Seat selection

Posted by jswt | Posted in General | Posted on 12-04-2010

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Picking my seats for my flight to Spain tomorrow, and this scrolls through the datasphere… Life as RSS feed 😛

De-Florenced.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Italy - Florence | Posted on 29-03-2010

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So sometime in the past (lets refer to it as “this morning”) I left florence and caught a flight to zurich and had a layover and then caught a flight to montreal, where i’m currently sitting killing a few hours layover with a pint of beer and a burger. I wanted to get a few notes down about florence before I get back into home mode and the feeling of the place fades into a memory state…

[Note: my brain is currently splattered across many timezones and beer is holding it together. Incorporate that into this read…]

So…
Florence…

*OLD*.
Beautiful.
Amazing.

Rome has old stuff, but Florence is all just old. It’s a beautiful middle ages city on a river with squares and bridges and this church cathedral that you can’t even begin to imagine.

Monday: Chris had day off so we went on a tuscany wine tour with a crew… it started off as a civilized venture, but something about drinking heavily before noon before continuing on to multiple wineries lent itself to some serious fun, with some *really* amazing wines tasted along the way. Most surprising taste of the day? Real, proper olive oil. On a cracker. That’s it. And it blew my mind how good it tasted. The rest of monday was a bit of a write-off, but we went out for a nice dinner and then back home to bed early.

Other than that, it was just a bit of a great cycle… work in the morning, head out around noon to grab some lunch… everything shuts down at 2, so I’d just do some sightseeing around the city, and then head over to the venue for dinner before heading back to the hotel to do a few more hours of work before chris got home.

The city had some amazing sights… you could just wander and get lost forever in the tunnels of streets and alleys, which of course were all lined with some serious shopping…

Ended up on a mountaintop one afternoon at a church that was built around 1000AD and had more inlaid marble than I’ve ever seen in my life. Can’t imagine the amount of time it took to build, but it was stunning… Got shooed away by monks starting a mass, so I went and caught the sunset overlooking the city.

(burger just came so my notes might be short and greasy now…)

one afternoon ended up at the Boboli Gardens which were seriously epic… hedge mazes and miles and miles of trails with renaissance art just dotting the paths and hiding in the hedges. The park itself is half the size of florence, so it took a long time to make it through and I was too late to check out the palace that’s attached to it, but I did manage to find the statue of Bacchus – essentially the Italian budda riding a turtle waving his junk to the world and looking quite austere and amused about it.. (reminds me a lot of someone i know – heh).

Chris’s day off on friday we checked out the statue of David, which i didn’t think i’d really care much about, but as with the Picasso museum in Barcelona, you suddenly get what the big deal is… There’s no way you can’t look at it and have your jaw drop at the marble marvel it is.

We spent the rest of the day eating, drinking coffee, and shopping (not for anything in particular, just as a serious learning curve as the italians know how to dress). We did come across this shoe store that was a whole level above anything we’d ever seen… a Japanese shoemaker who lives in Florence and who’s store is simply one showcase showing samples (“I make everything custom. These are just examples.”). Seriously, these shoes were *art*… they take about 6 months to make a pair, and start at about 8000euro… But just knowing they’re out there stepped up our shoe game 😛

But yeah… wandering wandering wandering in awe at the awesome. Espressos beyond dreams. Cities older than anything I’ve ever known.

Food and wine continued to blow expectations away and just got better and better (dinner one night? Antipasti plate -> Octopus Carpaccio -> Pear Raviolo -> Florintine Steak… omnomnomomg)

Hanging out with Chris’ crew keeps getting better, travelling w/ chris keeps getting better, I’ve got the work/tourist thing in balance, and we continue living our dream of seeing the world without going broke in the process.

Don’t really know what else to say except life is good, and any chance you get to trip around Italy, jump at it… not sure if life’ll really be the same afterwards.

(note: gallery is too big to post all thumbs… click next button below to see more…)

Now back to Vancouver for a couple weeks of adventure, dj-gigs and appointments before I take off next…

La vita è buona.
🙂

Rome wasn’t built in a day… (But it was visited in one)

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Italy - Rome | Posted on 27-03-2010

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Last I wrote, we were headed off for a couple nights in Rome… Hopped a train on Thursday night after work, and got in around midnight. Could have gone out, but opted instead to chill out and make the most of the luxuries of the Grand Hotel (read: comfiest bed *ever*)… Glad we saved our energy because the next day set some serious personal records for sightseeing.

