Here’s to good friends

I remember it was the summer of 1979. I was living in an apartment on the south side of Houston, somewhere near Howard Drive and Highway 3. As I was on my way to or from somewhere or another, I encountered two guys walking down the sidewalk. As fate would have it, I needed to know the time, but did not have a watch. I noticed one of the guys had a watch and inquired as to the time.

In thickest of Irish accents, he responded that it was tree turty.

That was when I met Kieran Egan and Kieran Murphy. Two Irish blokes living on the U.S. on expired visas and working construction in Pasadena.

We struck up a friendship and it wasn’t long before they were sharing an apartment with me and my brother and a few others. I can’t really recall the entire roommate lineup at that time.

Kieran and Kieran were two of the most ridiculously funny people I had ever met. I was all of 17 years old and had not met many, if any, true foreigners…save for the Iranian guy who ran the local convenience store.

My fondest memory of these two was their never ending quest to find Guinness on tap. Back in those days, there was no Guinness on tap. At least not in Texas.
We would go out to various bars and each time Kieran and Kieran would inquire as to the availability of the elusive elixir from their homeland. And each time they would be told that there was none.

This didn’t deter them, much. They and my brother would have a drink or two and move on.

One night, after a rather prolonged quest to find Guinness on tap, we found ourselves walking home. Kieran Murphy, along with my younger brother Gene and a few other friends were quite drunk. Kieran Egan had opted to stay home.

As we walked past one of those do-it-yourself car washes my brother Gene asked Murphy if he had 50 cents. Murphy spoke up and said “aye” and gave Gene two quarters.

Gene then proceeded to walk over to one of the car wash stalls and deposited the two quarters.

Murphy, curious, walked over to see what Gene was doing. That is when Gene proceeded to turn the hose on Murphy and began to spray him down, quite vigorously.
Murphy fell to the ground in a pile of soaking wet, uncontrollable laughter. Gene kept spraying for a good long while with Murphy laughing and rolling around on the ground the whole time.

We were all laughing quite hard.

Eventually, we made it back to the apartment and made our way to bed.

The next morning (or possibly afternoon) when we had woken up, Kieran Egan asked about our adventures and Kieran Murphy, in all earnestness and sincerity, related the events of the evening to his friend as follows. (to be read with the thickest of Irish accents)

“Kieran, you’ll not believe it! Gene is such a good friend! He took us to his favorite pub! And guess what? They had Guinness on tap! All you could drink for 50 cents!”

There are other stories regarding the antics of these guys. But this one stands out in my mind.

I don’t know what ever happened to the Kierans. Perhaps I will find them or stories of their antics when I visit Ireland later this year. That would be some reunion.

La Crema Las Fallas 2013

This is the event that the whole Las Fallas festival leads up to. All those fantastic Falla sculptures are burned to the ground. There’s no way to see them all. You pick one you want to watch and stake out a spot. We chose the one named “Que se mueran los feos” which translates to “May the ugly ones die”. It cost over 100,000 Euro to build. It is located just north of the dry river bed and is easy to get to from our hotel and has the added benefit of not being in a cramped little street corner or the one in the city center, all of which are very difficult to get to and very, very crowded.

This is what our Falla looks like in all of its pre-Crema glory

Before it was Burned

We arrived just before midnight to stake out our spot. The burning was only about 20-30 minutes late as we waited for the fire men to get in to position. There was a sudden detonation of some aerial fireworks and then the lights went out and this happened.

Las Fallas - Crema

Las Fallas - Crema

Las Fallas - Crema

Las Fallas - Crema

Las Fallas - Crema

Las Fallas - Crema

Las Fallas - Crema

c8

And POOF!

Las Fallas - Crema

All gone!

We walked back to our hotel exhausted, but satisfied. Tomorrow we head off to Madrid to spend the night and the fly back to Houston for some much needed rest and relaxation.

La Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade) – Las Fallas 2013

The Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade) is one of the highlights of the festival. The Falleras parade down the street followed by an amazing group of pyrotechnic specialists who put on one heck of a fire show. Words can’t really describe this event. Hopefully my photos will convey the spirit.

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade)

We were pretty tired after this, but we needed to stay up for the Crema which happens at midnight, give or take. That will be in the next update.

Valencia – Day 6

Today is our last full day in Valencia. We’re tired but managing. We’re still under the weather, but Cynthia is much improved.

After two days of The Ofrenda, The Virgin is complete.

