Friday, June 30, 2006


Trip dist: 130 kms. Trip time: 8 hrs, 56 mins. Tot dist: 3,266 kms.

This was a hard ride with lots of hills, and the weather today was very hot. I already mentioned that the Bourgogne region is very pretty, with all its vineyards and fields, but it also has some nice and (at least for me), surprising treats: castles! In Italy, especially in the northern regions of Trento, you will find a castle or castle ruin as you bike or drive along every 10 kms or so. Here, they're not as closely spaced apart, nor are they that obvious (in Italy they're always atop hills dominating the nearby villages, like sentinels), for they seem to be hidden away in the midst of very tiny towns, but they are just as charming and pretty. It feels a bit like a little stroke of good luck, running unexpectedly into one, or spotting one in the woods in the distance, these French chateaus, also because, a lot more than the Italian castles, which you can tell from afar are mostly fortresses and towers, these castles look just like what you're made to imagine the fairy tale castles are supposed to be like. And it is no wonder, I think. Charles Perrault of Sleeping Beauty fame was French, after all.

I arrived, by the way, into Saulieu, 40 kms from the day's destination Avallon, at approximately quarter to seven. So I pedalled like a madwoman from there on because I was worried about dark aproaching. It just goes to show you, how the terrain suddenly cooperated (for the previous 90 kms had been very rough), when I arrived to Avallon only an hour and a half later at 8:30 p.m., right on time to watch Italy pummel the Ukraine and advance to semifinals (though you have to admit, Italy has been, more than anything else, a rather lucky team in this World Cup so far, don't you think?). That, and that adrenaline can be a powerful thing!


Thursday, June 29, 2006


Trip dist: 136 kms. Trip time: 8 hrs, 3 min. Tot dist: 3135 kms.

Interactive Blog Post #2.

Wow. The Bourgogne region is pretty! Among other things I passed by several Teletubby-like fields with lots of hay packs, which reminded me, of all things, of this little demo game that comes bundled in for illustrative purposes with the Catapult Game Boy Advance Software Development Platform (if you've ever wanted to write your own Nintendo GameBoy game/app without dealing with nitty gritty sprite-writing in C, this is a pretty neat way to do it, and it is free!). Yeah, funny huh? Even funnier if you consider that the demo game in question involves a little cartoonlike cow sprite having to jump over round bales of hay (just like the picture) that fall randomly (just like the picture) onto a green field (like the picture) from the sky (like picture!), well, then, there you go. {shrug}

Anyway, guess what? In the interests of bettering my French combined with some boring riding sections I even came up with a little poem, that maximally utilizes my extensive 50 known-word French vocabulary! Check it out:

Ah, Pierre, mon cheri Pierre,
Tu as le coeur q'est fait du verre....

Cool, huh?, that's it. I told you I only know 2 verbs (don't worry, I won't quit my day job, promise. Oh, wait...nevermind. I already did! Ha ha!). But I think French is a most ideal language for poetry: since the last letters are never pronounced, a lot more words rhyme and there are a lot more homophones than most other languages, I think.

So, why is this interactive blog post #2, can you guess? Because, Francophones, here is your chance to become famous! Add a verse or two to the beginning of the poem above in the comments section of this post, and contribute to the creation of the first ever "Elisa can't write in French so we write her poem for her" sestina / limerick / sonnet / whateveritcomesoutlike! There are only two rules:

1. For those whose light bulb is a bit on the dim side, the rhyming scheme is aa bb, etc.

2. Contributions not to exceed two verses in a row. That is, you must wait until another poster has posted at least one verse before you can post again, at which point you may post up to two more verses before your next contribution (though I recommend each poster post only 1 verse. That way it becomes a bit more unpredictable and fun...).

Ready, then? Complete the stanza/poem:

Ah, Pierre, mon cheri Pierre,
Tu as le coeur q'est fait du verre,

Go "wiled". ;P

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Lyon, Day 2.


Hoh boy. That was pretty wild. Three countries in less than 24 hours (I had to fly in from Lyon to Milano before taking the train to Switzerland)....twice. Pretty fast and confusing trip, especially because in Switzerland everyone speaks 4 or 5 languages so when you arrive there and you first meet people it is difficult to figure out which one to choose to start with (Italian, as it turns out, was the correct choice in this case). But, it was pretty neat to spend a couple of hours in-between trip connections strolling down to the Piazza Duomo in Milan, with its neighboring glass-ceilinged Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and the doves and children in the piazza--brought back some nice childhood memories. Neat, too, departing from Lyon airport with the futuristic beetle-in-flight train station designed by my favorite architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. {shrug}

Anyway, today I went on a rather exhaustive (and exhausting) tour of old Lyon organized by the Youth Hostel (free!) and given by a very knowledgeable and sprightly little old man who gave explanations twice as long as necessary: the first one in French, which I could understand only minimally, and the second one in Franglais, which I could understand even less. Still, it was pretty neat seeing the old traboules, which are little indoor alleyways shortcutting streets by transversing through patios and inside of buildings. These alleyways were built around the 4th century, but are still used to this day (if you know where to find them), and were rather useful at first for French resistance fighters to quickly disappear and confuse the invading Nazi army. That is, until the Nazis figured out where the traboules were, and simply pursued the fighters into them, while another Nazi soldier waited at the exit at the other side. Fine death traps they became then.

Anyway, after that since it was a very hot day I hung out at some of the Lyon museums, including the miniatures museum which was kind of amusing and even had some very nicely done wooden sculptures on an end of a matchstick, and the silk museum, which I found rather boring (Lyon together with Valencia was one of the most important silk trading cities in Europe), but mostly because the exhibits were more focused on the fashion and "beauty" of the patterns of the silk, than in the historical significance of the silk trade, though they did have one nice mini-explanation on how silk is produced and woven into different kinds of cloth, including why some of them have sheen while some have a matte finish, with explanatory diagrams and everything. I then headed over to the Museum of the Resistance (or, more correctly, the Centre d'Histoire de la Rèsistance et de la Dèportation), which is housed in the building where the resistance fighters were kept and tortured before being deported off to concentration camps, but luckily I arrived there only one-half hour before closing, because I found the exhibit a bit too depressing to stay much longer anyways.

So, all in all, a tiring day, but informative.

In the evening I strolled over to the Grande Pharmacie Lyonnaise, which sells every beauty and bath product you can imagine: lip balms, hand creams, anti-aging creams, moisturizers, exfoliators, soaps, medicinal teas, sun-screen--in short, a woman's paradise, and even a few men's judging by the number of them at the register and the volume of male-marketed products on display (yes, moisturizer, exfoliators, and anti-aging--in this case called anti-wrinkle--creams included!) as well. The variety of brands, too, for each kind of product is awe-inspiring also: Vichy, Origins, RoC, Saint-Gervais, Neutrogena, Biotherm, Klorane, Aderma, you name it. A lifetime wouldn't be enough to try all of the products on sale here. Unbelievable!

Oh, by the way, how to turn yourself into the heroine of the 6 people sharing your Youth Hostel room: use a little bit of 3 in 1 oil that I brought for oiling the bike chain on the hinges of the dorm room that have been squeaking each hour throughout the night as the roomies stumble in from drunken partying. The looks of awe, respect, and thanks that follow as you quietly test a now perfectly silent doorway without a word can be rather amusing...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lyon, Day 1.

N, a company I had been flirting with since February, has asked me to go interview at their site in Switzerland. Most of today, therefore, was spent finishing up some errands (laundry, post office, etc), doing some minor shopping, and catching up on some technical reading in preparation for the visit, as my flight leaves tomorrow.

So. With my greatest apologies, I'll be disappearing from the blogosphere for a couple of days while I momentarily return to my previous life as a serious (ha ha!) and responsible algorithms engineer, and will write for you again once I've turned back again into a wanderer.

In the meantime, I invite you to take a nice vacation....from my vacation.


Saturday, June 24, 2006


Trip dist: 110 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 1 min. Tot dist: 3000 kms.

Celebrations III.

Today's ride was much, much better than yesterday, almost perfect, in fact. The headwinds subsided and all throughout the day I had some very abundant clouds to keep me company and, at moments, a very refreshing droplet or two of rain. The ride was quite pretty, too, all along the Côte du Rhône (at the banks of the river), which is known for its wines, and which summoned up a few cherished memories of hikes along the vineyards of California.

I crossed the threshold of Lyon, too, at exactly the 3000th kilometer mark, after exactly 6 hours of riding (well, plus 41 seconds, but let's leave it at 6 hours, shall we?), at which point I turned off the bike computer, so as to not destroy the poetry (there were still approx 3 kms to city center, you see). The extra minute on the count? I simply blame it on a set of 2 or 3 malevolent traffic lights at the outskirts of the city, which constrained me to slow down a bit to end up adding 41 seconds (rounds up to 1 minute, above) of travel time. But who notices, right?

Lyon is such a beautiful city, a bit reminiscent of Rome or Trento, or even Boston, with the emerald waters of the Rhône, its 18th century architecture, its four universities, and ultra-modern looking tram cars. I think I would not mind living here. Besides, how much cooler can you get, when you have not one, but two rivers, in your city?

Friday, June 23, 2006


Trip dist: 111 kms. Trip time: 8 hrs, 50 mins. Tot dist: 2890 kms.