So Rome itself feels kind of like any other major busy city (NY, London, etc) except that it’s old. And by old, we’re not talking some cobblestone and brick. We’re talking about old pieces of the city sitting at the side of the road that are older than the country from which we call home. We’re talking affirmative proof that redneck zealots who think the world was created 7000 years ago have really just never left their backwood shacks.

We started the day early with some espressos and pastries before hopping the metro to the old city region. We’d learned that your entry pass is good for all the sights in the area, so instead of waiting for over an hour for a ticket at the Coliseum, we started with a 10 minute line over at the old city site on the hill. The entire hill is ancient ruins that you can stroll around and through, and descend down into a main drag of seriously old and massive structures. There’s temples, arches and ornate architecture dating from BC. Of course, a lot of the original meanings were wiped from our collective past by the church, and the whole area was off limits for centuries to try and prevent unwanted ideologies from surfacing. Luckily, strong technological architecture lasts longer than passing belief systems.

After coming to grips with the ancient nature of the place, we hopped over to the Coliseum, which is a giant stone structure that used to hold 50-60,000 people for gladiatorial competitions. It was also a theatrical and technical masterpiece, in that the area under the floor was hollow and consisted of a complex system of pulleys and elevators that would allow props and elements to appear magically on the stage. The astounding complexity goes so far as to have allowed the flooring area to be flooded and filled with water, and they could actually sail ships within and have battleship competitions, before draining it away for the next event.

Of course, the events were mainly gladiatorial (man vs man) or hunting (man vs animal), in the name of sport. Exotic animals were frequently hunted and killed during the events, including bears, tigers, hippos… As someone with animal cruelty trigger issues, my initial instinct was to recoil, but then I realized that our ‘civilized society’ might actually be better off to turn hunting back into a spectator sport – if animals are going to be killed for food anyways, might as well not pretend it’s not happening, and milk some entertainment value out of what’s an inevitable dinner-based fact (see also: bullfighting vs feedlots and what’s actually a more cruel punishment). UFC is an example that we’re really still all just wishing to observe structured violence in the name of sport — the Romans just actually went of the money-shot rather than pussyfooting around it and acting like it’s not what everyone really just wants to see…

After the Coliseum we went and found the site of the old forum (a horse racing track that used to house 250,000 spectators), and wandered through some old ruins in the jewish part of town before a nice lunch (as standard, maybe courses, with wine, and all fantastic).

We wandered deeper into an old neighbourhood and though I’m not sure we were supposed to, ended up inside some official looking library-esque building that had an amazing collection of statues and intricate carvings on all the walls. The statues were old enough that all their dinks had been cut off (seems there was an overzealous pope in the 11th century who had all the genitals cut off of male statues to prevent the immoral decay such indecencies would incite), and it was stunning to see such historic artifacts just hanging out subjected to the elements in their natural habitat.

More wandering took us through squares and down alleys and past palaces until we ended up at the Pantheon, which has the biggest concrete dome ceiling in existence, and it was built 1700 years ago. Of course, wikipedia will tell you all you need to know about the historical context of the building, and how like every other building of note it was offered up to a pope or church body as an offering, but what struck me as most interesting was a bit about concrete. Romans figured out how to make concrete around the year 300AD and built this giant dome which is still a modern marvel. Around the year 400, people were dying so quickly from plagues and for “having ideas or beliefs not in accordance with the church” (such as many of the technological masters of the time) that the recipe for concrete was actually lost for about 1000 years. It got me to thinking that if something like concrete could be forgotten about, imagine all the millions of things people have learned over time that have disappeared from our collective consciousness. How many home remedies weren’t passed down to the next generation? How many equations and calculations are lost in stacks of paper? How many revelations weren’t shared by the ruling party of the time and revoked from existence?

Sorry if I’m obviously embedding bitter bias throughout, but it’s been really hard for me to digest a country that’s 98% Catholic, and that every single piece of history on display has a Christian tale woven into it, because otherwise it’s been literally destroyed or had it’s history re-invented. It’s also disturbing to see the blasphemous wealth poured into churches and their expenditures – funding for classics all came through the church (ceiling frescos, statues, architecture). As someone who considers Christianity to be a passing fad and just a distraction from any actual connection to God, the bitchslapping that history and culture has taken is immeasurable and simply another occurrence of a recurring cycle through history (see also: Aztecs, Conquistadores, Native Indians. etc…) It just saddens me to imagine what could have been produced by humanity without the timewasting distraction and if we’d collaboratively pooled our knowledge.

