Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Out and about in the Mediterranean (Part 2)

The second leg of our 45th anniversary reunion was a cruise trip in the Mediterranean from 22 to 29 September 2012. Thanks to Irene Tsai for sharing with us very vividly the fun of all those who took part in the reunion in this two-part article.  Here in Part 2, Irene continues with the exploration of Barcelona, a city of food, culture, talent and sports, after the cruise trip and her thoughts on sustaining our 50-year old vintage friendship  . (If you want to read Part 1 first, please ckick here.)

Comfortably seated in an open-topped double decker tourist bus, we girls went sightseeing the city’s north, south and even the its beach front taking advantage of its red, blue and green routes.  We hopped on and off whenever and whatever we were attracted to.  Sometimes, no agenda is a good agenda.  For 20 Euros, one can get unlimited rides, getting on and off at anytime, anywhere on all the tourist bus routes from morning to 10 p.m.  No early morning tour bus or cruise ship to catch for a few days.  Phew!  The double deckers were very clean and came with brand new personal headsets.  One can pick his/her desired language to tune into the most informative voice describing everything you need to know along the various routes.  Naturally, we stopped to shop and never hesitated to have the best good eats (Catelan cuisine) in town.  Nice restaurants are everywhere, especially along the famous avenue, La Rambla (Las Ramblas) with enticing menus at extremely reasonable prices (when comparing to NYC or Toronto).  And, unlike North America, I was pleasantly surprised to find out the city does not have a tipping culture at all.  5% is already very generous if you really want to tip them.   The catch-of-the-day fresh seafood dishes, tapas and paellas, that Iberico ham (from Iberico pigs), my God, its unique distinct taste and unforgettable aroma is totally awesome and more than delicious.  It literally melts in your mouth.
 I have to confess that I’ve OD just on that champion ham alone @ almost every restaurant and bar in Barcelona.  One observant restaurant owner noticed that and as I walked past him to leave after our sumptuous dinner, he suddenly grabbed my hand to give me his long professional knife and spoke to me in Spanish, asking me to pass him my iPhone so that he could take a picture of me slicing the Iberico ham.  Haha!  I am pretty sure Fay Lo (Malcolm Au), the world food and wine expert would understand me for losing my self-control on that irresistible Spanish ham.  Hey, I am still regurgitating that unbelievably great tasting ham as we speak.  Too bad that we’re not allowed to bring some back to Canada or the States.  The locals eat late.  Lunch time runs between 2 to 3 p.m. , and dinner time between 9 p.m. and midnight.  Bingo, my kind of lifestyle and eating culture, you know.  We girls even took the subway around town.  Of course, Las Ramblas is sleepless day or night.  It’s always buzzing and sizzling with world tourists and locals around the clock.  Barcelona is such a medieval city on one hand and also a chic European city on the other hand.  It has the latest modern conveniences, yet it is also spilled with the most adorable Gothic art, grand detailed historical architectural buildings and legacies almost every corner you turn.  I am not religious, but I paused repeatedly to marvel at the beautiful Romanesque churches and the amazing wall paintings inside.  Evidence of the 2,000 year-old Roman civilization is not hard to find at all.  To the west of Las Ramblas is modern and artsy.  It’s predominantly filled with the modernistic genius Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudi’s great works.  Sagrada Familia, the amazing unfinished church, the masterpiece Gaudi started but unfortunately never had a chance to complete when he died in 1926 after tragically hit by a tram.  Everyday, its main gate entrance is packed with tourists coming from all over the world to have a glimpse of Gaudi’s masterpiece.  One has to pay quite a bit for admission and then lining up among crowds waiting to get in.  I understand the admission collections mostly go to the completion of the church.  They’re predicting to have it finished in year 2026, which will then mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.  Hallelujah, I’ll say.  How old will we all be by then??  I would love to see its final completion if I am still alive and kicking. 

Parc Guell is Gaudi’s park.  It is stunning, artistic, extremely well designed and built that one can enjoy the magnificent view of the whole city either sitting or standing by the colorful super long ceramic park bench in the form of an awesome serpentine.  Casa Batllo and Casa Mila are also Gaudi’s world famous works.  They are such unique second to none buildings, one with distinct chimneys on top and one with tons of curves inside and outside which attract tens of thousands daily from all over the world even when admission fee’s not that modest.  At the foot of Las Ramblas is the city’s glorious waterfront where the tall proud statute of Christopher Columbus stands tall forever, watching big ships and small sailboats coming and going as they so please.            