Uuuygh. What a tough ride. It was mostly flat but I had a continuous gust of very strong headwinds which reduced my speed so much, I was doing 10 kms/hr on the *downhill*!! (To give you and idea, this is how much I tend to do without wind on noticeable uphills!). On the flats, I was doing between 7 and 9 kms/hr, which, again, is what I do on *strong* uphills. Very tiring.

Anyway, the ride itself was fairly uninteresting except for the following:

1. I actually passed by one flowering lavender field (and one sunflower field!), which since it was in full bloom, was actually prettier than yesterday's in the tour, which was not.

2. I also passed by Montelimar, which appears to be the Nougat capital of France, judging from the number of artisanal factories and candy-stores specializing in said product.

3. I passed by two nuclear power plants with a total (between the two plants) of six water cooling towers. Nuke power plant cooling towers are way cool. If you've never been inside one and have the opportunity, I recommend you take a little two-minute sojourn. It is the niftiest steam-bath ever (no bronze dial temperature regulator via air flow valve, I'm afraid), but even if you don't like steam baths (take your glasses off, by the way. Useless inside anyway, you can barely see your hands in front of you), think of the neat-o bragging rights: "I've been inside a nuke power plant water cooling tower, and you?". Ha ha. (I was in one in Switzerland, 'bout 7 years ago--I was working for a hydroelectric power plant that summer, courtesy visit to the nuke steambaths of another power plant was part of the job! Take my word for it: worthwhile sight/experience, if you are so lucky).

4. Probabilistic Quantum Corollaries 1 and 2 kicked in. I will spare you the details (no need to worry you unnecessarily, especially now that things are back to "normal"), but suffice to say that, hey, my law works. Which means I can breathe a little easier for the rest of the trip.

That's it. Mostly just a tiring day. From here to Lyon promises more of the same, with respect to the winds, that is, I think. And I need to get to Lyon FAST (reasons to be explained later). Oh well.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Pont du Gard / Lavender fields.

Los caminos del ocre.

Hmmm....travelling to Pont du Gard was not easy. The bus schedules are really badly thought out because they leave from Avignon at 7:40 a.m. and don't return until 4:30 p.m., thus making you lose a complete day in a visit that, given it is only about 20 kms from Avignon, should take only a couple of hours at most. Sucks too, that I lost my driver's license with my wallet, otherwise I would just simply rent a car, but...{shrug}

So, I did the unthinkable: I booked a guided tour! I am, as you may know, not a big fan of these kinds of things: I can get lost and confused just fine on my own, thank you very much. I truly object to the useless information most tour guides regale you with, and the lack of freedom, and the tight rushed schedule, and the swaying bus, and the chit-chats with people you wouldn't otherwise ordinarily talk to, but it was the only way I could get to Pont du Gard at 9:00 a.m. and be back in Avignon by 12:00 p.m., and through which, now having the afternoon free and given I was already caught up in the tour bandwagon and momentum, I could also catch an afternoon sightsee of the famous Provence lavender fields, which I would not be biking through, as my route heads north, and the best lavender is south from here.

But anyway, I managed to get away from the tour group at Pont du Gard for a while, and while them tourists took interminable pics of the (quite impressive!) aqueduct, I slipped inside the on-site museum, which was way cool because they actually explained what the tour guide did not: the logistics, features, and engineering of the aqueduct and Nîmes, the city it served.

Nîmes, you see, had plenty of water available: the aqueduct wasn't really necessary since the city's water needs up to that point had been sufficiently met by the nearby springs. However, the construction of the aqueduct brought a lot of prestige to the city, and of course, a lot of impressive urban improvements including, get this, houses with running water (!), public fountains, baths, running water sewer systems and toilets, etc. The water (most of the Uzes-Nîmes aqueduct, of which Pont du Gard is only a small section, is subterranean) came into the city in either lead, wooden, or terracotta pipes, all engraved, as today, with the name of the manufacturer. The pipe systems also had regulation valves, and, did you know this, the inhabitants even counted with suction pumps with which to pump water up from the pipes for fire-fighting (remember, this is around 40 A.D.)! Another neat thing associated with this water technology: steam baths with temperature regulation, by means of a bronze dial that basically controlled the air flow into the steam room.

This kind of spiffy engineering was not limited to public urban developments. The whole operation of building the acqueduct took only approximately 15 years to build, and considering its length (50 km) and varying terrain it had to go through, the kind of organization, logistics, and planning for this kind of project had to be superb. Indeed, the route of the aqueduct itself was very carefully surveyed (among the kinds of instruments the engineers had available for these things were the groma and the chorobate, for instance), alternate routes considered, and finally chosen, with engineers and architects brought either all the way from Rome (where this kind of expertise was concentrated), or by calling on the military engineers, while unskilled labor was performed by locals. Not very much unlike how modern civil engineering is done nowadays, eh?

Not only that, the aqueduct had numerous regulation basins to ensure the even flow of water and easy access to the subterranean pipes via inspection chambers, which implies, too, a sizeable constant employment of maintenance workers subsequent to its construction completion. Several organizations were also created to deal with the "public sector" aspects of the acqueduct administration, including levying the water tax, preventing fraud, and all its associated bureaucracies. as a Roman may not have been all that different from now, after all (all they needed, really, was to discover electricity. Maybe it was not too far off, considering the degree of organization, availability of specialists, etc. Roman cities had at the time....Or maybe not. After all, think of what is required, in terms of socio-cultural conditions, in order to produce, for instance, a 3-phase generator. To make some use of electricity, you need to have discovered/invented calculus [No calculus, no Faraday's law or Ampere's law or Maxwell's equations]. To have discovered/invented calculus, you need to have a long period of time where a good part of society is encouraged/allowed to spend time investigating and experimenting with natural penomena for its own sake. This in turns requires the elimination of fanatical religions or superstitious weltanschauungs that burn scientists at the stake for being heretical or witchcrafty, as well as a period of relative peace in which the scientific progress can have the opportunity to focus in improving daily life instead of creating exclusively improvements on war-related technology, not to mention, some sort of either an educated, economically privileged elite with lots of idle time for equations-solving for fun (like you had during the 18th century, for instance), or a way for common people to have idle time to engage in such pursuits and not be constantly occupied with daily all-of-your-available-time-consuming labor--tilling the fields, for instance [and this, of course, is achieved via either specialization or mechanization, the last one, too, requiring its own little set of pre-existing conditions as well!]. Since the Romans were busily running around annexing people, it is not too surprising that the greatest technological innovations came from those kinds of focuses: roads, bridges, city improvements, etc., and driven mostly by the military engineers. But who knows, {shrug}. It is always entertaining, though unproductive, to speculate on the "what ifs" and "if onlys", isn't it?).

The Pont du Gard and Nîmes acqueduct statistics:

Average slope of acqueduct: 25 cm/km.
Average water flow: 250 L/sec.
Complete transit time (from Uzés to Nîmes): 24-36 hrs.

More statistics and acqueduct info at:

Anyway, after a satisfying and informative stroll through the Pont du Gard museum, I headed in the company of 20 or so other tourists to hurriedly drive through some nice Provençal villages (beautiful but tiny Gordes, for instance) and lavender fields. We didn't see much lavender, nor fields, but the town of Roussillon was kind of neat because while the tourists of the bus I was in used up their "generous" full 45 minutes of allotted time in the village to wander about its tourist shops, I speed-hiked Le chemin des Ocres, with some very satisfying results. What a nice yellow coat of dust to complement my spiffy brand new blue suede Pumas! But I kind of liked having it. It is like a little badge of honor, as if announcing to the world: "I hiked the roads of ochre, and you?", which sounds rather poetic, I think. {shrug}

Roussillon is the tiny village that sits atop the largest vein of ochre in Europe. It got its name because the houses were painted all red since they were coated in a mixture of the abundant ochre dust and water just a two-minute hike from village center. The ochre you see in the pics (and the hike and on the mountains) is mixed with sand, so you need to separate it before it is actually used as pigment. Still, a little bit of the (unseparated) dust rubbed on the back of your hand or between your fingers leaves a surprisingly intense saffron and terracotta color that does not rub off until several hours later. I bet that the people of ancient times most surely used this also for cosmetics. Would make great eyeshadow and rouge, I tell you!

Anyway, neat day, in spite of the tour guide blathering. Wished they'd given us a bit more time...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Today I day-tripped to Arles and visited its extensive Roman ruins, but enjoyed the visit to the Museon Arlaten, the local ethnographic museum, the most. I'm not sure why I like ethnographic museums so much: it is nice, to see how people used to live elsewhere, I guess. The U.S. doesn't have too many of these kinds of museums, which is too bad, since of all places its population is made up of so many different ethnic groups each with its very own interesting section of life and history in the new continent, not to mention the various native populations that still even exist to this day (come to think of it, I think I did visit a type of ethnographic/archealogical museum once, near Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, maybe. But it was small, inaccessible, in the middle of nowhere, not too many visitors, and so modest and inconspicuous it lacked the pride most other notorious ethnographic museums--the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, for instance--can't exist without, and which is vital in disseminating information about the cool things that make each culture unique and interesting). Maybe, the U.S. is simply too "young" a country...