Damn…
I digress.
Let me get back into fluffy Lonely Planet mode here…

After the Pantheon we wandered from square to cafe to stunning beauty to more old world to fountains to the Spanish Steps and then back to our hotel for a short chill-out.

We had the concierge recommend something up our alley for dinner, and he nailed it – great multi-course gourmet fiasco paired with delicious wines that left us feeling fabulously gluttonous.

From there we went to a place I’d been wanting to check out for years – a bar modelled after the Moloko Milkbar in A Clockwork Orange. As someone who happens to have a tattoo related to the work, it seemed more than appropriate… Great atmosphere, and after a couple Chocolate Absinthe Amaretto Milkshakes (Diablo – #66 on the menu – mmmmm) we stepped back into the night… Since I heard about it, the visit’d floated around in my head as “one day” knowledge, and it was a great feeling to be able to look at it as a memory rather than an item on the wish-list.

Of course, nothing tops off a little Milk+ like a trip to the vatican to visit the Pope. We’d hoped he’d pop out to bless our engagement, but St Peter’s square was quiet at that late hour and we had it mostly to ourselves.

Back at the hotel we sunk again into the “comfiest bed everâ„¢” and slept until it was time to get up and catch our train back so Chris could make it to work on time…

At the time, seen through the distorting filter of new experience, it didn’t sink in how much we actually did in Rome or how much we saw, but after realizing that there were over 250 photos on the camera from the day the memories triggered and settled in.

Unbelievable day.
Kick-ass adventure.
And a new personal best for self induced touristy overload 😛

Italians do (some things) better…

Posted by jswt | Posted in Italy - Bologna, Italy - Pesaro | Posted on 18-03-2010

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I’ve been in Italy for a week and a half now, and I’ve been having too much of a lovely time to post much…

Things I’ve learned about Italy:

1) Their food is *amazing*. Their restaurants are stellar, and their grocery stores make ours look like desolate Quick-E-Marts. I can’t even call what we get back home pasta now. Even their $2 bottles of wine are good – let alone the good stuff. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

2) Everyone here is better dressed than us. I still don’t understand the puffy shiny jackets, or the excessive purple, but they’re rocking it.

3) I’m unsure how anything gets accomplished in this country. *Everything* is closed in the afternoons, and might/maybe open around that, apparently dependant on the mood of the shopkeep. Nothing happens quickly, or on on the first request. You just have to keep asking, and remember that 95% of a conversation is communicated through the hyperactive waving of hands, and high volume dramatics. It’s just how it is.

We spent our first week in Pesaro, which is a small little beach town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. It’s March, so it was really quiet and not too hyper, but there was a wonderful old-world downtown area that we could wander to and through.

On the tour’s transfer days, there’s a troupe of wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, and miscellaneous partners who tend to travel ahead and file into the hotel. I was part of this early-arrival posse on Sunday evening, and we went out en masse for a nice dinner and stumbled onto a chocolate festival that was going on in the main square.

Monday was Chris’ day off and we spent it wandering Pesaro – it was pretty cold, but still a nice day for a walk along the beach. We’d hop into cafes along the way for unbelievable coffees, brilliant pastas and antipasti, and always amazing wines.

Weds night was our 4 year anniversary, and Chris took me out for an unbelievable 6-course seafood dinner and wine pairing at a restaurant overlooking the river. The 4 years that we’ve been together have been amazing – we really understand eachother, share a lot of the same drives and motivations, and are compatible on more levels than anyone I’ve ever met. I’d realized a while ago that my life is made a whole lot better with him in it, that I’d be quite happy growing old with him, and so that night on our hotel room balcony overlooking the ocean, accompanied by the rolling sound of crashing waves, I got down on one knee and asked Chris if he’d marry me. He said yes, and instantly turned into a giddy princess, to whom I was engaged.

The rest of the week was rather uneventful – we were both working, the town was pretty quiet and aside from a couple visits to the local pub we just laid pretty low…

Sunday we transferred to Bologna, Italy (where I’m currently writing this)…

I rolled into town with a couple other tagalongs, and rather than heading directly to our hotel out in the burbs, we spent a lovely day checking out Bologna. It’s fantastic, with that super old town square centre magic feel.

Not much was open (it being Sunday, and the afternoon, and just generally Italy), so we just wandered around sticking our noses where we could. We found a great little underground vaulted cavern where we ate lunch of delicious antipasti plates (mmm – proscutto wrapped pineapple), and I was introduced to Lambrusco wine. Not sure if it was the wine with lunch, but shortly thereafter, climbing the largest tower in town seemed like the right thing to do, and after a 20 minute spiral hike upwards we were returned an unbelievable view of the whole city from a few hundred feet on high. One of our group spotted a flea market in a square a few blocks over, so that was our next stop… Tons of antiques and jewellery and vintage designer accessories, and definitely more nazi memorabilia than I’ve ever seen in one place, but for sure regretted my limited luggage space with the things I’d like to have taken home.

The next day, we hopped a morning train over to Venice… It’s somewhere I’d always wanted to visit, and Chris never had, so we didn’t want to miss the chance and were so glad we didn’t. It was as if we were walking through a dream: a city built out of nothing apparently drifting and floating while fending off and nestling up against the elements. We hopped off the beaten path and spent the better part of 8 hours doing our best to get lost via the maze of little streets and alleyways and walkways and tunnels and magic gardens, many of which are literally older than the country from which we come. Words can’t even begin to capture the sense of wonder and pleasure the city inspired, and I hope that one day I’ll get a chance to get back.

As I mentioned, the hotel’s a little out of the city centre, so I took the past couple days to lock myself down and do some long days of heavy development on a project I’m working on… My spidey-sense is telling me it’s going to be worth the effort, and I’m feeling good about where it’s at, so I’m going to take a guilt-free adventure pause…

For a bit of an engagement celebration, Chris has booked us into a very, very nice sounding hotel right in the heart of Rome… We’re leaving after work tonight, and taking the train down for 2 nights/1 day, and then coming back before work on Saturday. Only a few things on the list that we want to see, but mainly just looking forward to experiencing another beautiful Italian city and the sights, sounds and flavours that it has to offer.

More on that… IN THE FUTURE!
🙂

O(lympics) Canada!

Posted by jswt | Posted in Canada - Vancouer, General | Posted on 06-03-2010

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So I’m packed and ready to resume my role as JetSetWhiteTrash, but I thought I’d be a good idea to look back on the past few weeks where I had the opportunity to play tourist in my home town during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In the years leading up to the olympics, I was rather neutral about the whole thing – I knew it’d be great for Vancouver, but there were a lot of negative issues being ignored, cost overruns and some shifty dealings.

But I remember it first settling in as to what it meant when I was in Geneva back in December, and I started to realize that it was bigger than Vancouver. Every time I’d see a TV, they were showing Vancouver. Every time I’d open a newspaper, they were saying something about Vancouver. Walking through airports and malls and venues, there’d be posters showing Vancouver. Everyone I spoke to, when they found out where I was from, was asking me all sorts of questions about Vancouver.

It was then that I realized that no matter what issues we might have with the olympics at home, they were coming, and the world was going to be arriving on our doorstep shortly.

The event itself overlapped for a week with Chris’ tour break, and we both just kept ourselves clear to make the most of the events and see what came to us… We also had some good old friends of mine from DC stay with us for that first week, which seriously added to and helped encourage our own sightseeing and touristiness of it all.

Pretty much every night we’d end up downtown in the throngs, revelling… hi-5ing… drinking… singing… cheering… and it was unbelievable. Our regularily no-fun-city was giving everyone the respect to go out and enjoy themselves, and everyone was making the most of that gift.

Canada is not usually anything more than a politely patriotic place – I mean aside from sporting events, the national anthem is rarely heard (even on most July 1st/Canada Days). But something about this event woke people up and made them realize they were so proud of where they came from, and who we were as a country, that they literally erupted into song. You heard people singing everywhere – on the trains, in the bars, on the streets, in the mall… It was unprecedented, surreal, and rather marvelous to experience.

We went into the whole thing only having some tickets for some long track speed skating, but whether it be karma, luck, or an openness to extreme possibilities, we ended up having a pretty full schedule of awesomeness: Medal ceremonies, hockey games, closing ceremonies, skating, superultra hair metal madness with Steel Panther. Chris even got a ticket to the mens moguls event where Canada won it’s first gold medal on home soil (and got us to some late night party with some of the canadian team).

In the end, Canada walked away with the record for most gold medals, and more importantly to us as a country, the gold medal in hockey — which symbolically stamped success upon the game

I think the most important thing that’s going to come out of this olympic experience for me is the hope of what it means for Vancouver – that we’ve for the first time realized that we’ve got a collective spirit that we’re proud of, that living in our city makes us part of something unique, and that we’re about to experience unprecedented growth that’s going to take us to a metropolitan level.

