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And my Camino is now closer than ever! I´m here, I´m finally here, and it´s good, especially after checking into a really good hotel with really good air conditioning. I took a siesta this afternoon, and have never felt more refreshed.

There´s a lot to catch up on. I know I blogged some about my awful third period, and they did not disappoint. Right up until the last day, I was fighting them tooth and nail, although we did have a good last two months when inspiration struck and I made them put their backpacks by the door. Still, there was an egg thrown, just like before we put the backpacks by the door, there was an onion thrown. It just still amazes me that some kid would go to all the trouble to bring an onion, and even moreso, a fragile egg, to school, keep it until third period, JUST to throw. I´ll never understand.

And I´ll especially never understand because now I´m a displaced teacher. I knew about it, though, well before my principal and assistant principal told me. I had wanted, for next year, to move into a better room. When I asked my principal about it, he said to ask him tomorrow. We had already been told that there were going to be displacements, and in that moment, when he didn´t give me a simple yes or no, I knew. And I was okay with it.

It had been a hard seven years at that school. I came in under a cloud with Prima Donna SourKraut and her gossip and pettiness and narcissism. The principal, ever a cold fish who never bothered to learn any kids´names, was impossible to connect with because he himself was a narcissist. But the school was so convenient! A seven minute drive or a 50 minute walk. And I might try to go back, once the school has improved and taken on more students. ç

But today here I am in Leon, Spain. I start my Camino day after tomorrow. I´ve elected to have a second night here in Leon, because my first couple of nights have been less than ideal with not nearly enough sleep. I took a siesta this afternoon and have never felt better, better certainly than I have felt for the past couple of days.

Going to London, I got no sleep on my flight, partly due to the brightness of the screens. I´m sensitive to that, and it reduces melatonin if I look for too long, right before bedtime, at a computer screen. I just don´t feel sleepy, and it´s way too easy just to stay up all night. I suppose as I´ve gotten older, I´ve gotten much more sensitive to melatonin suppression, so now before bed, for several hours, I try not to be too close to a computer screen. Even my phone screen can suppress melatonin to the point where it´s difficult to go to bed.

I got to London, got to my hotel, and I had made a mistake in my booking, fortunatel only for 10% of the total, probably less than $10. I had no room. The people at the front desk offered me an air mattress for 15 pounds, which I happily accepted. But when I came back from eating and walking around, there were people in the common area that just would not leave. I talked to the new guy behind the desk, and he didn´t feel comfortable asking them to leave, and neither did I. I sat there for a while and looked at hotels and other hostels, but just didn´t want to pay because I realized that since my flight here to Leon left at 6.25am, I needed to get to Heathrow in just a few hours. It would not be worth the money to pay for a full hotel room. It would be far easier, and better, just to kip down somewhere in Heathrow for a few hours, and get some sleep there. And that´s what I did.

Even on the London bus to get to Heathrow, I got an unexpected blessing. I didn´t realize that London buses no longer give change, and the driver wasn´t very helpful. Suddenly, this guy comes up and gives me a travel card! By the time I was on the bus, it was around 11.30pm, so the travel card was almost expired for the day, but it was a blessing. Yes, I could have walked back a few steps to the Tesco grocery store and gotten one, but this saved me steps, and it was utterly kind. I felt very blessed and very grateful.

So for the past two nights, I´ve snatched sleep where I could, up to 50% at a time, which is survival sleep only. Today´s siesta, a good long sleep of several hours, was amazingly restorative. I don´t think I´ll have any problem whatsoever finding food here in Leon, investigating the cathedral, locating the post office, then coming back here to the hotel and crashing again. Tomorrow I´m taking off and not beginning my Camino immediately. I feel like my body needs a good, solid 24 hours of rest before I´m able to start.

And already, after our flight landed, I met one pilgrim who was on the plane with me from Barcelona here to Leon. She was going to begin today, so I´ve already lost her on the path, but such is the Way. In the taxi from the airport, I saw several peregrinos, one a man leading a donkey and a dog! I saw several with hiking poles. I´m not sure if I want or need a hiking pole. I might investigate if I can find a place that sells them, and if one feels right and isn´t that expensive, then maybe.

I need to go find food and get a few more steps in. I want to see the cathedral here. I want to begin my pilgrimage from there, and say that I went from cathedral to cathedral, Leon to Santiago. The more I think about this, the more intimidated I am about being a pilgrim. What have I gotten myself into? Am I going to be able to do this? There´s really only one way to find out. From what all I´ve read, the best thing is not to think about all the miles and the distance you have to go, but simply just to start walking and keep walking. See where the road takes you. Just remember to eat and drink, and listen to the body. And that´s what I plan to do. After all, I would be walking the same amount of steps every day, out and about. This trip, I´m just concentrating my steps in a far more organized way than I´ve ever done before.

So tomorrow, exploration of Leon, more exploration of the cathedral. I want to get my pilgrim credential stamped, so I´ll have access to the albergues along the Way. I´ll find a post office, Correos, and post my backpack of fresh clothes and shoes ahead, poste restante, to Santiago, thereby creating a massive inducement to get to Santiago, simply so I´ll have fresh clothes and brand new shoes waiting for me. And more rest tonight. More water tonight and tomorrow. It´s crucial.

I just hope I can deal with the heat along this pilgrimage. I know having lost 150 pounds that I´m way better able to deal with heat, but the proof is in the walking. So we shall see. I also know that I´ll be walking uphill and downhill, and even attempting parts of the ¨Camino duro¨or the hard Camino, right before getting into Sarria and the last 62 miles/100 km that one must do in order to earn the Compostela.

In my pride and possibly foolishness, I decided to do three times as much as a dear friend who already walked part of the Way suggested. He in fact tried to tell me that I might put off doing it for a year. He didn´t think I was in good enough shape, and the most he suggested doing was from Sarria, and that, he said, was pretty tough going. Nope, not for me. I determined to start from here, Leon, and walk 200 miles/300 km of the Camino. And most of all, I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could, that I had it in me, that I was in good enough shape, and had enough endurance and stamina. And now that it´s here, I´m having a few second thoughts, but only because I have never done this before. Tomorrow, I´ll start. And God willing, I will do it, and get more fit along the way, develop more stamina and more endurance, perhaps than I ever thought possible.