Virgin Is Coplete

She is beautiful. We got out early to see her and beat the crowds.

We decided to spend the day at L’Oceanogràfic in the City of Arts And Sciences complex. L’Oceanogràfic is the worlds largest salt water aquarium and is something to see if you like aquariums. Probably the best in the world.

L'Oceanogràfic

L'Oceanogràfic

I think the best feature of L’Oceanogràfic is the Beluga Whale. This guy seems to ham it up for the camera.

Beluga Whale - L'Oceanogràfic

Beluga Whale - L'Oceanogràfic

After visiting the aquarium we walked back to the hotel, stoping to take a few daylight photos of the City Of Arts And Sciences.

City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

When we got to the hotel we knew we were going to need to get some rest. This is the final day of Las Fallas and the two most important events happen this evening. The Cabalgata del Fuego (Fire Parade) and The Crema (burning) of the Fallas where the burn all the sculpture to the ground.

I will post some photos of those events in the next two updates.

Valencia – Day 5

Cynthia continues to improve. We got up relatively early so we could go to the Cathedral and see the progress on the Virgin Mary.

She’s coming along quite nicely.

We took the day and walked around the area near the Ruzafa district where there are some magnificent Fallas

That night we stumbled upon the most magnificent Galician restaurant called A `Peregrina which is Spanish for “Of The Pilgrim” or something similar. The whole restaurant is themed in a style you might expect to see if you were walking the Way Of St. James, a famous pilgrimage Cynthia and I would like to walk some day.

Cynthia had said she just wanted some soup for dinner, but soup is not a common menu item so we decided to see what we could get here. Right after we were seated, the waitress brought us each a bowl of complimentary hot vegetable soup. It was, in a way, a miracle and set the tone for the evening.

Once again we had found a fantastic restaurant with wonderful food and a great atmosphere.

Valencia – Day 4 Addendum

Cynthia did the smart thing and rested most of the day. We did go out in the afternoon as the Ofrenda was beginning. It seems all the marching bands pass right by our hotel so sleeping was futile.

The Ofrenda is when all the people of Valencia put on their traditional costumes and parade in from all corners of the city to offer flower to build the statue of the Virgin Mary in the cathedral square.

After chasing the Falleras for awhile we decided to go to the City Of Arts And Sciences so I could take some night shots.

City Of Arts And Sciences

City of Arts and Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences - Fisheye

City Of Arts And Sciences

City Of Arts And Sciences

Later in the evening we found this restaurant called Alma del Temple that was simply fantastic.

squid

Everything was presented well and the restaurant itself had a nice atmosphere. Oddly, the music playing over the sound system was 80′s gothic new wave. Bands like The Cure and Joy Division with some Brian Ferry and the like sprinkled in. I enjoyed it quite a lot and asked our waiter about it. Turns out it was his selection of music. I let him know I appreciated it and that seems to please him to no end.

We had a bottle of wine and enjoyed our meal and finished the evening off with a coffee and postre (desert)

After this we were pretty beat and called it a night.

Valencia – Day 4 (partial)

We’re just back from a fantastic meal at Alma De Temple and after some wonderful food and a bottle of wine I just don’t have it in me to process the images of the day (of which I have some fantastic shots) so I am just going to give you the latest on our medical situation.

cynthiainbed

We’ve both been a bit more ill than we would care to admit.

We both managed to catch whatever that funky virus is that’s currently spreading from the UK (thanks a lot, Brits!) Sore throats, lots of congestion and body aches. It has made for some restless nights and has made Cynthia quite upset.

I, being the quick healer that I am, was through the worst of it in a few days. Cynthia, on the other hand, has had a more difficult time shaking it. On top of the virus she ended up with dual eye conjunctivitis which caused her eyes to swell up and fill with mucus (blech). And to add insult to injury there’s apparently a giant pollen explosion going on here in Spain which is making it even worse for her.

We spoke to the proprietors of the hotel and they said they could call a doctor and I told them to please do so.

The doctor came to the hotel (free of charge) and diagnosed Cynthia with conjunctivitis in both eyes and faringitis and prescribed medicine for the virus and the conjunctivitis and also dispensed quite a bit of useful tips for getting over this.

A modest walk to the pharmacy and the prescriptions were filled for under 15 euro.

Cynthia took it easy today and her stress levels are way down. She’s in the best spirits she’s been in in days. I’ve got her iPad filled with a few seasons of Torchwood to keep her occupied while I went out and take photos.

