Morocco/Spain diary: Day 22-24

30 March, 2015

Saturday, 4 October, 2014. 13:30

We are at Barcelona Airport, waiting for our flight to Dubai. We arrived here nice and early so have a couple of hours to kill before boarding.

We got up this morning at 07:15 to give us plenty of time to get to Parc Güell for our pre-booked 09:30 entrance to the monument zone. We showered and then went out to the Forn del Cel cafe again for a quick breakfast. The woman there recognises us by now, but we were too early today for the cañas to be ready after baking. M. got a cereal croissant with a little packet of peach jam to put on it, while I got a croissant with ham and cheese slices inside. The woman asked us if we were out for an “excursio” and we said we were going to Park Güell and then the airport. Clearly nobody in Barcelona gets up that early and has breakfast unless they’re doing something unusual.

View of Barcelona
View of Barcelona from Parc Güell.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 21

27 March, 2015

Friday, 3 October, 2014. 12:27

We have stopped for a drink in a small cafe, Cafe Reunion, just outside the marketplace of the neighbourhood village of Gràcia.

We got up at 07:30 to shower and leave early so we could make it to the Sagrada Familia cathedral in plenty of time for our 09:45 admission. We had a quick breakfast in the same cafe Forn del Cel as yesterday, this time ordering a caña each, a custard one for M. and a chocolate one for me, which was rich and sweet. My Spanish is slowly getting better, though of course they all speak Catalan here instead, so I’ve started to adapt to that, with “gra-sya” rather that “gra-thyas“. From the cafe we walked the additional block to Urgell metro station and caught the train to Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia, nativity side
Sagrada Familia exterior.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 20

15 March, 2015

Thursday, 2 October, 2014. 20:12

We are sitting at the restaurant Bon Marisc on the Passeig de Joan de Borbo, which runs along the marina waterfront in Barceloneta, the seaside and beach suburb of Barcelona. We’ve spent all day walking to get here, and are about to enjoy some paella to finish the day off. The restaurants along here all seem to be open early, catering to passing tourist traffic, with spruikers encouraging anyone waking past to sit down and eat.

We began with the alarm at 08:30, giving ourselves a bit of a sleep in, since 07:30 felt really early yesterday. After showering, we left the hotel, deciding not to have the hotel breakfast, which costs something like 18 euro each. Instead, we found a small bakery/cafe called Forn del Cel, where we got a caña (a long roll of pastry filled with custard) and a croissant cereales (essentially a whole grain croissant), plus a cappuccino for M. and an orange juice for me, for a total of €6.90. I even used the right word for juice this time: “zumo”.

Pastry breakfast
Breakfast at Forn del Cel.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 19

19 February, 2015

Wednesday, 1 October, 2014. 11:33

We are on the train from Zaragoza to Barcelona, with just over an hour to go until we arrive.

We got up at 07:30 this morning, to give us enough time to shower and have breakfast before leaving to catch our train. This morning I had a fried egg on toast with mushrooms. The buffet has small elliptical glasses filled with yoghurt and Seville marmalade, which I tried, before some muesli and fresh fruit, finishing off with a hot chocolate and churros. There were also huge slices of rich looking chocolate cake this morning, but I avoided those.

We checked out and walked with our bags to the nearest bus stop, which was about ten minutes away. A number 34 bus arrived almost immediately to take us to Estacion Delicias. A stop at one end of the station was named Estacion Delicias Salidas, which I took to mean “exits” as in “arrivals”. But as we discovered when we stayed on for the next stop of Estacion Delicias Llegados, “salidas” also means “departures”. So we had to walk the considerable length of the station from the arrivals end to the departures end. We had plenty of time though, as the Barcelona train an hour before ours was just arriving as we entered the station.

We scanned our luggage through the security check and then waited on a comfy couch for our train, M. reading a novel and me reading up on Barcelona from our guide book. When we passed through the ticket checking counter to go on to the platform, the lady told us that our carriage, number eight, was right at the bottom of the stairs. We waited there and it turned up on cue, so we had no trouble boarding and getting our seats for the trip.

Although it was clear in Zaragoza, the countryside all around it appears to be fogged in, much as when we travelled from Madrid the other day. The sun is just breaking through now to reveal the Spanish countryside, with farms on plains scattered between lumpy hills and patches of forest.

