Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Spanish Inquisitors

If there's one thing you know about Sid Levin, its that he's bald. But if there's two things you know about Sid Levin, its that he has a sweet mustache. But if there's three.....ok I'm just gonna skip ahead because somewhere on this list of things to know about Sid Levin is the fact that he has always wanted to go to Spain. And since I, his son, happened to be in Europe, what better opportunity would there be to take a nice father-son trip?

Actually, he didn't just want to see Spain, he also wanted to see the Adriatic sea and the south of France (he's quite greedy). In the end, he flew into Split (Croatia), we hung out there for a few days, then few to Nice (France) rented a car and drove for ten days through southern France (France) and Spain (Spain).

I already talked about Split in my last post (which I'm sure you have read), so lets get right to France. We flew in on a Thursday. There was an electricity in the air that said, "Hi - I'm France". We rented a car at the airport and drove into the city of Nice (I know thats a super easy one to make puns with, but I'm not going to fall for that trap).

Nice is right on the coast and has some pretty Nice beach fro.....damn it, I couldn't even make it one sentence without a pun.

Damn, that's Nice

Big Sid in his element

Outside of the coast, I don't really have much more to say about Nice, so we will move on to our next stop; Aix-en-Provence. Now, you probably know Aix-en-Provence from the multi-national store that originated here (I did not know it for this, but I'm sure one of you did).

A store (it has the name "en Povence" in it)

But, it also happens to be the home town of none other than, Paul Cézanne (I like to call him Pauly C.)

Rockin hats with Pauly C.

A courtyard in Aix-en-Provence
So Aix-en-Provence was Nice (ahhhh....why can't I stop myself from making this pun?), but the real attraction was the vineyard we went to.

Vineyard in the south of France...NBD
This vineyard was also significant on our trip because it was where I learned how to drive stick. Automatic transmission cars are way more expensive to rent in Europe so we rented a manual one which I had never driven before. I drove around the vineyard parking lot and surrounding roads for 30 minutes and then the very next day, I was driving on the highway. I don't want to brag or anything, but I do want to say things in a boastful manner; I'm pretty awesome.

After one night in Aix (pronounced 'x' which is pronounced 'ex'), we drove the six hours over to Barcelona (not sure if you heard, but I drove some of the way cause I know how to drive stick shift). I had been to Barcelona ten years before and had very fond memories and was quite excited to go back. The first stop was Gaudi's Sagrada Familia.

Say whaaaaaat?

I had visited the cathedral ten years prior, but had not gone inside. The outside is obviously absolutely ridiculous (in a good way), but then we went inside....

Now, I've been to Petra, Iceland, Acton Massachusetts, Machu Picchu, Taj Maha, Burning Man, the Swiss Alps and other amazing places, but I think the inside of the Sagrada Familia is the most impressive thing I have ever seen in my life. It is directly out of what I think the future alien world will look like when we find it. And this thing was designed 100 years ago. It's been slowly built over time and now the government has picked up the project (as you can see from cranes in the picture) and plans to complete the whole thing by 2026ish. There's actually something like eight more towers to build on top of the thing. Nothing I say or show in pictures can do much for you (and pictures inside don't really come out well), but here ya go:


That's lovely

Wow, I know how to capture the light perfectly

Yeah, so you should go.

The other (boring) side of the Cathedral...

The rest of Barcelona was also pretty great. We had lots of tapas and sangria, got robbed, saw other Gaudi buildings, hung out on Las Ramblas and more...

Tapas and Sangria on Las Ramblas

Courtyard off Las Ramblas

More Gaudi

Even more Gaudi

A Gaudi park

Wait, I'm sorry, did you mentioned something about being robbed? 

Why yes I did!

Also, I have a problem with talking out loud to myself.

You should get that checked out.

Robbed! At gunpoint! I still have the experience ingrained in my memory. As the gun went off, I jumped in front of the bullet to save my father, realizing my true potential as a hero. 