Off to find food and explore the city. More as I can and as I´m able. I don´t know what the situation with wi-fi is along the small towns here in northern Spain, so it might be catch as catch can. I´m excited, if a little trepidatious. This is going to be the ultimate adventure for me as a traveler!

taking a day off, catching up on everything

This year I've taken off a lot of time from work, all for various reasons: doctor's appointments, days when I knew I had to catch up on sleep from an insomniac night before and would be useless in class, and to help J-- after he's come out of the hospital. He's doing well, but my role as a caregiver has expanded. Much like childcare, caregiving often requires that I take time off from my job. I can only hope that my administration at my school understand that. I also hope that next year, he'll be even better and more independent, and I won't have to take off nearly so much time, but life happens. I refuse to feel guilty about taking time off to care for him and for myself. My health -- physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually -- is important, and I prioritize it.

I just sent off a request for information from a nearby university that also offers online work. I'm applying for the school counselor program. For the past couple of years, I've thought that it's time to get out of the classroom, having done it for 20+ years now. I can feel the edges of being burned out, and Common Core, although overall a good thing, adds more pressure, as does the ever-increasing, ever-insane levels of testing. I'm mostly just ready for something else new and different, ready to expand my horizons and continue in education because I'm invested for my pension, but do something different.

This program would meet once a week, and would take me three to three and a half years to complete. I have about seven or eight more years anyway, and this would give me something else to work toward, a new goal. Right now, I have no real goals professionally, and while I don't find that worrisome, it is boring. I'm 47; I'm a veteran teacher, and "just hanging in there til retirement" doesn't cut it for me. I need new horizons. However, that said, even if/when I complete this program, it doesn't guarantee that I'll get an immediate placement. I've also heard that you can be called up out of the blue and told to report to a different school the next day! It would be sad and disconcerting to leave (abandon!) students in the middle of a semester, but truthfully, I'd jump at the chance. So maybe this will work out. Time will tell.

This past winter break was one of the bleakest I've ever experienced, with my husband first in the hospital for a month and a half, then in a distant recovery hospital, for a total of two months. I didn't get to go home to Louisiana for the first time since I moved out here in 1997, so I'm REALLY looking forward to spring break in a week and a half (YES!). I'm looking forward to time off, time with family, time to chill out, and mostly to unstructured time. My time is so over-structured, and the needs of life so many and so various, that ironically I had to take off time today to deal with an impending observation tomorrow, as well as take care of other stuff around home that needs to be dealt with as well. Pretty ironic to have to take off work in order to complete work at home! But whatever it takes, that's what I'll do.

Already I'm feeling relieved, having gotten some online work out of the way and completed. The observation tomorrow will go okay, I'm sure, and the debrief on Friday will be okay as well. And then the observation will be done for this school year. I and many others hope that this particular observation system will go the way of the dodo since it is intense, rigorous, wordy, and rather pedantic, and takes entirely too much time. Teachers and administrators both hate it. However, what will replace it, who knows? Let's just hope it's not worse!

I was NOT pleased that my principal decided to observe me twice in one semester, since I took time off during the first semester when my husband was ill and recuperating slowly. At first I was angry and resentful, and made my displeasure known, albeit politely and professionally. By the time they contacted me about this second observation, just a few weeks after the first, I was simply resigned: let's just get it over with. I'm not putting on any dog and pony show, just amping up what I intended to teach anyway. An added benfit will be that this activity will generate textual analysis charts that I can hang up in my classroom; these will look very impressive for parent conferences next week. It's nice to have enough experience and confidence that I don't feel the need to go all-out anymore, just be thorough and encourage quality thinking, reading, writing, and speaking.

I'm also looking very forward to traveling this summer at the end of June and the first of July. I fly to London, as usual, but then I need to decide what I'm going to do. I recently saw a movie, "The Way" starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son Emilio Estevez, about people who walk the Camino de Santiago. Sheen in the movie plays a father who travels to Europe to reclaim his son's body; the son had just started to walk the Camino and was killed in a freak storm. I got pulled into the story, despite its somewhat under-developed parts and a few stereotypes, and laughed and cried. And the more I've read and seen, the more I want to walk the Camino as a pilgrim, or peregrina. For me it would be both a religious experience and excellent exercise: six or seven days covering 100 kilometers, walking from France into Spain.

There is a company called Camino Ways that provides a sherpa service. For the last 100 kilometers, they transport your bag to the next hostel or hotel, and you walk that day, carrying only necessities like food, water, and clothing, like a poncho or sweater or jacket. I might very well take advantage of this, since I bring one backpack with EVERYTHING I need, plus a carry-on with nutrition bars. It would be nice not to have to lug everything in case there are steep hills or rocks, where I would need all my balance. I'm sure my knees will thank me, as well as my feet.

I can also tell that I'm getting fitter and stronger; looking at the distances, I'm not at all intimidated. Six, seven miles a day is something I can do now, with only a little extra effort. I was regularly walking that much and more every single day in Spain and Andorra this past summer.

But after that, I'm not sure. Part of me would like to go and hike the West Highland Way in Scotland, always a pleasure to go to, although for a teacher who hasn't had a cost of living increase or any kind of raise in eight years, the UK is expensive nowadays. That's a possibility. The other possibility is to go down to the Balkans -- Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia -- especially to hike Plitvice National Park again, where I left a part of my heart. I need to look at a map, plan, and strategize.

Other than all that, things are going okay. Students this year are okay: a bit slap-happy, lazy, and immature, but overall kind. One class I had major problems with in fall semester has begun to calm down and mature, although school security and discipline are nearly completely lacking, so we all just do what we can. I and MANY others sincerely hope that the principal will move on or retire. We need fair, firm, consistent discipline with someone who is more assertive and hands-on and pro-active. No matter what, things will change as they always do.

