Monday, December 14, 2009


Made it here yesterday after a nice ride on the Alaris 01111 train. I don't have many photos to show yet because it's been rainy and cold since I arrived. My Couchsurfing hosts, Rety and Bruce, are excellent folks. They welcomed me into their place with open arms and have already made me feel quite at home. These guys have done what many only dream of - they sold their home in Canada when the market was perfect, took an early retirement from their jobs, and after a lot of study, decided to rent a place here in Valencia and travel when the mood strikes them.

The trip here was uneventful but there is a story in it that I want to share. I purchased my  ticket when I was at Naroa's in Bilbao last week. Of course I used the Internet and the Spanish railroad (Renfre) website to pick my dates and times, etc. There was an Internet special fare labeled Estrella that was available for only 30 euro so I grabbed it not really knowing what Estrella meant. Naroa translated estrella as "star", which had no special significance to either of us other than that it was available at a lower cost than some of the other listed fares. I bought it and Marta printed out my ticket when she went to work the next day.

I walked the mile or so to the Sants EstaciĆ³n arriving with plenty of time to spare and boarded the train. The only problem was that the car was facing backwards. As we got out into the country I'm really wanting to watch where we're going but find it too awkward to pull off. I'm watching where we've been rather than where we're going. Ah then, I tell myself, its only a three hour ride. So I get out my laptop, pull down the small seatback table and begin to write in my journal. This is the private journal within which I ponder the imponderables, worry and fret, and explore my fantasies. I haven't written very much in that one because I've been blogging on this trip and much that usually goes into it is going here instead. This fast train goes through more tunnels during the first half hour than I've been in for my whole life up to now it seems and each time we enter one my ears pop a bit as the compression wave, or whatever it is, hits.

About a while the conductor comes around and asks to see my ticket. He inspects it for a moment and then indicates mostly through body language because he speaks no English and I speak virtually no Spanish, that I'm actually in the wrong coach. I'm really not that excited about moving -- my laptop is open, my big suitcase is stashed overhead, my jacket is off--but he convinces me that I will be happier if I move. I catch the word "preferred" or something similar (looking at the ticket now, I see it was Preferente) so I dutifully pack up my stuff and drag my roller bag to Coach One.

As soon as I cross between the two cars I see that this will be one of those proverbial Good Moves you hear about now and then. I had been in a Tourist Class coach when what I had was a First Class ticket. Here in Preferente the seats are facing frontwards, there's a double wide seat with a nice table on which I'll have plenty of room for my computer and a cup of coffee or cerveza, tons of legroom, and only a few other passengers. I rode the rest of the way to Valencia in this very comfortable new situation.

Rety and Bruce met me at the station and we grabbed a subway which took us close to their lovely flat near the harbor. At this point I've had a chance to talk with both of them at length and I know we'll get along famously. After lunch Rety and I took  a quick walk to the harbor and the long beach beyond but the wind was blowing pretty good and it was chilly so we cut our walk short and returned to the flat. While we walked we chatted about Valencia, the arrogant stupidity of George Bush, tennis (these guys love tennis), the election of Barack Obama and what it meant to them, and the growing impatience, all over Europe actually, with Obama's seeming inability to move forward with health care reform and climate change legislation. As it happens, we have much in common.

The two meals I've shared with them so far stand in stark contrast to most of the food I've been eating in Europe. Lunch was a huge green salad with homemade vegetable soup. Dinner was a soybean stew accompanied by bread and eggplant spread, also homemade--more veggies in 2 meals than I've been able to eat in almost 2 months in Europe. At home I eat tons of veggies (sort of like a dinosaur) - broccoli, squash, grilled eggplant, zukes, peppers, beets, lettuce. I had some wonderful vegetable dishes at Jana's in Berlin, but AFAIK European restaurant food I've been exposed to has been decidedly thin on the veggie side, so this is a welcome change in my diet. Seeing as Valencia is the center of the paella world, Bruce learned how to make it from some Spanish friends and has promised to cook up a batch later this week. I'm looking forward to that.

Here are a few other notes about Europe I want to add.  Everyone in every country I've visited in Europe recycles everything, bottles papers, plastic, everything,and they've been doing so for many years. Rety was born in Roumania back when it was still a Communist country and she recalls her mom explaining how to separate out the recyclables when she was a little girl. It's taken us a long time to gain this type of mentality. I know my relatives in Buffalo, North Carolina and Oregon all recycle quite a bit of late but it was slow coming and we still throw away tons of nasty stuff like packaging, especially in Homer where transportation costs make recycling less about economics than about a desire to simply do the right thing.

Nobody has a clothes dryer. People use a washer to wash their things and then hang them on folding racks to dry in the kitchen, the bathroom or the terrace. Although David and Jenny own a dryer I often see clothes drying on a rack in front of the wood stove. But then, they're especially energy conscious. Most of my other friends in Homer use their electric dryers exclusively. Here, nobody has a hot water tank either. Instead they use tankless, on-demand gas hot water heaters. I first saw one of these, a Paloma brand, in Homer at Ed Berg's place on East Road back in 1983. When Lora and I built our house on Brenmark Road we bought an on-demand Toyotomi hot water heater and loved it. Why do the rest of us insist on heating and storing all that hot water?

Everywhere you go in Europe lights come on and go off sometimes when you least expect it. The lights in hallways, stairways, public places are all governed by timers and motion sensors. If the light doesn't turn on as soon as you enter these places you just need to look about and you'll see a little orange pinpoint of light indicating a wall switch. Click the switch and the light will come on for a few minutes at least. Okay, so far so good. They're using compact fluorescent lamps and they're turning them off automatically after a few minutes. Great, nice and convenient and energy conscious too. Then one night I found myself in a small bar in Bilbao and needing to use the toilet. I entered the small room and noticed that the light was still on from the previous occupant. Fine, I step up to the toilet and begin to use it. But before I can finish, the light snaps off leaving me standing there, my you-know-what in hand, in total darkness. Now, where the hell was that light switch again? Damned inconvenient I say.

In Valencia, continuing to ponder the imponderables, I am Your obt svt DJS