Sunday, February 28, 2016

Rocamadour – Erich

One afternoon we visited the town of Rocamadour. Rocamadour is breathtaking. The town is built into the side of a cliff. There is only one road through the town, with switchbacks and steepness. And then to travel by foot around town can involve a lot of stairs.
The view of Rocamadour from the other side of the canyon
When we first drove up to the city, we were along one side of a canyon and you could see the rocks on the other side.
All you could see at first.
But until you come around the bend, you don't see any houses. Then all at once it's “Wow!”
The "Wow" moment
Not only is this built into the side of a hill, but there is a beautiful chateau at the top, rampart walls, and a whole bunch of chapels and churches.
The ramparts from across the way
Why so many chapels in a town of not a huge population? Well, Rocamadour is a Catholic pilgrimage site.
One of many chapels
Long ago, like in the 10th Century, a man fleeing persecution came to this area to live out the rest of his life as a hermit. The French call him Saint Amadour, and Rocamadour is the Rock of Amadour. Long later, a perfectly preserved corpse was found here, said to be the corpse of the saint himself.
Another view of ramparts and the tower
Pilgrims began their journey here, but not only because the crypt of St. Amadour is here. In one of the churches, the Chappelle de Notre Dame, there is a small walnut wood statue of the Virgin Mary. This is called the Black Madonna. And it is supposed to have miraculous powers.
The tower from another angle
Pilgrims arrive at the base of the cliff and then climb over 200 steps on their knees to reach the Black Madonna. On their knees! That is dedication or religious fervor. We decided against knee abuse and just used our well shod feet instead.
That's a long way up!
The churches are a good way up from the bottom. But they are not yet at the top. The ramparts and chateau are even higher. We walked up the ramparts. Along the way is the Chemin de la Croix, or the Stations of the Cross. As you walk up the path replete with switchbacks, at each turning point there is a carved and painted relief showing one of the stages of Jesus's crucifixion. I'm not so up on the Christ story that I knew all the stages. But it starts at the first stage where he is condemned to death, continued through him falling three times, a man helping him carry the cross, a woman cleaning the blood from his face, his mother crying, and ultimately to his being placed on the cross, dying, and his body being given to his mother. (I'm sure those are not all in the correct order.) But I do know that there were thirteen stages.
In addition to the man-made wonders, there are plenty of crevices and small caves in the rock face. And sometimes, there is a mix of a natural cave and man-made pillars along with it.
A cave with columns
The buildings are beautifully detailed with carvings and engravings.
So much detail
In the city are two large archway portals into parts of the town. These were from the 13th Century.
Proof of the age
One is just big enough for a small car to drive through, but is mainly meant for pedestrians.
The smaller Porte
The other is much larger, like a grand castle gate. But that one is up so high no cars are even allowed up to that point.
The larger Porte
Rocamadour is a beautiful site, and it makes one marvel at how people could have possibly built such a thing. It would be a wondrous accomplishment with today's technology. To imagine people in the 11th through 14th Centuries building all of these structures is even more amazing.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Life as it is – Syarra

Every morning we perform the routine. Actually it is not that hard. “The hard part was in getting used to it,” I thought earlier.

There are parts that aren't fun, (like stepping in horse waste) and there are parts that are fun, (like walking the horses, or that is usually fun).

Now our routine changes by the day but, currently we get up at 7:00, the chickens are let out of their small artificially heated room, the ponies go out to pasture, the dogs are let out, the cat is fed, and the hay cobs (which is a food that the horses eat) are soaked.

Then an hour (or more) later there is the morning stables, (which maybe should be called morning barn, as it is in the barn not the stables. What do you think?) The tasks we each do depends on where the horses are. That usually is dependent on when we do morning barn, because it depends on if they are hungry or not.

After that is midday meal, where only two horses are fed. And what makes it even easier is that those two horses are either alone or with one other horse.

Currently we have a break in which homeschool and exploration is done. The type of exploration I am talking about includes grocery trips, or activities, like the grotte, that one was not so successful, but we did see a door, a very pretty door and that was the best part of that day.

Nearing 5:00 we feed the two dogs and let them out.