We’ve never actually *celebrated* as a city before… We’ve gone downtown to watch some fireworks, but that was a “get in, get out” type deal. We’d never been given a chance to just hang out and party… But now, we’ve not only taken the babysteps needed to be comfortable partying with our neighbors, we’ve all reailzed what a fantastic sensation it is to come together as a group and be part of the whole… (of course, say the festival goers and hippyfolk, but… that vibe you got the first time it all clicked — the masses just saw it, for most, their first time).

Similar to what Expo86 did for the city, we’ve just stepped up onto the world stage, and it’s going to be interesting to watch how we step up as a city, because the world has now seen Vancouver and the fantastic smile we flashed back to the world.

As I felt last year when I realized the world was coming to Vancouver… this is bigger than us now.

The secret’s out…
And it’s going to be an interesting wave to ride.

The hills are alive with the sound of Salzburg.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Austria - Salzburg, General | Posted on 17-01-2010

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Quick facts learned in Salzburg:

1) Mozart was born here. The city is cashing in on him huge. He hated the place.

2) Red Bull comes from here. The guy who owns it is the second richest Austrian, and has his own hangar at the airport filled with toys.

3) Yodelling sounds *exactly* like hawaiian music if you slow it down.


So I’ve been in Salzburg for the better part of the week now, and it’s one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been. It’s a small little oldschool city nestled up in the mountains with craggy cliffs and castles scattered all over town.

That beauty is put in check by the Austrian people – they speak German, and there’s something really bitter buried within that keeps them all scowling and unemotionally standoffish. Shouldn’t really paint a whole culture with the same brush, but so far all efforts to allow myself to experience otherwise have failed.

Not to say the week hasn’t been pretty awesome none the less…

Monday it was snowing, so we wandered around town in the snow, stopping here and there for coffee, shopping and an amazing dinner of fabulous fingerfood. Beauty beyond words.

Tuesday I trucked up into the hills with a few guys for a day of snowboarding at Saalbach-Hinterglemm, which are two towns in a valley that are literally surrounded by ski hills. I’ve rode all over the place, but have never been anywhere as massive as this. We kept moving all day, and we only made it about 1/3 of the way around the valley, and still had a good hour ride back to where we started at the end of the day. The snow wasn’t the best, but we managed to find some stashes of powder that weren’t technically out of bounds. Endless blue skies, sun, and good company made for a killer day.

One of the girls on the tour’s dad (a poker-pro) was opening a bowling alley in town, so Chris and a bunch of others were invited down to play poker with some of his poker buddies. The game didn’t last long, but the open bar and really crazy bowling alley kept things rolling till pretty late (nyuk nyuk).

Wednesday was a work day, and I popped over for dinner at the venue. Still not sure why the bus driver was yelling at me, or what he was saying, or why he refused to take my money for a ticket. Yay German.

Thursday was Chris’ day off, and we started it off with what might officially be filed under “gayest thing ever”: The Sound of Music tour! The classic musical was filmed in and around Salzburg, and a group of us from the tour joined a busload of gays and greys visiting the sights around town and heading out into the lake district. I watched the film a lot as a kid, and though I remember the music, I never really grasped the social context of what was happening. Travelling around and seeing where it was filmed, and realizing the actuality of the Nazi occupation and the dark shadow that hangs heavy in hearts around here, gave the tour some depth. Of course, that depth was wiped clear by the campiness of the tour guide, the whole bus singing Lonely Goat Herder (odelay, odelayee, oldealyeeehooo!), and just the general silliness that we brought along. I will admit to having a lot more fun than I expected I would.

To help boost our sagging testosterone levels after that morning, we spent the afternoon touring the menacing fortress that looms perched up above Salzburg. It’s got a thousand years of history and warfare to explore – guns, torture chambers, death, rebellions, mayhem! Hell of a way to flush Julie Andrews outa the system.

Nice Italian dinner (mmm – seafood risotto) and an early night wrapped things up nicely.

It’s been a bit of a slow work week as we’ve been having endless problems with the Internet at the hotel, and I’m just frustrating myself with idle efforts in wasted time. Would love to keep moving with the project I’m wrapping up, but figure this being the last few days of my trip I’ll spend the time where I get the most out of it.

Bittersweet on the fact that I’m heading home on monday — it’ll be nice to be home in my own bed and see my cat and apartment, but it’s been a great month and I’m going to miss the adventure and company… Hotel rooms can become quite homey very quickly. Chris’ll be home in 3 weeks for tour break and we’re really looking forward to the Olympic experience.