Anyway, one of the neat festivals here in the region of Provençe originated in the city of Tarascon. During the last weekend of June a type of sea-dragon made out of wood and paper called the Tarasque is paraded along the streets amidst of much music and partying. Legend has it that there was a large, fiery-breathed dragon terrorizing the inhabitants along the Rhône, until one day Ste. Marthe, a chaste young maiden, approached him and charmed by her, he miraculously turned docile and obedient (for more info check out for instance this site here). The effigy of the monster in the museum, though, looked rather cute. So I'm glad they tamed the monster (and kept it, I guess) instead of killing it. ;P

Another cool thing in this museum were some really nice drawings of Léo Lelée, who painted the Provençal people in some very simplified, but evocative lines full of movement (see for instance here or here). No surprise I liked him: he was one of the most notorious Art Nouveau exponents of his day.

By the way, it looks like yesterday was not an aberration and my French, at least the pronounciation, is getting better (I still only know only 2 verbs which I have no idea how to conjugate and a total of 50 other words at most--you should see how I make up the antonyms: "fast" becomes "not slow", or "not clear" both for opaque/unclear as the situation requires, etc. :}): at the newsstand at the train station the vendor skeptically warned me that the magazine I was about to buy was in English, not French, was I sure I wanted it?

Heh. Anway I arrived in Orange (didn't miss the train this time!) to catch it in the midst of *its* music festival, which was nice, because it meant that the old Roman Theater (Thèâtre Antique, it is called here), and the reason Orange is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was open for visiting (and listening to the brass band that was playing popular spy-movie music themes like Mission Impossible and James Bond, etc) in spite of the relatively late hour (after closing time). Got some very nice pictures of the extraordinarily well-preserved structure (they claim it is the best preserved Roman theater in Europe), and it was also kind of neat, imagining a nice novel/mystery book story as I wandered behind the stone corridors 30 meters high off ground level with the fantastic panoramic views of the village, of someone luring the nemesis to the theater, while an elegant concert goes on below, in the darkened corridors that open to unprotected walls, where just a tiny "accidental" push down the precipice of the walls would suffice, and none would be the wiser. Hey, don't blame me (or my overactive imagination), the background music made such directions of thought inevitable. {shrug}

Accommodating 7,000 spectators, the view and acoustics from any single vantage spot of the Theater are fantastic. Unobstructed and perfect, respectively, even from the topmost and furthest from the stage seat I didn't hesistate to clamber all the way up to. What a superb feat of engineering. Visiting the ruins of other sites hardly gives you an idea, of how well these things could be designed. And maybe, the folks at Davies Hall in San Francisco could learn a thing or two from these "primitive" Roman constructions.

Tomorrow: more of Roman engineering as I visit the acqueduct at Pont du Gard.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Day-tripped today to Avignon, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Would've been nice to use this town instead of Orange as base of operations for day trips to neighboring UNESCO WHS Arles and Pont du Gard (it is bigger and has countless of pretty little shops and bakeries and parfumeries, etc.), but Orange is farther north, and therefore saves me about 30 kms on the way to Lyon. Commute to Avignon is only 20 mins by train though, so it is not too bad, so long as you keep your train schedules straight....

Anyway, Avignon is notorious because it was the Papal residence between the years of 1305 and 1378. This came about because back in the day, the Popes were rather assiduously engaged in the business of getting into lots of little religio-political skirmishes with the local Kings and Lords, so that they often had to run around moving and fleeing with the whole curia in-tow mostly between what are now Italian cities according to the whims of the "electioneering" weather of the moment. Back during the times of Pope Boniface VIII, in 1303, there was some rather convoluted disagreement with the King of France, and with the Knights Templar dissolved, and Italy in the midst of Ghibellines vs Guelfs (or also known before as Welfen vs Waiblingen, as they came originally from what is now Germany) civil war, it was time to pick up and move again. At that time the city of Avignon was owned by the count of Provence, Charles II of Anjou, who also happened to be the King of Naples and Sicily and therefore a vassal to the Pope. So he offered up the city as a haven and the Popes constructed a super-spiffy Papal Palace that eventually came to house no less than 9 Popes.

Anyway, intriguing digression: when I was walking down one of the main plazas I heard someone playing what appeared to be traditional French music (you know, the kind you always hear in movies played in an accordeon in the streets of Paris-type of music), but on careful listening revealed a harmonic progression strikingly similar to (or rather, reminiscent of, for it was not exactly the same) as Chopin's Etude #1, Op.10 (C major). Since Chopin resided in France for quite a while it made me rather wonder, which came first, the lady, or the tiger? (ha ha, weird Elisa joke on that last hyperlink, don't worry if it seems obscure)

But, guess what? My French is getting better! Proof of it was that at the Pont Saint-Benezet (site of famous children's folk song Sur le Pont d'Avignon) I was offered an French! And at my remonstrations (in horrible French!), the audioguide gentleman in charge asked "But why? your French sounds great to me!". Neat huh? Still, though I can easily catch over 95% of written French, it is much harder for me when it is spoken. They never pronounce the last few letters of each word, and it gets me all confused as to which of three or four or ten possibilities of words they could be, a nonexistent problem when the word is written. So...

Oh, by the way, another neat thing that Avignon has that Orange, being smaller, hasn't, is late-night internet access. Orange only has 1 internet place in the entire village and of course the owner takes full advantage of the monopoly, charging, at 3 Euros and 50 cents an hour, the highest rate I have encountered in Europe so far, and besides, he closes only at 10 p.m. But here, they're open 'till 2 a.m., and prices are much more decent, which is great. How do I know this? Because I was enjoying the city so much, that I forgot all about the last train back to Orange at 7:30 p.m., so I ended up stranded here. After a mad panic last-minute search for a hotel (there's a summer music festival starting tomorrow, which brings in lots of out-of-town visitors, and I only realized the last train was at 7:30 at around 9 p.m.), nothing much left to do other than wander about the streets that are still teeming with people late into the night. Pleasant city-town, Avignon.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Trip dist: 119 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 34 mins. Tot dist: 2779 kms.


Oh, man. Today was one of my luckiest days. I knew something was going to be amiss when I walked into a McDonald's at Nîmes (half-way stop. I was in a hurry. Dying of thirst and sodas cost through the roof here but not at the American Empire--so much). These days, McDonald's is promoting itself through some World-Cup related game in which you scratch three columns of a 3x3 matrix on a game card. The matrix can have either two or three "win" boxes--symbolized by the picture of a soccer ball, while the other 6 or 7 boxes in the matrix are "lose" and marked as "x"s (for official rules take a look here, for instance). So basically you scratch only one box per column and if you happen to find either two or three soccer balls, you win something. If you find only two, you win things like a Big Mac, or a soda, or some fries, etc. But if you find three soccer balls, you can get big prizes like an X-box, or a scooter, or even a Hyundai!

Well, imagine my surprise when in idly scratching the gamepiece because I was bored, I chanced to scratch precisely the three hidden soccer balls.

Now, assuming the probability of finding a soccer ball in each column is 1 in 3 (and I'll tell you why it is not in a minute, but hold on...), then, assuming also that all game cards have 3 "you win" soccer balls hidden in them, the chances of you finding the three balls are 1 in 27. Pretty low, in general. But you must also consider that this number is too high for any casino, let alone a McDonald's, with thousands of sites in every major city around the world, if you're giving prizes as large as the ones just mentioned, and at an average of two game pieces per person (a big-sized menu with a Big Mac will contain one game piece for the large soda and another for the Big Mac), these are not worthwhile odds, from the McDonald's perspective.

So, McDonald's, smartly, does three things. 1) Not all the game pieces contain 3 "win" soccer balls. In fact, most of them contain only 2. (I have yet to find out if there are any game pieces that contain less than 2, but I don't eat at McDonald's that often, and asking friends to keep track for me when they eat there may immediately label me as a little on the strange side, so I keep my ponderings on the matter rather quiet--or at least as quiet as a public forum like this one allows), 2) Even on the game pieces that contain 3 soccer balls, the prizes are usually rather cheap (i.e., tote bags, soccer balls, things of that sort), and 3)they tell you on the rules that if you scratch more than the 3 required boxes, or if you scratch more than the designated prize box (you have to scratch one of two possible prize boxes according to whether you found 2 wins, or 3), the game piece is null and void (so as to keep the gamer's hopes up that they might have won 3, even when in fact they couldn't, and keep them trying/buying, I guess, since everyone always assumes they have a fighting chance to win at big casinos, right?). The reason I know these things is because, of course, being an engineer, and loving probability problems, I always scratch all of the boxes, regardless of whether I've won or not (but most often because I have not won, as expected).

The point is, that even assuming the following best case scenario: 1. That the game card always contains at least 2 "win" boxes, and 2. That half of the game pieces printed contain 3 "win" boxes (a rather generous assumption), then that brings the probabilities of my having found 3 win boxes to 1 in 54. Very, very low. So, I was being very, very lucky (the prize, being a tote bag, was worthless for me, so I of course subsequently scratched all the other boxes--including the other prize box, which turned out to be an espresso--equally worthless for me since I seldom drink coffee and then I would never drink one at a fast-food place--I'm a bit particular about espressos, as you may know...thus rendering the game piece null and void according to McDonald's rules).

Now, according to the Pasquali Law of Conservation of Luck, winning somthing with probability 1/54 (best case--actual probability most likely quite a bit less, depending on actual/real proportion of "3 win" cards printed...) is an event of notice because of two reasons: 1)it is a big spike in the positive "luck axis" which in a closed system will soon be offset by an either equally or most likely larger spike in the opposite (negative) direction to offset the latest good luck spike plus all other "good lucks" accumulated within the measurement period, and 2) better do something exciting real soon before the "good luck spike" effect wears off. So you can imagine with what mixture of nervousness and anticipation this event was received!