After more than 4 decades of living in Toronto, I have knowingly and unknowingly become 唔醎唔淡, 唔湯唔水, 唔中唔西,yet my 50-year-old vintage friends did not really mind me.  I was lucky enough to travel with them, sharing many fun hours with them, despite the fact that we have been living hundreds and hundreds miles apart under different government systems, separate cultures and subcultures for 50 years.  Honestly, who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Given when nothing is absolute, I still dare boldly say that most likely nobody from Class of ’67 will be around for another 50 years.  Therefore, we must 眼前,珍眼前 fun J  Treasure what we still have in our hands today.  The Mediterranean Cruise was kind of like our 45th anniversary mini reunion even when so few from Class of ’67 have showed up.  Perhaps, rather than waiting to celebrate our forthcoming 50th anniversary, why don’t we have a yearly group trip together, starting 2013.  Let’s go somewhere fun together once a year until we can’t walk any more.  Haha!  Hey, I am not the only one who feels this way after our recent fun Med Cruise.  I sincerely hope more of us would come join us on our next trip.  Good friends play together, travel together, eat together, laugh together and share their life experiences with each other along the way.  This Med Cruise was a great life-enriching way to rekindle, sustain, preserve or save our endangered 50-year-old vintage friendship.  We were always one, sparkling great conversations, laughing through mountains, valleys, oceans and seas, rain or shine, leaving our footprints in southern France, Italy and Spain.    

All in all, we were some very happy, carefree travelers who have put our intense living details aside for a little while to travel and marvel together at great European wonders.  Mind you, there was an interesting land tour which covered Madrid and different parts of Spain and Portugal prior to the Med Cruise, but regretfully I could not be part of it due to my work schedule.  I have promised myself to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage sites as I can before I kick the bucket in this life, and very happily and adventurously I have gone to 6 of them on my priority list this time with my 50 年的老同學.  Yes, we’ve visited the beautiful Roman Tivoli Gardens, Gaudi’s world famous Guell Park, admired his iconic buildings:  Casa Mila and Casa Batillo, checked out that very interesting old Roman town of Pompeii, and felt small at the magnificent sacred site, Montserrat.  I must admit it was a very delightful yet quite tiring trip for a bunch of curious, ever-ready newly qualified seniors with young attitudes and super active minds.  So much was offered to us throughout our trip, yet so little resting and sleeping time to be had.  I was dead beat each night by the time I crawled into my cabin bed at about 3 a.m. or beyond, with my almost clam-shut eyes to look for my pillow for another night’s sleep inside my 3rd floor cabin which I gladly shared it with Brenda Kan.  Insomnia suddenly became a foreign word to me during our Med Cruise as I passed out almost immediately when I dropped my head on my pillow while trying to listen to the hypnotizing sounds of the fast moving big boat engine, orchestrating periodic waves hitting our big round cabin window at such perfect natural rhythms leading to unbeatable peaceful feelings and sweet dreams.  You know, it felt so good to sleep like that.  Every night I told myself I would just sleep in the next morning and skip the damn early morning bus tour for a change.  But, exhilaration totally triumphed over exhaustion seamlessly every single early morning when it’s time to jump out of bed to get going again for another day’s fun-filled land tours with my good old friends.

Few weeks ago, at my airport shift, while working with outbound flights at international departure gates, I bumped into the same Gwai Lo colleague who I have exhaustively worked our oversold Barcelona outbound together, either once or twice in August.  He said to me with a big smile, “Hey, Irene, welcome back.  I bet you now understand why our seasonal Barcelona inbounds and outbounds have been either 100% full or oversold from late Spring to late Autumn.  Haha!”  Really and truly, Barcelona is a clean, cultured, interesting and also very affordable great European city to visit, especially if you’re someone like me who loves good food and wine, world class art works and serious architectural details.  Laughingly, I also found out later on the phone that many of those who’ve gone happy cruising with me all needed another week to recuperate from the immense Mediterranean Cruise fun after they returned to their hometown.  But, I would do it all over again in just a heartbeat!!!

Irene Tsai (original “C” Class), reporting from Toronto - late Autumn of 2012


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