Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rainy Barcelona...

Unfortunately the weather on our trip to Barcelona was really poor - 1 day of clouds, and 2 days of almost solid heavy rain, which is apparently really unusual for that area.

I booked an apartment, which was huge and very clean, but didn't have anyone on-site, so nobody to ask questions of, nobody to store our luggage with.   The first morning I bought cereal and milk for breakfast at a little grocery just a few steps away.  The owner had the shop open at 8 AM, then I saw the same guy at around 8:30 that same evening.  That's gotta be rough.

Overall, I really liked Barcelona, even though the weather was crap.  I could see spending much more time there than just a long weekend.  It's very lively and energetic, people seem very cosmopolitan (especially compared to Madrid), and there are lots of interesting shops.  We spend most of Friday strolling around the old town (the Gothic Quarter), luckily that was the one day there was no rain.  The pedestrian area is huge, you could get pleasantly lost there.  Our first stop was on Las Ramblas, a big pedestrian walkway in the old town.  I had read so many warnings of pickpockets that we were very alert and had our money stashed carefully, but we had no problems.  I did see one teenage girl who looked like a gypsy, who was doing some kind of scam, but nobody targeted us. The best part of Las Ramblas was the market, where they had all kinds of great fruits.

We had a disappointing  experience at El Corte Ingles, trying to buy new sneakers for Kenny since his old ones (bought in Madrid) were falling apart. We went to three separate El Corte Ingles department stores, just a few hundred meters from each other, and in each one they pointed to another one, and didn't seem to know what was sold where.  At first it was a problem because I asked for shoes (zapatos), but the term for sneakers is different (deportivos), and they're sold in different stores.  Finally at the last one they did have sneakers, but instead of having all the sneakers together, they had each brand in a different location, i.e. Adidas on one floor, Puma on another.  It was a real hassle.

Walking around the old town
Getting around on the Metro was very convenient and fast, really cheap at 1 euro, and easy to figure out. Plus, the metro stop was only just a few steps outside our apartment.

We asked around Friday to find a "typical" restaurant.  Aa guy at the tourist office recommended the 4 Gatos, which we sat down in, looked at the menu, and after debating for a while, awkwardly took our leave - it was very expensive and there was little choice.  We ended up eating just a few doors down for much cheaper.  The best part of my meal was the beans - white beans with olive oil and a parsley sauce, very tasty.  The artichoke was fine too, though I think grilling is not a good choice for artichoke.  Other than that, we ate mostly in McDonalds or kebab places, and one Turkish place).  

Saturday and Sunday it rained heavily.  Saturday we went to the Sagrada Familia (long line, Eric liked it but I could have skipped it).  Then in the afternoon we went to the CosmoCaixa Museum of Science - outstanding place to visit, and cheap!  Only 3 Euros for adults.

The displays were awesome, interesting, and most everything worked.  We met an American family in the cafe who had been living in Barcelona four years, and were headed to San Diego in a few months.

A robotic drawing arm at the science museum
The worst part of the trip was the taxi to get to the airport.  The guy took us in the OPPOSITE direction !  After it seemed like the drive was taking too long, Eric checked on the GPS on his phone, and showed it to me, and I asked the taxi driver why were were going this way.  He said, "There's a marathon today", and then got straight on the highway headed to the airport.  I didn't challenge him, but we checked later, and the marathon was in March!  What a scumbag.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Another lovely bike ride in Cologny

The weather was perfect today for a ride, so I took advantage of the sun for a short ride into Cologny.  Cologny is a very expensive, very exclusive area.  I biked around the outskirts, where there are lots of vineyards and horse farms.  The roads leading out of the city were a mess - supposedly solid bike paths disappearing and reappearing like a cheap magician's trick.  But once I got out into the country, it was a delightful little bike ride along quiet roads.

Some moving sculptures (literally, the arms went up and down) at a hospital complex.  The complex  was huge and park-like - felt like a university.
Peaceful little roads
Lunch overlooking the lake and the Jura mountains

The pier at Port de Bellerive

A campground nearby had these cute little cabin.  Inside was just a little  bed, no more.

At the nature center Pointe-à- la-Bise

The view from the bird watching tower - I saw a pair of Great Crested Grebe doing a mating dance!

