Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Drive Baby Drive

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Leaving Madrid wasn’t anything too exciting, it’s a nice city and the roads are fine, although many main roads were still above ground. We drove east toward Italy, passed Barcelona that night and slept outside Avignon, France. The next morning (06/30) we visited Avignon, where the pope once lived and where one of the antipopes made their headquarters (remember when we were in Konstanz? That was the council where they ousted the antipopes, one of whom lived in Avignon). A very nice city, we decided after hiking a little hill to see the city, although the road system was a bit tricky. Then we were on our way again.

We hit the French Riviera to the west of Monaco and traveled along the winding but beautiful roads toward that famous and expensive little town. Monaco was packed with people, as was most of the French Riviera—not surprising on a beautiful June day. We found some parking and visited the port, full of sleek sailboats, ostentatious yachts, pleasant rowboats, a few fishing boats, and dozens of yachties there to do the dirty work for the rich and famous. Along the dockside a Ferrari 360 Spyder and a Porshe Carrera GT found spaces between Bentleys and Mercedes and $600 suits enjoyed debonair lunches with $800 purses at secluded sidewalk cafes.

We felt out of place, and, as a $1M helicopter launched from its seaside berth, we meekly citröened* our aging VW out of the country.

We got on the motorway and took our aim for Italy. We skirted Genova and headed to Torino where we saw the old Olympic Village, a cool bridge, a Latin-American Festival and then found a spot to eat some supper and sleep. The next day, we saw the famous Shroud of Turin (with the image of Jesus on it). Not all of us were convinced and most of us were skeptical and others of us were dubious, but we were glad to have seen the big box that contains the shroud.

The next day we got on a road and began following it figuring this was the best way to navigate since we were in Italy and all roads lead to Rome. It did not, in fact, lead to Rome, instead it led to Pisa so we stopped and saw the tower which was still leaning and the churches and other buildings in the complex were were also leaning or had previously leant. One thing none of us had known previously was how big the complex was that included the leaning tower.

We departed that evening, found a road which did lead to Rome and followed it. The next day we arrived.

* Have we explained this yet? In Bad Pyrmont we visited the VW dealership and were told that if we didn’t repair our leaking hydraulic suspension (for about €100) we would end up bouncing like a Citröen. We decided that was a risk we were willing to take. A month or so later we noticed a pronounced bouncing in the back end and christened the unpredictable and sustained trampoline-like movement “citröening.”

Disappointment and Esperar from Granada to Madrid

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Warning: The following post involves various forms of disappointment. Reader discretion is advised.

First, the night of June twenty-fifth we headed north from Granada to Córdoba to see their famous Mezquita, a mosque with apparently really impressive columns dating back to the Roman period, its construction begun in 784 A.D. Christians converted it into a Cathedral after the Reconquista. Disappointingly, the building was already closed by the time we arrived. Ziegler and I (Matt) halfheartedly continued our quest for the cool pants we had seen in Granada, the really loose, comfortable, gypsy-looking pants. No luck. Disappointed, we continued to Seville. There we walked through the old town and saw the its cathedral, one of the largest of the Gothic style. It was closed so we missed the interior, the longest nave in Spain. Disappointing. We left and and arrived at Vila do Bispo, the southwestern tip of Portugal by the next morning. Along the way, we passed Huelva, Spain, where Christopher Columbus departed when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is much prettier on its European shore, and in Portugal we played an intense game of Ultimate Frisbee before a refreshing dip. We passed through Lisbon, found disappointingly little to occupy our interest, and pressed into the continent.

We slept just outside Madrid Saturday night (June 27), completely unaware that the next day would hold the greatest disappointments of the trip thus far. Actually, it was early Sunday morning when we stopped, the Dans having tag-teamed driving into the night. Sunday morning David drove us into Madrid to the Mennonite church. There we enjoyed lively and encouraging worship and a timely message. Bruce Bundy reminded us that the Spanish word for to wait, “esperar,” also means to hope. Timely for 4 guys traveling together; we were able to apply its lesson that very night. Merly Bundy translated this for us to supplement my completely rudimentary understanding of Spanish. After the service we got to know the Bundys, Bruce originally from Zimbabwe and Merly from Cuba before meeting in Pennslyvania and working in Madrid, and their two boys. We joined the lovely family for a delicious meal and interesting conversation about the state of the Spanish church. After years of rigorous Catholicism, the backlash has unfortunately led to many rejecting all faith. Instead, Spaniards value family and friendships, a path the Bundys hope to pursue with their church plant and Mennonite Your Way involvement.

After heartfelt thanks, we set off with content stomachs into Madrid to its main park, Parque del Retiro. The park was created as a royal park of the palace built in 1632 by King Philips IV as a retreat for the Royal family. It was quite the lovely retreat. The park was full of Spaniards enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon lounging about on the forested lawn, rowing around the central pond, or simply enjoying some drums in a small amphitheater-like structure. A group of young men were performing a carefully choreographed African drum session. Meanwhile, Bohemian locals created their own rhythms on numerous drums around the semicircle. Around the crowded lake, numerous other musical performers entertained alongside dancers, magicians, and even a Minnie Mouse with definitely manly hands. We left the park and wandered around before finding a pub by 8:30, ironically an Irish pub in Madrid, to watch the Champions League final. It was the pinnacle of the year’s international soccer (fútbol) season between Brazil and the US. At the beginning of the match, we held reserved excitement that only grew over the first half as the Americans built a two goal lead. Then the disappointments began. The Brazilians began to play as I had expected them to play and won 3-2. Utterly disappointing. We worked on our esperar. On the bright side, we hope the match will continue to raise awareness in the States of the value of soccer, the international sport. We returned to the Bundy’s, keenly disappointed but doing our best to wait and hope.

The next morning, our disappointment continued when we found the El Prado Museum, Madrid’s largest art museum, was closed on Mondays and entrance to the Palace was way out of our price range. Instead, we visited the Hagia Sophia, a modern art museum. Among others, we saw numerous, fascinating works by Pablo Picasso. We also saw numerous, disturbing works by Salvador Dalí. The contrast between the two modern Spanish artists was significant. We left the two, took the subway back to the Bundy’s, filled our water jugs, and drove out of the city. Our disappointments were short-lived, however…

Leaving Morocco

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

On June 24th we left Morocco. Our ferry trip was much calmer and nicer than the trip down, because we were allowed to wait to have our passports stamped until we got to Spain. We made it through customs after a nice drug-sniffing dog checked our car. Nice to know we didn’t accidentally pick up any drugs. Then we were back in Spain… for a few hours.

We stopped that late afternoon in Gibralter. Driving through the streets was a bit challenging, but I had been there before so at least we didn’t get horribly lost. We stopped at Europa point, a rather boring lighthouse, but the view is pretty neat. You can see the coast of Spain across the gulf and there, across the strait, the mountains of Morocco, garbed in mist, rising up in the fading sunlight.

At the point there was what must be the only open space in Gibralter (the entire area is mainly just a small mountain). In that area was a game of cricket! We were a bit excited because we had hoped to see some cricket in the British Isles, but had failed. So, we watched the game, were utterly confused, and after something undecipherable happened the game ended and we wandered away feeling as though we had witnessed an amazing event but had no idea what it was. Like looking at a piece of modern art and knowing that it means something, but you have no way of knowing what that is.

We headed up The Rock to try to find some Apes (Barbary Macaques, actually, but they’re called The Gibralter Apes). We did. About three quarters of the way up, we came around a sharp corner and there on the rock retaining wall were two Apes, sitting there looking mysterious. Just a bit further down the road was a pull-off point where even more Apes were cavorting about, eating the food the other tourists (there were about 5 of them) were feeding them illegally. We did not feed them illegally, although at one point I opened up the back of the car to get my hat out and a large, female Ape swung around the corner of our car, grabbed a black plastic bag and ripped it open. She seemed quite disappointed to find laundry detergent inside and was not hard to chase off with my flip-flop.

After hanging out with the Apes for a while, we descended the mountain. I spent the rest of my British Pounds (four of them) and we departed heading toward Granada.

We arrived at Granada late that evening, after having a bit of difficulty finding the right part of town using a map and a bit of dead-reckoning navigation on my part. Our time in Granada was short, but very nice. We hiked the second highest point in continental Spain with Kevin and Evan (who did quite well at a long and arduous hike). It was a lot of fun with spectacular views the entire way up.

Our second day, we visited the Alhambra (made better for me by the fact that I had been reading Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra on the trip) which was quite worth the visit, pictures will portray it better than I can, but if you ever get the chance, you must visit it and leave yourself plenty of time. If you can, have a picnic in the Generalife gardens. We didn’t, instead we had spectacular paella prepared by Wendy.

The entire time was flavored by our interaction with the Mayers who made us feel so welcomed and whose company we enjoyed greatly.

Ferry to Fez, Friends, and Frisbee

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

We awoke the morning of the 17th, accompanied by the figures of large beasts looming out of the mist. After some corn flakes and left the cow pasture. Ten minutes later we pulled into a terminal in the port town of Tarifa, about an hour before our ferry’s scheduled departure.

After presenting our passports and paperwork, we began detaching the roof box from the Passat. To avoid the additional €30 fee for vehicles taller than 2.5 meters, we moved the roof box into the car, snug inside the cavity formed by folding the seats and jostling the food, sleeping bags, and backpacks. David and I jumped atop the box, contorting ourselves into the meager remaining space. Their seats pushed forward, Ziegler hugged the steering wheel and Shenk kneed the dash. We must have looked comical to the border guards: four young men crammed with their earthly possessions into a vehicle like a band of migrants or gypsies.

We parked and were on one more boat. We did not see much of the Strait of Gibralter, spending most of the 45 minute trip queued to have our boarding tickets approved and passports stamped. The inefficiency of having a single desk serve all the boat’s passengers amused me. By the time we disembarked, the line to the desk still stretched half the ferry’s length. It was no cabaret show or disco club. We docked in Africa and began made small talk with two Moroccan men in car alongside us in the ship’s cargo hold. They offered their support for David Beckham and Barack Obama until we entered the border checkpoint.

A steady stream of men “welcomed” us to Morocco, each expecting money for their trouble. Over the next hour and a half we found the necessary vehicle tax documentation, lost track of that documentation, payed a man a couple Euro to return our passports, offered another man some cigarettes (that we had had found in Amsterdam), and refused to bribe several other men. Of the latter group, one man was ambiguously identified only by a name tag that read “2007.” We spent most of that time trapped in our car, waiting for anyone to gesture us 10 feet further.

After the final gesture out of the checkpoint, we drove a bit into Tangier and repositioned the roof box. David left to use an ATM around the corner for local currency, dirhams. Fifteen minutes later he reappeared with a local man, money, a Moroccan map, and a story of following the man to three different ATM machines around the city.

A little driving south and we made it to Fez in around 6 hours. We chose the scenic route and witnessed authentic Moroccan life in boys playing soccer outside rural villages and ridiculously overloaded straw trucks bouncing over crater-like potholes. Just outside the city we found a mo-ped operator more than happy to guide us into Fez’s medina, the old town, and specifically a hotel. Apparently, these guys target tourists to recruit business for hotels and shops for a cut of the profits. This advertising method seems quite effective for tourists wandering a completely foreign city. Our friend finally understood that we weren’t interested in a hotel but not before leading us to the city’s single McDonald’s, our designated meeting place with the Showalters. We looked around the nicest Micky-D’s I’d ever seen, until Seth and Peter Jon arrived on foot and rode with us back to their house.

It was an exuberant reunion to be welcomed by the entire Showalter family outside their apartment building. Each of us studied under Jon in at least one Rosedale class, and my family and I have close ties with their family. We lugged a few suitcases to apartment 8 before Jon drove Shenk, Ziegler, me, and the boys to a nearby dirt lot to join an Ultimate frisbee game with both children of English expats and Moroccan youths. A young man, a member of a university Ultimate team, had introduced the sport several years ago. The sport gained popularity despite the man’s return to the States, until now when a group plays once a week. The three Rovers greatly enjoyed refreshing exercise and teamwork. The group even taught us a new, more exciting way to play. Instead of stopping play to throw off to the other team after a score, they would never stop, reversing directions after scoring bur having the length of the field to drive. The game was too fast-paced for us to pay much attention to things like my skinned knees from the lot’s pebbles and Ziegler’s torn blister from running barefoot. We played numerous, exhilarating matches until returning to the Showalter’s, tired but satisfied. We had made it to Africa.


First Stop in Granada

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

We left Barcelona Sunday night and drove for a while. We didn’t know what the quality of roads would be down to Tarifa—where our ferry departed Wednesday morning—so we decided to give ourselves plenty of time to cover the 1200 kilometers. Since I [david] usually wake up first in the morning, I slept in the driver’s seat, and the next morning I woke up and drove while the others slept. It turns out that the roads are good all the way across Spain, so we made very good time. We stopped south of Valencia to replenish our food reservoirs and ate some egg sandwiches at a rest stop shortly thereafter. While there, I helped push start a car that belonged to a Muslim who had stopped. I didn’t think that I the first car that I would push-start on this trip would belong to someone else (but am thankful that it is the case).

After lunch we looked at a map and determined that we could make it to Granada—where we have friends—by that evening, so we continued making good time across Spain. That afternoon it got quite hot—it topped 100°—which is not the most comfortable in a car without air conditioning, but we figured that we need to get used to it because it won’t get cooler for quite a while. We also enjoyed passing vehicles with huge amounts of stuff packed on top of their cars and vans. We looked like we were travelling lightly compared to many of the other cars on the road.

We made it to Granada by early evening and tried to get a hold of Kevin and Wendy Mayer (our friends from back home), but they were not answering their phones. We found their apartment building at that same moment Kevin called us, so we let him know we were not only in Granada; we were in front of his house. We had given Kevin and Wendy a warning that we might swing by Tuesday afternoon to pick up some documentation for our car before heading to Morocco, but we didn’t prepare them at all for a Monday evening arrival. Nonetheless, they welcomed us and explained that they had no room in their house because they were already hosting Holly Yoder and Debbie and Rachel Yutzy who are travelling Europe for two months. We went to Rosedale Bible College with Holly (Kevin worked there at the same time), and Matt is second cousins with the Yutzys, so we saw more familiar faces in Granada than we were expecting. Kevin called up Pablo and Judy Kaufman (Pablo used to be my pastor back in Ohio), who had room and were very willing to let us stay at their place.

That evening we went to a hill that overlooks the Alhambra and is a popular spot for the locals to mingle and smoke various things. We then walked back through town and Kevin treated us to shawarmas—a popular street sandwich in Granada, before heading back to their place. We then walked to Pablo and Judy’s apartment where we spent the night.

In the morning Pablo and Judy served us gallo pinto with eggs (since we aren’t able to make it to Central America on this trip, it was good to get at least one Latino breakfast), mixed fruit, toast, orange juice, cherries, and café con leche. Delicious. After breakfast Pablo took us down to the Cathedral, where we were to meet Kevin and the young lady travelers. Pablo introduced us to the old cobbler who works next to their apartment. He explained who we are and what we are doing, at which point the cobbler shook his head and commented that he had never even left the state of Granada and never wants to. He did say that he will donate his organs when he dies, so after he is dead parts of him will travel the world.

We met the Delaware girls (what I will call them from now on, since they reside in “The First State”) and first went to the Royal Chapel which is the final resting place for Ferdinand and Isabella the famous monarchs of Spain who set up their capital in Granada. We especially noted how Isabella’s pillow is sunk down extra far on her marble sculpture due to her extremely big brain which is really heavy. We also studied a picture in a side room which pictured a crucified Jesus and Judas appearing through a wall. It was both disturbingly odd yet extremely fascinating.

We next went to the Cathedral were impressed with the fake candles that were actually LED candles. You drop in a coin and a corresponding number of candles light. We also saw a sculpture of James the Moor slayer trampling a Muslim with his horse. Onward Christian soldiers. Let them feel the power of Jesus’ love coursing through the horse hooves.

We then went back to the Mayer’s house and ate a wonderful late chicken kabob lunch complemented with rice, bread, and salad before having a desert of chocolate-covered strawberries and frozen cookies. After lunch we talked for several hours before heading down to Tarifa where our ferry was to leave the next morning. We were extremely grateful for all the wonderful food that we were served and Pablo’s giving us a place to sleep on such a short notice. I was thankful that we were able to spend some time in Granada before heading down to Morocco because Pablo and Judy will not be in Granada when we come back through after we visit Morocco.

david miller

The Streets of Barcelona

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

We arrived in Barcelona on the evening of Saturday, June the 13th. Dan had been in the city a few years earlier and knew what to see. We began by searching for a hilltop park where dan remembered we could see the city spread beneath us. Barcelona’s back streets are an adventure; winding and narrow, with stop lights where you least expect them, abrupt dead ends and even more abrupt transitions from two way to one way streets, they make it a nightmare to find your way, especially if you don’t know where you are going. We finally found the park after a dead end at the top of a very steep hill and several excursions in the wrong direction down one way roads. By then it was dark and we hiked to the hilltop to see the city at night, which was quite spectacular. We stayed up very late that evening, posting blogs and searching for directions to Barcelona’s mennonite church.

The next day we managed to find our way to the church using three different maps, only one of which (Googlemaps) had the church on it. The congregation was very welcoming of the foreigners in their midst, even providing an interpreter for the sermon, which was about Christian relationships. Sunday afternoon we dedicated to exploring Barcelona on foot. We began with Güell Park, designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi. It was teeming with people and offered an excellent combination of nature and Gaudi’s nature-inspired structures. We then walked through Barcelona’s brick Arc de Triumph into the city park which had a magnificent fountain and sprawling lawns, which were shaded by trees and filled with people relaxing on the hot Sunday afternoon.

Next we walked to the port where countless mored sailboats gave the illusion of a towering wheat field. We picked out the type of yacht we will use for our next trip; sailing around the world with our wives. From the port we walked to the cathedral that is the seat of the bishop of Barcelona. A crowd packed the courtyard, at the end of which a stage with many very important catholics on it had been erected. The day was fading fast, however, and we hurried to see the centerpiece of our little tour; Le Sangrada Familia.

Sangrada Familia is one of the world’s most magnificent construction zones. Gaudi designed the partially complete building, but died before it was complete. I may do the same because the massive cathedral’s construction is funded only by tours of its already impressive structure. Sangrada Familia combines the classical cathedral motif with Gaudi’s modernist, new age design. The statues and sculptures are stylized, almost cartoonish, yet uniquely touching in their portrayal of christian stories and themes. The architecture is in keeping with Gaudi’s trademark organic designs, yet soars to the sky like a traditional cathedral. Eighteen spires are planned (Only eight have been completed thus far) and a massive tower will be built at the junction of the cross-shaped (Also traditional) floor plan. If it is finished before I die it would be worth returning to Spain just to see it. It is already worth seeing if you are anywhere near the area. The projected completion is in 2025.

By the time we found our car again we were sore, sweaty, and tired. We drove to the home stadium of Barcelona’s soccer team which won the 2009 Champion’s League final, a fact which several huge posters hung from the stadium walls made sure we remembered. As dusk fell around us we made our way out of the city to find a place to sleep before our drive to Granada the next day. We took a detour to watch and record a magnificent water show taking place in front of the palace. It was a spellbinding spectacle of splashing space utilizing spiced-up spotlights and spontaneous spouts of sprinkling spray to speculatively spell the spectacular spiel of spiffy speakers. In other words, a variable jet fountain and colored lights were programed in time to classical music. It was a fitting conclusion to our stay in a lively city of so much colorful and varying culture. Next up was Granada and people who once lived only a few minutes away from home.

Daniel Shenk

A Giant of a Bridge

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

We took a slight detour on our way south on Wednesday (12/6) to visit the world’s largest bridge, The Millau Viaduct. The bridge is spectacular, spanning the Tarn river valley in southwest France. It really looks as though the highway just took off and flew over this yawning valley supported by a few spindly pillars.

The bridge was designed by the British architect and Baron Norman Foster who also designed the “Gherkin” we saw in London, the new dome of the Reichstag in Berlin, the Hauptbahnhof roof and cupola in Dresden, all of which we have seen in the past few weeks. We hadn’t planned this to be a Norman Foster tour, but it’s turning in to one.

After observing the bridge for a while and experimenting with the durability of our Nalgenes (we weren’t able to throw them off the bridge so we soccer dribbled them down the hillside). Then, we crossed the amazing viaduct, arriving at the other side €6 poorer, but spiritually uplifted.

We then drove south through Clermont to the Mediterranean where, according to Matt, we passed “a foul bathroom and barbecuing locals, to stroll the shore. The Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean in 12 days. Whew.”

After an hour or so at the French Mediterranean beach, we headed west toward Andorra. After the highways petered out at the edge of the Pyrenees, we spent hours wending our ways through the mountains toward the tiny nation. Although none of us got sick and we enjoyed the views quite a bit–until it got dark–we did eventually tire of the switchbacks and their toll on our brakes.

We rolled into Andorra that night, stopped at a parking lot just outside of town and went to sleep.

The next morning (13/6) we awoke and I proposed that we do some work on the car. The rest agreed after a bit of democratic discussion and we set at it. Matt set to work figuring out our problems with the windshield-wiper-fluid system that caused our fluid to drain out under the bumper and caused an annoying warning light to reside constantly on our dashboard.

Dan and David took apart the passengers side rear door where the window hasn’t worked since we got the car. I went back and forth between the two projects offering advice, encouragements, and random statements. I also read the manual and our Haynes book comparing parts and instructions for all projects.

Matt fixed his problem first when he discovered a detached hose intended to lead to the headlight-cleaners–which have never worked. Our windshield-wiper-fuild was filled to the brim and it didn’t leak! Our rear and headlight sprayers still didn’t work, but those were not real problems.

The door was a bit trickier, but with the help of a zip-tie David had found on the sidewalk somewhere along the way they finished their job and everything seemed to be working!

Dan and I then set to trying to open the drivers-side rear door which had been irrevocably locked since before we got the car. While we slowly and painfully removed piece-by-piece the paneling of the door with the door closed, Matt and David collected some water from a local stream and made a soup (after boiling the water for 5 minutes, of course). Dan and I eventually deemed the door irreparable at least with the tools we had and went to get some cold cokes (it was getting quite warm) in a nearby restaurant filled with catalan-speakers and attached to a tennis court.

After enjoying one of David and Matt’s first soups (I had done most of the cooking except a few breakfasts and some couscous up until that point) we drove around Andorra la Villa, found it to be mainly a shopping mall and headed toward Barcelona.

On the way to Barcelona, we enjoyed the view from the Pyrenees once again, but had to stop at one point when our brakes began to smoke. They cooled and we took off again, even more gingerly this time. After a few hours we made it to the bottom and made our way into the city of Gaudi.

Daniel R. Ziegler