We are home at last, but what a great trip it was. After 9 busy days in Barcelona, we boarded our Royal Caribbean ship on October 30, beginning five more days of an intense and full schedule. We had four ports of call: Alicante, Malaga, and Tenerife, all in Spain, and Madeira, Portugal. These days we were up early with a quick breakfast, then out the door for adventures in new places. I was ready for those long days at sea as we crossed the Atlantic to Florida. I needed the rest!
There were sights of beauty in Alicante:
Old castles and famous people (Picasso) in Malaga:
Madeira’s impressive city on a hill and a little village nestled in a valley amid steep crags:
Square pyramids and volcanic peaks in Tenerife:
Our days crossing the Atlantic were made especially happy due to new friends, thanks to an online forum I joined before the cruise. I got to chat with others who would be on the cruise with us and arrange to meet them in person once we were on board, or earlier in Barcelona. We had a blast losing grandly at trivia every day. At least we never came in last!
These are great people and I already miss them. Thank goodness for Facebook!
Rick and I did our best to stay healthy by shunning the elevators and putting in three miles on the track as often as possible. We managed to log six or more miles every day, carefully balanced with too much rich food, ice cream, and daily shots from the bar. (We got to keep the glasses). Flush from our second place finish at ping pong doubles, we decided to tackle the rock wall:
I rang the bell! This was fun, and I’ll probably do it again, but one thing is for sure: I’m never doing this without a halter. No way, folks.
I also hosted a book discussion about Worlds Apart. The discussion meandered to my other books, as well. This was a fun group. Most of them don’t usually read SF or fantasy, but they were good sports about it, and some of them may even read it more often!
I could go on all day, but I’ll be merciful. Now it’s onto laundry, emails, and groceries. I’m happy to be back in my kitchen and happy to be eating my own food again. I didn’t gain any weight, thank goodness, but it’s time to return to restricted calories and good, simple food.
Except for the upcoming holidays, of course.
Today is a our last day in Barcelona. It’s a day of chores: laundry and packing, and presenting our tired selves at the pier to board our ship for home. Yes, you read that right – we are sailing home, across the Atlantic, just like days of yore. Very civilized with respect to time changes across the planet. We have a few excursions in and around Spain, then we set off for several days at sea until our arrival in Florida. Then it’s back to modern transportation as we fly to the west coast. We’ve already met a few of our shipmates, thanks to the good offices of the internet and cruise forums. We had a great time at Montserrat, but I don’t seem to have many pictures of the group. There were six of us. Here’s me and Rick with Nita:
and here’s me at the end of this day:
Who’s a tired traveler, hmmm? In my defense, this was our third day in a row of over ten-mile walks/hikes. Whew!
Yesterday we had an awesome guided tour with another couple, Dare and Philip.
Dare arranged a guided tour with Gregorio Arribas, who took us to a church built around a cave in Monserr, where the founder of the Jesuit order had his inspiration. I thought the cave part was really cool. After that, Gregory took us to Oller Winery, where they produce organic (yay!) wine in a thousand-year old castle. They gave us the most amazing wine-and-tapas tasting. Our tasting included the last bottle of a 1000-bottle production. We bought a bottle of their most popular wine, a 2007 Merlot blend, with the intent of saving it for our 20th wedding anniversary. That’s in eight years, folks. Someone remind me! Here’s a picture of the tasting:
After the tasting, Gregory took us to lunch at La Vinya Nova, a farmhouse restaurant nestled at the foot of Montserrat. For about five hundred years, this farm provided most of the food for the monastery, but about a hundred years ago they converted to a public restaurant. They are out in the middle of nowhere, but serve up to 150 people a day, and about 600 on weekends. Wow! It was delicious food and I ate all of it despite being full from the tapas tasting. I paid for it later, but you have to splurge sometimes,right?
Rick and Gregory at La Vinya Nova
After this, Gregory graciously dropped us off at a tapas bar back in Barcelona, where we met up with a “bonus grandchild” we haven’t seen for about seven years. Lauren is studying in Barcelona for a semester. She’s grown into a beautiful, confident woman. So good to see!
I did NOT eat any more food! Rick and I shared a bottle of water. It’s all we could manage by this point.
Internet will be scarce while we’re on the ship, so I don’t guarantee any posts or pictures while we’re at sea. Maybe a Facebook posting now and then. I’ll see you all on the other side!
I’m having a heck of a time uploading pictures. I’ve begun this post about six times – maybe tonight will be the charm. We are in Barcelona, and I am loving this city. It’s huge and crowded and busy, but not in a New York kind of way. That’s probably based on my misperception of New York, which kind of scares me. Probably based on lots of TV shows. Anyway, Barcelona streets are always filled with people scrambling to their various destinations and always talking, and in general looking and sounding pretty happy. There are lots of people on scooters, a few on bicycles and the occasional skate board. The streets in our area are dotted nearly every block with sidewalk cafes serving tapas with beer or wine, and pastry shops loaded with decadent sweets or sandwiches. And coffee. Everywhere, there is coffee. There are also lots of fountains. I like fountains.
