Moving site location

I am migrating the blog to travel.smartmicrobiology.com.  I’ve run out of space for photos here at WordPress.com.

I’m having some trouble moving everything over, the wordpress import/export functionality is somewhat limited here at WordPress.com.  Specifically, I can’t get my photos to import correctly and I’ve only got about half the pictures moved.

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Basler Fasnacht

Fasnacht is Switzerland’s answer to Carnival.  It is an event that is very special in Basel.  It all begins at 4 am on the Monday following Ash Wednesday.

Jenn and I got up and went to Marktplatz to see the parade.  All the lights in town are switched off for the event.  (Though it IS 4 am so not many are on in the first place)  The Fastnachtler dress up in costumes with crazy masks.  They craft lighted floats and play instruments and they walk the streets.  It’s pretty wild.

Most Fastnachtler wear a lantern on their mask.  The art on most floats is outstanding.  Tons of confetti is thrown around- and I do mean tons.

After the initial parade, there are follow up parades as well as concerts.  We’ll have to arrive earlier next year!

A weekend in Lisbon, Portugal

With a move to Switzerland at the end of the month, we decided to squeeze in a few more trips from Spain. This previous weekend we went to Lisbon, Portugal.

We arrived pretty early in the day so Jenn found us some storage lockers to put our luggage in so we could join a walking tour. We brought walnut with us and he loved walking through a new town. The tour gave a glimpse into Portugal’s past. Portugal was the world’s first global power. They learned and put to good use navigation and other seafaring techniques to find trading routes around the world.

In the 1700’s there was a massive earthquake that nearly flattened Lisbon. It was on all saints day, and most people were in church- old, high ceilinged buildings made of stone. Further, because of the holiday, many had candles burning at home. Lisbon was ablaze, and the survivors gathered in the main square which is near the taiga river. The tidal wave that followed the quake wiped out many of the would be survivors.

Lisbon was rebuilt nearly from scratch afterwards. Many of the buildings we currently see in Lisbon are from that era, having been built to new, higher standards. Some buildings remained from the earthquake as monuments to those who were lost.

We joined a knights of the Templar tour that took us to several sites important to that order. We started at Castelo de Almoural. It was a defensive position on an island in the middle of a river. The water level was much higher when this castle was in use, but even today it required a boat for access.

In Tomar, we visited the Convent of Christ.  Founded by the Templar Knights, it was huge!  It was added to and and decorated many times over the years.  Much of the ornamentation is very nautical, in the Manueline style.

On our last day in Portugal, we took a train to Sintra.  At the station, we hired a private car/guide and went to a few incredible sites.  Montserrat, the National Palace in Sintra, and Quinta da Regaleira.  Carvalo Monteiro built an incredible estate here at Quinta da Regaleira, truly amazing.

Lisbon was fantastic and I can’t wait to go back.

Family

Late Christmas night Jenn and I watched a movie together and it got me thinking about my Dad.  He passed away just a few years ago and it moves me a lot whenever I think about him.  I was very close with my Dad, I think back to the times we’d stay up half the night chatting in the kitchen.  Who even knows what we could talk about for so long…

My parents divorced when I was a kid, so I spent every other weekend with him.  This meant most of the time I lived with my Mom.  Of course, this meant she had to do most of the odious disciplining and I’m sure that contributed to the teen angst my sister and I experienced.  It’s hard to look back on one’s past without those memories being colored by what one thought or felt at the time.  Memories seem like blurry things, I can recall emotions and feelings about events in my life but exact details are difficult to make out.

I’m grateful for the circumstances that intersected leading to the last time I saw my father.  Growing up, he lived in St. Louis and my sister and I lived in Omaha.  For a time, my Dad didn’t own a car and would make that ~8 hour drive on his motorcycle.  I was happy to see him, but as an 8-year-old I didn’t know what that drive was like.  I’m not trying to paint him as a superhero for driving a long way on a motorcycle when another man would have bought a car- or when another would have cancelled the visit.  Many years later I got a motorcycle of my own and drove the ~8 hours to visit him.  To be honest, it was a harrowing experience.  But that drive offered me a perspective I had not previously known.

I showed up at his house and we chatted for a few hours.  I had been humbled by the drive, and was grateful for his having done so many times in the past.  I am normally not humble enough nor grateful enough to those around me, family or friends.  But this day, this last time I would see my father, I had been both.  A few months later, he passed unexpectedly.  I miss him dearly.

I have a very strong memory of that visit.  We were happy, sharing stories and enjoying each others’ company.  When I happen to think back to that day, it’s a bright memory; one that I cherish.

JnR’s Merry Mallorca

Walnut, Jenn and I went to Mallorca, Spain for the new year.  We’ll be moving to Switzerland in a month and are trying to squeeze in a few little trips in Spain before we leave.  The flight from Barcelona took about 50 minutes.  We stayed in Palma, a beautiful city on the coast.

We wandered around our neighborhood, visiting a small Christmas market and a fancy market street.  Cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, and ancient stone walls and cathedrals make the city feel like another world.  Castell de Bellver, found high upon a hill overlooking the port, cemented this feeling.

In the evening, the holiday lights formed tunnels down streets while stars and orbs floated overhead.  The cathedral and other ancient walls glowed in the mellow evening light.

The Palma Aquarium was pretty good.  Apparently, they have the deepest shark tank in the EU.  The sharks they had in there were huge!  They also had quite a few other aquariums, and I found their smaller tanks to be very good.

We went to a cave, cuevas drachs, on the other side of the island.  The public bus was easy to use and drove us the 60 miles or so directly to the site.  The cave was very large, with a pretty sizable lake (for a cave, that is).  At one point, they even boated in orchestra players to play a few songs for us.  After the visit, we had some time to kill and hiked to the nearby coast and sat in the sun for a while.

A quick visit to Arc de Triompf and christmas markets

We had not yet been to Arc de Triompf so we decided to see it Saturday.  Since it’s outside and a nice day we brought Walnut with us- I’ve already posted his pictures from that day.  We took the Metro red line just a few stops and discovered a market at the square.  We’re not sure if it’s a small Christmas market or if it’s an occasional market that we just happened across.  We also passed the Central Catalana de Electricidad building, which originally housed steam generators for the production of electricity.

After the Arc, we walked to the Cathedral to visit the main Christmas markets.  On the way, we past through some neighborhoods new to us.  We passed an ‘experimental xocolatier’ but they didn’t seem to have any in stock.

Here in Catalonia, there are a few Christmas traditions that are new to me.  There is the Caganer figurine (caganer means “the crapper”) which is a figurine of someone taking a dump.  These figurines are hidden in the nativity scene.  Another tradition is the Tio de Nadal or Christmas log.  Beginning in early December, the christmas log is ‘fed’ every night and well cared for by the household’s children.  On Christmas day, the log is placed in the fireplace and told to poop out presents.  To facilitate this, children sing songs (ordering the log to poop) and strike the log with sticks.

A few photos of Walnut in Spain

We’ve been in Spain for about 9 weeks now.  I haven’t been very good about keeping friends and family up to date with Walnut.  He had been diagnosed with a portosystemic shunt the third week of August and had lost about 4 pounds.  He’s been on a new diet and medicine regimen that has helped him a lot.  He has regained his weight (actually I have to cut back on his kibble!) and energy.  He’s doing great!  We live close to a very active dog park and on our evening walk it is common for him to greet 20 dogs.  He loves it here.