Thursday, August 30, 2007

La Tomatina

Alright Ladies and Gentlemen, I am alive and well and emailing you from Valencia an hour before taking the 2:08pm train to Barcelona.

What a crazy and fun experience the Tomatina was! Check out the recovered photos below...

My traveling alarm clock went off at 5:30am, and Greg and I suited up for battle. We donned our "Canadian Ketchup Team 2007" tshirts and grabbed our goggles and waterproof cameras. Off to the train station for 6am to buy our tickets to Brunol. Already, masses of like-minded people had congregated on the platform, waiting for the 7:08 train. The mood was tired excitement... coffee, tea and cheese bread helped.

Soon enough, our shirts had been noticed by other Canadians. Two Vancouver girls (wearing the red and white "Team Canada") invited us to join the Canada Team, which included several other Canadians (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Winnipeg!). The train arrived, and like cattle, we boarded on mass. Team Canada (now about 23ish people!) were squashed in beside the Batpeople and some English girls.

An hour later, we pull into Brunol and begin the mass walk down into the city center. Greg and I grabbed a huge beer for the walk, upholding the Canadian side. We pass many people who have driven to Brunol, parked, (drank) and were sleeping in their cars. More and more people joined the pilgrimage downslope.

Eventually, we hit the town center along with hundreds of others. In the middle of the square was a greased pole with a ham leg on top. The object of the pole is to get the ham! The tomato fight begins only when the ham has been obtained. Three hours of people trying individually and as a team to get the ham 40 ft in the air. A cheer would spread through the crowd whenever someone got high (Well done Guy Dressed as a Cow and Banana Man!); a boo would erupt whenever someone worked selfishly and pulled someone else off the pole (Big BOO to Guy with Erik on his Shirt, who climbed over one of the only girls to attempt and pushed her head back. Grrr.)

As people went for the ham, the crowds grew restless. Everyone is packed together like sardines, and the shirts began to fly. Not content to wait for the tomatoes, groups of (unfortunately) local Spaniards began grabbing guys and ripping their shirts off. They are they soaked and thrown into the crowds. Wet shirt (sometimes knotted) stings! I luckily managed to hold onto my shirt (for the time being).

Greg did not want to get fully into the mosh-pit of tomatoes, so he stayed close to the water cannons (that sprayed the inviting crowds) while I dived right in. The closest anyone got to getting the ham was a man who grabbed the bottom, swung on the ham and then fell back to earth.

A roar engulfed the crowd (now 40 000 strong, lining the narrow streets of Brunol) as the first of five dumptrucks full of tomatoes comes into view. Eight or nine volunteers stand in the trucks and pelt us helpless throng with the first of the (roma!) tomatoes. We have to squash against each other to let the trucks pass. Then they will stop and dump their entire load onto the ground and anyone crazy enough to stand in the way.

Chaos erupts. Tomatoes, tomato paste, seeds, peel, sweat, shirts, sandles fly. I loose my googles. Greg has long since disappeared. It is every man and woman to themselves. One truck after another roll by, adding fresh tomatoes to the mix. My feet (in cheap canvas shoes) slop through the tomato-water-shirt mix. Time stands still and flies by at the same time. Tomatoes hit me left right and center. I attempt to take photos without being singled out and destroyed. My shirt is ripped off and is lost in the mix. Bodies slip past as I try to get a shot off. A reporter with a microphone and no shirt yells at the camera on top of the building. We lift him onto our shoulders. Mouth full of tomato. Don´t know how girl´s bikini tops stay on. Some don´t. Fall, but am too squashed to move. Smell of tomato and sweat. Taste of ugh. Hair caked with tomato. People stained red everywhere...

After a time (one hour- felt like 10 min and 5 hours), the final bell tolls signaling the end of the fight. People are still squashed together and like a mass, begin to move down hill. I want to go uphill to the train, but the current is too great and am carried along. The streets run not red, but a sickly purple colour. Shirts litter the streets as a man picks up sandels and thongs, to sell later. The crowd begins to thin and I can begin to choose the direction of travel.

I turn right and begin the slop uphill to the train and see just how destroyed Greg was. My back still hurts from the burn of the sun/people... Locals are hosing down the tomatoed, and selling beer and shirts. I arrive and meet Greg, who was whiter now than he was before the fight! Apparently, he was caught behind the water jets and could not get to the main mosh. Amazing! I on the other hand, was caked everywhere with the fruit, and had to by an ill-fitting shirt before being let on the train.

Everyone had the air of happiness and accomplishment. We had survived La Tomatina! On the 1:08pm train ride back to Valencia (and out hotel´s shower), I wondered if Vancouver could host a ¨thing¨throwing festival...

Only snowballs came to mind.

I apologize for the length of this post, but the experience was once in a life time. I loved it and recommend it. Just don´t bring any clothes you would want to keep!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Night before the Fight

Greg and I are preparing for battle.

Of the Tomato kind.

VALENCIA - After a long (12 hour with a transfer) overnight bus ride, we arrived in Valencia, third largest Spanish city on the southeast coast. I had book a hotel room in the city months ago, as this was to be our base for Wednesday´s festivities.

Tomorrow morning 6am, we are taking a train to Brunol, a small town outside Valencia. We will be joining 40,000 other (mad) people taking part in this year´s La Tomatina - an annual tomato fight festival! Little is know of the beginnings of the event, but legend has it that two diners were unsatisfied with their meal and decided to throw some food. They had so much fun that they reconviened the next year and invited their friends...

Years later, it has evolved into an all-out tomato fight! There is a rule though: one must squash the tomato before throwing it. No frozen fruits please! At 1pm, the church bell rings and the dump trucks spill their goods onto the ground and the fight begins...

Our battle gear consists of: one white t-shirt (with Canadian Ketchup Team 07 on the front and a big target on the back), one pair of shorts (to chuck after), one pair of socks and shoes (cheap to chuck after), one pair of goggles, and one waterproof camera. This last item will make me a target amougst the crowd...

If I survive, I will post the results of the battle.

In the meantime, Valencia has been good to us. Excellent accommodation, great food, beautiful city, and a hot beach. I have decided to stay another day here and forgo Ibiza for another time, due to the expense of booking flights or ferries at the last minute (it would be an extra 200 euro, plus the 50 euro club, plus drinks and food...) No worries, there is always next time!

Well, it is time to go and write our Team Logo on the white shirt with a Jiffy Marker!

Into the breach, my friends.

Wish me luck and I´ll see you on the flip side...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

In Love with Seville

After waking up hungover from Lagos (who can't say that!), Greg and I took our left over chicken and headed to the Bus Terminal. We caught the 1230 bus to Seville, a five hour trip.

We crossesd a river that separates Portugal and Spain, not needing to show passports, and we were now in Spain (Greg's first time, my ...fourth?) The bus dropped us off in Seville, and we, along with Dean (from Abbotsford!) went in search of our hostel. I may have fallen in love with Seville the moment I saw their green crosswalk man. Not only was he green and inviting you to cross the road, but he was walking! Animated! Man, I love Seville!

We are in a Hostal Nuevo (with its free phone and free internet and free coffee and tea and hot chocolate - execpt the chocolate just ran out), an old four story building with real charater. Meet an Aussie, Courtney, and with Dean went out in seach of Tapas and Flamenco...

And we found both. Tapas and sangria in a wonderful cafe, menu in Spanish, ordered in English, and served to us by a good looking French girl! Ah, multicultural Europe! (Oh, and baked Camonbere cheese is my favorite tapa so far.)

Around 11pm, we searched and found a small club called the Carboneria, where - for free - we watched an amazing performance of traditional Spanish singing and flamanco dancing. One skilled guitarist, one old extremely passionate singer, and a powerful woman dancer silenced the cervesa-drinking crowd. No photos (though everyone was taking them), no smoking (though everyone was smoking them). Singing and dancing - what an amazing evening!

Today was mostly wandering around this beautiful town (that one might compare to Paris), although Greg lost his bank card to the cash machine monster - it eat his card and rebooted (cash machines can reboot? Yikes.)

Tomorrow we explore the east of the city before boarding an overnight bus (yuk, but cheap!) to Valencia, our home for the next four days and our base for La Tomatina - the tomato throwing festival on Wednesday! Next Ibiza, Barcelona, and London...

Love it...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dateline: Lagos

Arrived in Lagos by bus from Lisbon (5 hours, cheaper and much easier apparently than the train, which takes longer with three transfers) and am now staying at the imfamous Rising Cock Hostel (insert rooster joke here!)