Hotel Villa Emilia view
View from Hotel Villa Emilia, Barcelona.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 18

25 January, 2015

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014, 10:20

We are just finishing off our late breakfast in the hotel buffet. We decided to sleep in and eat late because the museums we want to visit this morning don’t open until 10:00. The breakfast buffet here is huge, with dozens of different types of meats and cheeses and pastries, as well as several types of both cakes and biscuits. There are churros and hot chocolate (to which you can add star anise or lemon slices or chunks of cinnamon bark), pancakes, frittatas, fried eggs, multiple different types of sausage, bacon, several bowls of fresh diced fruit, lots of different types of bread and bread rolls, five types of cereal (including muesli for the first time on the entire trip), five types of fruit juice, mineral water both con gas and sin gas, a coffee machine which makes seven different types of coffee at the touch of a button, and even a bottle of opened red wine. It’s enormous and would be very tempting, but at this time of the morning I really just want muesli and fruit.

14:23

We are taking a drink break at the cafe El Picadero on Plaza San Pedro Nolasco. M. tried to order a cappuccino but they didn’t make those, so she got caffe con leche. I tried to ask for an orange juice, but ended up with a fizzy orange soda. (I asked for “juego“, which I thought was “juice”, but looking it up I see that actually means “game”, so who knows what the waitress thought I was asking for.) After finishing the drinks we’ll order some sandwiches for a very late lunch.

Roman theatre stage
Roman Theatre of Caesaraugusta.

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Awesomely average

15 January, 2015

I am starting up a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign using the new 5th edition rules. I’m going to run a group of friends through the first published adventure for the new rules – Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

Accordingly, the players need to generate 1st level characters. I’ve decided to use the random method of stat generation, which is rolling 4d6 and adding the best 3 dice together to form six ability scores, followed by the player assigning them to the ability scores any way they want. As a fallback, if the whims of Fate hand a player horrid bad luck and a hand of awful scores, they can choose to take the default score set listed in the book (15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8) instead of the rolls. I still kind of like the slight uncertainty of randomness, but this method at least removes the chance of being stuck with an unfun set of scores.

Anyway, today several of the players rolled their stats. Mostly they were a decent spread of scores. But one player managed to roll: 12, 12, 12, 11, 12, 12.

Now, adventurers are above average individuals, and the best 3 of 4d6 method is designed to generate above average scores. Average is nominally the result of a straight 3d6, which has an average score of 10.5. So five 12s and an 11 is actually above average in every single ability score.

While the player was lamenting his luck and trying to decide whether or not to fall back to the default score set, another player came up with the following backstory:

You come from a small village. While growing up, you realised that you were naturally better at everything than anyone else in your village! You were stronger, faster, more athletic, healthier, smarter, wiser, and everyone loved you. Any task you tried your hand at, you quickly mastered and could outperform your teacher. So, you decided you were made to be… an adventurer!

And so you left your little village and went out into the world to seek your fortune. You are supremely confident in your skills. After all, you can fight, you can cast spells, you can sneak and pick pockets, you can do healing – all better than anyone in your home village! So when you joined an adventuring band, you decided that any task that came up was your responsibility. Need someone to sneak around and scout the enemy – you! Be in the front row to protect the weaker fighters – you! Parley with hostile humanoids – you! You are keen and bright-eyed, and eager to volunteer for any and every job the adventuring group needs!

We all ended up laughing so much that I think the player is probably going to keep his very slightly above average scores, and turn it into a roleplaying windfall.

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 17

14 January, 2015

Monday, 29 September, 2014. 09:52

We are waiting in Atocha Station in Madrid for our train to Zaragoza, which departs at 10:30. We got up at 07:30 to shower and then have breakfast in the hotel, before packing our bags and checking out. Today I tried the sunflowers seeds sprinkled over my cereal, only to discover too late that they had been salted! So I had to stir the salty seeds through the strawberry yoghurt to mask the saltiness.

We paid for the breakfasts as we checked out, then walked out into the cool morning air. It was a shirt walk to the Opera Metro station, where we caught the lift from the plaza down to the station, to avoid carrying our luggage down the stairs. We caught a train to Sol, and switched lines to get the train to Atocha Renfe, right below the long distance train station. Once here, we used a lift again and then went through baggage control, where they x-ray all luggage going on to a train. We are now sitting in an airport-style departure lounge area, with the platforms visible below us through glass walls. There are a lot of people waiting here; I presume many of them will be on our train, which goes to Barcelona, although we get off midway, at Zaragoza.

15:11. Hotel Catalonia El Pilar, Zaragoza.

We have arrived in Zaragoza and are taking a short break in our hotel room, since everything around here seems to be closed from 14:00 until either 16:00 or 17:00, including all the museums and cathedrals and other stuff we might want to see. We were silly and had lunch early, at about 13:30, when we should have been sightseeing and then taking a two hour lunch from 14:00!