At 5:30 we start evening stables or barn call it what you will, in which 4 horses get fed, so we make their food bowls, feed it to them, close off the ponies because they eat too much, and leave...

An hour later we open the gate to the pasture and put a mask on one of the horses so she does not eat too much, but is able to move around.

As we are coming back we try to collect both of the dogs and we eat dinner and head back to the guest house, soon another long day is done.

When It Rains – Erich

They say, “When it rains, it pours,” and don't ask me who they is. It rained last night. That was only the beginning of one of those days. You know the kind I mean. The kind where it seems like so many things all go wrong, like they've been waiting so they could all bunch up on one day.

Statistically, I could just say, “Well, that's the Poisson Distribution. Random things tend to clump.” But it doesn't make it all better. (Now, if I could quote math instead of stats, I'm sure everything would be rosehip tea and lemon cookies. And no. I don't know why I have chosen those two items, neither of which I am likely to ingest. Particularly since I don't like tea.)

We woke up super early. Why? Well, the internet here is funny. We are so far from a city that the only internet one can get is through satellite. And it seems that in the morning, it works reasonably well. But in the afternoon and evening, you are lucky to get much bandwidth at all. Probably because you are competing with so many more subscribers in the region once they get home from school or work.

We wanted to Skype with Grandma and Grandpa. But with a six hour time difference and our need to do so in the morning here in France, it made it challenging. So we got up super early to Skype at 5h00 our time, or 23h00 the previous day their time.

Skype went fine. But we were up early and tired. And then the sky fell. Okay. Not really. But it did rain in the morning. So something fell out of the sky.

Because of the rain, one of the horses was shivery, didn't eat well, and she was clearly in a bad mood. She didn't want to be touched or even looked at. Because we were dealing with her, we didn't get one of the prep items taken care of that we needed to do for the evening feeding. (To cut the suspense, we did get her dried and walked and she is feeling much more herself now.)

Also, when there is rain in the night, that means there is a lot more poop clean up. Why? Well, the horses like to spend time at night outdoors, usually. And so their poop is way off in a pasture and need not be shoveled. But when it is cold and rainy, they spend a lot more time in the barn. And this means that the proportion of their outdoor defecation decreases, thus, indoor waste disposal needs increase.

In the middle of the day, after all the manure was hauled away, we went to Le Grotte Prehistorique du Cognace. It's a cave with ancient cave paintings. Sounds cool. We had checked the website to make sure of their hours and everything.

Unfortunately, when we got there, there was a handwritten sign on a piece of white paper that stated that from some day in November to some day in April, the site was only open, by appointment, for groups of 20 or more. All the technology available, and they didn't update the website. They just posted a sign on the ticket counter window.

Alrica said this was a lesson. We should call first. To which I replied “And hear the answering machine message in French that goes so fast there's no way we will be able to translate what it said?”

Being weak in the native tongue has a few other disadvantages. I consider myself someone who is reasonably comfortable with technology. And yes, I am getting older. I'm probably not up to date on all things. But I'm no shlub either. (I'm not sure if that is spelled shlub, schlub, or if it is a nonsense word that I made up and somehow think is a real word. Maybe the latter because spell check doesn't like either of my other choices.)

So it is embarrassing when I can't master appliances. I'm not talking about computer systems. I'm talking about appliances!

In Marrakech, we had a washing machine that sometimes would just run for hours. And you could manually stop it, but then the door wouldn't unlock and you couldn't get your clothing. You had to unplug it, turn it on, turn it off, and repeat this several times until for some reason it opened. Now, the washing machine itself didn't have words in any language on it. Just pictures. But it did tell you the brand name and model number. And we looked up a user's manual on the internet. We could have purchased the PDF of the user's manual in French had we so chosen. We did not so choose.

Here in France, if I want to use the microwave, I have to cook things in 30 second intervals. Because the only function I can figure out how to use is the “add 30 seconds” technique. And sadly, you can't boil a chicken in a microwave, even if you could figure out how to choose a time you wanted.

Why do I mention boiling chicken?

Well, the dogs normally get boiled chicken as part of their meal. And I boiled the chickens yesterday, but apparently not quite enough. So their meals were delayed. The missing prep work in the morning meant that the horses' meals were delayed. And as I type this, I am waiting on my own dinner, which, due to the delays along the line is, unsurprisingly, delayed.

Plus we are all tired and cranky. And the only silver lining I can see is that it puts me in a perfect mood to write a rather kvetching blog post. (And my spell checker likes the spelling I used for kvetching, so this time I suspect I got a real word.)

Maybe one day we will look back on this day and laugh. But, I suspect not when it rains.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Philosophical Thoughts While Shoveling Manure – Erich

One of the duties that comes as a piece of caring for horses on a farm is the shoveling and hauling of their waste. And poop cleanup is something new to me, not an obligation I have traditionally held in my previous career steps. But I find it an excellent time for thinking about the grander questions of the big, broad universe.

First, in the vein of you can take the boy out of the math but you can't take the math out of the boy, here is my functional analysis on the mathematics of manure.

There is a mathematical construct called a function. But to give an analogue, think of a function as a machine that takes some input and gives some output. The machine can take many different inputs, but what is important is that if you give the machine the same input more than once, you get the same output each time. Anytime you feed that same input in, you get the same output out. You can try a different input and maybe you will get the same output or maybe you will get a different output. Either is fine. But starting with the same input, you have the same output. Okay, if I haven't yet explained that to death, let me know. But I'm pretty sure I've exhausted that explanation.

Well, I was thinking of a horse as a function which takes inputs (I have to supply these) and gives outputs (the aforementioned shoveling.) So we have a function, h(x) and we know that h(hay) = poop.

But we are getting into the circle of life here. (Cue the majestic Disney music.) See, I haul the poop into a big pile cleverly referred to as the poo pile. But that poo will be allowed to compost or ferment until it becomes fertilizer. So we have a function f(x) choosing f for ferment. (Note, that in mathematics, we have favorites ranges of the alphabet for various items, and for functions, our favorite letters are f, g, and h.) And we know that f(poop) = fertilizer.

Finally, what is the fertilizer going to be used for? You guessed it! To grow more hay! So we have a growth function, g(x) and we know that g(fertilizer) = hay.

Thus, using the composition of functions, we can show that h(g(f(poop))) = poop! Poop begets poop. (In statistics, it is sometimes said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” Similar, but not the same.)

What does this tell us about the world? I guess that even what we think of as waste can be a part of making something fresh and new. But ultimately, it all goes back to being waste. It's sort of like nihilism with brief optimistic spikes along the way.

Turning away from math, I know, you're disappointed, let move to philosophy. Question, who is the dominant species: humans or horses? If you've read Gulliver's Travels, you will see some of Swift's thoughts on that matter. But what about my thoughts? I'm not as famous as Swift, but he's long dead, so I get to have my say now.

On the one hand, humans put up the fences and gates. We choose when to open the gates and when to close the gates. We put harnesses on the horses and then move them where we want them. We choose the times of feeding. We seem to make a lot of their decisions for them. Sounds like we are the alpha species, right?

But then, while I'm shoveling poop and the horses are watching me, I can't help but wonder if they are thinking “Hey, look who's cleaning up my feces! I guess we know who's the low man around here, don't we?”

So maybe it's a draw.

Still, the horses have a pretty routine existence. Same basic meals all the time. Same times in the pasture, same times in the paddock. Yeah, the weather changes, but that's about all that varies much for them. And they are perfectly happy with it.

Maybe we humans could be like that. Just okay with sameness. Okay with predictability. Less concerned about the big wide world and more focused on our immediate surroundings. Or maybe, since we think like humans and not like horses, that would bore us right out of our sanity.

So, those are my deep thoughts that I came up with while hauling manure. And maybe they aren't so deep, or so great, or even so insightful. But in my defense, I did come up with them while shoveling poop. And as I have shown mathematically, poop begets poop.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hilltop City and Thousand Islands? – Erich

France is separated into départements, which are administrative regions, like being broken up into states in the U.S. We are in the département of Lot, but not too far from the département of Dordogne. And we took a little trip into Dordogne to the city of Domme.

Domme is an old medieval city that was built for defense on the very top of a high hill overlooking the Dordogne River. The architecture is old, like many of the towns in this area. There are many old buildings and crooked streets. And there are structures left over from what once must have been walls around the town.

On the way there, on the way anywhere around here, you pass by old churches and other buildings from many centuries ago.

At many of the intersections are signs, arrows pointing down varied roads with the name of the village or villages you can reach by going in that direction. And often under the village's name it will say something like eglise de XIII S. This means in that village there is a church from the 13th century. Of course, there are also XIV S (14th), and XII S (12th), and the oldest we have seen so far XI S (11th).

You see so many stone buildings that are so ancient you almost get immune to it. Almost. They are still pretty impressive to see. When you come from a country which has almost no structures standing from the 17th century, you can appreciate that there is a rich, if someone taken for granted, history here.

Traveling to Domme, you must drive up the curved road full of switchbacks that leads up the hill. And there is a warning at the bottom that there is a height restriction at the top. You have to pass under this arch to get into the town.

In Domme, there is a viewing plaza where you get magnificent views of the Dordogne River below and the plains and peaks on the other side. This is green pastoral land dotted with stone buildings. And you can follow the meanders of the river.

You can also see some of the structure of the rock on which Domme stands.

At another location in Domme, we saw the remains of an ancient guard tower which once stood as part of the city's defenses. Now, the floors which were probably wood are gone. But part of the stone structure remains.

We enjoyed a picnic in Domme, surrounded by the beauty of the landscape. And to get food for a picnic, one stops at a grocery store, right? While you see many differences in the grocery stores of varied nations, one particularly caught my eye.

In America, do we have our own particular sauce of which I am totally unaware? One that we are so proud of, we call it American Sauce? How am I so ignorant? Or is it made of Americans? Oh, that's getting to a dark place.

Before you panic, reading the ingredients, I'm pretty sure this is Thousand Island Dressing. But hey, market it however works best for you, Heinz.

I suppose, though, it is only fair. I mean, it is the French way of getting back at us for fries, toast, and vanilla. Touché, France! Touché.

Monday, February 22, 2016

411 is Everywhere - Syarra

So you might have noticed that in, there is the number 411. And we have reasons for that. The first reason is if you are American you would know that 411 is the phone number for info. Another reason is that had planned at first to enter 4 continents, and 11 countries. (That is probably not happening anymore). Also my parents’ anniversary is on April 11th, so these are some reasons why we chose 411. Now that you know just how important 411 is to us we can continue with the important and fun part of this blog post.

So lets look back in time for a minute!

After a long day of driving the car had arrived, from inside one human walked out. That human saw in front of her a Hilton Garden Inn at which they were to stay. She entered the hotel and very soon was checked in. She went back to the exact car she left from. Then three others joined her, they opened the trunk, and almost immediately, all four were carrying backpacks. Again they entered the same hotel, but now they went straight to the elevator, the 4th floor was pushed and they rose to the floor they had chosen. They walked calmly to the door of the room they stayed for one night. IT WAS 411!

Now back to present time.

I hope the mystery has given entertainment and now you understand!

Poulets, Chevals, Chiens, et Chats – Erich

I enjoy new experiences. But sometimes so many new experiences happen in such a short time, its difficult to fully enjoy them all. They just leave you tired.

For the next two weeks, we are staying on a farm in France, somewhere between the Lot and Dordogne Rivers. The nearest really big city is Cahors, probably 35 to 40 minutes away. Gourdon is a smaller town nearby (and there are two Gourdons in France, so if you look on a map, you might wonder how we could be near both Cahors and Gourdon.) Gourdon is only about 20 to 25 minutes away. Toulouse is probably two hours away.

This is a house sitting arrangement. Though, I suppose it is really a farm sitting arrangement. The house is in no need of us. No, why we are really here is to feed and care for 18 chickens, 12 horses, 2 dogs, and 2 cats.

Cats and dogs, you're thinking, sure, Erich, that's straightforward. Maybe even chickens isn't so hard. But horses! Erich, what do you know about horses?

The answer is, a lot more than I did a week ago. We arrived here several days early so we could learn how to take care of the farm, primarily the horses. After several days of training, the family who lives here, and does a wonderful job keeping every animal happy, headed out to visit relatives in Finland. (I know, Finland in February! Cold, right?)