Lagos is a beach town at the southeastern tip of Portugal where it is 35 C and sunny! Bars, restaurants, beaches and gift shops litter the small town that starts to party at 11pm and does not stop till 6am. This lifestyle draws a certain type of person, namely Australians.

Lagos and the Rising Cock have been inundated with Australians, mostly from Melbourne, but also Sidney, Perth, and the Gold Coast. Groups of 30 swarm like wild dogs through our hostel lounge (the 'Hard Cock Cafe') and into the bars and clubs. A few Kiwis, Israelis, Germans, Americans, and of course, Canadians join them as long as they can survive! Night before was a late one, last night wasn't.

Off to the beach again today, after Mama (the Rising Cock's matriarch)prepares some delicious crapes for breakfast. Tomorrow, we catch the 12:30 bus to Seville...

Oh, and I now have a small sunburn in the shape of a squashed Great Britain directly above my tattoo on my right shoulder...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Madrid to Lisbon

Hello Everyone,
I am currently in Lisbon, looking for a place to sit down and munch on some bread and peanut butter and apples with Greg. In other words, I have left Birmingham and England for Europe - specifically Spain and Portugal.

I spent a lovely two days with my family in London (saw an amazing art show with a white room of smoke ou walked through, bumping into others!) and then caught the Easyjet flight to Madrid.

Took the wonderfully clean metro to the city center where my hostal was - Grand Via: Home of the Prostitutes. Truely the Red Light District of Madrid, the hostal (Metropolo-a good hostal) was surrounded night and day by many many prostitutes working theyre stuff. Avoiding them, I managed to see three fanastic art galleries, including the famous Prado.

I left Madrid and took the night train to Lisbon. Arrived inthe morning and met Greg at our hostal - quite the compound across the water from the city center - Algrave. Beautiful here.

I´ll write more as I go, but here is a slice!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

100th Post!

This is the 100th Post on Bond's Blog! Time to celebrate!

And the timing couldn't be more appropriate:
  • Today is my birthday!
  • I am finishing my time here in England, and moving on!
  • And it's the one year anniversary of my blog!

Truly perfect!

I can't believe it has been one year since I've started blogging (August 2006!) What a ride it's been! I wrote in my first ever post, Blog the First: " plan is to document my travels in this blog for the next year (in an attempt to reduce the number of mass emails!)"

And I have been. I thought it appropriate to celebrate the 100th Post by listing the top 10 things I will miss about England, specifically Birmingham. I leave the city for good on August 14th - one week from now - and I want to chronicle what I've enjoyed here, as much for my own benefit as yours!

(I know, two list posts in a row. I blame Mitch for it! Yell at him!)