Ah well…
Dreams of Italy in 6 weeks are floating through my head, which’ll keep the travel bug at bay 😛

I’ve left a piece of my heart in Barcelona.

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - Barcelona | Posted on 10-01-2010

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Today was the first time in my travelling that I had a really hard time leaving a city.
I really didn’t feel like I was finished with Barcelona…
The city just felt alive and fantastic.

Styles and smiles.

I’d fallen into a fantastic rhythm.

Our second week there landed us in a really comfortable routine: wake up around noon. work till 10. micronap. go out around midnight or 1. get home around 5-6am. repeat.

I got myself well into a project for work (thanks to some inspirational help from this article about developing in a bubble), but still managed to balance that effort with the opportunity to explore somewhere I can’t imagine not coming back to…

Some highlights:

1) Parc Guell. Brilliant park designed by Antoni Gaudí. I love the fact that Barcelona doesn’t treat architecture just as a funcional requirement, but as a canvas for beauty.



2) Three Kings Parade (Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos). I normally *detest* parades, because the ones I’m usually forced to suffer through are boring and painful to watch (slow. spaced out. dull. uninspired. crap.) This on the other hand, was not. Christmas Day as we know it comes a little later in Barcelona – on Jan 5th, they celebrate the return of the 3 kings and hold a parade in their honor, and that evening is when the kids get their gifts. The parade was great – tons of music, great floats, awesome and HUGE crowd, fireworks and firebreathing… [Side note: We watched it in the city square (Catalanya) and then went to go check out a magic fountain a short train ride away. Fountain wasn’t on, but as we got there, the same parade shows up as it was the end of their route, so we watched it again.]



3) The Picasso Museum and in particular their current exhibition called “Secret Images”. It was an exhibition focused around 20 shunga pieces that Picasso owned and carried with him through all his moves. They’re a japanese style of erotic art that are not suble in their explicit attention to detail. The exhibition went into the history of forbidden art and erotic works and how even though they were being produced by grand masters, they were taboo and could only be shown behind locked doors. It was interesting how the whole ‘tentacle rape’ genre so familar to anime and hentai fans is actually nothing new, as shown by this definately not safe for work, but classic piece from 1814 , which was then shown throughout the next century for the inspiration it provided to more than a few well known artists…

Tentacle rape aside, the regular exhibit at the Picasso museum was hugely educational and impressive. It chronicled his life and works so you could walk through his evolution from schoolboy paintings, to training artist, through his cubist explorations and into his drawings. The cubist pieces were brilliant, as I’d look at it and know exactly what I was seeing on a simple level, but when you broke down the details of the image you were looking at you realized how none of it was as it simply appeared [1 2]. I’d never really been able to fathom what made someone a master artist, but looking closely at the pieces, I saw in each single stroke an intention of vision more focused than anything I’ve ever been able to put to paper.

4) Sagrada Familia. Calling it a church belittles the effort. A temple? A shrine? I can’t really do it justice through words, so go ahead and read the link there for the lowdown. It’s insane. It’s huge. They’ve been building it 1882 and don’t expect it to be finished for another 50 or so years. I spent the better part of an afternoon looking at the details. And an eerie special thanks go out to the invisible hand that pushed me out of the way of the car I didn’t see coming.



5) Getting bombed. I don’t mean the fact that the bars don’t even open until 1am and don’t pick up till 3 and are packed every night. I don’t mean the fact that we went out clubbing more in the past 2 weeks than we did in all of 2009. I don’t even mean the time we spent at this fantastically named drinking haunt (that unfortunately does not serve bacon). By getting bombed, I’m really actually alluding to…

6). Getting bombed on the train. No, nothing blew up… But picture this… You’re one stop into the 25 minute train ride at about 1:30am on a Friday night sitting on the last train back (about 4 cars to a train). Haven’t hit the party stations yet, so there’s but a few people on the train, mostly people coming home from work.

Suddenly, you notice a guy getting on the train wearing a bandana covering his face. He turns and yells to a guy behind you, who you realize is also wearing a bandana, and you see another 10-15 guys with bandana covering their faces pouring down the stairs directly outside your train. The guy who yelled first goes to the front of your train, pulls out a knife, and pops the emergency exit door, which triggers the alarm so the train can’t move. About then, the chinese lady coming home from work clutches her purse and starts screaming hysterically.

Luckily, they weren’t mobbing the train to rob us. The whole group whipped out spray paint cans, and went to work on the side of the train. The sea of bobbing balclava covered faces faded as the windows got covered by layer after layer of spraypaint applied in a well choreographed dance of creation. They’d done this before, and were getting this done quickly. The train conductor tried to stop them, but they’d just swarm around her and take off where the guy she grabbed had left off. The conductor finally gave up on stopping them, and went to work on fixing the alarm and getting the train moving again. By this time, we couldn’t see out of the train but just picked up a symphony of a cussing conductor mixed with hissing spraycans and panicked spanish catcalls and whoopings.

The train finally started moving, after what seemed like ages but was probably 5 minutes. When we popped our head out at the next station to see what’d happened, the train looked like this.

Yeah – graffiti is bad… vandalism… yadda yadda… Their planning was great. They did this as a very, very well orchestrated group in almost no time. No one was hurt. I was just plain impressed.



7) The Wandering. Endless tight classic streets that offer up new little haunts around every twist. Eating somewhere different every night that we’d never find again. Tapas, tapas and more tapas. Custom shops buried here and there… (big note: I have never been in a city that has anywhere near as many fantastic clothing shops for men. omg. shoes.) Every walk was a new adventure.



So yeah…
Sorry I haven’t been updating much.
I’ve been too busy working and letting Barcelona treat me right.

Again, I had a really tough time leaving there this morning…
Can’t say enough good things about it,
and can’t wait to go back.

(sigh)

…going where the climate suits my clothes.

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - Barcelona | Posted on 03-01-2010

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This post has been a little long forthcoming, because I’ve been much too distracted with Barcelona.

I had no idea.
I really just had no idea…

It’s fantastic here.

The city is old and insanely beautiful.
The people ooze beauty through style, but with sincerity.
I’ve never been in a city this bustling.

Barcelona seems to run on their own schedule… I don’t know if it’s a mediteranian thing, or a spanish thing, or what, but they’re on a different rhythm than I’m used to. Restaurants don’t open until 8 or 8:30 at night. Bars don’t open until midnight. Clubs don’t open until 1 or 2, and dont pick up until much later. I gather this comes from summer siesta, where it’d be too hot here to do anything during the day, and they just go and chill and build up some energy to go out when it cools down and enjoy the evening. Back home, fight to get up early, drink coffee to power through the day, and then crash exhausted. I’m a night owl by nature, but even though I’m keeping “weird” hours, I’m feeling better rested than usual, and making the most of the days here… It just feels like a much more natural rhythm.

We had a great NYE: None of the parties in town started until at least 1am, so stayed in and did our own thing until about 2. Went out to a club to meet up with a bunch of Chris’ work people who’d landed a private section at a big beachfront club. Good times.

Have been wandering but not taking many pictures. I usually find myself stopping to snap good architecture, but there’s literally so much beauty and intricate details all over this entire city that taking a single picture would be pointless.

I do appreciate how they’ve got a sense of history that lets them put effort into perspective. I’m sure they didn’t need to do all the detailing to get it up and functional, but when you know it’s going to be there for a few hundred years, you might as well put in the effort to long term effect.

Was worried about Barcelona’s reputation as pickpocket paradise, but though it’s a matter of fact it happens, I still have felt safer wandering around here than I do in back home (I’ll take petty crime over violent crime).

Did have a bit of a hard time with the language barrier – this is the first time I’ve been somewhere that didn’t have a default English backup, or able to get by on my French. Getting better at it, but it was intimidating trying to get food or interact when you can’t read a single sign or communicate what you’re staying without making strange noises and doing some pidgin version of sign-language.

So, Barcelona… Still not sure if it beats out Copenhagen, but easily falls into a close second in my wanders so far… It still has a fighting chance though:

We’ve been here a week now, and luckily have another week to go.
This city has a lot more to offer, and I’m really not in any rush to leave.

Vive la (snowboarding in) France!

Posted by jswt | Posted in France - Chamonix, General | Posted on 23-12-2009

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So this morning (Weds) I hopped on a bus to Chamonix in France. It’s this long valley region in the Alps with a whole schwack o resorts… Of course, things being as they are, forces conspired against me.

With snowboard in hand, I got on the bus at the airport and was the only one on a double decker. Enjoyed the ride to the first stop at city centre where there were a ton of other people waiting, and I was asked to exit the bus. Seems there was a rockslide on the main road to Chamonix, and we had to wait for a smaller bus that would fit under the bridges on the second road. North American efficiency would likely lead to the call for a new bus to have one delivered about the same time that ours arrived. Here though, that’s when they called the other bus driver to go to the bus depot in the suburbs and pick one up to drive into the city centre.

