Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Barcelona: Finally!

Finally, only months later, here are the photos from our last stop in our tour of Spain. We took the overnight train from Granada to Barcelona and met my old friend Sylvia early in the morning at her flat dead center in the heart of things. An amazing apartment near the central hospital with a wonderful view and tiny balcony that was exactly what an apartment in Spain should be.

We set out for a tour near the Museo Catalan and to the Gothic Quarter to see the Merce Festival and have dinner at Taller de Tapas. We bumped into the amazing Cathedral Santa Maria de Mar as well, which turned out to be my favorite cathedral of the many we saw during the trip, and there were many.

Next it was off to explore the amazing Modernisme architecture everywhere in the city. Seriously, it was like the entire city was an art exhibit. I kept taking pictures of everything; Gaudi's Parc Guell, Casa Mila, La Sagrada Familia, the lamp posts, sidewalk tiles, floor tiles, door knobs... amazing stuff.

I can't tell you how amazing La Sagrada Familia is. It is right up there with Machu Picchu but maybe even more. I think it is one of the must sees on the planet and even that is not doing it justice.

We tried to take in as many tapas as we could. The custom and style was a bit different than the rest of Spain, they were more of a meal rather than a bar snack. I think one of our favorites was Tapas 24 and their fried fish. A close second was El Xampanyet with it's tasty Cava or La Llesca and it's authentic Catalan menu.

We took a wander down las Ramblas which was too over the top touristy to stand but we bumped into the fantastic Mercat de la Boqueria and spent a bit more time in the Barri Gotic. We also spent some time admiring the amazing views from Parc de Montjuic and just for a minute, literally, dipped our feet in the water at Barceloneta (which made our must see when we go back list).

And then there was the Catalan language, ugggh. I never realized how different it is than the Castillian Spanish I'm used to. It sounds very similar but is written differently so that was weird.

It was so great to hang out with Sylvia as well. I got to have a real Argentine Mate again after so many years!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Granada: 4th Stop

After a (way too) early morning train ride, we arrived in Granada to a surly cab driver swearing and dodging pedestrians at 8 am. We had hastily picked out a hotel the day before based mostly on availibility, well, it wasn't the worst place I've ever stayed but Las Nieves isn't a place I would recommend. Don't get me wrong, it was clean enough and everything worked but the place had no character and in a town that is SOAKED with charm and quaintness, this place just doesn't cut it. My first time in Granada I stayed at Hotel Lisboa, which was marginally better. So we left the front desk our passports as we checked in as they said they needed them for some reason. Weird. We did get them back but WTF?

We set out for some churros and to orient ourselves a bit. After the jolting cab ride through the 'transitional' neighborhoods, things seemed better. We got a picnic lunch and headed up to the Alhambra. We were SO glad we had our tickets reserved because the day was sold out as I think the following day was as well. It was a mess. We sat just out front of the Alhambra lunching, listening in every language, the swearing of not being able to buy entrance tickets. My last trip to Spain, this was by far the highlight and it didn't disappoint this time either. But I have to say that after seeing the Alcazar, I couldn't help but compare the two. The Alcazar was in better condition but the location, surrounding hills and small town feel of the Alhambra still impressed.

After spending the day checking out every nook and cranny of the Alhambra, we took the Cuesta de los Chinos trail out the back way at dusk and ended up at the Paseo de los Tristes. What an amazing view up at the Alhambra at dusk. Feeling beat, we stumbled off to for some tapas at Bodega Castanedas. Not the best of the trip but really good. Then back to the 'hotel' for a nap before the planned evening wander around Plaza Carmen and the little side streets, etc... well that turned into passing out till dawn the following day. I guess we had been pushing ourselves too hard and it showed up for sure.

So Cafe Futbol for breakfast churros, wandering around the Albaycin with it's amazing views, the Cathedral and Taberna Salinas for one of the top three tapas of the trip. I wanted to go in initially for the cider but they had these little slider burgers and fries. Ah, and we found a place that made homemade Agentine style Alfajores. I haven't had any this good in 15 years. Then the 10 PM overnight train to Barcelona.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Seville: 3rd Stop

I have to admit that I was very reluctant to make a second trip to Seville. I had been there once before and was decidedly unimpressed. In fact, I pretty much couldn't wait to leave. But I wanted to be fair and had heard good things about the city so we booked a couple of nights there at a upscale-ish place, Hotel Murillo, located just off Plaza Santa Cruz. Due to delays getting out of Toledo, we didn't arrive until 8PM-ish but we were determined to make the most of our time and to take Mike and Angie's advice about a great little tapas place with a Mom and Pop flamenco bar near by. The action didn't start until midnight anyway so we actually had plenty of time. The tapas bar, Las Golondrinas, didn't disappoint and almost was the best tapa of the trip. It was a simple was a thin pork cutlet on a slice of baguette, called a Punta de Solomillo. With a glass of red wine; fantastic. The link to the bar has some great photos so check it out.

We hung out there till just before the doors opened at midnight at Casa Anselma (the flamenco bar). The link pretty much explains the situation. A small bar that is run by the Patrona, it gets totally packed to the point you are trapped in your seat. Throughout the night various guests come up to sing or dance with the house musicians. The show started with some standards by the house band. Then a couple of young ladies from the audience did a great little dance number (video below).

Finally, what must have been a professional singer in the audience, came up to sing and close the place down to the shouts and cheering from everyone (video below):

The next day we hit the tourist hot spots starting at the Alcazar, which I had somehow missed the first time around. In fact I think I was too cheap pony up the entrance fee. Lesson learned. The palace was beyond description and one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. The detail, beauty and opulence were amazing. The way they used light and water was spectacular. I couldn't imagine the decadence that this must have been when built over 500 years ago.

Then a little bit of a wander around to try out a few of the recommended tapas joints, where at La Flor de Toranzo, we found the best tapa of the trip, the Lomo con Manzana. It's a little ciabatta type roll with a thin slice of ham, apple and a bit of creamy white cheese. Wash that down with a glass of Tinto de Verano. Awesome-ness

Then to the Giralda Tower, Cathedral and off to the oldest tapas bar in Sevilla, El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670. Yeah, it's that old. You must go to this place if you are in Seville. The character was so cool and rich. Also try the amazing spinach and garbanzo bean tapa. We would have stayed longer but had an appointment at the Arabic baths for an hour of soaking before turning in a bit early because we had to catch the 6 am train to Granada. Ugghh.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Toledo: 2nd Stop

After Madrid; the late late night tapas, amazing museos and LOTS of churros, we thought it would be a nice change to go to the small nearby town of Toledo. Both Ben and my Dad highly recommended it as a sleepy romantic diversion. So a short 30 minute train ride from Atocha station and we were in the outskirts of Toledo. The train station had some amazing Moorish tiles and woodwork as well. We ended up at a great, central, cheap hotel; Carlos the V. After some exploring and watching the sunset from the Puente Alcantara, we had a nice dinner at Kumera. It got mixed reviews from us but was situated in the wonderful little Plaza Marron and it was a warm clear night. I had an interesting (what seemed like) pot roast ravioli with a Dijon mustard sauce. Jodie had the prix fixe menu with calamari and egg plant (interesting). The rest of the evening we wandered around the town which had basically shut down around 10 pm. A big change from Madrid. The next day we visited the amazing Cathedral, the Puente de San Martin and plazas. Lunch in Plaza Zocodover and then off to Sevilla. Short and sweet.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Madrid: 1st Stop

Two weeks in Spain! First stop, Madrid. Jodie and I landed and met up with a couple of old friends from San Francisco that just happen to be there as well. We took their lead and booked a room in the same hotel, Hotel Analina, for a couple of nights. The place was cheap, central, clean and we got a free churro y chocolate breakfast every morning at the Maestro Churrero. There was a very noticeable hangover over the entire town as the previous night was Noche en Blanca, where the whole place goes nuts with music, art, dance.... Turns out Michael and Angie missed the whole thing as she took a header down some steps and they spent the whole time sorting that out. She was fine, disappointed, but fine.

We spent a day each at the Reina Sofia and then the Thyssen and the nights dining on amazing tapas like those at Taberna Tempernillo, Lolina Cafe and the Taberna at the Plaza de Guardia de Corps. Awesome! Great food, wine, museums and friends. Seriously, the best museums I've ever seen. Too much in fact. We both got art burnout so badly that we passed on free tickets to the Prado (from a previous visit, one of the most complete museums I've ever seen).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Spain Bound

It's late and Jodie and are are just finishing all the packing and prep for our two week trip to Spain tomorrow morning. We are flying into Madrid, then to Toledo, Sevilla, Granada and then a meet up with Sylvia for a week in Barcelona. This is going to be great!

It also got me to thinking about a post I never published when I was in Istanbul last year, about what it is to be a traveler versus a tourist. Here it is:

Being in this town, with the throngs of tourists such as myself rummaging around, I've been thinking about what that means, to be a tourist.

I guess on the most basic level it involves you dragging yourself somewhere you don't live and experiencing 'stuff' (monuments, trees or what have you). Maybe learning the history and context of the 'stuff'. Why and how it got there... etc.

But what does it mean to say, 'I did -insert historical place here-' It makes me think of someone ticking things off of a list and that, in a way, it's like an unspoken competition to 'do things'.

Is it fair to say there is a difference between a traveler and a tourist? Or is that just creating more of a us versus them dichotomy? Well I'm going to say there is a difference and shades of gray and all that.

When I travel the thing that always comes to my mind is that quote, 'traveling isn't about going to new places but seeing with different eyes'. It's about going somewhere and being open to trying to understand what and why and not judge and just experience something.

But I think it's also a process of getting to know and learn about yourself, of appreciation and being present. And I can't tell you how many times I've felt like trying to get that just right photo is really separating you from being there, always looking for that perfect photo so you can remember that moment forever shot. Why not just be present? Just take a moment and look around, take a deep breath, smell the air, feel the heat or cold or whatever... and be there for that moment and remember it forever that way.

and then I read this (and ripped it off and pasted it in here without permission) from the new magazine that Jodie is working for, Afar, and I thought it really fit how I'm trying to think about this trip tomorrow. I also thought that I should at least put the whole thing in here to be fair to them:

Founder’s Note: The Real Experience of Travel

PEOPLE USED TO JUST WANT STUFF. The more, the better. And not only more stuff, but fancier stuff. Many of us took the same approach in our travels. We went to the most glamorous places, stayed in the trendiest spots. We took pictures so we could show that we had “acquired” these places just as we had acquired stuff along the way. We came, we saw, we acquired.

But something has changed.

Many of us have realized that life is about more than how much we consume. Instead, we now search for meaning wherever we can find it.

So when we travel, we go beneath the surface of a place and look for experiences that enrich and stretch us. We try to connect with people. We embrace what makes each culture distinct, even as we recognize that we have more in common with our world neighbors than we may have thought. We discover insights about others—and ourselves.
My business partner, Joe Diaz, and I have traveled this way for years. Sometimes we have a specific purpose in mind: I’ve volunteered in Johannesburg and Borneo; Joe has returned to his roots in Spain. Sometimes we’re more spontaneous— we decide where to start a trip and where to end it, but we let chance determine what happens in between and whom we meet.

We have learned that it is not the physical surroundings or the iconic sights that give a place meaning. Rather, the people and their stories are what make a trip memorable: the heated political debate in an Irish pub, the conversation with an Argentine about communicating with his teenage daughter, the breakfast with a swami at his academy near Mumbai. As Joe says, “I may forget what I ate and where I stayed. But I’ll remember those experiences all my life.”

In January 2007, Joe and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to India. Sitting on a beach in Goa, we realized there are many people who travel with this mindset but few resources to guide and inspire them. That’s why we decided to start Afar.
Afar is for readers who are curious about everything the planet and its people have to offer. That’s what the magazine delivers: fascinating individuals, intriguing neighborhoods, cultural discoveries, unusual and local places to stay and eat, and reports on the world’s arts, languages, products, and music. And for every issue, we send a writer off on one of those unplanned, spontaneous journeys that Joe and I like to take. We think you’ll enjoy the results in Spin the Globe, page 30.
The magazine is only the beginning. In early 2010, we’ll launch a Web site that will connect you with like-minded global citizens. We hope to create partnerships in television and on radio to bring you the sights and sounds of the world’s cultures. We are planning a series of books and events. And because we strongly believe that travel benefits both the individual and society, we have created the Afar Foundation, which will sponsor cultural education and immersion travel for students who cannot otherwise afford to experience another part of the world.

Joe and I invite you to take part in any or all of these endeavors. We have met many travelers like you on our journeys, and we believe you share both our passion and our values. Tell us what you think of Afar and our plans for the company. And be sure to tell us where travel takes you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kansas 2009

It's been a few years since I've been to the Kansas homestead so Cheryl and I spent the Labor Day weekend visiting. We got to see how a tornado 'remodeled' one of the barns, the new black lab Snickers, the latest batch of kittens (Cali Jr. and Ivan) and the hinny. We spent Sunday at the Freeport church and took a tour of the one building 'downtown'. We even got treated to some fantastic thunder and lighting the night before we left. Check out a few of the photos at the link below:

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

She Said Yes

I had been planning on asking Jodie to move in for a few weeks now but the timing was just wrong. So I plotted and schemed. I picked out a special bouquet for her and made two very different cards, numbering them as to the order they should be opened. One was a mock up of me as a real estate agent selling her on the virtues of the house on Folsom street and the other one was the real thing.