I'm tired, really tired this year from kids who aren't adequately parented at home, and who regularly push boundaries every day. I'm noticing that all my colleagues are tired from constantly having to enforce boundaries and limits. We have kids and years like this, but having a supportive administration helps loads. As I said, we do what we can. Ten more weeks! These last few weeks will be a complete overload of trying to get everything done, but that's what spring semester is. Oh and I'll have to move classrooms, but I'm excited, since I'm moving right next door to the room I had a few years ago. This particular room, and the rooms like it in this area, have two BIG, LONG boards so I can write more and won't have to copy as much! Plus this room has more storage space and is on a solid foundation. The room I'm in now is a bungalow off the ground, so occasionally the floor squeaks. And even though I teach two grade levels, I have one small board, divided into half so I have to make copies all the time. Moving is always a bit of a hassle, but this year I'm determined to pare down, throw out, and scale down my stuff, especially stuff I just haven't used in years.

More later, especially about travel this summer.
As many readers know, I never had kids and never wanted kids. In my 20s, I was grateful to discover all the childfree blogs and books. They saved my sanity throughout my 20s and 30s.

But as my 30s passed into my 40s, the whole childfree thing became rather a moot point, mainly because I am, and have been for quite a while, post-menopausal. Just as my periods started BAM! when I was nine (!) years old, they ended with very nearly the same abrupt BAM when I was 42. That's it, thank you, the ride is now over. Such, such relief.

Lately, though, I've been thinking about that brief window of time in my 20s, during my first marriage, when I actually contemplated having *A* child, and just gave up. Mainly, it felt monumental, like I'd be climbing forever uphill. If it's true that it takes a village to raise a child, then in my 20s, I had no village. I did not know how to create said village. And the thought of actively involving yet more people in my life when I was firmly on the path to knowing myself to be an introvert... well, just no. I think that's the main reason that whenever I thought about having kids, I'd just sigh and shrink inside. Way, way, WAY too much work. Too much effort. Too much time, too much money, too many resources I didn't have, didn't know if I'd ever have.

So had my life been different -- one of my favorite thought experiments -- and if I had decided I really wanted a kid, what would I have had to have done to make this come about? How would I have created a village? Here is a non-exhaustive list of things, people, resources, and more that I think I would have needed, but it's probably not nearly complete.

-- regular, reliable, affordable babysitting services while I completed my degree -- NOT AVAILABLE THEN OR NOW
-- reliable, enthusiastic mate who also wanted a child -- NOT AVAILABLE THEN OR NOW
-- enough money to feed a child and myself -- NOT AVAILABLE THEN, BARELY AVAILABLE NOW
-- enough diapers and all the accoutrements that kids need just to be presentable -- UGH

Actually I can't think of anything else because the list would just be too overwhelming. I didn't have any of that. Most of all, I had no one who actually would have helped me. There was no one. My ex-husband never wanted a child. I had family in the area but I would not ever have wanted to impose on my brother and his wife. My sister and father lived 90 miles away. I didn't have nearly enough money to feed and clothe myself, much less anyone else. And more importantly, I had NO CLUE how to go about getting a village together. I'm not good at reaching out to others and asking for help. In fact, I'm loathe to do that. I'd much, much, MUCH rather handle everything on my own as much as possible.

I didn't want to have to deal with an obstetrician. I've heard many, many, many reports from many women of being infantilized, of being treated as if the woman didn't know her own body and this anonymous doctor knew better than. NO. I didn't want to have to deal with other mothers; I didn't want to compete vicariously through a child. I didn't want to have to deal with being a teacher and putting a child through school. I didn't want to deal with any part of it, especially any part that included other people.

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a friend, who said he can see the appeal of pets over children because pets offer unchallenging love, while people are exceptionally challenging even at the best of times to love. I am all for un-challenging love at home. There's a guy I know who said that he loved the challenges of parenting; once again, I just sighed and shrunk inside. JESUS, to go out in the world and be challenged all day, and then come home to be met with challenges and backtalk? No, no no no no no. Could. Not. Handle.

I'm glad the door of any possible pregnancy and parenthood is now firmly closed. It's just such a relief, and a road I was never meant to travel. I absolutely do not have what it takes.
Fortunately the last couple of days I´ve been here could not have been better for weather. The daily rains that the desk receptionist said were coming every day since June apparently let up, luckily for me, not that I would have minded rain at all. And so today, Naturlandia! This is the culmination of my trip, and a real dream come true.

I rode the ToboTronc SIX times. I LOVE downhill toboganning.

The first time I got to Naturlandia was by taxi. The desk receptionist said I could take two buses, but that sounded time-consuming and difficult. It really wasn´t since I did it on the way back. I have to remember, Andorra is SMALL, very, very small. Nothing here is more than about 10 miles from any border.

However, I must admit, on the first ride there via taxi, I was a little fearful. The taxi driver took me way up into the mountains, and although she was a very good driver, she was taking twisty, turny, hairpin mountain curves at, to my mind, a rather breakneck speed. I hung on to the door! We got there in one piece, suffice to say, but I was very happy to get out of that taxi. Yesterday on the gigantic coach, I absolutely could not look out the side over the great expanse or drop-off of the mountain. I HAD to look on the inside of the curve. And I´m not even afraid of heights, but when someone else is driving, I have to give up control, so I know it´s a small control issue.

Naturlandia! A total dream come true. A VERY active day out. I stopped twice to eat and drink, but from about 10am to 5.30pm, I was going hard. I rode the ToboTronc six times. I did archery, and I took a turn in the Jeep pedal buggies.

TurboTronc was simply amazing. First of all, I fit quite easily into the seat, and that was a relief and a thrill. I love how as I´m losing weight and gaining muscle, I fit more easily into everything, without even a second look. For the first 10 minutes, you do nothing: you´re simply going up the mountain, approximately 25 meters behind the person in front.