So now it is up to us. Certainly the horses need the most care. We make feed mixtures for some of them. We fork hay for most of them. We shovel poop in barns and paddocks. And we move certain horses to certain pastures or fields at certain times of day. Plus, if we have any energy left, we can exercise the horses by taking them on walks.

Five of the twelve horses live “downstairs” which is to say in lands attached to the barn that is lower in elevation than the other. (There are no stairs involved.) These are the brownies (because they are all brown.) The leader of the brownies is Phoenix. With him are three of his kids (whose names I do not know, though Alrica thinks one of them is called Jack) and a mare named Quinta. Horses, have a pecking order, and in this herd, Phoenix is king and Quinta is the peasant.

The other seven horses live “upstairs”. I know the names of all of these. The head of the order here is Pretoria, and she will happily steal anyone's food if she gets the chance. There is a very old stallion named Attilus (also called the big guy, because he is big! His butt is at my eye level. His shoulder blades are taller than me. And when he wants to get past me to steal some other horse's food, he can just lift his head right over mine.) Attilus no longer has back teeth, so he can't eat hay. He gets fed other foods and gets more time in the pasture so he can eat grass. There are two more mares here named Shan and Silja.

Then there are also the pony girls. They aren't small like ponies. They are just younger and more spirited. They are Flame, Julia, and Fanny.

In addition to our twelve equine friends, there are the chickens. These are not nearly so work intensive. And Carver has taken it upon himself to handle the chicken needs. He must open the chicken coop in the early morning. He collects eggs sometime in the middle of the day. And he closes up the chicken coop at dusk or dark.

There is also the matter of chicken feed. About every five days or so, it runs low and we need to make another batch. Carver tells us when it is running low and we refill it.

Of the eighteen chickens, fifteen are hens and three are roosters. The hens don't have names, except one who is called Princess Leia. That runs along a theme with the roosters who are named Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Fred. (Okay, Fred doesn't fit the theme. Which I enjoy.)

The two cats may have names, but I don't know them. They are called the indoor cat and the outdoor cat. The indoor cat lives in the house at night. She can go out in the day when she wants to. The outdoor cat lives outside all the time. She gets fed up on the front porch, but she doesn't come in. That's partly because she and the indoor cat fight and partly because she is afraid of one of the dogs.

The two dogs are Izzy and Lincoln. They eat boiled chicken, boiled rice, dry biscuits, and they each get one pig's ear a day as dessert. Izzy loves to be wherever people are. Lincoln loves to be with people when he feels like it and loves to be by himself when he feels like it.

So after feeding and caring for twelve horses, handling eighteen chickens, dealing with two cats, and giving proper attention to two dogs, a man gets tired! You would think I would sleep like a log, right? Well, maybe I would. But sometimes the roosters and dogs have other plans in the night.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Across the Pyrenees – Erich

To see Portugal and Spain, and to do so in a convenient and cost-effective way, we rented a car. It is difficult to make trains and buses always work on schedule and for four people, that can get rather pricey. (Though, the number of toll roads in Portugal adds up the price too.)

We rented the car in Seville, Spain. And car rental in Spain is very reasonable. Even if you plan to return it in another city. With one big caveat. That city has to be in Spain.

If you return the car in a city in another country, there is an addition of $1000 or more to the price. That was a problem. We needed to get, by a certain date, to Cahors, France.

So we solved our problem like this: After we left Burgos, Spain, (having already spent time in Portugal) we drove to San Sebastian, Spain. We didn't get to much sightseeing in San Sebastian, but what we did see was lovely. There is a river flowing into the Atlantic Ocean here. Across the river are highly decorated bridges. Plus, this is in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, so there is a lot of up and down coming into and throughout San Sebastian.

Alrica dropped the kids and me off at the Estacion de Autobuses and she drove the car to where it had to be returned. Then she took a taxi back. Meanwhile, I bought bus tickets to Biarritz, France. This way we were returning the car still in a city in Spain.

We rode the bus over the border, through the mountains. Sometimes you could see the Atlantic, other times you could not.

When we arrived in Biarritz, we rented another car there. We also spent the night in a studio apartment there. It was very nice. It was on the fifth floor which in America we would call the sixth floor. In Europe, and much of the rest of the world, the ground level floor is called the ground floor or the zeroth floor. Then the first floor is the one above that. And so on.