Now, due to the numerous various and mathematically subtle probabilistic corolaries of such law, however (the link I gave you only lists 2 of them, unfortunately. Ask me later for the full list and illustrative lecture), it is often difficult to determine with much certainty when the "closed system time measurement period" begins and ends. Most often, in fact, it is a lot easier to tell in retrospect, once the "bad" and "good" luck spikes have already balanced themselves, such that if you plot the luck on a graph vs time, and use a slididing window of variable length along the x-axis, eventually, with some practice, you can figure out where the measurement period corresponding to, say, the time between t0 and t1 are, where t0 and t1 are, correspondingly, the start and the end time of the closed system time (and which also correspond to the length of the sliding window).

Confusing? Yeah, I told you the proof involves a lot of Bessel functions and multidimensional tensors and junk like that. {shrug} But anyway...

So, thus nervous and excited (Probabilistic Corollary #2 implied that my next stroke of "luck" was going to be big and in the negative direction, while the longer the time passed between the time I scratched the game card and the negative spike, the worse the spike was going to be, according to Probabilistic Corollary #1...), I continued a rather uneventful ride along the roads of the hot French summers.

Until I stopped at a gas station 25 kms from Orange to buy some water, and discovered that my money bag (since I lost my wallet I kept my money and brand new replacement ATM bank card in a little plastic bag) had fallen out of my shorts pocket.

Uh oh. No, no, not again! First things first: yes, it had fallen out, I had not left it somewhere, for only 10 kms ago I had taken it out to pay for some fruit juice at a juice stand by the road, and I was absolutely positive I had replaced it in the pocket, I had double-checked. Second: yes, my bank card was in it, and the nightmares from suffering through 45 minutes of inept customer service from Citibank employees and 4 days of stress without being able to withdraw money were still quite fresh in my mind.

25 kms to go. I had the money bag/makeshift wallet 10 kms ago. Bank card precious, replacing it very difficult. What to do?

Elisa biked back, hoping the Probabilistic Corollaries had not quite kicked in yet, that this was just an aberration, that my law had its flaws, just like the Ptolemaic planetary system, and all the nonsense I just told you about with the Bessel functions was just that, and oh how could I be so stupid again in such a short time span? (being stupid over a longer time span is more easily forgiven, so long as the stupidity is not continuous...).

Well, guess what! Fortunately, the "good spike" effect had not yet worn off, for I found my little plastic bag, 4 kms behind, sitting peacefully by the side of the road, caught in-between the stands supporting a car protective barrier, and thus prevented from falling into some rather inaccessible territory!!! Ha ha ha ha!! Lucky, lucky day! (or great eyesight. But since you know I wear glasses you know this is not the correct explanation). With the bank card intact, as well. Lesson learned: last laundry run where I actually dried my shorts in the dryer instead of air-drying like I usually do shrank my shorts a bit. Mental note to self: pockets unreliable now for anything more than spare change in coins.

Whew! You have to imagine, I was so relieved. And, what's more, the good luck continued throughout the day, for after arriving in Orange, when I stopped for dinner at a restaurant, the waiter who had been chit-chatting with me a bit throughout my meal despite my horrible French, left me his phone number written on the check. When I looked up to him with raised eyebrow at this, he grinned and simply said, "Oh, when you asked me from the check and made some writing sign I thought you were asking me for my number, so here it is." Smooth, eh? :) I couldn't help chuckling to myself a bit as I got up and received, from a distance (for he had already gone to attend to another table), some rather animated gestures of a phone by one's ear and the mouthing of the words "Call me!".

{sigh} If only things in the U.S. had been so easy....

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Montpellier, Day 2.

Hmm...I think the summer heat is turning me into a lazy-bum. I could've headed for Orange today. Decided to stay here and do some window-shop since yesterday I returned from the beach when everything was already closed.

Unfortunately today either because it is Sunday or because it is Father's Day (Happy Father's day, Babbo!) everything is closed, including most restaurants, internet cafes, you name it. The city is sleeping, there are no people on the streets. I should've chosen today for beach day, but I no longer feel like trekking down to the coast (it is a bit of a bus ride plus some long walking). Even the mall is closed, which is a great pity because they seemed to have a very enticing bookstore spanning at least two floor levels that I wanted to look into. So I guess it is internet catchup day/offload pics to website day/go to movies day. I'll be catching the latest release of American-made "Marie Antoinette" (seems vaguely appropriate, I guess) with Kristen Dunst. I'll let you know if I think it is any good.

7:15 p.m.

Hmmm...well, the movie kinda sucked but I had to return here to tell you about this super delicious ice-cream I had afterwards of exotic (no, not quite proper, I meant to say, "glamorous", I think...may be more appropriate) flavorings: one scoop lavender, one scoop honey. Ooooh, yummy yum yum!!!!

Don't you wish you could have some?

I do. Would be nice to hang out here with an old friend or two. Miss you, sometimes, you know.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Montpellier, Day 1.

Ha ha ha! Well, the Pilgrim thing is persecuting me all the way across the Pyrenees! Near the center of Montpellier, the characteristic vieiras, little palm-sized seashells cast in bronze, mark the pilgrimage trail that goes to Santiago from Arles. I stumbled (literally) upon them yesterday, as I looked for the Youth Hostel (which was overbooked, so no stay there) in the evening. Hah, once a Pilgrim, always a Pilgrim, I guess. It marks you. You can't stop noticing such things (the indications of the route, that is) afterwards. I bet lots of tourists have seen them and either passed them by without notice or perhaps even wondered what they were, but never found out. I....have first-hand knowledge. {shrug}

Anyway, Montpellier is a shopper's paradise. Lots of little stores around the Place de la Comedie and a huge shopping mall nearby. There are also 3 large cinemas within 1 block of each other and a two-minute walk from my hotel right next to the Plaza. Pity things are a bit more expensive here in France (about 50% more than Spain, and about comparable, or perhaps just a tad bit more expensive, to the San Francisco Bay Area). The only things that seem cheaper are houses (at least relative to Silicon Valley prices), wine (at 1.50-2.00 Euro a glass it is cheaper than a soda, which sets you back about 3 Euros at a bar or restaurant) and.....haircuts. Yes, my friends, there are also hairdressers at pretty much every street corner here in France, and they're about as easy to find and ubiquitous as your neighborhood boulanger. I guess the French are really serious about their hair!

Anyway, today I declared another beach day (hey, after Montpellier I won't be seeing the beach for a long, long time, as the biking takes me mercilessly northwards to land-locked country). Bought some delicious takeout stuff at the supermarket (as I said before, the French take good care of the details: things for takeout contain little forks and get this....brightly-colored napkins wrapped up and included in the packaging itself!) and went down to the beach at Palavas. Collected some seashells. Caught up on some French lessons. Swam a bit. Saw Italy tie to the U.S. in a disgraceful autogoal upon return to city center. Not much else. It was for once a real vacation day. :)

Friday, June 16, 2006


Trip dist: 92 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 39 min. Tot dist: 2659 kms.

Ah, lucky for me, there was still a section of Canal between Bèziers and Agde (short ride, only 2 hours or so), so I made sure I spent a bit more time enjoying it before heading for the auto roads (how, you ask? Why, among other things by stopping by the little town's fruit markets and then finding a nice place among the trees to sit down and eat cherries as the barges passed slowly by, for instance!). There were a few more cyclists today than yesterday (groups of school-age kids on field trips, for instance), perhaps because it was Friday, or because as it happens this section of the Canal apart from the dirt bank road also has a paved cyclist road a little further outside but still flanking the canal (so now you start seeing some road/sport cyclists as well). Since the paved road is farther from the water, I found not much use for it, except right after stopping by a bakery suggested to me by a nice British lady I chatted with (at first, quite comically, in French, which was particularly amusing because as it turns out neither of us spoke it all too well!), for then, on a paved road without needing to use both hands to control the bike as it goes over rocks and tree roots, your hands are free for snacking on some chocolate croissants and sipping fruit juice as you pedal. This British lady, by the way, apart from having excellent taste in bakeries and other great trip recommendations, has been navigating the Canals of France with ther husband on a sailboat for 2 years now! Can you imagine?

Anyway, arrived into beautiful Montpellier where the social life clusters around the Place de la Comedie, and where I found that the gentlemen here are pleasantly audacious and gallant: one of them, after kindly taking my picture for me, said: "Tu es belle comme un coeur", and not twenty minutes later another gentleman gave me an orange Gerbera (I am wearing an orange T-shirt today) "To put in your hair." These ministrations were not limited to men around my age, another one, mid-fifties, this time, gave me a rather very highly effusive "Bon soir, mademoiselle" as he was walking down the street in the opposite direction.

And, you know, after years and years of corporate, puerile game-playing Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay Area, where 30-year old boys go home after work to hypnotize themselves at "Warcraft" or "Unreal" on their Nintendos, and the dates are interminably, eternally, never beyond first dates, and your male friends are always simpy just your "male friends", and the compliments from interested gentlemen that come only when something is expected in return, and then, only addressed not to the girl that is smartest, or friendliest, or most charming, or even prettiest in the room, but to the one who is wearing the least amount of clothing, then, it feels good, you know, because every woman is beautiful, to be reminded sometimes.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Trip dist: 114 kms. Trip time: 8 hrs, 23 mins. Tot dist: 2567 kms.

