The Great Plotnik

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

10-23: Train to Seville: Two Week Report

On an IPad without optional keyboard, you cannot type as fast as you think, without maddingnlots of extra ms or ns ornotpunctuating and typpo afteer tyo affter typpoom.

2) Our light packing scheme is working, except we still brought too much, even though we brought little. You wash your dirty stuff each night or in the morning, it's all new age material that dries within a few hours, you take only a few pairs of shoes and every morning you choose from the same two or three days worth of clothes.

For certain religious leaders, this is no different than being home.

3) The Duck's 'roll-em-all-up' packing technique is brilliant. She is the engine driving this experiment and she's already talking about bringing way leas next time. Sooner or later, you end up in a subway with lots of stairs up and escalators out of service (New York, Barcelona). That's where the rubber meets the road when it comes to the weight of your roller bag.

4) There is still the issue of cables and chargers and converters, which are bulky and take up space. But new electronics all can use both 110 (US) or 220 (rest of planet) watt plugs, so all you need is one or two little adapters that fit your appliance into their wall. Plot and Duck's battery powered toothbrushes are the only things they have brought that still need a wattage converter, which they didn't bring because it weighs too much. But any toothbrush works as long as you can move your arm up and down.

5) Guidebook. Rick Steves's Spain book is great, if limited. But it weighs a lot and all guidebooks become outdated before they are printed. Rick Steves's advantage is he is a very good writer. A real book is better than on-line, because you have lots of down-time, like on this train chugging from Barcelona to Sevilla, where you can plan what to do in your next city.

(The train just made its first stop, in Tarragona. could this be the home of tarragon? Dry and pretty, grapes on arbors, olive trees, Mediterranean somewhere out there.)

(It will greatly surprise Plotnik if the old woman in the seat behind him still has a lung left when she gets off the train. Praise Jesus that is a smoker's cough and not SARS.)

5) America needs Tapas Culture. Not tapas restaurants, of which there are many, but Tapas Culture. At 8 or 9 o'clock, you go to a Basque tapas bar, you drink a glass of wine or a small glass of really good tap beer, you choose two or three small tapas from a selection of twenty or more, you drink and eat and talk with other people. After awhile you pay up and move down the street to an Asturian or Catalonian tapas taberna (wherever you can find a seat at the bar), you order a glass of wine and choose two or three more tapas from a slightly different menu.

The point is to eat and socialize, not to drink and socialize. What a difference that makes. Everybody goes out so the places are jam-packed, the squares are filled with families, there doesn't seem to be that undercurrent of potential scariness that drives people like the Plotniks, who are not big drinkers, away from American bars and into...what? Our living rooms. What else is there? Starbucks?

6) Spain is First World, at least Northern and Central Spain. Barcelona is absolutely booming, touristy, chic and international. Madrid, the capital of the nation, is provincial, like Washington DC, but the police are everywhere. You don't see the police in Barcelona, probably because they are in the tapas bar.

Or maybe they are chasing the gypsies, since everyone seems to be cognizant of them. Sales clerks and hotel workers and old ladies with half a lung left lower their voices and look to the side before they warn you to never carry valuables on the subway and always clutch your purse to your body. Maybe it's racism, maybe it's experience, maybe it's both. Gypsies are seen as the cockroaches of Catalonia, accepted for their permanence, with a shrug of the shoulders and an upward roll of the eyes.

7) Two weeks in, Plotnik usually has a lull, a day or two when he says enough traveling already, no more museums, no more restaurants, no more filling days up with playing at seeing the world. He had a little of that on day 2 or 3 in Barcelona, but then came the BMW.

What happened was Plot and Duck needed to rent a car to drive up the coast to the Costa Brava. They asked at their hotel and the hotel arranged to have a man drop a car off in front of the hotel on a Saturday night, Plot and Duck would use it Sunday and Monday, then return it to Barcelona, but to a different hotel on Tuesday morning, and the rental company would pick up the car there.

The car was a brand new BMW roadster, six-speed, power to burn, but it had a few issues.

First off, the GPS Plot had paid for was impossible to figure out how to use. Barcelona is one way traffic, roundabouts, confusing streets. Without a GPS, how was Plotnik going to figure out how to even get out of town? He and Duck, walking, had been lost for three days.

Also: the car had no spare tire, no engine manual, no GPS manual, no freaking KEYHOLE and no KEY. And it was out of gas. And there was no contract, and nothing about insurance (Rick Steves was upchucking red flag after red flag about this).

What Plot had was a conversation on the phone with -- someone -- whose Spanish was fast and furious, filled with th's and vosotros'es, of which Plot had understood maybe half. He also had the key, or the fat black gizmato that wasn't a key but was somehow supposed to start the car.

EVERYTHING said DON'T DO THIS! The scary music is playing. For God's sake, don't walk into that abandoned farmhouse!!

Instead, Plot just stayed up all night worrying about it and running to the bathroom.

The next day he and Duck stared at each other and said to hell with it. They found this weird little slot where a keyhole would normally be, stuck the box into it, Plot put his foot on one pedal after another and kept hitting a button until, with a roar, the car started. Foot on the clutch was the answer.

They pulled out, found a map, a gas station and hit the road. Best decision ever.

The two days behind the wheel zipping along tiny roads on the Costa Brava was better than Tylenol for Plotnik's Travel Blahs. Sitting on the square in the tiny village of Palafrugell watching the dancers bounce on one foot and then the other, and buying huge tomatoes from the farmer's market (Catalan vendors on this street, Arab vendors on that street), and eating Catalan empanadas and talking about life with Kati and Antonio in their empanada kiosk, and hiking up into medieval villages as pristine as Toledo, but with no other tourists (nor history) in sight, and ending up in beautiful Girona and not in a Spanish jail.

Occasionally, the GPS would roar to life, in British English: "in 170 meters make the third left."

And GPS doesn't know the difference between a superhighway and a cobblestoned cowpath no wider than an underinsured expensive German Fun Machine.

Plotnik worked hard to get the Beamer back with as little gas in it as when the company had left it.

(The train has made it to Seville. It's down-pouring sheets of rain. The adventure continues.)


At 6:46 PM, Blogger Karen said...

Your key story reminds me of that time I stayed in your house and I had to move your car on street cleaning day. That key was like no other car key I'd seen-- I had to take it to Farley's for help.

At 7:05 PM, Blogger The Fevered Brain said...

Oh, what a splendid adventure. Hope you're listening to game one of the WS.

At 7:15 AM, Blogger notthatlucas said...

While we are missing your wise observations regarding the World Series, your wise observations about shady BMW rentals make up for it. As do your minimalist packing stories. I'm not so sure about the tapas culture though - lots of Big Alcohol would have something to say about that.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger mary ann said...

Such fun and a glorious photo too. We miss you here in The States. Don't miss Game #2 tonight...


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