So the studio was on the fifth floor and the building's elevator, which was tiny, only went to the fourth floor. So if you wanted to ride the elevator, you could, but then you still went up one more set of stairs.

The apartment was a model of efficiency, able to have a kitchen, bathroom, and main room where one could sleep four in a minimal area.

Biarritz itself is an adorable town. Sadly, the weather was in a foul mood, with cold spitting rain falling on us most of our time there. Biarritz is right on the Atlantic Ocean, and the seas were foamy and violent while we were there. You could see a huge pile of sand that had been built to protect some of the businesses right along the beach from the ocean, which must have been higher than usual at high tide. We saw it at a lower tide, and the buildings were safe. But the ocean was sure pounding the beach.

The streets are narrow and bend in strange ways. There are very few straight streets of any sort. But I'm sure they were built long before the invention of the car. As such, one-way streets are common. Some are wide enough to allow street parking, but seeing cars taking up much of the sidewalk was not uncommon.

The next day, we drove from Biarritz to Cahors. This was a beautiful drive through the countryside. Of course, near the border, we were still going through mountains. In both Spain and France, there are a lot of tunnels you traverse. Some are short, less than 200 meters. Others are long, nearly 5 km. Along the tops of most of them are smoothly carved and cemented arches. But along a couple, the smooth arch is only near the entrance and the exit, and the remainder of the ceiling above looks like it was a natural cave with the random bends and dips of rock above.

France does not like to waste a single Euro on unnecessary speed limit signs. You only see a speed limit sign when a) it is necessary because you are entering a dangerous curve or something like that and they want to limit your speed or b) you are about to enter a speed trap where they have a radar gun aimed at the car and take a picture of the license plate if you are speeding. Apparently the law says that they can't have one of these speed traps without having a sign up telling you there is a speed trap and what the proper speed limit is. Thus, even in France, where spending on speed limit signs is anathema, they do it anyway.

When you enter a zone where there is a posted speed limit, you see a circular white sign with a number in black, maybe 70. (Remember, this is in kilometers per hour, not miles per hour.) And when you leave that zone, you see a circular white sign with that same number in black, but now there is a slash through it. So even when you leave a speed zone, they don't tell you what the new speed is. They just tell you that it is no longer the old speed.

So how do you know how fast you are allowed to go in France? Well, apparently you just have to know these rules: On the motorways (these are the controlled access toll roads) you can go 110 kph. On the other highways you can go 90 kph as long as you are outside of a village or town or city. If you are in a village, town, or city, you can only go 50 kph.

So you are driving along a highway and then you see a white rectangular sign with rounded corners that says the name of a village. This means you have entered the village and you must slow down to 50 kph. You see a few buildings, a place where very few people live. And still you might see a church building that is 1000 years old or older. There are so many medieval structures still standing in provincial France. It's amazing.

A kilometer or two later you see another white rectangular sign with rounded corners that again says the name of the village you were just in, but this time with a slash through it. This means you have left the village and you can again travel at 90 kph.

So, after a long journey, we made it to Cahors, France. Here we returned the car we had rented in Biarritz, France (again in the same country we got it from so as to avoid the exorbitant charge.)

I don't know how many of you will ever be driving in the French provinces. If you do, there is so much to see and it is gorgeous and impressive. But consider yourself warned!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Countries: Tie on High – Syarra

First, let's take me as an example. I have been to ten countries, as you can see in the list below.
North America:
  • United States
  • Mexico
  • Cayman Islands (UK)
  • South Africa
  • Namibia
  • Morocco
  • Iceland
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • France, which is where we currently are

So I have been to the least number of countries in the whole family.

Next is Carver who has been to eleven countries. In addition to the ten that I have been to, he has been to Canada, which I cannot recall having ever gone to.

After that is the tie on high. The tie is currently at twelve. My parents have both been to all the countries on Carver's list, plus the Bahamas. (They have also been to the UK itself, but since the Cayman Islands are owned by the UK, that doesn't count as a separate country.)

