London August 4, 2012
It was the day we had waited for many years. The planning, or at least the hopes, of going to the Olympics began when London won the bid to host the games. It’s a city my family visits most every summer so it made perfect sense to make this our chance to visit to the Olympics.
Easier said than done.
Rather than going after event tickets as soon as they became available I waited too long, way too long. By then (this spring) the tickets were going for as much as five times the face value on the Internet and even then there was no guarantee those tickets were real. I put out feelers all over the world, from a co-worker at a desk near me to friends in New Zealand hoping to get tickets at a reasonable price.
It worked. A friend working the games was able to help and made our dream come true.
Believe me it wasn’t cheap. Besides the event tickets, there were the plane tickets to London from Spain, boosted hotel rates (three nights was all we could afford) and then the big expense I didn’t even consider (more coming up).
The big day was Saturday August 4th. We rose early and boarded The Tube (subway) for the 30 minute ride to Olympic Park. I can’t remember an event as well organized as the London Olympics. They even provided public transit tickets to keep cars off the streets.
We had been warned by just about everyone to stay away from the Stratford tube stop because of the crowds. Stratford is the closest to the Olympic Park. We heeded the advice which meant a 25 minute walk.
All along the way British volunteers in their pink vests greeted us with a cheerful “good morning” and “go USA” (we were easy to spot carrying our flags).
Security is at the perimeter out of the Olympic Park. We passed through quickly and entered the stadium. The thrill cannot be expressed well in words as we sat down 2 rows from the track as the gun went off in the men’s 100 meter preliminaries.
The “fastest man in the world” Usain Bolt walked right past us on his way to the blocks for his heat. He would soon go by us in the other direction much more quickly.
Quite different was seeing South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius. You may not remember the name, but you remember his legs. He runs on blades that take the place of the parts of the body that were amputated shortly after his birth.
Being at track and field is much like Ringling Brother’s Three Ring Circus. The runners were on the track, the long jumpers were across on the far side and to our left the female pole vaulting competition.
Now to that unexpected expense. We had six hours until our next event so we went souvenir hunting. Along with covering the fighting in Somalia I would rate my visit to the Olympic Megastore as two of my worst experiences. As friend described it well, “chaos and robbery”.
Next to swimming. Whoever designed the Aquatics Center did not have the fans in mind. It’s like a big tent sagging in the middle. Our seats were near the top of one side. It was hot and humid, but our spirits were certainly not damp.
We cheered Missy Franklin as if she was our next door neighbor. 5,000 miles from home she might as well be. And Michael Phelps waited for us to win his final Olympic gold.
Each time the Star Spangled Banner was played it brought tears to our eyes. Here where the world is one they were playing our song.
July 29, 2012, Spain
It started with a Spanish friend telling me he knew someone who has a fishing boat and asked if I would to come along for a day. Always open to new experiences, I said yes.
We met at 5:45 a.m. at the Port of Tarragona (an hour down the coast from Barcelona) and boarded the Minguet. It’s a 24 meter (say 75 foot) commercial fishing boat owned by a very friendly Domingo Pedrol.
The Minguet is one of 40 or so of these large boats that ply the Mediterranean Sea off Tarragona. We joined the flotilla to exit the harbor just before dawn. All of the boats are equipped with GPS devices and if you leave too soon or go where you shouldn’t the owners face a fine.
It didn’t take long for my friend Josep to head for the rail and tip his head over the side for what would become hours of seasickness. As for me, I had taken a pill an hour earlier and I am pleased to say my stomach was fine all day.
When we reached 20 miles off the coast the nets were carefully lowered into the sea. For the next five hours we let them do the work. Meanwhile one of the three crewmen assisting Domingo prepared a lunch of fish stew and paella. Unfortunately my friend Josep was in no shape to to join in.
At 2 p.m. the results of our trolling became clear. The nets were hauled in and a massive display of a variety of fish was unloaded onto the deck. There were all kinds of shrimp, octopus, monkfish, and who knows what, the Loch Ness monster could have been in there for all I could tell.
The crew then began sorting the fish into different trays as the captain set it towards the port full speed ahead on automatic pilot. Water and ice were dumped on the catch to keep it from spoiling. A canopy was placed overhead.
By now Josep had rebounded and was delighted to see what had been collected during his long inspection of the deck face down. The unwanted fish in the catch were tossed overboard providing the seagulls with a free lunch as dozens followed our boat.