Barge racing.!!!! This is it! This is THE best bike ride EVER in the whole, entire history of humanity! Oooooh, oh, oooh, man, how perfect could this get (not any "perfecter", I assure you). Let me tell you something very, very important, so pay some really careful attention here:

If you ever only do 1 bike ride in your life....THIS IS THE ONE.


Oh, man. Let me stop the gushing for a bit, and try to tell you why.

The Canal du Midi was built (er, designed by, that is) by Pierre Paul Riquet under the reign of Louis XIV. It is 240 kms long, 10 meters wide, and 2 meters deep, joining the Garonne River to the Mediterranean, and contains 63 locks end to end to handle the changes in terrain elevation levels (for a cool animation on how locks work take a look here, and for other neat info on, for instance, how the Canal was filled with water and other interesting facts and statistics, check out: For your very own informational videos--didactic commentary by yours truly included--on how the locks and sluice gates work try for instance here or here). It was placed in the UNESCO WHS list back in 1996.

Both of the Canal's banks are lined with trees (The pics and movies hardly do it justice, but will have to suffice short of you being there), which creates an almost uninterrupted canopy for most of its length, and which of course makes the bike ride quite pleasant in spite of the summer weather (the bike paths, as it turns out, were indeed quite obvious and hugging the banks throughout the ride, though I would not ride there on a road bike, as they are mostly dirt or pressed dirt roads and there were some rather "technical" stretches full of tree roots and large loose rocks). Additionally, every few kilometers it passes by lots of rather quaint towns, where you can of course stop by and eat some super-delicious food (or rather, as you know, some rather very carefully and attractively arranged dishes) or buy a pastry or two at the local bakery. In-between the towns, you can stop by the wineries for some free tastings, and drink in greetings to the people passing along on the barges, who come from almost everywhere in the world (though mostly Europe). It is kind of neat, too, how the sluice-gate operators personalize their stations at the locks (my guess is some of them even live there): some add flowers to the banks, others add modern sculptures, others include little improvised shops selling refreshments, etc.

Speaking of barges and locks, it is kind of neat to contemplate the careful and respectful barge traffic rules the Canal boat travellers observe, especially at the locks when you may have two or three barges going one way and two or three going the other way (which creates a conflicting sequence of lock gate operations, for sometimes only 1 barge fits in-between the gates). Since it takes about 20 minutes for the sluice gates to fill up and the barges only travel at about 10 kms/hr (and which, by the way, makes barge racing a rather uninteresting exercise), I have concluded that you need to really be a very, very patient kind of person to be able to do the barge/boat Canal thing. That, or just take it as a very leisurely vacation. But for this, the many wineries and stops along the way help. ;) I didn't see too many cyclists either (and which contributed to the enjoyment of the ride--narrow dirt roads can get unpleasant when you're behind a row of 10 stop-and-go cyclists), some, yes, but not many, and not for too long, which was great, and contributed to the pleasantness of the ride, but was surprising: considering how beautiful it was, I would've expected it to be more popular. Perhaps, it was simply that it was a weekday.

Heh, funny, upon arriving to Bèziers, the hotel manager asked me: "Oh, you just came from the Canal?" Doubtless, the quarter-centimeter of dust covering my panniers, shoes, and bike chain must've given me away. {grin}

Impatient as I am, though, I do think that later on, once time matters to me no longer, I may do the Canal over water, this time. One day....was not enough.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Today I mostly strolled around the Carcassonne old town. It is nice but very small and it reminded me a lot of San Gimignano in Italy. I think I could've seen all of it yesterday had I arrived into town a little earlier, but oh well, I needed some time to settle down, and most importantly, calmly sample the French cuisine. Here in the Languedoc-Roussillon region their specialty is the Cassoulet au Canard (for recipe in English go here) which was not bad, not bad at all.

The other thing I needed to do while I moped around the towns (old and new, the old medieval town sits atop a hill and is about 1 km away from the new town as they're separated by the Aude river since historically the two towns engaged in some rather complicated political intrigues) was to figure out once and for all how to catch this Canal du Midi because first of all, I had no idea where it was, I was not too sure it went to where I wanted, and most importantly I did not know how "bikeable" it was. A friend of mine from work who had taken a trip along the Canal on a barge not too long ago and is quite familiar with the area had assured me that the canal was bike-friendly throughout, but my road atlas in spite of being at 1:200 000 scale which ought to be good enough for bike paths did not show any roads that stayed consistently on the Canal, and weaving in and out of it through side-roads and having to check the oversize and heavy 250-page atlas every 5 kms seemed a very unappealing prospect to me.

Luckily, two things happened. 1) In my meanderings, I found a postcard, with a hand-drawn map of the Canal, which marked the little towns it went through and through which, upon buying the postcard and examining it closely, I discovered that the canal went all the way to Beziers, a little northwards from Narbonne and closer to Montpellier/the direction I was headed (thus also prompting a minor modification of plans--I'll be biking to Beziers from Carcassonne instead of Narbonne, since Narbonne is only about, say, 60 kms away from here, and Beziers is about, let's say, another 30 kms from Narbonne, I guess, plus allow for say, 20 extra kms for Canal meandering as it is a lot less direct than the vehicle roads, which brings us to approx. 110 kms total distance, quite doable in a day, if all goes well, I think), and 2) I found a book in the only open bookstore in the old town today entitled "The Canal du Midi on a Bike". The book was all in French, so for this reason I examined it quite closely before deciding whether to buy it, and glad I did, because, guess what, it had NO maps (so no use buying it, then)!!

How is this a good thing, you ask? Well, because basically all the book really said was, oh, the dirt road here veers off a bit, make a right, but later left, and back onto the canal, and here's this beautiful little village with the pretty church of so and so, etc., which in essence made it quite clear that since the reader required no further instructions or maps to find their way around, the bike path must be obvious then. Obvious all the way to Beziers, right?

The next step in the sleuthing process of course then was to figure out where to catch/get onto this famous bikepath. Now, in Carcassonne I had passed through two bridges. One, from the train station onto the new town, crossing a waterway where lots of little boats were, and the other, dividing the old town from the new town and crossing a big river with a guessed it, very appealing bike path to its flank. Which one do you pick?

No, my friends, this is not interactive blog post #2 (look at this post's title!), and besides I remember what happened last time I let you control my destiny, so I'll leave you in suspense until the next post when I let you know which one I took in the end. But, if you are the betting kind, feel free to wager your guess in the comments section. Greg, of course, you're barred from the betting pool due to "unfairly advantageous a-priori [Ed note: as well as a-posteriori !! :P] knowledge"!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Trip dist. 0 kms. Trip time: 1 hr, 32 mins. Tot dist: 2453 kms.

Right. So once I figured out that the Canal du Midi is best caught from Carcassonne (otherwise catching it only from Narbonne would be like seeing only the foot of Michelangelo's "David"), I realized I needed to get there fast, especially fast because little Perpignan in spite of being the center of Dalì's universe, is actually a very uneventful town. Cute receptionists, true, but hardly a reason to stay much longer than absolutely necessary.

So. I took the train to Carcassone. The way I justify this is as follows: From Perpignan to Narbonne it is approx. 65 kms on my map. From Carcassonne to Narbonne it is approx 61 kms on my map (the map, of course, being a road atlas, assumes you're travelling by car). From Perpignan to Carcassonne it is approximately 80 kms. Since Narbonne, Carcassonne, and Perpignan are each at the vertex of a triangle, with Narbonne being the point I wanted to eventually get to, before continuing on towards Montpellier, and being that it would take me a full day to bike to Carcassonne, in a rather unnecessary (timewise) side detour, taking the train is not cheating, because from Carcassonne to Narbonne it is about the same distance by bike as it would've been if I had biked from Perpignan to Narbonne.

Sounds a bit like Elisa-logic to you?

O.K how about this: I need some time to settle down and get my bearings, because in Lisbon I had 4 days to get used to things, in Spain it was unnecessary, since I'm fluent in the language, but the French is killing me, and besides, yes, I suppose I was a bit tired, and Perpignan is not a good place to stay to rest, lest you get bored to death, and then what good would an Elisa-corpse do to anyone, huh?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Anyway, Carcassonne is a nice town with its very own medieval castle and the Youth Hostel is right smack in the middle of of the old town. It has some quaint little shops including this great artisanal candy store where the packaging is prettier than how the candy tastes (but oh, how pretty it is!! Just from the packaging, you want to buy the whole candy store!) and a lovely artisanal soap shop where they have soaps of a gazillion different flavors (yes, my friends, that is flavors, for the soaps are all made to smell of things like chocolate, vanilla, coconut, banana---have you ever soaped yourself up with banana?--mint, you name it, apart from the traditional and tried and tested rose, freesia, lavender, peach, apple, apricot, everything you can imagine), and again, with packaging that made you wish your eyes, too, could eat. And you know what? I realized something very important about French fare: it is not so much that French stuff is prettier, or better, or tastier, or higher quality, necessarily. It is simply that the French know how to do things with flair: they package it and market it in a way that is irresistibly attractive, and this is extended all the way to the charmingly polite delivery where they insist, that it was their pleasure to serve you, not the other way around.

Neat, huh?