We have rules for what we count as going into a country. We have decided that even though all four of us have been in Qatar, we were only in the Doha International Airport for connecting from one flight to another. So we don't count this as having really been in Qatar.

We hope to extend the number of countries we have seen in the future as we continue this trip around the world. Soon, we will all add Italy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hominids – Erich

In our travels, we stopped at Burgos, Spain. Burgos is the home of the Museum of Human Evolution. (Actually in Spanish, the initials are MEH. But we didn't find the museum meh at all.)

In the village of Atapuerca, which is very near Burgos, there are many caves. This is due to the geology of the land. It is a karst terrain that has been carved out by water from above and by underground rivers.

In these systems of caves, many early hominids lived. Now that area is an active archaeological site, and has been for nearly fifty years. More fossils of early human ancestors and more artifacts of early human ancestors have been found in this site than anywhere else in the world.

The MEH has a floor dedicated to talking about these caves and of what was found in them. Many of the famous finds are now housed in the museum. Several species lived in and used these caves over many millennia. These include the more recent visitors: Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalus, as well as a much more ancient species, Australopithecus antecessor.

In addition to their exhibition on the finds of Atapuerca, the museum also explained evolution based on natural selection, genetic theory, and had a wonderful timeline of major steps in evolution from the beginning of life to life on land to the amniotic egg to bipedalism (and many others in between) that led to hominids and even Homo sapiens.

Plus there were detailed descriptions and a life size mannequin of many different hominid species. This included both those that were found at Atapuerca, and those that were not.

We enjoyed the Museum of Human Evolution very much. And Burgos itself is an interesting city. It has a very straight river (I wonder if humans evolved the banks to make it so straight) that runs right down its middle. And the main avenue is on both sides of the river. Traffic in one direction is along one bank, and traffic in the other is along the other bank.
A river runs through it
Plus they have some cool old architecture and a variety of public art works. As for the architecture, well, they don't make them like they used to.

And for the art, some of it clearly plays on the human evolution scene.

Others seem to play more on the hobbit evolution theme.

There's an idea. The Museum of Hobbit Evolution. Who's with me?

Friday, February 12, 2016

The 100th post on this blog - Carver

When I wrote my last post, after I published it, I saw that it was the 98th post. So I asked to have the 100th post reserved for me. The 99th was written and now I am writing the 100th. 100 is only special because we have a base 10 number system. The other title that I would have done if it weren't the 100th would be “All the Wonders of the World for Pedestrians”.

Since starting this trip, we have walked places more frequently. In Cape Town, we didn't have a car so when we needed groceries we walked to the store. When we wanted to get to the central city, we walked to the train station and then walked around Cape Town. In Namibia, we didn't walk much. In Marrakech we walked to bus station and then walked around the Medina. We walked to the grocery store. In Fes and Tangier, we walked everywhere though we never left the Medina. In Fes, cars aren't even allowed in the Medina. In Sevilla (Seville), we took a bus into the city and walked around the city. Here where we have a car, we still walk to many places. But here, when walking, we had to cross train tracks. They have gates on both sides of them so you can't just walk across. Unlike in Marrakech, where if we walked home from the Medina (which we did sometimes), there were train tracks that you just walked across. They even have the train company’s name printed on them!

So when trying to cross the train tracks here, we found an underground thing. We assumed it would just be a boring, empty tunnel. But it was much bigger. It went to many places. And it had pictures. We didn't know what was graffiti. We were pretty sure that the murals of Lisboa (Lisbon) were not graffiti. And we were pretty sure that a picture of weird creatures (whoever drew them was a good artist) was graffiti. We didn't get a picture of that. But we have many other pictures.

But the best thing down there is the stairs.

And these are the wonders that only pedestrians get to behold. There are many more crossings across the train tracks for pedestrians than cars, the Fes Medina is a Wonder of the World for Pedestrians, and the underground passage in Lisboa is too.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Living La Vida Lisbon – Erich

When and why we decided to include Portugal in our visit, I'm not sure. But I'm glad we did. Because even though we have not had the best of weather or luck in Lisbon, we have greatly enjoyed the city.