Later in the afternoon Cynthia was up for some roaming around and we set out to take some photos of the Falleras and the Ofrenda. We followed that up with a trip to the City Of Arts And Sciences and then a fine dinner.

I will have more to share tomorrow after we sleep this day off.

Valencia – Day 3

Today Cynthia woke up in pretty bad shape. While the one eye is getting better, the other is starting to have trouble. She is very fatigued and in need of rest.

manel1

We had scheduled lunch with our friend Manel who we met during our first visit to Valencia. When he arrived at the hotel Cynthia simply didn’t have the energy to accompany us. This was unfortunate as Manel speaks little English and I speak little Spanish. Cynthia usually acts as the translator, but today we were on our own.

Manel and I had a good time using our iPhones to make the more difficult translations and it was a fun morning, if not slightly comical.

We made our way back to the hotel so I could check in on Cynthia and so that Manel could make his way to his other commitments. When I check with the desk clerk, Cynthia had left a note saying that she was feeling better and had walked over to the park to enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.

When she did make her way to the room she was looking to be in pretty good spirits, but confided that while sitting on a park bench and enjoying the various dogs and birds passing and flying overhead she apparently looked so sad and pathetic that a passing cyclist stopped and offered her food (which she politely declined).

Suffice to say, she was mortified. It took me some time to convince her that she did not look like a wretched, diseased homeless person with a bad eye.

Since Cynthia was feeling better we decided go for a walk and get some lunch. We enjoyed sitting outside the restaurant and soaking in the sunshine.

After lunch we went back to the room and had a siesta.

When we woke up we were both feeling a bit better. I wanted to go to the City of Arts and Sciences to take some photos and Cynthia was going to go see some things she wanted to see. I ended up making a short trip of it as the City of Arts and Sciences was having some kind of event and I couldn’t really get the shots I wanted. When I got back to the hotel I ran in to Cynthia who was excited that she was able to photograph an unusual pigeon we had spotted a few days ago.

Painted Pigeon

We suspect he has been painted by someone. The bird seems ok and flies around the plaza without a problem.

We took the rest of the afternoon and evening to do some more site seeing. We’re still not 100% but we’re not giving up.

Fairy Falla

Laurel and Hardy Falla

Ruzafa Lights

Tomorrow and Monday are the days of the Ofrenda when the women of Valencia parade in to the Plaza Of The Virgin and offer to her their prayers and carnations. The carnations are used to make Mary’s gown. It’s quite a site.

Preparation for Ofrenda

Valencia – Day 2

Trojan Horse Falla

Sad to say, we are still quite under the weather. Last night was the worst. To make matters even more gruesome, Cynthia’s right eye is having some issues. We suspect a scratch on the eyelid that was likely inflicted during all the tossing and turning last night. She’s a little stressed about it, understandably.

It’s up and down. We sleep and it’s fitful. We get up and move around and we get back to something approaching normal. I think we are on the mend, but it’s slow going. Perhaps tonight we’ll sleep through…if we’re lucky.

We’re keeping our spirits up. The festival is still amazing and it’s picking up steam as the fallas continue to be set up all over town. And the crowds are growing.

You can tell the festival is truly getting underway as the explosions are happening with greater frequency. Festival goers, armes with fireworks the size of M80s and larger, are detonating at will all over town and all day long. The explosions bounce of the stone walls and echo down the streets. Tonight will not be quiet, but I don’t recall it being all that bothersome. You actually kind of get used to it.

On the plus side, I am getting some great photos.

Municipal Falla

Untitled

Untitled

Sultan Falla

Arrival Valencia

Plaza De Virgin

We have made our way to Valencia via the high speed AVE train. The train reached speeds of over 180 mph so it took about 1 hour and 40 minutes.

We’re still not feeling great. I have a sore throat as does Cynthia and we’re both hacking and wheezing. The Madrid air is pretty dirty and it was colder than we expected so we think those things contributed to our ill-health.

But remain undaunted. After checking in to the hotel we took a walk and picked up some supplies. We then retuned to the hotel and enjoyed a siesta. When we awoke we were feeling much better and set out to see some sites.

Falla - 1

It is the day before what is known as La Planta. La Planta is when all of the falla sculptures are finally put in place. Still, there are some already up and many others being built.