When we reached shore the marvels of electronics took over. The trays of fish were loaded onto a conveyor belt and passed before wholesalers and restaurateurs seated above. If they wanted to bid on a tray they simply push a button on what looks like a high-tech garage opener.
How much our friend Domingo made on the day we don’t know, but he has a lot of overhead. There’s the gas, salaries of the crew, the depreciation of his million euro boat, and much more.
Besides competing with other fishermen, fish is flown in daily from other countries.
It took 12 hours to find out what I certainly had expected to learn — making a living off the sea is not an easy job.
July 26, 2012, Spain
The questions started even before leaving Colorado — “How bad is the economic situation in Spain?”
It’s so bad it has a name that needs no translation, “La Crisis.” I’ve heard about it each summer for each of the past few years when I have come here, but this year it’s taken on a whole new dimension.
We had lunch at our favorite restaurant yesterday. That’s when I heard the taxes on restaurant meals are going up to 10 percent. The restaurant owner said his father who started the business has retired and can no longer afford the taxes on the buildings he owns.
A friend works for the provincial government as a civil servant. His pay is being cut and will be given few holidays beginning next year.
Stories of government waste in spending in Valencia province are jaw-dropping — a large airport with no planes, a new Formula One course when another existed, a movie production house with few films to make.
The banks are being nationalized at alarming rate due to failure from bad loans.
The austerity this country’s government has imposed may be required by fellow members of the faltering Euro, but it’s having an impact on spending. There have been mass demonstrations.
I’m certainly no economist, but those who are seem to be having an awfully hard time getting it right.
July 25, 2012, Spain
Topless beaches and guns. What do these have in common? Absolutely nothing, but they illustrate the differences in customs and laws.
Since the Aurora theater shooting news articles and people here in Spain have been asking why it is so easy to purchase guns in the United States.
I would try to explain the Constitution and debate over the intent of the Second Amendment, but it’s hard enough to do in English and certainly too complex for my Spanish.
Guns are much more difficult to buy over here. One must go to the police and explain why you need one, you must undergo a mental and physical exam to get an annual license.
Gun stores are rare, topless beaches everywhere. It’s just the opposite at home. Imagine what would happen if a woman wanted to sunbathe in this manner at a typical American beach. There would certainly be commotion, maybe a police citation for indecent exposure. Here in Spain topless sunbathing is so common no one thinks twice about it.
Gun stores are everywhere in the U.S. You can buy a weapon with a background check, but don’t try topless sunbathing. You could end up in trouble with the law.
July 24, 2012 Barcelona, Spain
This is what terrorism does to the mind. I glanced out the window of my British Airways flight as it pulled into the gate at the airport of Barcelona. Directly next to us was an arriving flight of an Israeli airline. As passengers from my flight disembarked, so too did those on the flight from Israel.
I entered the terminal and began walking towards immigration control to present my passport. With the two planes arriving at the same time the passengers merged into one group. An awful thought entered my head. Just a few days earlier in Burgas, Bulgaria, a suicide bomber wearing a backpack killed five Israeli tourists as he detonated the device while a group was on a bus.
The attack caused thousands of Israelis to cancel trips to Bulgaria, but the threat certainly goes well beyond that eastern European country. Common sense told me to separate myself from the Israeli group as quickly possible, but another side of me said, “Isn’t doing that letting the terrorists win?”
Israel’s tourism minister vowed the attack in Bulgaria would not stop those from his country from traveling abroad. None of the Israelis near me arriving in Spain showed any signs of concern about traveling in a group. In the end there was no choice but to stand in line with the Israeli tourists at the non-European Union citizen’s passport
We went our separate ways after collecting our bags. On the one hand I felt somewhat embarrassed that I would be reluctant to be with them. On the other after what happened in Aurora we know too well terror can strike anytime, anywhere, and in many different ways politically motivated or not.
July 23, 2012 London
One can travel thousands of miles away, but cannot escape the horror that has been brought on our community.
“Batman Massacre” was the headline on the Independent here in London. The words may be somewhat different, but it all comes out tragically the same. Theatre goers attended the midnight showing in “fancy dress” (costumes). “Neighbours” described the gunman as a loner.
What is as shocking as the crime itself, according to some British news reports, are Colorado’s lax gun laws.
Friday I met TV crews from Japan and France while at the suspect’s apartment and received condolences from as far away as Australia.
Colorado is front page global news once again for all the wrong reasons.
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