There was a point where I came to a first stop along the way, and from there, I really started zinging down the mountain at top speed. Just grand. I had to get used to it of course; the operator at the beginning said to use even MORE speed coming down so I wouldn´t hold back other people on the way down. So I did just that. I have to admit, in a downhill activity like this, my weight does work in my favor, especially taking the corners, and in going downhill overall. It worked so well, in fact, that a couple of times I got behind slower, first time people and had to slow way down.

From there, I went and did archery for a little while, but it was really a joke. Naturlandia had extremely cheap bows, the exact same brand I picked up at a local Los Angeles sporting goods store. And their arrows were atrocious, not well kept up at all. Everyone only got three arrows at a time, and one arrow completely missed the entire target, no matter how carefully I aimed.

None of the arrows had all three fletches. Every single arrow was missing at least one fletch, and the other two, plastic as they were, were coming undone. Had they had better equipment, I would have done more for longer, but I quit in disgust after about 30 or 45 minutes. I suppose I´m spoiled having trained at a JOAD center in Los Angeles (Junior Olympic Archery Division) with really good equipment and a really good, if slightly picky and snooty, archery community.

My one slight peeve with Naturlandia is that it´s still not quite tourist friendly. They have the main park at 1,600 meters up the mountain, and they have a whole other part of the park at 2,000 meters further up, a distance of 400 meters as the crow flies, but eight kilometers to walk or drive. Mind you, there are tons of things to do at the main park, and I was quite satisfied there all day long for many hours. The park desperately needs a chair lift!

It´s possible to get a bus, I realized only belatedly as I was leaving, but it´s an Andorran bus. The park needs their OWN bus, to run on a 10-15 minute interval, bringing people up or down from one part of the park to the other. In fact, Naturlandia could do with one bus inside the park, for the two levels, but furthermore, they could use a bus within Andorra to ferry tourists to and from their hostels or hotels up to Naturlandia and/or back. There´s money to be made there, for them. And they should also install a chair lift. These people should pay me for being a tourist consultant!

Now, having eaten dinner and gotten back to my very nice hotel, I´m preparing to call it a day, go up and read for a while, and prepare for a lot of sitting tomorrow, alas. At around noon, my Novatel bus comes and picks me up to go to Barcelona. That´s about three and a half hours. From Barcelona, another three and a half hours to Madrid, Atocha station. From Atocha station, the Metro to the airport, where I have an airport hotel for two days until I fly back home.

I realize that all the way out by the airport that I´ll be a little cut off from the main part of Madrid, but I was right in predicting that by this time in my travels, I´m a bit tired. If I´m correct, the hotel should have some excursions available, so I might just book there at the hotel. If not, it´s not that much extra to go into Madrid and walk around and do some last minute shopping or looking. I´d love to do a coach tour of Avila and Segovia for the day, beginning and ending at my Madrid hotel, then come back, eat dinner, and crash. Rather touristy, but one needs touristy stuff along with more adventuresome traveler stuff as well.

Tomorrow I´ll write more as soon as I can get checked in. This trip has been awesome, and I´m more than pleased at how everything has gone. I´d love to do this trip again, and fill in more gaps of all the stuff I missed the first time or just didn´t have time to do. Or another trip would be to begin again in Madrid, then go down to Granada and see the city and the Alhambra, then go over into Portugal, or go down into Morocco, and go back up to Madrid. Both itineraries would be easy to do. However, Andorra holds a special place in my heart, and there´s more to do here to warrant at least one more trip. I´m indifferent to the shopping, but hiking the nature trails, doing Naturlandia again, and going up on the chair lift again, YES!

So until tomorrow, adios and adio´. I´ll write more when I can.
Apparently the tour company here in Andorra does different tours on different days. Today we went up into Ordino and possibly other places in Andorra. I would have to consult a map.

The absolute highlight of the trip was the chair lift at Valnord. I don´t think that´s quite the name, but it was a ski area that was very, very high in the mountains. By the time we got up to the ski resort, we were 2,220 meters up, and the chair lifts went another 400 meters up! There was a point right at the top of the mountain where you could get out and look across to the border of France, but I was FREEZING by that time. I had no idea that we would be going up so high, and that it would be so very, very cold. I survived, but wow.

I took a LOT of pictures, and cannot wait to get them developed. Going up the mountain was pretty good because another guy rode with me. He happened to be from San Francisco, so another English speaker was very welcome. I also got to talk to an Australian woman plus a Polish woman who spoke very good English. As I said, going up wasn´t bad because this guy and I rode on the ends of the chair lift. But going down, the guy got off to look over the border, and I stayed where I was.

Big mistake! I should have moved to the middle, because I felt the chair tilting. Also, going through the posts that held the cables was a bit terrifying at first, because the chair made noise as it went through, and if it had dropped... well, that´s not worth thinking about! But the views! Utterly sublime. Mounds of hard-packed, unmelted ice were still in abundance even in July. In August, they will start getting snow, and the mountains will be truly covered. In fact, the tour guide said that the actual road we drove in on will become an easy piste for beginning skiers!

At the mountain we also stopped for lunch. I ducked out right before dessert, and walked up the road to take a picture of an example of a mountain hut. Apparently these mountain huts are dotted all over Andorra as shelter from the elements. Further up from that there was a huge waterfall coming all the way down the mountain right to the road.

I´m very tired, and this computer at my hotel just cut out and chopped off the rest of my entry. I´ll just say that we got out many times over the day. I took pictures all over. There were several ancient churches that had additions made to them in the 17th and 18th centuries. One in particular stands out to me because they discovered ancient frescoes dating back to Roman times.

The other highlight of this trip was a trip to the Vell de Sortigny (sp?) nature park. Just simply gorgeous. I do want to go back and hike more. I and a few others hiked up just a few meters back into the first trail. People were setting up barbecues and picnics but there were nature trails all over.

I need dinner and I´m VERY tired after this incredibly lovely day out. The chair lift was amazing and the nature park gave me more of a taste of what I want to do when I come back to Andorra. It is not by any means an overblown shopping town, although you can find shopping in any town. Andorra is natural, and there are a ton of things to be done outdoors, like Naturlandia tomorrow! I´m excited.

