Another Resource

One of my friends/co-workers who follows along here at and read about the grand scheme suggested I take a look at Facebook for information on the upcoming trip. Turns out there are several groups dedicated to Valencia and Las Fallas.

Another resource! I have joined some groups and posted to the public forums.

On a related note, I’ve had some very good dialogue with the contacts I mentioned previously.


Previous trips have benefited from online resources like Tripadvisor to get insight into which hotels to reserve and sites like Expedia and Travelocity to secure plane tickets. We’ve even used city/state/country sponsored tourism sites to gather valuable information about our destinations.

This will be the first trip for us to use social networking as a means to enhance our vacation.

It’s been less than one day since I started my social networking experiment and I have already made 3 contacts.

Via Twitter I have met Iwan, a Dutchman living in Spain for the last several years working as an IT architect, and John who is a transplant to Spain from the UK. John has been living in a suburb of Valencia for the last 20 years working as a professional translator, translating Spanish to English.

I love John’s e-mail signature which includes a clickable link to his geographic location (,-0.6195).

Via Flickr I have met Manel. Manel does not speak very good English, but he’s an avid photographer and is an active Flickr user. His photo-stream includes pictures of a photowalk in Valencia. He and his friends look like the Spanish equivalent of any handful of Assignment Houston photogs.

They’ve all been very kind and receptive to my social networking experiment, each offering to answer questions and even meet up when Cynthia and I arrive in Spain for the festival.

We’re off to a good start.

Social Networking Experiment

Cynthia and I are going to Valencia, Spain next year for Las Fallas. As an experiment I am reaching out via Twitter and other social networking sites to see if I can make contact with technically and socially like-minded individuals in Valencia with the idea that I can glean more information about our destination from a person or persons who actually live there, and possibly have one or more contacts when we arrive.

Right now I am using the search feature of Twitter to see who lists Valencia as their home.

Right off the bat I have encountered some stumbling blocks.

1. Must weed through erroneous search results for Valencia, Venezuela and Valencia, California
2. Natives of Valencia, Spain tend to twitter in Spanish or Valencian (Catalan).
3. Erroneous results due to the recent Formula One Grand Prix held in Valencia

I have reached out to a few I have encountered that list Valencia, Spain as their home and that have twittered in English. One in particular appears to work in the IT field so I am hopeful.

Next up I am going to search around on Flickr which I actually think might be more promising. Socially networking photogs tend to be a friendly bunch as evidenced by the recent Assignment Houston gathering at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

I’m not sure how this will turn out but it should be interesting.

I Think I’m Learning Japanese

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to visit Asia. China, Japan, Korea…something. Cynthia has always wrinkled her nose and frowned at the idea so I wasn’t holding out much hope.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved the trips we have taken and I figured I’d be fine never going east.

Still, whenever the opportunity presented itself I’d revisit the subject. When a travel show would come on we’d watch it or I would mention that someone I knew just went or came back from somewhere.

Sometime earlier this year Cynthia caught a show on one of the learning/history/travel channels about life in Japan and something clicked. All of a sudden she was very interested in the idea of going there. We bought some books and she’s done her research and now it in the pipeline. If we can afford it, we’re planning for spring of 2010.

Cynthia’s also decided she would also like to learn Japanese and has signed up for language lessons. She in a beginner course and it remains to be seen how far she’ll take it.

Learning Japanese

Learning Japanese

She’s made flash cards of the first 40 Katakana characters she has to learn this week. I’m rooting her on the best I can and who knows, I might learn something myself along the way. I now know what the Japanese language is composed of Katakana, Hiragana and Kanji characters. That’s more than I knew last week.

Travel For Art’s Sake

I’m starting to get the itch to travel overseas again. In thinking about where we might go I was pondering where we’ve been. One of the things I that I have really enjoyed in our past 3 trips has been seeing the art museums. This got me to thinking about what we’ve seen and what we haven’t so I went out on the WWW and looked for a list of the 100 must see paintings and found Piero Scaruffi’s “The Greatest Paintings of all Times”list. This lead to finding his top 100 reposted on Listology, complete with pictures of the actual paintings.

I took the top 50 and have highlighted the one’s we’ve seen in our travels:

1. Bosch: The Garden of Earthly Delights (1504) – Prado, Madrid
2. Michelangelo: Il Giudizio Sistine Chapel (1541) – Cappella Sistina, Roma
3. Ernst: Europe After the Rain II (1942) – Sumner Collection, Hartford
4. Klimt: Beethovenfries (1902) – Sezession, Wien
5. Dali: Persistence of Memory (1931) – Museum of Modern Art, New York
6. Klimt: The Virgin (1913) – National Gallery, Prague
7. Bosch: The Last Judgement (1505) – Gemaldegalerie der Akademie der Bildenden Kunste, Wien
8. Klimt: The Kiss (1908) – Belvedere, Wien
9. Botticelli: Allegoria della Primavera (1478) – Uffizi, Firenze
10. Monet: Nimphee (1926) – Orangerie, Paris
11. Dali: Metamorphose de Narcisse (1937) – Tate Gallery, London
12. Leonardo: Il Cenacolo/ The Last Supper (1497) – S.Maria delle Grazie, Milano
13. Rubens: Fall of the Damned – The British Museum
14. Uccello: Battaglia di San Romano/Part I (1456) – Uffizi, Firenze
15. Van Gogh: Starry Night (1889) – Museum of Modern Art, New York
16. Raffaello: Sposalizio della Vergine (1504) – Piancoteca di Brera, Milano
17. Dali: Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (1936) – Museum of Art, Philadelphia
18. Bruegel: Triumph of Death (1562) – Prado, Madrid
19. Botticelli: Nascita di Venere (1485) – Uffizi, Firenze
20. Rubens: The Adoration of the Magi – Prado, Madrid
21. Monet: Cathedrale de Rouen – Musee National d’Orsay, Paris
22. Greco: Toledo (1599) – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
23. Giotto: Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padova (1305)
24. Cranach: Flugelaltar mit dem Jungsten Gericht (1524) – Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
25. Seurat: La Parade du Cirque (1888) – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
26. Ernst: La Ville Entiere (1936) – Kunsthaus, Zurich
27. Rembrandt: Militia Company (1642) – Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
28. Van Eyck: Madonna in the Church (1425) – Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
29. Bruegel: The Battle Between Carnival and Lent (1559) – Kunsthistorisches Museum – Wien
30. Leonardo: Gioconda/ Mona Lisa (1505) – Louvre, Paris
31. Raffaello: Trasfigurazione (1519) – Pinacoteca Vaticana, Roma
32. Rousseau: Sleeping Gypsy (1897) – Museum of Modern Art, New York
33. Piero della Francesca: Leggenda della Vera Croce (1460) – S.Francesco, Arezzo
34. Van Gogh: Potato Eaters (1885) – Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
35. Bruegel: Dutch Proverbs (1559) – Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
36. Greco: La Crucifixion (1594) – Prado, Madrid
37. Seurat: La Grande Jatte (1886) – Art Institute, Chicago
38. Altdorfer: The Battle of Alexander the Great (1529) – Alte Pinakothek, Munchen
39. Monet: The Grainstack (1896) – Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
40. Klee: Ad Marginen (1930) – Kunstmuseum, Basel
41. Rembrandt: Belshazzar’s Feast (1635) – National Gallery, London
42. Van Gogh: Cypresses (1889) – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
43. Rubens: St Agustine, National Gallery, Prague
44. Van Eyck: Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (1434) – National Gallery, London
45. Renoir: Bal du Moulin de la Galette (1876) – Musee National d’Orsay, Paris
46. Renoir: Le Dejeuner des Canotiers (1881) – Phillips Collection, Washington
47. Goya: Aquelarre/ Il Grande Caprone (1821) – Prado, Madrid
48. Velasquez: Las Meninas (1656) – Prado, Madrid
49. Chagall: I and the Village (1911) – Museum of Modern Art, New York
50. Van der Weyden: Deposition (1435) – Prado, Madrid

Of course there is really no way to make a truly comprehensive list and there’s certainly some pieces we’ve seen that didn’t make this particular cut. It’s more a frame of reference for me in thinking about past and future destinations.

That being said, if I weight the decision based on this list, Berlin, Vienna and Prague are starting to look VERY interesting.


I’ve started the process of going through the 2500+ pictures I took during the trip. Right now I am just sorting pictures into folders for each major city visited. Then I will go through and break it down by site. After that I will need to go through and cull out the blurries and the duplicates.

Cynthia has another 1500 or so on her camera that need to be downloaded and processed.

Then comes deciding which ones to print for our “scrapbook.”

And no, it’s not one of those cutesy-crafty “hey, pass me the Elmer’s Glue, construction paper and a pair of scissors” kind of scrapbooks that seems to be all the rage these days.

It’s just something to put the pics in and all the paper we collected. Things like hotel receipts, metro and train ticket stubs, museum tickets and so forth.

The one from our European vacation was 3 fat three-ringed binders full. I expect this one to be even larger.

As I’m slowly going through my pictures I keep finding some cool ones I forgot about.

Something about convex mirrors compels me.

Click for full size

That’s the Edificio Metropolis in the background so I know this was taken somewhere near The Gran Via and Calle de Alcala.

View Larger Map

It’s going to be fun going through these…

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

Flying back from Madrid, our flight was delayed for 2 hours. We met some nice folks at the airport who were also on their way back to Houston. Two biologists/scientists (one of whom is a professor at Rice) and a gentleman who owned a cosmetics factory. It was good to have someone to talk to and pass the time in the airport.

Our initial flight was to Newark where we would change planes and then continue to Houston. Due to the delay we had to make arrangements for another connecting flight.

We cleared customs in Newark and the had to re-clear security. We had just enough time to get on the plane and come to Houston. All told it was just under 24 hours total travel time with the early arrival to the airport, the delay, connecting flight and cab ride home.

Upon arrival to the house everything was right where it was supposed to be. We’re so lucky to have had our good friend Jim keeping an eye on the place and coming over a few times a week to water the plants and feed the fish. It also appears that he did not rent the house out to vagabonds, hippies or musicians in our absence which is always a plus. There’s nothing worse than coming home from an extended vacation to to find someone subletting you residence.

I can’t even describe how nice it was to lay down in our own bed.

The next day we got up and went to collect the birds. They seem no worse for the wear and tear and things here at the house are pretty much back to normal.

I’m still jet-lagged a bit and am struggling to get my internal clock re-synched with U.S. time. I’m sure I’ll be right as rain soon and am especially glad we gave ourselves a few days at home after the trip before going back to work.

Ready To Come Home

We caught the train from Barcelona to Madrid yesterday. 4 1/2 hours all told. Most of it on the high speed AVE line. We are now checked back in to the hotel where it all began, Hotel Plaza Mayor.

It’s odd to come back after travelling far and wide for the last few weeks. It’s like coming home in an odd sort of way.

This morning when I got to the breakfast table in the lobby of the hotel I found two birthday cards on my table that Cynthia had been carrying with her the whole trip! She’s so awesome!

Madrid is much quieter now than when we left it a few weeks ago. The end of September is considered the beginning of the “off” season. Now that it’s late in October it’s gotten much cooler and the tourist crowds have lightened quite a bit.

We walked over and took the tour of the Royal Palace we never got around to before. No photography allowed. WAH! It’s gorgeous. We also took the guided tour which we never do. That proved to be rather interesting and we learned a bit more than we might have otherwise.

Tonight we’re going to go out to dinner one last time to celebrate my birthday.

Our flight back to Houston is tomorrow morning and frankly I am ready. Ready to bathe in my own bath tub, ready to sleep in my own bed and ready to watch some American television (In English).

Keeping the blog up to date has been challenging, but fun. Late hours processing images and putting together the entries took it’s toll a little in terms of getting enough sleep but I think getting it written down while it was still fresh will pay off in the long run. Ultimately these posts will serve as a guide to put together our travel scrapbook and are also something I can look at to remind me of the awesome month I got to spend with Cynthia in this remarkable country.

Cynthia has agreed that bringing a laptop along has been a good thing. Initially she didn’t think that I should take a computer with me but after a few weather reports and Google map directions to obscure restaurants she has changed her tune. She’s even on board with the blogging as she will be the one to put together the scrapbook and did not have to keep her own hand-written journal of the trip. Plus she really gets a kick out of it when people comment on the entries.

Thanks to everyone who followed along. It was very cool to have this cyber-tether back to friends and family back home. Sort of a life-line to keep me from getting too homesick which I am surprisingly prone to.

We’ll see you when we get back, after we’ve gotten caught up on some sleep, re-stocked the fridge and picked up the birds.

Barcelona – Last Day

It’s our final day in Barcelona. We are taking it super easy as we are pretty much exhausted. Tonight we pack up and we take a 4+ hour train ride back to Madrid where it all began.

Today we got up, got dressed and headed over to the Boqueria for breakfast. We’ve come to love our little cafe there for a cafe con leche and a Spanish omelette.

Click for full size

After breakfast we walked over to the Museu Maritim De Barcelona.

I’ve been to a number of nautical and military museums in my life. This is, by far, the best one I have ever seen. The building itself is the restored Drassanes Reials (Royal Shipyards of Barcelona) and at it’s center is a Full sized reproduction of the galley from which Don Juan d’Austria oversaw the defeat of the Turkish Navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 to give Spain mastery of the Mediterranean.

We specifically got there early so I could make sure I got this particular shot of the replica

Click for full size

You really should click to see the full size….especially you, Joe Linbeck!

We’re back in the Hotel resting a bit. We’re going to head out here shortly for another walk around the city.

We’re going to miss Barcelona