I had them delivered Friday morning, August 21st, and kept waiting to hear that she got them... but nothing. Then I got a call from the front desk saying that something had shown up for me. I figured that flowers showed up at my work somehow. When I got downstairs, I saw this box waiting for me with photo of moving trucks and our two places:

with this inside! So Jodie is moving in this weekend. Not that we aren't in the middle of our trips to New York, Kansas and Spain. Busy month.

Final note, my other 3rd floor workmates all saw Jodie and I in the parking lot 'congratulating' each other and left me a funny voice mail about getting a hotel room or something...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pig Ice Cream

If you live in San Francisco then you know there has been a decent number of restaurant openings in my neighborhood over the last few months. To name a few:


Flour and Water

Dynamo Donuts and Coffee


I've been meaning to go to the new ice cream joint 2 blocks from me, Humphry Slocombe, and tonight was it. I've heard about the experimental flavors; Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes), Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper, 8 Ball Stout, Jesus Juice (coke and red wine)....

That's all fine and good but I had to go for it and try the Boccalone Prosciutto. Tasted just like prosciutto ice cream. Weird. Got the Jesus Juice instead.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Post Office is Closed

I grabbed this photo while visiting my dentist the other day. I thought it was a perfect example of what happens to old technology. This is one of the old mail chutes that people would drop 'letters' in. I know, how quaint. Taking crushed up and dried trees, writing on them and then loading them into trucks and shipping them around the planet. I like how the old mail conduit now has networking cable run in it. Seems ironic.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Weekend Getaway to Carmel

It was Jodie's birthday weekend so I surprised her and rented her favorite car, the new Mini Cooper Convertible, and we headed down to a B and B in Carmel. A nice drive down Highway 1, dinner in Capitola and lots of stops along the way to enjoy the scenery. Some notes; the white sand beach (even though imported) was amazing, Carmel is full of old people and it closes too early, 17 Mile Drive in a convertible is a must for every person and those weird 'sea dragons' at the Monterey Aquarium freak me out. We had some great food but the one that really stands out is the breakfast at Carmel Belle's (see photo). Rightious! Katy's Place and Casanova were good as well but we are really spoiled in SF.

Check out the photos

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Still Fixing Mowers

Long time readers will remember the story of me taking my old mower apart on the garage floor Well that old thing has been getting harder and harder to start so when I saw a lightly used electric mower at a garage sale for $35 I jumped on it. Seemed like a good deal for what usually goes for about $250. I used it twice and then neglected the lawn until last weekend when the foot tall weeds embarrassed me into action.

I learned a few things about electric mowers that day. They don't have the torque of a gas one and they can blow out your breakers and then melt down. I took the thing apart, of course, and there really are only three pieces to the thing 1) the switch on the handle 2) a small bridge capacitor and 3) the electric motor. So the switch was fine and the engine seemed OK when I threw some juice at it on the work bench so I ordered a $2.50 capacitor on the internet and I'm back in business.

I feel so 21st century

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Las Vegas Getaway

This is exactly the view that I was looking forward to. I had been busting my hump on the house and need some R and R and so J and I headed to Las Vegas for some time by the Mandalay Bay pools. We got back this afternoon and I headed right to work so this is just a teaser of the photos coming up. I'll post more after a good night's rest, to recover from the vacation.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Wow, what a bunch of work to rip out the old plaster, lathe, crappy wiring just to stick new stuff in and nail up some new dry wall. Whew. Anyway, here are a few shots of it going up. No mud and tape yet but that is happening this week.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Leftover Photos from this Week

Here is the magnetic cat flap that is going in. It isn't deep enough (4 inch exterior walls) so I framed a space in and will recess the flap. Hope the cats don't get any bigger or they won't fit through it!

and the first take at moving the attic entrance. I put some 2 x 6 framing in place but need to fab up a hatch cover so all the blow in insulation stays up there. Yuck that stuff tastes terrible.

Hope I don't get any bigger or I won't fit through the opening!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Here Comes the Drywall!

This has been a long week for sure. My camera broke first off, so these two photos are from my Black Berry. The Casio z100 (don't ever buy a Casio BTW) seems to turn off every minute or so and doesn't want to turn back on.