Hotel Catalonia El Pilar, Zaragoza
View from our room at Hotel Catalonia El Pilar.

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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 16

5 January, 2015

Sunday, 28 September, 2014. 09:26

The yoghurt here is not as good as it was in Morocco. We’re having breakfast at the hotel buffet, which costs 7.95 euro. It’s an extensive buffet with eggs, sausages, bacon, lots of bread and bread rolls, croissants, pastries, cereal, yoghurt, cakes, Spanish omelette, cheese (Edam, Brie, and a fresh white cheese), cold meats, fresh fruit, juices, dried fruit, a bowl of sunflower seeds, and more.

19:03

We are sitting at a place called La Vinoteca, in Plaza de Santa Ana, a small square in front of the Teatro Español. We have just ordered some patatas bravas and albondigas to eat with some glasses of Alfar red wine from Rioja. The sun is starting to go down and the day is very pleasant with plenty of activity in the square in front of us.

Plaza de Santa Ana
Relaxing in Plaza de Santa Ana at the end of the day.

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Hunter Valley trip

31 December, 2014

On the spur of the moment, my wife and I decide to take an overnight driving trip to the Hunter Valley, 100km north of Sydney. We left on Monday, 29 December, and drove up the quick way, using the freeway until the Cessnock turnoff, where we cut inland to the valley. We stopped for lunch at Tatler winery, which has a cafe that serves tapas-like lunches. We had some duck liver pate with lots of trimmings, and goat’s cheese tarts, which was plenty for two people to share.

Goat's cheese tarts

We drove around various places, stopping at Handmade in the Hunter markets at Kevin Sobel’s winery, browsing around the stalls there. I bought some chilli sauce from the Hot Chilli Woman.
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Morocco/Spain diary: Day 15

26 December, 2014

Saturday, 27 September, 2014. 11:51

We are sitting in Marrakesh International Airport, waiting for our flight to Madrid. It’s a very small airport by international standards, with one large waiting area and what looks like just three gates. It looks like they don’t even have jet tubes, and we might have to walk across the tarmac to board the plane.

We got up a bit before 07:30, and thankfully the hot water was working again, so we both showered and dressed for today’s travel. We repacked our bags from scratch and regained enough space to fit everything in. I am carrying the fossil plates we bought to make sure they don’t get smashed in the luggage, and M. is carrying the ceramics we got in Fes.

Our final breakfast in Morocco was leisurely. This time the cake was an orange cake, and the varying bread product was thin squares of fried pastry, all crispy with no doughy part, sprinkled with sesame seed and a few spots of honey. The yoghurt selection today included pistachio yoghurt, which we both tried. I scraped the fuzz off a kiwifruit and bit into it, but it was very sour. We saw Bev and Colleen again, and the rest of their tour group, who ate at the large communal table, while we sat at a table for two. Colleen said there was a mix-up with their dinner last night, and she got left behind when she went back to her room to collect something, and they had to send a taxi to pick her up and take her to rejoin her tour group!

After eating, we packed and double checked we had everything, then left the room, handed the key back to one of the cleaning ladies, and sat to wait for our airport transfer at 10:45. We took the time to check how to get from Madrid Airport to our hotel for tonight. It looks like we can use the Metro, but we will have to change lines twice to get to Opera, the nearest station to the hotel. Fortunately from there it’s only about a 50 metre walk to the hotel.

During our trip here in Morocco, several of the people we were travelling with accidentally took euro out of their wallets instead of dirhams and didn’t realise it. Someone told a story about people accidentally paying with euro and the merchant taking it without comment, thus making a huge profit at the expense of the unfortunate traveller. So we kept an eye on other people’s money and corrected their mistakes a few times.

M. has checked out the few shops here in the airport waiting lounge, and spent the last of our dirham notes, using 70 to buy a small parcel of chocolate coated almonds. All the prices here are marked in euro, not dirhams, but they accepted the dirhams. The chocolates are ridiculously expensive, but we won’t get another chance to spend our dirhams.

13:20

Our flight to Madrid should have started boarding 15 minutes ago, but the plane hasn’t even landed here yet.

We wanted to get rid of our last handful of dirham coins. I looked for a charity donation box, but couldn’t find one. So I suggested we could give them to the toilet cleaning ladies when we use the toilets before getting in the flight, even though when I went earlier I saw no evidence anywhere of them collecting money. But then I found a charity box in another wander, and dropped all the coins in. And them M. went to use the toilets, and the cleaning ladies had their hands out asking for coins as she emerged!

Leaving Marrakesh
Boarding our flight from Marrakesh to Madrid.

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