I didn't actually take this video, but it looks exactly like what I saw from the bird watching tower.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

First bike ride of the season - Genève-Satigny Route 102

This would be a pretty minor accomplishment to one of the legions of people in Geneva who bike long distances every day, frequently with kids on bike trailers or bike seats.  But anyway - I took a nice long (for me) bike ride on my own today.  The inspiration was Genève-Satigny Route 102 (http://www.veloland.ch/en/routes/route-0102.html) but I didn't follow it exactly, and also didn't finish.    Also spring is here - that was a big inspiration too!

Starting out around the train station was tough - there's some marked bike lanes, but they're hell to try to follow in the midst of nasty traffic downtown.  Once I got on a separate bike path, though, things were much more pleasant.  I went by:

  • some kind of petroleum refinery
  • a playground next to what looked like public/social housing, where loads of people that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley were hanging out
  • a pedestrian/bike bridge over the highway
  • finally a playground with a nice view of the Saleve.  

Overall, a really enjoyable ride.

View of Saleve in background

I believe these signs indicated where the gas pipelines were

No one to take a picture, so I took one of my shadow!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More random notes - street cleaning, language acquisition, and crayons

A few more notes that aren't enough to make a full blog post:

- When walking around in Geneva in the earlier part of the morning, you'll usually see street sweepers.  They have these little street sweeping vehicles, driven by one man and will usually have two helpers who have these really old fashioned looking brooms - like broomsticks from a Harry Potter movie.  They sweep from the sidewalk, and between cars, into the path of the street sweeping vehicle.  The funny thing is, Geneva streets are very dirty compared to other places.  It's mostly dog poop, which is everywhere. AND people will actually sometimes put it in a bag, then drop the bag right on the street - assuming the street sweeper will take care of it.

Street sweepers, view from our kitchen.  Notice the tiny figures in
bright yellow on the sidewalk
- Peter forgot the word "sister" in English.  It came up in a book I was reading to him, and he asked me what it meant!  He's forgotten quite a few English words, but this one shocked me a bit.  I guess, for kids, "easy come, easy go" in terms of languages.  The husband of a friend of mine lived in Denmark for 2 years when he was age 7 to 9, and spoke Danish fluently.  After moving back to Germany with his family, he promptly forgot it, and now can't understand or speak it at all.

- I've thought quite a bit on how to help the kids retain their French language skills.  Other people I've talked to have thought about putting their kids in French immersion school, but that's too much work and expense for me.  And frankly, while it's great to speak another language, I don't want emphasize it to the point of sending them to a special school.  So, the plan is this - I'll buy a bunch of popular kids movies (Lion King, Finding Nemo, etc) that are dubbed into French.  When we're back in the US, that's what they can watch for movie time.  Easy peasy, I hope.

- Crayons, for 6.70 CHF a box - that's currently $7.21 USD.  I was looking for watercolor paints for Peter, and found these at the Migros on Rue de Eaux Vives.  It's really just regular wax crayons, and only 10 of them.  They're in a nice metal box, but still!  In the US, I've bought boxes of 24 crayons on sale for 25 cents a box.  Maximum, you could probably pay $1 for a box.  How the heck do they come up with these prices?)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Walking along Lake Léman...I'm going to miss Geneva!

We've made the decision to head back to the US in late August.  It'll be great to see friends and family again face to face, to have a huge smorgasbord of IT jobs available instead of the slim pickings that there are in Geneva, and to pay reasonable prices for things again, as opposed to the stratospheric prices you encounter here.  But there's a tremendous number of things I'll miss.

I just took a walk to the H & M store to get the kids a few items of clothing. It's about a 20 minute walk along the beautiful Lac Léman.  In just that 20 minute walk, you see so much!  For instance:
  • Two people finishing the hull of a large sailboat in the lakeside boatyard 
  • A cameraman shooting a scene
  • A group of 3 year olds on an outing from their daycare, looking for pinecones, with cute bright orange vests on for visibility  
  • Loads of tourists from all over, taking pictures of the lake, the city, and the Jura mountains
  • The little tourist train that goes around the lake
  • Lots of moms with kids
  • The Jet d'Eau fountain, with lots of swans and ducks around

  • A merry-go-round that just opened up again a few weeks ago (it's closed in the winter)
  • Dozens and dozens of people in outdoor cafes and restaurants, enjoying the warmer weather 
  • Rollerbladers and skateboarders
  • The excursion boat that goes up and down Lac Léman...we still have to try this one

It's such a pleasant, lively place to visit, and we live only about a 5 minute walk away. Yes, it's definitely something I'll miss.