Anyway, I committed to the dry wall guy to be ready the morning of April 4th and it has been a long week of sometimes till midnight work:

1) making a new attic hatch and framing it in
2) running the wiring for the ceiling lights
3) finishing the trim around the pocket door
4) building a new cat door
5) pulling all the random nails out
6) installing the 240 volt / 40 amp surface mount plug (thank god for 3/4 inch flex conduit!!!!)
7) finishing the wiring around the sink
8) stapling the insulation in

and tomorrow night's mission is to generally clean up and have the 24 sheets of 5/8 inch dry wall ready for a 9 am Saturday start.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This Part Makes Me Nervous

All this talk about dual fuel or not, Ben I'm blaming all this on you, finally made me go with the range I wanted all along but the electric oven / gas burner option instead of the all gas one. All the rage now I hear. I began really thinking about this when I started finding out how many circuits normally get pulled in for a kitchen remodel, which is totally over kill I think, but none the less, I succumbed and decided to pull more power in. And if I was going to do that, then I should just go for the dual fuel range (as it's the same price anyway). OK long story to show you tonight's work:

I've got the 40 amp breaker in and now my electrical panel is full. I had to move things around a bit to get two slots next to each other and now I'll really have to think about a gas dryer when I redo the bathroom as I have no space for another 220 / 40 amp breaker. I'll be pulling wire and bending pipe this week to wrap this up for sheet rock on April 4th. Damn I can't wait.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Roller Derby Saturday Night

Jodie and I caught the Saturday night bout between the SF Bombers and the LA Firebirds at Kezar Pavilion last night. Elke and MB had mentioned that they got ring side tickets and invited us to check it out with them. I've been meaning to check out a match since they have been around more and more lately so this was a great opportunity.

I really had no idea what to expect or what the rules are etc... I figured it would be a bunch of drunk idiots (me included) screaming to 'tear the bums head off'. And it was a good mix of folks to be sure. I loved this guys outfit below, I think it's a Louis Vuitton sweat suit and a florescent orange cowboy hat. That pimp styling!

I spent some time after the matches to look through the news to see if any of the pile driver punches and the opposing manager, the ICEBOX, clothes-lining people made the news, sadly, no. I guess all the brawling and skates in the face were all staged. sigh. It did take me a bit to figure out the rules, beyond the tripping and punching. Check it out

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pocket Door Finished

Not the best photos but there you go. I stuck the old back door in to do some testing. What a pain to get the framing all square and plumb. Normally you just carve out a hole that is close and stick the door / window in and shim it up right till everything works. Also, the floor has a bit of a slope so I had to work around that as well. Next is to get a good solid wood door in place and a few trim pieces. You can see a bit of the copper for the sink in the photos as well (under the window)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Exterior Shots

So this is what it looks like on the outside right now. When it stops raining I'll be pulling off all the shingles and re-siding the place with the standard SF stuff that you see on the house on the left of the photo below. Kind of looks rustic and woods.. not for long.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pocket Door Part 2

Well I almost got it done tonight but ran out of nails and screwed up a cut on one of the header beams. Oh well. I'm better off as I lost track of time and shut it down tonight at 11:30 anyway. I'll be back at it tomorrow night to shim the door framing in (you can see it next to the washer). Never done one of these before so it is interesting for sure. So far so good. Also some touch up on the sub-floor that I had to cut into to pull out the dimensional lumber stuff. And the back door is gone as well. I needed to take out part of the frame so I screwed in a sheet of plywood and cut the cat door in.

Taking Out the Trash

OK, a very short post but spent Saturday making runs to the dump, three in all, for a total of 2900 pounds. How can that much crap have been in my kitchen and just what does that mean in terms of capacity etc... that my old house can support. That is 1 and a half tons! To think that I ripped all that out and tossed it in the yard for a month and then spent a day dragging it somewhere so it can be buried for a few eons. Weird

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Has anyone seen my kitchen?

It seems to be missing and I can't find it anywhere. Oh wait, there it is in the backyard....

Looks like a couple of runs to the dump are in order

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pocket Door

It might not look like much has happened but the final bits of plaster are gone and I'm ready to cut the pocket door in. Also finishing up on the electrical under the sink, which will be under the window, FYI

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Insert Door and Window Here

The framing is done. Since it is an older house, all the framing is really 2 x 4 , not 1.5 x 3.5 like today's lumber. So that has been fun cutting down 2 x 6s to fit. But everything is ready. Tomorrow is the big day!

and by the way, that center area is where the chimney used to be, and the marks on the wall, mortar. The rest of the thing is still under the floor boards. Might make a nice floor safe?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Before the Door

OK folks, here is the big last chance to see the rotten kitchen window and rear wall of the house intact. Work starts on the French door and new over the sink window tomorrow. So I chickened out and am paying someone to put them in but finished the demo leaving the water and gas intact (those go out next week). I'll be putting in the power for the dishwasher and disposal on the rear wall, putting the pocket door in (instead of the open door you see) and the overhead lighting wiring and switches over the next week.

Here are some before shots with the counter intact and then most of the plaster down