Anyway, my Frenchuñol (combine equal parts of Italian, Spanish, lessons 1-15 of basic French CD audio course bought at American bookstore, mix at high speed, and deliver, with as much conviction as possible, slightly slurred) is getting better, especially since people everywhere most kindly correct my gramar and finish my sentences. :). No, really, this is actually the best kind of teaching, I'm absorbing things pretty darn fast, I assure you, so much so, that they at least seem to understand me (bad grammar and all) and most importantly they do not immediately switch to English with me like they do with the American and British tourists. Quite a triumph, I think. ;)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Girona-Figueres-La Jonquera-Perpignan.

Trip dist: 100 kms. Trip time: 5 hrs, 59 min. Tot dist: 2453 kms.

Wow! I made it! It wasn't too bad, not bad at all. In fact, up to two kms before La Jonquera which is where I thought the pass would be I kept thinking: when is the ascent going to start? It seemed pretty darn flat to me (though it probably really wasn't, because on flats I can easily do about 20 kms/hr and I was doing less, but there wasn't all that much effort involved, the road looked even, and I simply blamed the wind...), next thing I know I'm coasting through a descent that lasted at least 10 minutes at 40 kms/hr and then pretty much coasted throughout Perpignan after that. So here's how I resolve it: the ascent was much harder coming from the French side. Either that, or the little shops at La Jonquera distracted me from the cursing of the ascent's steepness.

Yeah, La Jonquera is a funny little border town. It reminded me a lot of Tijuana since it is teeming with French tourists looking for bargains (as Dorothee remarked, even brand names are cheaper in Spain than in France), and complete with all sorts of cheap souvenir shops, supermarkets, drugstores, shops, ha ha. {shrug}

But weeha! Guess what? I managed to hold my first ever full conversation completely in French (!), including a little side conversation on having had problems with the bike chain, with the Youth Hostel receptionist (to be fair, it was he who carried the conversation, I merely nodded and said "oui" where appropriate, when he noted that I apparently had some dirt on my cheek). He was a cutie, too!

Anway, after arriving into Perpignan I'm actually a little bit confused as to what to do next: Do I bike to Narbonne, which is only 65 kms away, and then day-trip from there to UNESCO World Heritage medieval town of Carcassonne? Do I then bike a little bit of the Canal du Midi (also UNESCO WHS) from Narbonne to Beziers? But Beziers appears to be less than 35 kms away from Narbonne, that would be only two hours or so on the Canal....the Canal is supposed to be very beautiful, and it goes all the way from Toulouse, through Carcassonne, to the coast. Two hours would hardly do it justice, it seems. Should I bike the Canal from Carcassonne instead? I don't know! I didn't think this part through too well in advance (I didn't have good maps that showed where the Canal went back then, for instance). And it is very hard to think right now. Why the bad route planning, you ask? Well, part of it was my maps (I had no good idea of where the Canal was, I had the vague impression that it followed the coast, actually). It could be, too, that I'm a bit tired from the mental effort required to carry non-basic conversations in French ("Pardon, ou est la gare routière?" doesn't really cut it anymore at this point...). But the truth is, I guess I didn't really think I would get this far. Back in the U.S., I thought "Hey, if you don't make it past Spain, that's o.k. It should make for a great trip anyway, after all, you've never been...". But now, well, here I am, in France. Cool, huh?

{shrug}It should be easy from here onwards: no more mountains until I get to Romania!


Sunday, June 11, 2006


Ha ha. I'm so clever. :). I figured out a way to stay here in Girona without losing time. Yesterday, you see, I was hoping to reach Figueres, last Spanish city stop for me before arriving into France, for two reasons: 1) it is only 25 kms away from the Pyrenees mountain pass at the French border, and it seems to make sense to tackle the uphills early in the day when you're at your freshest, and 2) Figueres is home of the "Teatro-Museo Dalí", to which he donated all of the works on exhibit himself, since the site had special significance to him (Dalí was born in Figueres and the Theater had hosted his very first painting exhibit). But it turns out I had miscalculated and Figueres was about 30 kms farther from Barcelona than I thought, so that when I arrived at Girona at 6 p.m. with still 40 kms to go to Figueres it made no sense to continue onwards. The plan as I rode into the city, then, was to wake up early today, ride to Figueres in the morning, see the Dalís in the afternoon, and then take the bus back to Girona for an evening trip onto its city center, which was looking quite pretty.

This, however, made not much sense given that the Girona sights and museums close today at around 2 p.m., since it is Sunday, so I simply reversed the above plan/ I would day-trip to Figueres for the Dalí in the afternoon, then return back to Girona in the evening, and bike from here to France. There will be hell to pay tomorrow, of course, when I extend the approach to the pass by 40 kms and add that much more to the day's journey, but the golden rule of pleasure seekers is: when you can, buy on credit. So there.

Anyway, Girona is kind of notorious because in its day (this means, in this case, between the 9th and 15th centuries) there was a rather large Jewish community here. So in the morning after visiting some Arab Baths that were neither Arabian nor baths (they were the ruins of 12th century Roman-style steam rooms intended to look like the fashion of the moment, which was Arabian, but the intent remained so...), I headed to the Jewish museum which was dedicated to the history of "El Call", which was the old medieval Jewish quarter, and where I spotted this old Jewish saying which I found rather amusing: "The world has the same relationship to hell as the lid to its pot".

Heh heh.

Anyway, later, I went to the Museum of Cinema, where they have an absolutely excellent collection of old cinematographic-related machines, Pathè Baby crank-operated portable cameras, projectors, magic lanterns, kinetoscopes, you name it. Oh, and have you ever looked at those drawings/paintings/lithographs of landscapes and monuments in pen or ink and watercolor that look so wonderfully detailed and perfect that you think how extraordinary the artist must've been to manage them? Why, they're simple tracings, done with the aid of a camera oscura, or later, in the 18th century, a portable camera clara (and which comes in a kit no bigger than a pencilcase)! Copies of drawings, too, were very easily achieved with the aid of a Limnoscope, which basically places a semitransparent mirror side-by-side in a plane perpendicular to the picture to be copied, and on the other side, the copyist simply traces over the reflected image onto a piece of paper (the copies are mirror images, though. Easily corrected with another mirror...). The displays, too, were really well thought out, explaining how things worked via computer animated graphics with no sound or titles, simply by visually highlighting or zooming and focusing in turn onto the moving parts, so that it was easy for a child or someone not very mechanically inclined (like myself!) to understand. A great museum, I really recommend it. My only regret is that they stopped their chronology at around the 1960's. Which means no exhibits or explanations of digital technology. Pity. With such clever methods of explanation and such a large repertoire of old optics-related artifacts the modernization (or rather, more accurately, the "making current"/"bringing up to date") of the museum exhibits would have made this one of the best museums I've ever visited.

Can't say the same thing for the Dalí museum in Figueres, though. It was rather boring and it had very few of the cool paintings Dalí is known for, and had instead way too many of his weird "I have issues" sketches which are to me quite uninteresting, also because they're mostly in black and white or done in a hurry: one of the cool things about Dalí is that he paints a little bit like Georgia O'Keefe---his brushstrokes are very delicate, detailed, and careful (even on his larger canvassed paintings), and the colors blend in perfectly (in things like the sky, or shaded objects, etc) such that you can't tell there is a color boundary, but there was little of this here, except one or two works like the famous "Gala con Esferas". One more interesting exhibit at the museum today, however, were works by Antoni Pitxot, who seems to like to paint people as rocks.

But all in all, a nice day.

Tomorrow: hope the Pyrenees don't kill me, and after that it is all downhill all the way to Perpignan.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Trip dist: 115 km, including 10 km "scenic detour" onto the autopista where I had to be escorted off by a cop. Ooops!
Trip time: 7hrs, 5 min. Tot dist: 2353 kms.

Hmmm....well, the approach to Girona was kind of surreal, because this city is tucked away between some mountains, hidden and silent, and as I could not see it as I approached in spite of all the road signs, I even wondered if it was really there. Most cities, you see, I can see by the time I'm about 10 kms away, but to spot Girona...I had to actually be in the outskirts of the city, less than 2 kms away from city center!

Anyway, remember what I said about approaching civilization? Girona is full of bike lanes, and not only that, they're done the proper way: not simply painted on the street but shielded from traffic by a strip of sidewalk, and shielded from pedestrians by being at street level, and with its very own set of traffic lights. Neat, huh?

The Youth Hostel, too, is wonderful. It is cheap, there are not too many people, the laundry is only 2 Euros, and free internet nobody uses! Also, as the Youth Hostel is popular for cyclists, they have a full room in the first floor dedicated to bike storage, complete with a 5 cm-wide mini-ramp alongside the staircase for pushing your bike up without having to carry it. Is this heaven, or what? They even replaced my Youth Hostel card, which I had lost with my wallet, for only 5 Euros (The U.S. charged me $27 dollars for it!), and the interior patio with its blue and white tiles looks a little bit like a tasteful "Casa Batllò".

Hmm...I may just have to come up with a clever excuse to prolong my stay here beyond just one day somehow....

Friday, June 09, 2006

Barcelona, Day 6.

Today was a catchup day. Mieko and Dorothee left two days ago (though it is probable I may yet see Dorothee in Paris), and the rushed sight-seeing and Gaudí overdose of the last couple of days made me rather tired. So I declared it a holiday and went to the beach (hey, gotta round off that ridiculous-looking bicyclist tan!), where I did some celebrity spotting: I think I saw Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal near the beaches of the Olympic Village, strolling around and glancing at me (which is the reason I first noticed him in the first place) while looking for two friends he eventually left with. Yes, my friends, like all actors, he's shorter in real life. Heh heh.