That's how it went down in my mind, but in reality we came back to our Airbnb to find our stuff thrown throughout the room and my bag missing with my laptop, passport, dad's iPad and numerous other small things, like my hat from Bolivia 😧

I've never had an experience like that before and its obviously pretty intense and emotional in the moment, but really, its not so bad in the end. When you think about losing your passport while traveling, it seems like you would be completely screwed, but it actually wasn't that big of a deal. I went to the US consulate, got an emergency passport on the spot, then ordered a new one when I got to Kuala Lumpur and had it in hand in two weeks. It's actually quicker to get a passport outside the US then in. Conspiracy!

So, a little shaken, but unharmed (other than my bullet wound), we moved on with our journey. The next stop was in Valencia for a night. 

In case you were not aware, Sid Levin is the spry age of 78. But let me tell you, he has the energy of a......77 year old. He climbed 277 steps to the top of the Valencia bell tower. Wow.

Sid Levin climbed to the top

The reward at the top of the tower....a bell

After our quick bell tower visit, we were on our way to Granada. I was able to drive some of the way since I know how to drive stick.

Granada is known for two things; the Alhambra and free tapas with every drink. We took advantage of both of these. The drinking is plentiful as Granada is made up of small streets lined with restaurants with outdoor seating.

Small streets full of tapas and sangria (sorry, this is apparently the best photo I took)

And then there was the Alhambra:

Alhambra by night

As I'm sure you're all aware, the Alhambra has a long and storied history; from the moors to the christians to the you can just read about it here on Wikipedia. Did you know, the Alhambra is where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition to not quite America? Oh, you did know that? OK, sorry. But did you know that the Alhambra is the....oh you knew that too? OK, I'll just show you some pictures then.

A window

A garden

A great picture by Matt Levin

A fortress

A pigeon

A...not sure what that is

A Sid Levin....rarely captured in its natural habitat

In addition to the Alhambra, Granada also has a big cathedral. I thought you should know, so I took a picture.

A big cathedral in Granada. You're welcome!

And then it was time to move onto the last city of our trip; Madrid. I don't have much to say about Madrid. It was a city. However, now is a good time to discuss the theme running throughout the entirety of our trip; the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War? Yes, the Spanish Civil War. Interesting, tell me more. OK, well for starters, in Spain, they just call it the Civil War.

My father likes to say that he grew up in the "old left". That means people were preaching "viva la revolution" and such. The Spanish Civil War is very significant for this leftist movement because for a brief period it was really the only time in history where true utopian communism actually got to play out. Of course, it didn't last very long because the Fascist general, Francisco Franco, defeated the Republicans (the leftist groups) in the civil ware and instilled a dictatorship for the next 40 years. This Franco character was so bad that Hitler famously said that he "would rather have three or four teeth pulled than go through another meeting with him." Damn, that Hitler is cold as ice, I have a feeling he's not going to be liked in the long run. Actually, I'm not sure if the fact that Hitler couldn't stand him makes Franco more or less likable.

The Spanish Civil War is also significant because most countries signed a non-intervention agreement (although many intervened including Germany and Italy testing out new bombing technology before WW2) and so many members of the leftist movement around the world came to volunteer on the side of the Republicans. Over 1000 people from the US volunteered and became known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The author, George Orwell, volunteered and wrote a book, Homage to Catalonia, about his experience.

We went on a four hour long Spanish Civil War tour in Barcelona which was hands down the best tour I have ever been on (and I've been on a lot of tours). Additionally, we did another Spanish Civil War tour in Madrid. Basically, if you have any questions, just ask. Or you could go visit Spain and go on this tour. It's actually very hard to find information on the Civil War within Spain as the government has suppressed the discussion of it since many people in power have direct ties to the brutal Franco times.

Monument remembering the plaza where the Battle of Ciudad Universitaria took place in Madrid

Pillbox used by the Nationalists during the war

Monument to the 40,000+ members of the international Brigades who volunteered to fight for the Republicans (only mention of them in Spain)

Victory Arch - The arch was built to commemorate the victory of Franco in the Spanish Civil War in the Battle of University City. Yes an arch celebrating Franco (built by Franco)

And this concludes my father-son trip to Spain as well as the European part of my Remote Year journey. Next, we'll make a quick stop in the middle east and then its on to Asia.

Total countries visited on my trip: 17 (Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, England, Belgium, Italy, Czech Republic, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Germany, Croatia, France, Spain)

Oh, and here's a video of an awesome Flamenco show we came across in Granada: