Sunday, October 26, 2008

Obama rocks the Fort!

Marianne, Quentin, Katie, and I went to hear and see (!) Barack Obama at the CSU Oval today. I got in line at 11 a.m. for his 3:30 pm speech and it was totally worth the wait. One on-line site had the crowd estimated at 45-50,000.

We were maybe in the first few thousand, so actually got close enough to the stage to see him. Well, Marianne and Katie were a bit too short, but we hoisted them upa few times so they could get a look. Quentin reached overhead and got the photos of Obama.

Obama is a great speaker with a very inclusive message. The crowd loved seeing and hearing him. One local person said Obama wouldn't be coming to Fort Collins unless it meant something - if he wins FC, he wins Colorado, if he wins Colorado, he wins the country. Well, true or not, it made people feel like Fort Collins does matter this time around.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fun and Work in Barcelona

Marianne and I had a wonderful trip to Barcelona, and I thought I'd post a few of the highlights and some pix. Barcelona is a big city and is full of tourists from all over, but mostly tourists from other parts of Europe. The nice thing about a big city is that it has a lot to offer in terms of sights to see, museums, places to eat, etc. But big cities also are very crowded, loads of tourists, and don't feel as safe as smaller places.

The work part of the trip was excellent. I attended the World Conservation Congress, which had 8,000 people from over 170 countries. I presented a poster session on my work with Wildlife Refuges and got to meet quite a few people. I made some good contacts with some colleagues from Spain, and we'll be sharing information. I also ran into two people I knew from Mexico, so that was fun.

We rented a very nice little apartment in the old gothic area of the city with narrow streets and old buildings. It was on the third floor, with a narrow spiral type staircase.

The first day we were there, we were going to take this double-decker tourist bus for a ride around the city to see all the major sights. But when we got to the bus stop there was a line several hundred people long! So, we decided to just walk a bit, and catch the bus later. Well, the buses were always full, so we just kept walking! We got some sandwiches for lunch and went to Parc Guell, which was designed by Antoni Gaudi, and modelled after English garden cities. The idea was to have 60 houses and small gardens and there were to be fines for cutting trees. But it never took off, so it became a public park. Gaudi's designs included a lot of tile work, and the shapes of buildings and structures were influenced by nature. The park was full of people and fun to walk around.

The next day we took a train about an hour west of Barcelona to visit a monastery and natural park called Montserrat. We got off the train and then took a cable car ride up to the monastery - the ride was amazing and the views spectacular. We visited the church, where there was a mass going on, and heard the 50 member boys choir sing. But it was wall-to-wall people, so we decided to go up the mountain and get away from so many people.

There was a ride even higher up the mountain in what is called a funicular, which is a train on a track that is pulled by a cable up slopes of almost 45 degrees! So, we did that and then when we got off, we hiked a mile or two to the very highest point of the park, at a little over 4,000 feet elevation.

The next few days I went to the conference and Marianne wandered around the town, seeing some sights and doing some souvenir and gift shopping. Each night we would search out a nice restaurant for dinner, and we really enjoyed those with a quiet outside patio. We often had some tapas and red wine, and there was never a hurry.

On Wednesday, we took a train to Vilafranca del Penedes, a small town south of the city. We met Paddy, our guide, and another man, Paul, and spent the day together riding bikes around the wine country, visiting wineries, and having a great lunch. Paddy is from Ireland, but has lived in Spain for many years. It was a fun day and we really enjoyed seeing a small winery that made 30,000 bottles of cava (white sparkling wine) in a small family operation. We even understood what they were talking about when they mentioned "riddling" the bottles!

The lunch was a mixture of the various items on the menu of the day, followed by several desserts, and finally a drink of a dessert wine from a purron. This is a glass pitcher with a spout, so that you can share and drink without touching your mouth to the glass! Paddy was an expert, but the rest of us need a little more practice!

Back in Barcelona, we also visited La Sagrada Familia, which is a huge cathedral designed by Gaudi that is still under constrcution. It is hard to describe - very unusual architecture and shapes. When complete it will tower over the city, with the tallest tower being 500 feet high. It was begun in 1882 and they hope to have it finished by 2026!

We walked over a large part of the city, and got to see a lot of smaller neighborhoods, with families and kids. That was some of the most fun, to get away from the crowds along La Rambla downtown, which is a famous tourist area, but also noted for an abundance of scam artisits and pickpockets. The closest we came to trouble was in a busy area downtown when two little boys approached while I was withdrawing money from an ATM. They had a newspaper and were trying to place it in front of me just as I was completing the transaction at the ATM. I told them "NO" in a very loud voice and they took off. Had I hesitated or let them stall and distract me, I am sure they would have reached under the newspaper, grabbed our cash and ran. So, we had to be careful in the busy downtown areas. Other parts of the city were much less like that and more laid back. Overall, it was a great trip, and we managed pretty well with our Spanish. It is a lot more fun travelling in a country where you can speak a little of the language.