Well over 90 minutes later, we were on the road again and it was an amazing ride into France and up into enormous canyons and tunneling through mountainsides (These jagged steep peaks give the Rockies a run for their money).

Part way through the ride, I realize that though I’d booked a ski-shuttle through the website, I’d been lumped into a group of tours all chartered on the same bus, which was not actually going to any of the resorts in Chamonix, but continuing on with a bus tour of the alps. I hopped off at the Chamonix stop, and luckily the town has a fantastic free shuttle service that runs in a constant loop. Before catching one of the shuttles, I popped my head into a rental shop and looked for the snowboarding-stoner-guy (there’s always at least one in a rental shop) and asked him what I should be pointing myself towards for good snow and off-piste terrain. He said there was no decision – it was Les Grands Montets which had just had 25cm+ of snow the night before.

Of course, once I get there I find out that 2/3 of the mountain is currently closed due to “too much snow”. Having come all that way (and without a bus home until 5pm) I figured I’d make the most of it and have some fun on what was open.

Then the ticket agent informs me that their credit card machine is broken.
And they only take Euros (of which I have none).
And they don’t normally do it, but they can convert the Swiss Francs I’ve got.
It’ll be 70.
I’ve got 40 left after buying breakfast.

In the end the woman working the counter took pity on me, and said I couldn’t have come all the way from Canada not to play in the snow, and she sold me a child’s ticket which somehow ended up getting me back 5 euros.

So I eagerly busted up the gondola and wanted to grab some fuel before riding.
Of course, the cards aren’t working at the top of the mountain either.
And i have only 5 euros.

Again, sympathy prevailed and the girl at the counter hooked me up with a great sandwich and a drink for about half what it should have cost… Back home, they would have told me to f’off, but I seriously appreciate the French willingness to help out and sway to the winds of judgement. Vive la France!

So, fueled up and halfway up the resort, I was ready to hit it, and looked outside and realized what I was getting myself into: Enormous tree free powder fields splayed endlessly out from the peaks and glaciers far overhead. My first run led me into waist deep fresh untouched powder just off the main chair. I could have gone home happy after that one beautiful run, and it just kept getting better from there. About an hour in, they opened another chair into a bowl that they’d finished blasting, and I got to spend all afternoon hitting fresh tracks on huge wide open faces… Sooooooooo good.

Took a midafternoon break, and since the card machines were working again, I treated myself to the frenchest snack I could sort out: French onion soup, a local beer, vin chaud (mulled wine) and a crepe.

Even without the gondola to the top open, there was so much wide open challenging terrain and tit-deep snow, my day was filled with what was on tap, and my legs were giving out way before I wanted to stop. After riding out, I found a great pub near the bus station that worked out wonderfully for some aprez-ski until my bus came and shuttled me uneventfully back to Geneva.

So in all, it was a bit of a challenging effort to get there, but smiles and good manners thwarted those negative forces, and thanks to French hospitality, I had one of the best days of riding of my life at Les Grands Montets.

Ahhhhhh oui!

Welcome to 2nd class.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Switzerland - Geneva | Posted on 23-12-2009

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So I spent Tuesday afternoon walking around Geneva’s downtown and never have I had a city make me feel quite so much like a human trashbag.

There is just so much pompous wealth in this city it’s depressing. Everyone’s buried their money here in the private banks that are all over the city centre, and pops in to check on it from time to time and pick up a new fur/facelift/supercar/$50k watch (Piaget/Patek Phillipe/Rolex… line em up!). It seems as well that when you take that wealth and apply a heavy smear of French attitude across the Swiss, it turns into a very strong and unpleasant mix.

The people aside, the city is beautiful – it’s centered around a bay where the Rhone river meets the Geneva lake. It’s all beautiful old buildings over top of winding wonderful alleyways. I wandered up through the UN/WTO area yesterday where there is a fortified zone right up on the hill that you can tell was built hundreds of years ago. No streetfront cafes here, but lots of nice looking restaurants and choclatiers – it’s just unfortunate that they won’t give the time of day to anyone not flashing cash.

When I was taking the train back, I got on with the metro pass supplied by the hotel.
The attendant checked my ticket and said “this is a 2nd class ticket. you need to go 2 trains back”.
That kind of sums up this city.

So yeah — I’m kind of mixed on Geneva…
I think it’s just a very pretty city, full of richly adorned assholes.