I thought I would show you, a la John Scalzi, the view from our apartment window:
Impressed? No? Oh well, we don’t spend much time here. That’s a parking garage across the very narrow street. And look what’s below us most days:
There’s construction going on next door. This truck is about two feet from my face when open the door to leave the building. I’m going to miss that truck when we leave. The rest of the street looks like this:
It’s kind of cute. We are one block from a main street, which takes us to a metro station in about ten minutes. Often we walk all the way to where we are going – Rick brought his fitbit, which is giving us all kinds of high fives and smiley faces because of the miles we are putting on it everyday. Ow, my feet, but my clothes keep getting looser!
This is all I’m going to attempt today. I’ve got about a thousand pictures and I can’t figure out which ones to show you! Tomorrow we hit Montserrat, a monastery and museum about an hour’s train ride from town. We’re meeting up with a few people who are going to be on our upcoming cruise. It should be a fun day!
Francisco is an official United States Marine. We missed his graduation, but a lot of family members were there, including my son, Francisco’s Uncle Jon, who is a nurse and a captain in the reserves:
They really look alike. They even share a birthday, 15 years apart.
We’re proud of this kid. He wanted to do this and he made it through. My grandma’s heart will continue to hope that he makes it through his entire enlistment. Love and success, Francisco!
I know it’s Wednesday night, which isn’t usually a bread-and-wine night, but I’m on vacation! We just limped back to our Barcelona apartment after a full day of tours, museums, and sightseeing. We’ve been here two-and-a-half days. I wasn’t up to posting sooner, due to jet lag, lost luggage, and heat. Humidity, too. Like this:
That, folks, is the face of a weary woman, wearing the same sweat-soaked clothes for the third day.
Ah, but the luggage arrived at last, on Tuesday evening. I dug out the coolest shirt I’d brought and I plan to live in it. It’s hot in Barcelona!
As for the city itself, there are almost no words to do it justice. It’s a busy city – not New York-hustle busy, but active. There are tiny shops everywhere, selling groceries, produce, pharmaceuticals, and of course, clothes, clothes, clothes! Just twenty steps from our apartment, there is a funny little shop selling all kinds of dried beans, dried fruit, and grains. I so wished that I could speak Catalan or Spanish, because I was dying to ask them about those grains. There were at least ten types I’d never heard of! Next door to this shop was fresh fruit – we got all our breakfast items between both of these stores.
MUST-SEE: Sagrada Familia. This is Antonic Gaudi’s unfinished church. They’ve been building it for almost a hundred years, but I think they will actually get it done sometime. It’s incredibly beautiful. Below is a video that Rick took inside. It goes a little fast, but you’ll get a good idea of what it’s like. Honestly, if Pagan’s built temples, they would look like this.
Ah, darn. I guess I can’t upload videos to this blog. So instead, I’ll give you this link, to a more professional virtual tour:
Be sure to look at the ceiling.
Another must-see is the Palau de la Musica, another Modernista building. I love this style, especially the way it uses light.
We are having a blast walking through all the various districts. I don’t have a lot of pictures because our camera was in the lost luggage. Tomorrow is our day to explore Salvadore Dali – there will be pictures!
Here in America, we don’t talk about death. Death is something that “happens,” usually to other people, and nearly always in other places. Even when it strikes a relative, it’s usually in a hospital and all the details are managed by the “professionals.”
This is a recent development, of course. Like nearly everything else about our lives, the rituals and knowledge of death went through a change sometime around the turn to the 20th century. There’s not an exact date – just a gradual shifting away from dealing with things on a personal level, to turning all the responsibility over to authorities. Whatever that means.
We did it with food. We did it with farming, with construction, with civic involvement, with childbirth, and yes, with death. All in the name of progress, of course.
So I, like most people my age, have never seen someone die. I’ve never handled a dead body. I’ve been to a few funerals, with lined caskets and pews, and flowers everywhere. I’ve visited people who were near death in the hospital, drugged, unconscious, with hums and whirs from the machines that surrounded and impaled them. I’ve known people who died suddenly in accidents, and once, from a suicide. But again, all my experience is limited to the funeral home.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. There’s nothing macabre about it. My thoughts have partly stemmed from the practical point of the cost of most “end of life” practices in this country. The medical tests and surgeries and ICU and tubes and needles and drugs, drugs, drugs…. a long, bitter trail of “hope” that is no such thing. A trail that most of us follow because we don’t know anything different. We think it’s the only way, that this is how it “should” be. We beg the doctors to tell us what to do and then follow blindly along with their recommendations, no matter how long or useless or expensive. When we do finally manage to die, there’s an entire industry to take care of things, with sky-high prices for all of it. And since most people truly think that the people in this industry are the only ones legally allowed to handle death, we pay their price without any questions, helpless in our ignorance.
