort.

Friday, February 6, 2009

There and back again.

Our trip to Spain began in Salt Lake City, Utah. Delta, in partnership with Air France, has direct flights to Paris. The flight out was long, with hard bumpy jolts. The winter weather is rough, with a ton of turbulence. The flight was almost empty, and we had a middle row to ourselves. The food was passable, although you cannot order a non-nightshade meal; we got lucky and one of the entrees was edible for us. Hint: pack power bars. The screens were up above and the earbuds were free. Hint: bring your own. The free ones hurt my ears to no end, and you can get an adapter if you ask. Between movies and TV shows and advertisements, the GPS tracking was up; we had a tailwind of over 200 mph. We got to Paris early.

We made a three point landing under cloudy skies. At Charles De Gualle, they do not taxi the plane up to a breezeway. You deplane down wet steps, in a cold wind, and get on a bus. It seems as though they drive forever, crossing runways, circling the terminal. Finding immigration wasn't too bad, and if we cleared customs, I did not notice. There are not many signs; I read French enough I would have spotted them. Immigration was empty, we were about the only passengers transiting. They barely glanced at my passport and only stamped Larry's. Head of hosuehold or some such. We were at the top of the escalator when the guard called us back. What? We had that moment of panic, but it was alright. They were simply curious about Larry's full beard, and wanted to know if he were Amish.

We wandered into the airport and found a place to change our dollars. Next hint: change only a minimal amount at Charles De Gualle, and do not use the American Express kiosk. We managed to find the worst rate and a fee on top of that. Change enough to get by until you hit Madrid. We finally found our gate after a long trek and another pass through security. It is much the same as security in the States. We marvelled at the airport prices, ouch. Saw a designer baby sweater on sale for Eu90. What's that? $120?

Our gate was tucked a level below the nice gates on the concourse level. A cold little room with hard seats and $2 bottles of water in a machine. I felt like we were in some type of ghetto. I'd planned plenty of time between flights, it was January after all. We tried to nap, but it wasn't happening. We were the only ones down there for quite a while, until a lovely young woman from Lebanon came and sat near us. She was headed for Nice, to study and work on her PhD in advanced mathematics and special mechanics. Or the other way around. She spoke English, French and Arabic and shared a very delicious chocolate wafer sweet from Lebanon with us. Hot and smart and kind. I could see the papers she was studying, wow, just like the white boards on big bang theory.

Eventually it was time to board the bus, they double-checked our boarding passes and passports. Out to a plane in the rain and up the wet steps. The flight to Madrid was not full. The attendents were lovely and stylish, as was every gate attendent in the terminal. I felt overfed and under-dressed. I was greeted in German repeatedly, I guess I look more German than American! The lemon cookies we were served with our beverages were yummy; the coffe was instant Nescafe. That'll make you sit up and whistle Dixie! More turbulence, and clouds below, the landing in Madrid was rough too. At least it was notably warmer.

Next stop: the Madrid airport, domestic flights, smoking rooms, and renting a car in Malaga.