We arrived on Monday afternoon. It was sunny and nice. But it was also the day before Shrove Tuesday, and so that night we had a difficult time finding somewhere to eat. Many things are closed during the run up to Shrove Tuesday. Not our most auspicious start, right? But I did see a fire hydrant, and, like in Marrakech, since it was different than I'm used to, I had to take a picture of it.
I know, it's just a fire hydrant. Get over it, Erich.
On Shrove Tuesday itself, we visited the main part of Lisbon and enjoyed the science museum very much. They have done a fabulous job in using all the parts of it brilliantly.

For the most part, many people in Lisbon do speak English. We try to speak in Portugese, or really more in broken Spanish that is similar to Portugese. But as soon as they realize we are English speakers, most everyone speaks English. In fact at both museums we visited in Lisbon, most of the exhibit signage was in both Portugese and English.

Back to the narrative. The weather started getting rough. The tiny ship was tossed. Oh, wait. It wasn't that rough, but it did start to change. Now, this is winter, but it isn't really winter. More like spring to us. Still, it became overcast and even rainy. No problem, right?

Well, luck wasn't with us, because one of our number started to run a fever, and Wednesday was spent at home in recovery mode.

But that leads us to Thursday. And Thursday was a beautiful day. Well, not weather wise. The rain and clouds still hung about. But, undeterred, we set out.

Lisbon is along the Teja River where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Along the riverfront are beautiful walkways, bike paths, restaurants, and museums. On Thursday we visited the Museum of Electricity. It's built into a former power plant. So you can see much of the equipment that was used to make electricity. This was a coal power plant. There are videos and exhibits that show the steps in the process of making electricity and transmitting it. There is also a section dedicated to the many scientists of all nations who made major contributions to the study of electricity. And there is a good section about renewable forms of electricity generation.

After that, we ate at a trendy little cafe along the water. For some of us, the food wasn't exactly what we expected. But we tried new things. Both Syarra and I had the Sopa Alho Frances, or the French Garlic soup. It was very good, seemed kind of like a potato soup. But what surprised me greatly was that I hardly noted the flavor of garlic. For a soup with garlic in the name, I expected a bit more of it.

Alrica tried the fish soup. I'm not sure how to best describe it, but it did have chunks of fish in it as well as macaroni. It was good.

We walked along the waterfront taking in the sights. Lisbon is on the north side of the river. But right across from it, on the south bank is a huge statue of Jesus. It's called Jesus Christ the King and was inspired by the Jesus the Redeemer statue of Rio de Janiero in Brazil. Now, the river is wide, but I did my best to get a picture of it.
It's far, but trust me, it's supposed to be Jesus.
The statue is very near a huge, red suspension bridge that spans the river. It's called Ponte 25 de Abril or the April 25th Bridge. The date is a reference to the Carnation Revolution of 1974, where a dictator was overthrown in Portugal. We crossed the bridge coming into Lisbon, and you are way high up. Plus, right under the road for cars there is a lower platform where trains can cross the river.
A view from a bridge? Or of a bridge. Or of the underside of a bridge.
Today we walked beneath the bridge. It's pylons are all painted with various sea life and bird life.
I would assume the original didn't include M&M
Yes, one of those birds is missing its head. Hey, I didn't paint it!
One other point of interest: I mentioned the walking and bike path along the riverfront. Well, there are white dots painted at regular intervals on that path. And as we walked we found out why. Look who some of the regulars are who use it!
Oh, the dots make so much sense now.
Sadly for Pacman, his nemeses seem to have made it to Lisbon too.
As if this weren't a great day already, in the evening, we headed out to Gelados Santini. Alrica had read that the Portugese take two things very, very seriously: coffee and ice cream. None of us are coffee drinkers (unless Carver is really good at hiding things from me.) But we do like ice cream.

Ice cream in Portugese is “sorvete”. But sometimes, the best ice cream places sell gelato instead of sorvete, just like in the States they sell gelato instead of ice cream. Well, we went to Gelados Santini, and it is true. The Portugese do take their ice cream very seriously.

Three out of four of our family all agreed that this was the best ice cream they had ever had in their lives. I was the only hold out, though I will admit, it was incredibly good.

But I think four out of four of our family would agree that even with a bit of germ infiltration and a lack of sunshine, Lisbon was still a wonderful place to spend a few days.