As much as it’s in my power, I want to die the same way I want to live – by embracing the big picture that includes me, my loved ones, and our big, amazing planet.
Yes, the planet. Do you really think we have endless room for cemeteries filled with embalmed bodies packed into non-biodegradable steel caskets? Our burial methods are just as damaging as our methods for obtaining energy. Eventually, it’s all going to collapse on itself. So I’ve been looking into green burials – no embalming, no fancy casket – maybe just little ol’ me and a shroud, buried in the ground, to easily become a tree. Yes. That would be best.
A green burial would best be preceded by a “green” death. Not a death in a hospital, perhaps not even in a hospice. No ICU, no tubes, no IVs. Instead, death at home, among loved people and things. I don’t even want drugs, unless the pain is so bad that I can’t interact with anyone, anyway. Some pain medication may be needed, but I don’t want to be so doped up that I can’t hear my husband’s voice or feel a child’s hand. I’ve seen people in that state, and honestly? They may as well have died a week earlier. Life was already over.
This is not an easy thing to request, and perhaps it’s not possible for loved ones to provide it. But to my relatives and friends – consider this an end of life directive. I don’t know how or when I’ll die – it might be in an accident or other sudden way where we have no issues to deal with. But if I’m old and sick and death is slow… don’t make it worse for me or you. Don’t subject me to unnecessary medical tests or surgeries. Don’t resuscitate me if my heart stops. Whatever you do, don’t feed me through a tube into my stomach. You remember how much I love Real Food and natural, organic ingredients, and an honest glass of wine? Do you seriously think I want food through a tube, especially if there’s no chance (or almost none) that I’m ever going to recover or live a normal life?
No, if i’m dying… I’ve had a stroke, or several small strokes, or dementia, or anything that has put an end to true living, thinking, feeling… let me die. Let me die at home, if possible, with all of you around me. If you can find it in yourselves, learn how to handle a dead body and dress me for my wake (for yes – I insist on a wake. If I meant anything to any of you, raise your glass and share your favorite story, trait, or inspiration and celebrate my life), and then wrap me in my shroud and bury me in the ground. This is all legal, we just need the right forms and the right place. Can’t just throw the body any old where you want to. I’ll try to have all the details taken care of by then, so you don’t have to do the research.
I do realize the “handle the dead body” is a lot to ask, and I won’t be insulted if no one feels up to it. But the truth is, humans used to “handle” this all the time. It was as much a part of life as breathing, and no one freaked about it. Everyone dies. Everyone has always died. It’s only we who have turned away from dealing with it, who prefer to pretend it doesn’t happen until it does and then we turn it over to “professionals” who take care of everything and all we have to do is show up, appropriately dressed and somber. But like buying organic food or putting all our scraps into compost, birthing our children outside of the medical establishment, we can also learn to once again handle death. Part of that is being willing to let it happen without months of futile, expensive interventions. And part of it is bringing death back into the home and family, and sharing the end of life as much as we share the beginning.
Earthquake, anyone? I have a few to spare around here…
Yes, last night was all over sleepless. For the second night in a row I woke up at 12:59 a.m. Why?
No seriously, I want to know - why?
I was arguing with my brain about going back to sleep, when at 1:07 a.m., I heard (or felt? not sure) this distant weirdness, as if something were coming. You know how you hear something in the distance and you instantly become alert to look for whatever it is? That’s what it felt like. I stopped arguing with my brain to pay attention to it, but in about half a second, it turned into a rattle and jolt.
Scared me silly, for some reason, but after I crawled back into my skin, I laughed with Rick about it, and we settled back – he to sleep, me to resume arguing with my brain. The quake was not more than a 3-pointer… a simple shrug-off.
Until the next jolt. I didn’t time them, but sometime during the next 45 minutes or so, we had three more earthquakes. All of them were teeny grumbles in the 2-3 range. But ya know? That sort of thing can really rattle your cage, so to speak. I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, but poor Rick could have had a chance. In fact, once the world around us settled down, he did go back to sleep.
Me? Not so much. After a few hours, my legs started their own shaking pattern. Restless legs – again. It’s been almost two years since I had such a bad attack at night. I was NOT happy about it! Friggin’, freakin’ legs… get out of bed… grumble, gripe…
So at 4:30, I’m pacing around the living room. Just after five, I grab a blanket and throw myself on couch. I’m cold! Sleep comes eventually and I stay there until 8:20.
I better sleep tonight. That’s all I gotta say.