Not much else to report for today. Went to movies. Saw "The DaVinci Code". It is as bad as the book, so I recommend you skip it.

Tomorrow: Easy ride to Girona, training base of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and cyclist Mecca.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Barcelona, Day 5.

This morning I passed by a small manifestation comprised of at most three or four people who were very loudly protesting the recent imprisonment of two young Barcelona men. Since I was on my way to the Metro, and didn't know where it was, I asked the person nearest me at the moment, who I noticed a bit too late (after I had already stopped her to ask) was holding a clipboard. After very kindly giving me directions, in spite of by my asking for them clearly revealing myself as obviously a foreginer, she tried to get me to sign some petition supporting the cause.

First rule of travelling: NEVER, EVER get involved in the local politics, especially of countries you do not understand. Otherwise, you may end up like her. And if you do understand, and happen to be extraordinarily well informed, still, feign ignorance and stay away. Remember, no matter how "modern" or "civilized" the country, as a foreigner you have very few rights, and little recourse, if you happen to get in trouble.

No thanks. I hope she gets her signatures, I guess, but the strategy of trying to pad the signature count with those of ignorant tourists is both dangerous for them and ineffective for her. If you're trying to gain supporters for some political cause, a show of a little more responsibility is required, for me.

Anyway, today I visited "La Sagrada Familia", the most interesting construction site in Barcelona (yes, my friends, why am I still visiting Gaudís works of questionable taste and judgement? Because they're a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that's why). The sculptures and corresponding drawings of the sculptures by Josep Subirachs that adorn the Western façade, however, are terrific. Way cool. I don't think I like, though, the idea of a cathedral being such a mishmash of architectural styles that evolve with the times. Yeah, I know, that's how most traditional cathedrals ended up {shrug}. I'm a purist, then. So sue me. ;)

Afterwards, I visited the Hospital de Sant Pau, which is a beautiful masonry complex designed by Lluís Domenech i Montaner, a contemporary of Gaudí. What a contrast! What a respite for my eyes!

Anyway, not much else today (some more noteworthy architecture sighting today included the Torre Agbar), but I did get a nice phone call from my Father, who had just received the bottle of white Port I sent him a month and a half ago from Porto, to thank me and assure me that it had arrived safe and sound (wow! I did not expect this much from Mexican mail--considering how slow and careless it tends to be I was afraid the bottle would get broken or, at best, opened and my super-careful packing messed up). He said, too, that he'd wait to open it until I was there, which meant a lot to me, considering that it will not be until at least December, at the earliest, when I next see him. What a sweetie, eh? :D. That, or the man has some willpower of steel. I'd have opened it immediately. :D. Ti voglio bene, Babbo! Un baccione e un abbraccio forte forte!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Barcelona, Day 4.

Visited the Fundación Joan Miró today (yeah, I completely intend to immerse myself to my ears in Catalán painters during my Barcelona sojourn, he he!).

Anway, I thought I really liked Mirò, but seeing all these/his paintings together made things different. T.S. Eliot was right: context matters.

Why do I think this happened to me with Mirò? Because his early works are not very refined--it almost seems like he turned modern and simplified things because classic painting was too difficult--unlike Picasso, for instance, where cubism, simplification, etc is deliberate, careful, planned, thought out and tried in several variations first. Also, Mirò has stuff in there that rather makes it look like he had some "issues". But then again, that probably means nothing, since name just one painter who didn't paint like that sometimes? Yeah. Thought so. Still, it was a bit surprising to me, coming from Mirò, given what I had seen of him before. {shrug}

You've no doubt already seen Mirò's "The Gold of the Azure"? Part of the mistique is in the naming. How about "The Smile of a Tear", or "Painting on White Background for Cell of a Recluse", or even "The Lark's Wing Ringed with the Blue of Gold Meets the Heart of the Poppy Asleep in the Diamond-Studded Meadow"? After knowing the names, the painting just won't do without the title. Kind of neat how two very different, unrelated mediums of expression, poetry and painting, fuse together such as to not be able to live one alone without the other! Maybe, more than the painting itself, it is in this that Mirò's "spark" lies.....

Anyway, the rest of my sightseeing day turned out to be even a lot less satisfying. I first headed over to the Poble Espanyol, since I was already in the Montjuïc area and the Olympic Stadium was not particularly interesting other than, of course, the Communications Tower designed by my favorite architect (and engineer!) Santiago Calatrava. Now, the Poble Espanyol is advertised as a "unique" and "wonderful" architecture museum complete with life-size reproductions of some of the most famous buildings in Spain. What it really is, however, is actually a Mickey Mouse-like mini prefab village whose buildings are a mishmash of old Spanish monuments, and which house over-priced crafts and restaurants a la Epcot Center, for tourists. Yikes. I would have expected a little more from the prize exhibit of the 1927 International Expo. Still, in those days of no TV, it may have been quite the sensation for people who could not otherwise afford to travel and see the buildings live. For me, though, given I had already passed by most of the featured cities, it could of course not compare. So. If you're ever in Barcelona, skip it. Definitely not worth the entrance price, and all throughout the visit I ended up regretting every minute I wasted there.

Well, later in the day I headed over to Gaudí's "Casa Batlló". Why, you ask? Because it is famous. That's it. You know I don't like Gaudí. What's more, the visit to the "Casa Batlló" was 16 Euros and 50 cents. Outrageous, isn't it? Yeah, and you'll think so even more after the visit, I assure you. Imagine even this: at the rooftop of the house, where the water cisterns were placed in its day, the exhibit places a little, tranquil fountain surrounded by....can you believe this? No less than 6 Bose speakers playing the sound of.....water!! All this purported organic nature-loving inspiration in the house architecture, and for 16.50 Euros a pop per visitor they couldn't come up with a fountain that made its own real noise?!?


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Barcelona, Day 3.

Went to bank again today. They said no bank card. That freaked me out a bit. Asked if I could withdraw money (it was my bank's branch) with my account number and my passport. They said they had no access to foreign accounts (what? Is this the 18th century? Even I can access my acount from my phone or internet!). Freaked out even more. Considered opening an account so that I could wire myself some money, but before that I decided to phone up Citibank in the US and ask where my package was by tracking number, since they'd claimed they had sent it on Friday.

Glad I did. They said it had arrived in Barcelona, at the branch I was at, at 9:23 a.m. that day, with signature of receipt. It was quarter past 10 by now, I had been at the branch only 15 minutes ago. Lucky I picked a phone just outside the subway station one street from the bank, instead of waiting until I got to the hotel at city center. Anyway, back to the branch I went.

They had it, indeed. They just hadn't bothered to look too carefully earlier. Bit it was a one-half hour of big-time stress, I tell you.

Now more tranquil and knowing I no longer had to count pennies, I went to the expensive Picasso museum. This is a pretty neat museum because it has a very nice collection of Picasso's earlier works, and it is, judiciously, chronologically organized so that you can see the development of the painter.

If you've ever, even once, just stood in front of a Picasso and thought: "Hey, I could do that!", think again. When you see the usual Picassos at the museums, they're so simple, it is easy to think this (or at least, think "I could do that" if you had the idea, since it requires some spark of geniality to come up with the concept in the first place, but let's assume you could, for I'm merely talking about "execution", here). No, my friends. Take a look at his early paintings and sketches (the museum has a fine collection of some works he did when he was only 15), and you can really see that here's some talent, one that is extraordinarily rare. The simplifications you see in his later works were not casual, not haphazard, not a result of "I can't paint in the realism style so let me go abstract and invent some weird cubist stuff and see if I become famous that way", but deliberate, studied, and careful (even though his brushstrokes are rather unrestrained and casual, the paintings themselves are not!--just take a look at some of his preparatory sketches to see the thought and care that went into them). I have never been a big fan of Picasso (I do not enjoy looking at most of his paintings), but what a great painter he was. There is method to the madness, and intrinsically tied to it, is "execution" (remember what I said art requires?). There is no doubt he was a master painter. No "I could do that too!" here at all! (I betcha, too, that he was an extraordinarily smart fellow as well).

One of the neat rooms in the museum, by the way, was the one dedicated to the 58 variations on Velazquez's "Las Meninas". (Ian, my friend: wouldn't you like to furnish a room in your apartment, with the original and the 58 variations? It would be a little visual analogy to François Girard's "Thirty-two short films about Glenn Gould", don't you think? ;) ). And about these works, Picasso had to say (taken from a note in the displays of said rooms):

"If one were to set out to copy "Las Meninas" in all good faith, let's say, on reaching a certain point and the person copying was me, I would wonder: How would it be to put this one a little more to the right or left? And I would try to do it my way, forgetting all about Velazquez. That experiment would certainly lead me to modify the light or change it because I had moved one of the characters. And so, bit by bit, I would paint some "Meninas" that would seem detestable to the professional copyist; they would not be the ones he thought he saw in Velazquez's canvas, but they would be my "Meninas" ".

(Remember what I said about making copies? :D Variation ≠ copy. That's the whole point. Nobody said that what inspires art needs to be "real" or "live", on the contrary, it often is other art itself. But, Art inspired upon art is never meant to be a copy. Never.)

Anyway, after having an awesome time at this museum (I was glad to discover a newfound appreciation for Picasso--it doesn't make me like his pictures more, but it makes the difference between, say, listening to a symphony without knowing that it is composed of 4 movements, and having taken a course in harmony and counterpoint. You appreciate things at a different level, you acquire depth of knowledge, in other words. Liking and appreciating is not the same thing at all, you see...)

Speaking of concerts, since the Palau de la Musica Catalana was nearby, I took a stroll there to try to check out its UNESCO World Heritage Site architecture. Unfortunately, there were no more tours for the day, and not only that, they were running around the 11 Euro mark, which seemed a bit excessive. A happy resolution presented itself though: the Festival de Guitarra was coming to its conclusion the next day with works by Mompou, Albeniz, and, appropriately, the Concierto de Aranjuez, played by no less than Pepe Romero himself! Wow! Opportunities like this don't come often, so what best way to kill two birds with one stone--see the theater interior architecture and listen to some excellent music while doing so? Yup, got me a ticket (it is nice to finally have your ATM card!). Are you jealous? ;)

Anyway, in the afternoon seeing as how I needed to catch up on my sight-seeing after too much lounging in the beach and partying with Dorothee and Mieko on the previous days, I headed over to Gaudì's "Casa Millá", also known as "La Pedrera", even though, again, I'm not a big fan of Gaudì's (and that's a rather large understatement). I think the reason I don't like Gaudì is that he seems to have a lot of unnecessary features: adornments on columns that bear no loads but that in my opinion also do not add to the aesthetics of them, for instance. Like it is a bit of a waste of effort (the engineer in me rebels against that). Too "Winchester house-like" for me in some works, too much like the inside of the Alien spaceship with its icky guts and all in others for me.

It was interesting, though, in "La Pedrera", to see the displays explaining how Gaudí came up with the system to make his strange architecture work (i.e. not fall down). Clearly, he was an empiricist, a person not much for mathematical calculations, as evidenced for the scanty drawings and plans he produced and the way he directed construction off plaster models. However, some of the methods utilized were very clever and simple: the funicular polygon, for instance, whereby strings are weighted with little lead balls or sand sacks proportional to the loads the arches and columns have to bear, and which explains a bit Gaudì's fondness (or perhaps, more accurately, inevitable propensity) for the use of catenary arches.

And which made me think: "Architecture and civil engineering should be meshed into one discipline". That way, I thought, too, you avoid garish Gaudí-like excesses, and produce cooler stuff like this if you are intent on imitating nature.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Barcelona, Day 2.

Well, I'd been stressing a bit about that silly ATM card, so went to bank today in the hopes they may have already received it and I could breathe easier. The branch was a lot farther away than I thought: it took me 1 hour to walk there, but it was a nice stroll, at least.

The bank was closed when I arrived though, which seemed odd to me, since their hours announced that they were open Monday through Saturday. A promenade up and down the block revealed that most other banks and businesses were closed as well. What gives? At 10:30 a.m. on a Monday?

Turns out, it was Catalan Easter holiday. Go figure. Sucks a bit, because need to sit through another day of "money-manage" and tiny pain-in-the-neck nagging stress...

With nothing left to do about it, I decided to head for Parc Güell, which was more or less nearby (I say more or less, because as it turns out it wasn't all that nearby since it took me another half hour to get there), which is a famous place designed by Barcelona's pride and joy architect Antoni Gaudi, and where, as it turns out, I ran into Mieko.

Everything is so different when you have friends. Running into them is nice (even when you know you will see them again that night, since you're rooming together), and as we had plans to go to the beach later in the day with Dorothee, the city took then for me a very small, homey feel, like I belonged there. There was no rush to sightsee anymore. The golden sands of the Mediterranean called, and Barcelona...could wait.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Barcelona, Day 1.

Had to switch hotels this morning. Yesterday it was super crowded in the city, you could barely walk down La Rambla, and of course, the hotels were overbooked--took me two hours to finally find a small place in Barrio Gotico, but although clean the place was on the 4th floor (what a pain to carry the bike upstairs I tell you! The hotel dude didn't even offer to help and even made really stupid jokes like: "Oh, you have a bike? Don't you have a dog also?" which were really not funny after 100 kms of fast biking and 2 hours of searching for hotel plus the 4 flights of stairs), the place had some rather bad feng shui and gave me very depressing vibes.

The switch was good though. Ended up in a place called "Holstal Fernando", centrally located in a nice street with lots of cafes, with with 2 women roomies, Dorothee, from France, and Mieko, from Japan, and we are all very close in age (which means no late-night inconsiderate drunken arrivals in the room making as much noise as you can!). So after locating a decent internet (it is curious, but the larger the city, the more the internet cafes suck: they restrict things better, they do not allow you to hook up USB devices to them, and of course downloading things or even accessing DOS or ftp is blocked. The trick is to therefore try to find a small side-street "mom and pop" internet cafe--in this case I finally found one owned by Indian immigrants after 3 hours of circling the city, where I guess they bank on their users not knowing how to do damage to their computers or be smart enough to download software from the web---which in most cases, that I've seen, at least, in both Spain and Portugal, is quite correct for the average internet cafe user), mail locate, laundromat and taking care of laundry, Dorothee, Miyeko and I headed out for dinner/drinks in the evening.

It was great! We found a great tapas place in upscale Passeig de Gracia, the see and be seen place of Barcelona, got tipsy on some delicious sparkling wine Sangria, and talked about life, the universe...and boys, of course. :) Dorothee is a really cool biochemist, whip smart and lots of fun to talk to, and Miyeko is kind of entertaining to hang out with, because as soon as she found out that I was from Sunnyvale, I became extraordinarily interesting to her, for her last boyfriend was from there (long distance relationship, and long story), and she wondered whether I knew any nice American gentlemen that would like to meet a nice Japanese woman to marry.

So boys (you know who you are), if you want to marry a nice Japanese girl, let me know, and I'll send you her contact info. ;)

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Trip dist: 99 kms. Trip time: 4 hrs, 55 min. Tot dist: 2238 kms.

So how is it, you ask, that I managed to average 20 kms/hr on this trip again, even though I had to pass through 3 minor ports along the coastal cliffs of the Spanish Mediterranean?

Ah. Because I was cycling with Antonio, a sport cyclist from Vinarós I caught up with about 30 kms from Tarragona (and how did I catch up with a sport cyclist, when these guys pedal, on the average, about twice as fast as I do? Because he had just repaired a flat tire, and was getting up to speed at an intersection, and was a bit undecided on which direction to take, so I passed him, yelling [I was a bit giddy about passing a sport cyclist, I confess--I had no way of knowing he was just starting up again and he was taking it easy--,hence the yelling]: "Hola ciclista!", and two minutes later he catches up to me, and starts chit-chatting: "Where are you going?", "Barcelona", "And are you going inland or by the coast?", "Inland has a high pass, I think I'm taking the coast", "The coast has 3 passes, inland only 1", "Oh, is that right?", "Yes, inland has a 400 m pass, the coast has 3 100 m ones." "Ah," said I. "Where are you going?", "I am just cycling as far as I can without stopping". Brief pause. "Which road are you taking then, inland or coast?", I asked, finally. "Well, you're taking the coast, aren't you?" "Yes, I think so." "The coast is prettier." And so we rode together). When you're cycling with someone else, you tend to try to match paces, he slowing down for me, I speeding up in order not to disturb, since, as conversation continued, his "as far as I can without stopping" was literally that: his plan, turned out, was to cycle 900 kms in 65 hours or less, nonstop.

Sleep? "Oh, I'll only sleep perhaps 4 or 5 hours. When you're cycling you don't get too sleepy".

And at night? Isn't it dangerous? "Yeah, a little, but..." shrugs. "Done this many times before."

Ha ha. I was cycling with a certifiable nutcase. Still, nutcases are way fun to talk to, here's for instance, another little snippet:

Him: So, all the way to Istambul, eh?

Me: Well, that's the plan.

Him: And how do you plan to deal with languages? Isn't that a problem?

Me: Nah, can handle most of Europe, I'm o.k. until I reach Hungary.

Him: Yeah, Hungary will be a problem. Nobody understands Hungarians, and I think sometimes they don't even understand themselves!

Chuckles on both sides.

Me: And you, you said you've biked through Hungary before, how did you deal with the language issue?

Him: Oh, that's not really an issue for me. When I biked through there I was again on one of my nonstop trips, so I didn't talk to anyone.

Me: [Pause]. Er...all the time you were there?

Him: Uh huh.

Me: (!) But you didn't even order food or have a drink at a bar or something?

Him: {shrugs} Before entering Hungary I bought a bunch of food at a supermarket. Cooked for myself, no need to talk after that.

Can you believe it? :o

Anyway, riding with Antonio was great, he was very considerate and even though he must've been in a hurry ("Don't worry, I'm expected at Premia de Mar at 4 p.m., but I guess I'll just arrive at 5 instead..."), always waited for me at the top of the hills, treated me to lunch at the half-way point ("Hey, my pleasure, a woman cyclist is not something you encounter every day!"), and continually and sometimes at no small risk to himself shielded me from traffic, boldly signalling for cars to slow down or to watch for our turns around the highways and into the city, and even recommended a great bookstore in downtown Barcelona ("A traveller's paradise: they have the best maps in that shop and you find shelves and shelves of guides arranged by country! Buy your France road atlas there!"), and guided me, right to Plaza Catalunya at the city center, where I thanked him with a drink at the nearest bar and we parted, with the entreaties to take care and be safe, and perhaps, who knows, we'll run into each other again in the roads near Berlin or Paris, ha ha, and three cheers to cycling, my friend!

A Catalán gentleman through and through.