Our favorite falla so far is one that depicts the Garden of Eden

Falla - 2

The interesting detail is Steve Jobs sitting atop the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, complete with Apple products like a Macbook and an iPad.

Falla - 2 (detail)

We’re calling it an early night as we continue to recuperate. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be closer to full strength.

Madrid – Day 6

Fallen Angel Fountain - Madrid

I think we have pushed ourselves a little too hard. Both Cynthia and I are both under the weather. Coughing, congested and fatigued. I have the tell tale body aches of a mild flue.

We went out this morning to take in a few sites, but our physical condition combined with the 35 degree temperatures had us retreating back to the hotel after only a few hours out and about.

We took a nice siesta and then ventured out for some lunch and came back to the hotel for another siesta.

When we woke up we just stayed in the room watching TV and waited to see who the next Pope would be.

Later in the evening we found a restaurant to have some dinner. Hot soup and some grilled chicken for me and a bean soup and some grilled eggplant for Cynthia.

This has greatly lifted our spirits. We’re going to stay in the hotel tonight and relax. Tomorrow we take the train to Valencia for the Las Fallas Festival. This is going to be one giant party and we’ll be up all hours of the night and day so I think it is good we conserve our strength.

It seems to me that this was a lot less strenuous in years past. They say you are only as old as you feel. Today I feel as old as Methuselah.

Cibeles Palace -  Plaza de Cibeles

Madrid – Day 5

We’ve expended a lot of energy over the last few days. And we still have Las Fallas in Valencia to look forward to. With that in mind we took it rather easy today. We decided to catch the subway to go see the monument to Miguel de Cervantes, writer of the world famous story of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his trusty squire, Sancho Panza.

From there we made our way to the Naval Museum for a nice dose of Spanish naval history. The museum is very nice and well laid out. I was especially fascinated by the models and miniatures featured in the museum.

Spanish Naval Uniforms - 3

After visiting the Naval Museum we found our way to the Barrio de las letras (the literary district) to take a walking tour of the neighborhood which is filled with wonderful old bars, restaurants and shops decorated with ornate tile work.

While we were there we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Miau where I discovered that I really like grilled pulpo (octopus).

We wandered the area at a leisurely pace and once we had our fill we headed back to the hotel and had a nice, long siesta.

When we awoke from our siesta we relaxed in the hotel room before heading out to find some dinner.

All in all, a very nice day and a chance to regain our strength as we get ready to wrap things up here in Madrid.

Gran Via @ Sunset

Madrid – Day 4

Today is March 11 and is the 9th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Atocha Train Station in Madrid. The explosions killed 191 people and wounded 1,800. The official investigation by the Spanish judiciary found that the attacks were directed by an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell.

At the Atocha station there is a memorial dedicated to the victims of the explosion.

Atocha Station Memorial - 2

From Wikipedia:

The Atocha station memorial is a memorial monument located at Atocha station in Madrid, Spain, that commemorates the 191 victims of the 11 March 2004 Madrid train bombings and the special forces agent who died when seven suicide bombers blew themselves up on 3 April 2004.

The 11 m tall (36 ft) cylinder stands above Atocha station, the destination of the four trains that were attacked. Thousands of messages of condolence made in the days after the attacks are inscribed on the inside of the tower. The messages of grief can be seen from a chamber beneath the hollow monument.

Atocha Station Memorial - 1

It was a somber experience visiting this memorial on the anniversary. Something akin to visiting Ground Zero in New York, I would imagine.

From there we walked over to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum to view some more art. Because when you are travelling in Europe, you can’t see enough art. Visiting the Thyssen completed our Madrid Museum trifecta.

After this we were fairly tired and headed back to the hotel to readjust and then get some lunch. After lunch it was back to the hotel for a nice siesta.

When we woke up we made our way west to watch the sunset and take some night shots of the Temple de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was rebuilt in Madrid.

Temple de Debod

It was cold and windy and we were anxious to get back to town where it might be a little less breezy.

Having had a rather substantial lunch, we were not all the keen on a large dinner. So we opted for some Churros con Chocolate at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés which first opened its doors in 1894.

chocolate1

chocoalte2

It was delicious, in case you were wondering.

torredoor

After that I wanted to stop by the La Torre del Oro which is a bar dedicated to bull fighting. Many bull heads on the walls and photos of fighters getting gored quite gruesomely. It’s an interesting experience to say the least.

torro

torro2

After that we we’re pretty much spent. Tomorrow is another day.