Dinner now, and more later.
This morning´s trip could not have been easier. I was a little worried getting to Barcelona airport, since I had never been there before, but airports are pretty much the same all over the world. I walked from my hotel near Plaza Catalunya to the Aerobus, paid 6 Euro, and got taken pretty quickly to the airport.

Thank God most signs are in English at all airports throughout the world. I only had to ask at the information desk, and I was off. I had to go downstairs twice to the very bottom floor. Apparently take-offs are at the top; arrivals are in the middle, and street-level buses are at the bottom at Barcelona Airport, but I would imagine that´s how it is everywhere with very few exceptions.

By the time I got to street level, I realized I was utterly famished, so I stopped at an airport cafe, grabbed some food, and then found a spacious, empty waiting area. I never even knew spacious, empty waiting areas existed in airports, but apparently Barcelona has one, in the middle of the local bus area and the inter-urban area. It was gigantic, practically empty, and I could sit a moment, gather my wits, eat something, breathe a bit, then find where I needed to be.

And then it was hurry up and wait time. I waited for over an hour -- ever my father´s daughter, I must be early and cannot stand being late -- and finally my mini-bus came. I didn´t even have to show my ticket or passport to the driver! I told him my name and the hotel here that I was staying in here in Andorra, and he just said come on aboard. I was rather shocked by that, and was shocked even more so when we made a rather rolling California stop through the border! But more about that later.

There were only about a dozen travelers, if that many, so everyone had room to spread out. I caught a few zz´s on the way out of Barcelona, and by the time I opened my eyes, the landscape had changed dramatically. Although I got only 85% sleep last night, I couldn´t bear to nap because I simply had to keep looking as we went toward the extreme north of Spain and into the Pyrenees.

Spain overall, to my photographer´s eye, has a light-blue, cerulean light that can sometimes also be light green, depending on where you are. It´s a changeable light, but it´s never dark or intense, always very light, very malleable, sliding over the spectrum. It´s a true Mediterranean light. The whole landscape outside the city was utterly striking. Like Georgia O´Keefe, I´ve found the desert that resonates in my soul, and northern Spain is it. The colors were green, butter yellow, and grey or white rocks. Limitless vistas would open up regularly, and one only had to wait a few moments to look to the left or right and be able to see for hundreds of miles. I would dearly love to come back and paint and photograph more of northern Spain.

The further north we drove, the more mountainous it became, and I cannot even begin to describe just how gorgeous and sublime it was. As with all mountains, there are lakes running through them, so every so often I would look down from a great height -- it was a VERY twisty, turny mountain road, with only two lanes! -- and look down and see a river, complete with rocks and rapids. Just amazing and gorgeous and sublime.

It´s actually quite easy to get to Andorra; if one wanted to drive, the way is marked extremely clearly every five or 10 miles. There are several roundabouts, but at the exit of every roundabout, the towns are posted, which is quite a bit easier than anywhere in the UK, where there are also loads of roundabouts, but the cities are not posted. I prefer Spain´s road system because they also drive on the right, so driving here would not be difficult at all.

At the border, I was stunned. The bus itself made a rolling California stop; that is to say, it only slowed and didn´t stop at all. I had been expecting, as I´ve experienced with borders all over Europe, to have a guard come aboard, check everyone´s passport, and then let us go through. Not at all here. We were waved through with utter nonchalance, and the bus simply kept rolling on into Andorra. Wow. I had placed my ticket for the bus as well as my passport carefully in my shirt pocket so I could show it immediately, but there was no need whatsoever.

Since I was the first one on the bus, I was also the first one dropped off at my hotel. The driver simply announced ¨Hotel Florida¨ and I got off, walked in, checked in, and immediately went up to my room. And my room is wonderful! However, there was a moment right after I got off the elevator that I was plunged into complete darkness! The Europeans here have a money-saving option where lights only go on for a few minutes, then turn back off. Luckily there are light switches every meter or so. It wasn´t too scary for too long. My room has a double bed, a proper bathroom, and a bidet which I have no clue how to use, being American as I am.

The first thing I did when I checked in was to wash some clothes in the basin, and lay them out or hang them up to dry overnight. I could get laundry done here, and might before I leave, but again, hotel prices are somewhat extravagant, and simply washing clothes myself in the basin and just waiting for them to dry is much more cost-efficient, if not time-efficient.

After that, I walked around, getting my bearings. It´s really almost impossible to get lost here, but just in case, I made a note in my phone of the hotel name, the street address, the phone number, and my room number. After this entry, I´m going to go walk around a little more, not only to get my steps in for the day, but also to find out tomorrow where I go to get the tourist bus.

Apparently the tourist bus is an all-day thing. For 35 Euros, they apparently will take me all over Andorra, and end the day with a barbecue! I´ve never had that from any tourist bus company, but I have to remember that this is a very small country, and in very small places, amenities are sometimes more than what gigantic places offer. I must also remember to charge the battery in my camera for tomorrow, and set my alarm. I need to be at the bus stop slightly before 9am.

Then on the 6th of July, I´m going to Naturlandia! That´s THE reason for coming to Andorra. However, the girl at the front desk said they´ve been having unusual weather, in that it´s been raining every single day, and when it does rain or even storm, sometimes things like the Turbo Tronc, the alpine toboggan run, get shut down. If that happens, I would be VERY upset, since the Turbo Tronc is one of the main reasons I want to go to Naturlandia, and I want to make a video of me going down it!

The one thing I´ve definitely noticed is that I fit in here. It´s an amazingly Caucasian place, and to be honest, that makes me a little nervous, as used as I am to California diversity. Even Louisiana has Caucasians, Blacks, and Hispanics now. But here, things are VERY white. It´s just a bit odd to me, having lived in California close to 20 years. What is diverse here is the languages spoken! People throughout this whole trip have spoken to me first in Spanish, and I´m able to understand and reply. Some eventually switch to English, and a VERY few times, perhaps a handful, I´ve had to ask for English, but I like being spoken to in Spanish first. Here in Andorra, there is Catalan, Spanish, French, and English, if not more. I think Portuguese is spoken here as well. Amazing. What´s odd to me now is hearing English songs on the radio. I´m surrounded by Spanish and Catalan, so hearing music in English really stands out.

Off to walk a little more to get my steps in for the day and to find my tourist bus stop for tomorrow. I love it here, and so want to come back especially with my sister and my niece. The air here is so crisp, clear, and fresh!

rambling around Las Ramblas

First thing this morning I got online and booked my bus from Barcelona to Andorra and a return trip also. I´m only going to stay there two or three days, but what´s nice is, there´s a place right on Plaza Catalunya that is the airport bus stop, for only 6 Euro. I go to Terminal 1 for the Novatel bus line, and will get in to Andorra by 4pm. I wanted a late start so I don´t have to wake up at any ungodly early hour. The airport bus comes by every 15 minutes or so. I´m ready!

J-- has called me and said my bank has called with an alert on my debit card. I´m not surprised. I tried booking with my regular credit card, but it wasn´t accepted, which I thought weird. My debit card, however, was accepted, which I thought strange. I just didn´t trust just showing up and being able to pay, although probably you could do that; I wanted an assured reservation, and I´m glad I made one. I know I have money in my account that´s linked to this debit card, which is no problem, but I´m sure they were surprised by a charge from Spain. And that´s no wonder: I alerted all my other credit cards that I would be traveling, but did not bother to alert my regular bank. Noted for next time!

I also packed up all my excess stuff and hoofed it down to Correos, the post office, which was a longer trek than I anticipated; in fact, just getting from my hotel to Correos was 60% of my day´s steps! I know I´m well over by now since I walked back AND shopped. I finally gave in to the shopping bug. All the streets around La Rambla are fascinating, and there are many that have truly unique items. I´m not yet to the point where I want to invest in clothing, since I´m still losing weight and gaining a more proportional shape, but I did buy a couple of unique pieces of jewelry. I like buying jewelry because it´s small, packs well, and doesn´t crush.

I´m also not one to get emotional about shoes, but there was this one pair that I just fell in love with, and OF COURSE they didn´t have my size! They had a size larger than what I needed, and apparently that´s all they had. I´m not surprised because this sandal had colorful beaded paisley designs all over it. A friend on FB said if I had pictures I could get sandals like that made. I hope she gives me more information and a website to look at. This little shop is just steps from my hotel. I´d love to go back and get side pictures of this sandal, and see if it could be made for me, although I´m sure getting anything made bespoke is going to cost a lot. Ah well.

It´s a little after 7pm now, so I´ll probably go right here on Santa Anna and have something to eat early, then go back to my hotel room and read for a while and fall asleep early so I can get to Barcelona Airport early. I depart for Andorra at 1pm, so I have some time in the morning to wake up slow and easy and get going at a relatively easy pace.

It´s so easy in summertime, now that the light is longer, to just while away the time. Here in Spain, things are barely beginning to get going now at 7pm, although things really go from about 9am until the very early hours of the morning. I know it´s hard for me to go to bed before 10.30 or 11pm here. I do like the way things run here in Spain. This is my kind of time!

I´ll be a little more at ease once I´m in Andorra and checked into my hotel, which I´ve already got a reservation for. All I really want is proper air conditioning and an en suite bathroom. I don´t even need the en suite bathroom if the air conditioning is acceptable!

I plan to explore Andorra La Vella, the capitol. I hope they have a hop on, hop off bus; that always helps to orient me to the city and point out the interesting sights that maybe I wouldn´t notice or research on my own. Alas there is no app for Andorra, it´s just THAT small. A friend on FB said it was a hidden gem and a well kept secret, so I can´t wait to see. And I really can´t wait to go to Naturandia! Archery, other activities, and the 3.2km TurboTronc downhill toboggan ride that puts the toboggan ride I took in Slovenia to SHAME!

So, so excited!
I did a very wise thing last night: I bought tickets online for La Sagrada Familia, and it´s a very good thing, too, because had I just woken up and decided to go, I would have been at least an hour or two simply standing in line. As it was, I showed my smartphone pass to the guard, and got right in. I must remember this. It is the ONLY way to go.

Inside was breathtaking. I simply could not believe Gaudi´s architecture. I´ve seen a LOT of cathedrals and churches in all my travels, but this one by far is one of the best, because it´s such a living cathedral, a truly ALIVE place of worship. Many of the cathedrals I´ve been in, particularly Westminster Abbey, were, as I put it once in a poem I wish I could find again, a place for Death to worship, and some to worship Death. The signs in LSF begged for silence, but there was simply no way people could be silent in the face of such a living, loving spirit (and Spirit) in this cathedral.

Other places I´ve been have death, solemnity, and a rank air of fear in them. Too much preaching of sin and Hell and damnation. Too much threatening. But Gaudi´s cathedral distills and condenses Grace itself, the spirit of nature, the Life Force, the Holy Spirit, Mother Nature, whatever you want to call it, and people naturally react by being more lively themselves. It was quite one of the more interesting phenomena I´ve ever witnessed.

In other cathedrals, there is a great stillness, and that has its appeal as well, because the world we live in is very rushed. Great stillness appeals to me in many ways. But Gaudi´s work appeals, too, because life itself is ever changing, evolving, and moving. There is much to be said for the essential stillness and grace and peaceful state of being at the heart of every church or cathedral, and there´s even more to be said when an architect can bring that stillness forth as well as inspire people to move, look around, interact with the building and with each other, and be more lively.

I got there well before time to go in, so I sat and waited. At the front of the cathedral, where all the tourist buses park, there is the general line for people who did not reserve online ahead of time. However, if you walk around to the back, that´s where the pre-printed ticket and smartphone ticket line is, a much, much smaller line. I sat and waited, read some on my Kindle, then walked in and was overwhelmed. My only slight regrets are that I wished I would have booked BOTH tower tours, not just the Nativity Tower, and that I wished I had booked the tower tours a little closer to my entrance time, because I had to wait around for another 45 minutes or so until it was my time to go up in the towers.

After that, I knew I had to deal with necessities. It´s always that way, especially on days that I see cathedrals: there is always something profane and necessary and practical that counter-balances the sacred, mountaintop experience. In trying to get out of LSF, I went through the gift shop, bought some things, then tried to go out the gate I had entered, but no such luck. I saw some restrooms, so I decided to take a bathroom break, and emitted quite a loud fart in the bathroom. Apparently it was hilarious; some woman must have laughed for five minutes, so much so that I started laughing myself. I was glad I was safely anonymous in the bathroom stall, though. And I did wait for her to leave before I came out. Nothing like farting in church to keep you humble.

After that, I finally got out of LSF, and figured out how to buy a ticket on the Metro, so I went from the cathedral back to Plaza de Catalunya, and back to my hotel room and gathered up my dirty clothes, hoping that the hostel I had checked out of would let me wash my clothes there, and they did -- for significantly less money than I would have paid here at my hotel! On top of that, I got about 85 Euro back for not staying the other two nights. A win all around.

However, I´m convinced that this hostel is THE LEAST efficient place I have EVER traveled. They keep sending me emails telling me to give them a good rating, and I will... with some faint praise thrown in. They are not bad. The location is ideal. The place is excellent for young people. It´s just that the air conditioning doesn´t work in the rooms I had, but perhaps it does in other rooms, and it took them three and a half hours to do a very small load of laundry. Having saved 15 Euro was worth it, though, and they were very decent about the refund for not staying the other two nights.

It´s after 11pm here, and I need some sleep. I´m glad that this hotel has a free computer because that saves me time and money looking for a locutorio. Tomorrow I´m not sure what I will do, other than look again at how to get to Andorra, and probably go to the local post office, Correos, and send some things back. I don´t think I´m going to eat all my meal bars, and I´m gathering up enough stuff so that a package is warranted. That will make travel that much lighter and easier.

More tomorrow. I might try to go to Montserrat and see the Black Madonna. A guy who was on the hotel computer said he and his wife had done it today, in fact, and it was a 20 Euro round trip ticket from Plaza de Espanya, and that it was very well worth it. Gotta love talking to other travelers!

More tomorrow, and goodnight for now!

fun in Barcelona, now with a proper hotel

It took most of the day to get from Madrid to Barcelona, only a three and a half hour train ride, but it felt longer since there were other stops along the way. But I got there, and finally found my hostel, got checked in... and hated it.

I absolutely hated it. Yes, it was a private room, and yes, the HOSTEL itself was air conditioned, but in my particular room, there was not a breath of air. It was dead and stuffy and dry. Also, I could have chosen to get air, but open my window to a small adjoining courtyard of someone else's house, and that did NOT seem safe. Moreover, I had to beg a local restaurant for two extra menus, and then tape them over the windows because the curtain wasn't long enough. Without the menus, I would have had next to zero privacy and light would have shone in almost directly in my face.

Around 5.30am, I woke up, synced my UP band, and realized I had gotten 47% sleep. Well, hell. I complained nicely to the front desk guy, and he moved me to a gigantic room with lovely high ceilings and four beds... and still no air conditioning in the rooms, plus it was right on the street. I tried to lie down and sleep, but no. By this time it was going on 6.30am, and I was wide awake, and feeling frazzled. Right there in the hostel, I looked for and booked a proper hotel just a walk across the Plaza Catalunya. The manager of the hostel said I could come back tomorrow morning and get my refund for the two days I didn't stay. Worth it overall, but yeah. At this point in my life, I need air conditioning to be able to sleep, and I much prefer an en-suite bathroom, although the latter isn't as necessary as air conditioning is. So I'm booked in at the Hotel Catalunya, also right off the Ramblas.

The woman at the front desk smiled and said, oh yes, you booked this just a few minutes ago! I told her why, and she immediately called up and asked if the room was ready, and fortunately it was! I went in, put my stuff down, turned on the air conditioner, and got cool, comfortable, and sleepy, so I slept. I got 80% sleep, and with that, at around 12.30pm, I was ready to go out and face the day. The only minor quibble I have with this new room is that the bathroom has about a seven inch step up, why, I'm not sure. But the bed is comfortable; the room is interior, so no lights shine in; there is a heavy curtain; there is good, working air conditioning; and there is an en-suite bathroom. I'm quite happy.

I went out and once again got on the tourist bus. I don't normally buy tickets two days in a row, but there was a taxi strike today (they'll be back tomorrow and from then on), and I realized I also hadn't seen the east side of the city, so I really wanted to see that. I figured also that even if I took forever in the aquarium, that I could always make it back to the tourist bus for the last pickup and just return to the Plaza Catalunya and call it a day. Fortunately the aquarium only took about two hours. It was good, and I can see why it bills itself as one of the largest and most important in the whole Mediterranean.

I got back on the bus, and changed eventually to the orange line, and saw the east side of the city. Yesterday I mistakenly took the west route twice, which was okay; I picked up more the second time around. But this time, the bus went up by the docks where all the cruise ships come, as well as up Montjuic, which was gorgeous. Much more to explore there, but I'm not sure if it'll be this trip; probably, it'll be another trip. I saw all kinds of people riding bikes, running, walking, etc. It's a lovely outdoor setting to be active! There's also a setup from the 1992 Olympics, the Pobre Barcelona, which was supposed to be a pastiche of different parts of Spain, different cultures, different foods, different customs, so that people who came to Barcelona for the Olympics could get a taste of all of Spain in one place. It was supposed to have been demolished, but by popular demand, it was left intact, and now, according to the route, it houses more than 100 little shops selling authentic Spanish products. Definitely worth a visit.

I like Barcelona, but I'm not in love with it. I really loved Madrid, because it was the capitol, and because it was ancient and so cultural. Barcelona is cultural also, but it's a shopping city, and at this point in my life, that just leaves me rather cold. It strikes me that this is a young person's city. I can just imagine many of my students, for example, just LOVING Barcelona for all the shops and for the activities and the culture -- pretty much in that order. After I get back home and have a bit of time, I'd love to do some research into the Celts in Iberia, and see just how far their influence reached, and which cities still have any Celtic ruins. I also want to see what the difference is between English/Scots/Irish Celts and Iberian Celts. How was their art different? Were their gods different? I have many questions.

So tomorrow, I go to La Sagrada Familia, pretty much the point of my whole trip to Barcelona; after this everything else is gravy. From everything I've read online, it makes a lot of sense to book online, because that way you can go in through another entrance and save hours of time waiting in the normal line for most tourists. For the online booking, I'll go back to my hotel and do it from there, since it involves whipping out my credit card, and I'd rather not do that from a public locutorio. From La Sagrada Familia, I'm not sure. Perhaps the Barcelona Cathedral and across the street, a small market that apparently has a long and colorful history; both of these are quite near my hotel, as is this locutorio that I'm at now.

I also need to research how to get from Barcelona to Andorra; I'm sure it can be done from Barcelona Sants, the main railway and bus station. I just want to see which option is cheaper: train or bus. And I want to research which option is quicker: train or bus. I have the Eurail Pass, so if I can do it that way, that would be ideal, but I don't mind at all taking a bus. I don't think Andorra is that far from Barcelona, and the narrator on the bus said that Barcelona Sants serves the rest of Europe, which made me think that a departure from here to Andorra wouldn't be out of the ordinary.

As much fun as this vacation has been, it is winding down, and I'm beginning to be glad. It's always fun to go, and it's fun to return. I miss my husband, and I miss my cat, both very much. I'm glad I've gotten to do everything so far that I have done, even if it's been all the touristy stuff first. This way, though, I get a lot of the touristy stuff out of the way, and then I can go back some other summer and do more, and explore even deeper. I do know that from now on, I'm going to book into proper hotels with proper air conditioning, especially in summertime.

I'm excited also that I'll be back in Los Angeles in time for the Bastille Day petanque tournament, and then I'll go off again to Louisiana, and spend time with family and with my best friend. And then, school and its planning and buying of supplies begins again, but I don't want to think about that, because there's more there than I care to deal with, but want to blog about later. Time here and now is for fun, without the shadow of school hanging over me, and I still have time to make it a wonderful summer.

More tomorrow, and I'm off to my new hotel to sleep comfortably tonight -- very much unlike last night!
I got up by 9.30am this morning, but had no idea what I wanted to do. I was thinking about it last night, and although I could do a daytrip from here in Madrid, I´d like to save a day on my four day pass to go somewhere from Barcelona. I´ll need to use one day tomorrow in getting from Madrid to Barcelona, and then another day getting back from Andorra to Madrid.

So I decided to go to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and do an experiment: try NOT to get museum feet! just keep walking! don´t stop anywhere for too long, or go ahead and sit down. And it worked! It´s around 8pm tonight, and my feet do NOT hurt the way they did when I visited the Prado.

The museum was lovely, and very well laid out. I got to see the whole thing, and it didn´t feel like such a monumental effort, like walking the Prado, which I still didn´t see all of, but saw 80 or 90% of. The TB Museum is laid out in three floors. The tour starts at the top with the 13th century Italian Masters, and goes down to the bottom where 20th century art is. And overall, I really liked it. It was well worth the price of admission, even the parts I thought were just okay were technically good and were important in the art world.

I have to say, though, that I´m no big fan of pop art. Most of it just seems derivative, or so personal and/or reactive that it loses much of its power. It just doesn´t move me. I bought a ticket to both the Pop Art exhibition, as well as the Alma Tadema and the Victorians exhibition, and, readers, if anyone knows me, it was the Victorian exhibition that thoroughly entranced me. I was in and out of the pop art in about 10 minutes, tops. None of it beguiled me, interested me, moved me. It´s just not my ouvre. There was a funny print by Lichtenstein about Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, but that´s about all I saw that grabbed me and made me smile. The rest... eh.

But the Alma Tadema exhibition, along with other Victorians... ah, that captured my heart! There was a painter there by the name of Strudwick, and I must say, I had never heard of him, but am a MAJOR fan now. Of course there were lovely paintings by Leighton, Alma Tadema, Rossetti, Waterhouse, and all the major Victorians, but Strudwick´s work was a revelation. I recommend looking up his work for anyone who´s a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites and of Alma Tadema.

All in all, I stayed about six hours in the TB! I am such a museum crawler. I try to do the whole she-bang: rent a audio guide, and listen to explanations of the paintings that really move me. I did a lot of listening up on the second floor, where the exhibition began, but by the middle of the first floor, moving into the late 19th century and into the 20th century, then through all the pop art, I was overwhelmed. Even though the TB is a relatively small museum, it´s quite thorough, and it really does fill in the gaps that the Prado has. But by the middle of the first floor, and through all of the ground floor, I was just letting most of the art wash over me. I was full!

For the last time for this trip, I´m in my favorite locutorio, surfing online, and about to walk back to my hostel. I need to pack up a little, although I don´t have much to pack, and then get ready to go in the morning to Barcelona, which will be a whole new experience, such a treat, I´m sure.

More tomorrow! I´m getting excited about what awaits in Barcelona. I cannot wait to see La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, and all of Antonio Gaudi´s architecture, plus who knows what else. I´ll check in tomorrow, stash my stuff, and get on a hop-on, hop-off bus to orient myself in the city. While I´m here online, I´m also going to go to iTunes and see if there is a Barcelona app for my iPhone. Two apps I´ve made extensive use of was one of Madrid (light green) by Triposo, and another of the Madrid Metro. So if there are apps for Barcelona, I want them. It´ll make navigating the city that much easier, and I´ll have a list at my fingertips of what´s on, when, where, and what time.

Until tomorrow! Off on a new adventure. Then off to Andorra to explore the capital city, Andorra La Vella, and spend a day at Naturlandia. This so far has been one great trip, and I hope it keeps on being wonderful.

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