- 10 Things I Will Miss About Birmingham -
  1. Harborne: The town I live in! 9 pubs, 8 charity shops, 7 restaurants, 6 banks, 3 supermarkets, 2 bookstores (one called Bond's Books - one reason I wanted to live here!), 2 chip shops, the Subway, the Blockbuster, the Home Bargains, the Art Store, the park, and the community center. The Harborne Carnival brings everyone together once a year. Feels good here!
  2. Architecture: Birmingham is trying so hard. Amongst the run down dirty parts of the city, there are wonderful buildings and amazing architecture that I will miss looking at: the bulbous Selfridges building covered with thousands of mirrored disks, the stone Art Gallery and Victoria Square with the beautiful fountain and steps, the tall thin alien BT Tower, the many red brick houses, and the new modern style of Centenary Square and Brindley Place with it's open spaces, statues, and canals!
  3. A Cup'a Tea: After being in England a year, I appreciate the taste of a good cup of tea! One teabag, into hot water, very short steep time, squash the teabag with the spoon, one sugar, dash of milk, stir....and sip. Mmmmm...
  4. Pub Culture: More than just a place to drink, the pub is a meeting place, a landmark, a comfort zone, a restaurant, a games room, a Quiz Night, and the place to take a date! British life revolves around the local pub (mine is the Varsity - 22 seconds from my door to the pub, sober. And 5-20 minutes after a couple - usually due to a stop for a kebab 'n' chips or a Subway! Mmmm...)
  5. Proximity to Europe: The bounty of Europe is just a short flight across the channel! And it is so easy and cheap to get there; EasyJet and RyanAir. Anywhere you want - France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece... so simple!
  6. The Pound: I will miss earning money in pounds. I love looking at my bank balance and converting it into Canadian dollars in my head! It makes me giggle with delight! Although, the downside is that I have to rent a movie for 4 quid (= $ 9.50 !!!!)
  7. The Safety of the Streets: Broad St in particular, where the nightlife is. Police, CCTV cameras, and well lit areas abound in this city which used to have a reputation as being dirty and dangerous. Now, it parts of it are clean and very safe. On more than one occasion, I have walked home late at night always feeling very safe!
  8. My House: 13 Albany Road - the site of many parties, dinners, movie and game nights, TV viewings (Hollyoaks and Big Brother..), arguments, sleep-ins, painting times, quiets moments, days off, no heat, film scenes, barbecues, ant infestations, lunar eclipses, accidents, police talks, and late nights! A three-legged cat we call 'Stubs' or 'Stubby' visits us frequently! I'll miss my big room and it's wooden floors, high ceilings, and sink.
  9. Family so close: It has been spectacular having so much of my family so close in England! On my Mom's side - Dave, Naomi, and Gloria, and on my Dad's side - my Granny, Nigel and Joyce, Tim and Meena, Elaine and Richard, Sarah and Abby, Yasmeen, Escandar, Rocheen, Angie and John, Lara and James, Nicky, Rav and baby Mia! I also consider my good friends Marianne, Duncan, and Nathalie family too! I will miss them all!
  10. Friends: So many new friends! I'll miss mostly my housemates - Roger, Leon, Lee, Emily, and Andy. I'll also miss Lewis, Zoe, Karl, Catherine, Lisa, Ian, Teresa, Hassen, Renata, Katerina, Kate, Sophie, Debbie, Cate, Mary, Tina, Nicky, Claire, Michelle, Faye, and Sarah. I've made some fantastic friends who will stay with me my whole life, for which I am very happy!
So there we go: the top 10 things I will miss about Birmingham. But what next? The Traveler moves on...
  • August 16 - fly to Madrid, then meet Greg in Lisbon
  • August 19 to September 5 - travel around Portugal and Spain, taking in Lagos, Seville, Valencia, Ibiza, and Barcelona, including La Tomatina (tomato fight festival!)
  • September 5 to 10 - show Greg around London (might visit Birmingham one last time)
  • September 10 to 15 - spend a week in New York City, before flying home!
  • Later - Move to South Korea for a year to teach English with my friend Steve!
Whew, a full packed summer! Only a week left in England and I have to spend most of it packing and cleaning my house.

That finishes my 100th post! Wish me luck on my travels and on another exciting year of blogging!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tagged - 8 Random Things about Me...

I got tagged by fellow Canadian Blogger Mitch,

The Rules: Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The game rules are posted at the beginning of the post. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment to let them know they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

I have been thinking about this post all day, trying to think of random things about myself. So here they are:
  1. I had a large gap between my two front teeth when I was very young. I used a retainer for a few years, never braces. I remember having to take my retainer out at every meal, and I would wrap it in a napkin. Only once was it thrown out!
  2. For the last 10 years, I've been involved with an acting troupe - SMP Dramatic Society - a group that puts on pantomimes! What is a pantomime? It is a British comedy tradition where you take a classic fairytale, add some cross-dressing, singing, dancing and hilariously bad jokes, and mix in some audience participation! I have played a rat, a sheik, a sage, a lost babe, a farmer, a wolf, and a pantomime horse (front end!)
  3. I cannot ski. Yeah, I know, I live in a beautiful mountain-filled snow-covered ski land surrounded by skiing opportunities (Whistler, Blackcomb, Grouse, Cypress...). I should be a good skier, but I am not. This is due to me falling over and being unable to get up, when taking lesson in Grade 7. This may have scarred me as I haven't been downhill skiing since! (I guess I can cross-country ski... I forgot!)
  4. I have shot a few different guns. As James Bond's decedent, I should be competent with firearms! I have fired several different rifles and a 22' revolver, on two separate occasions. And I am not a bad shot, if I do say so myself!
  5. During primary school, I once started a group which almost every classmate joined! It was (surprisingly) a Dinosaur Group, where everyone was given a different dinosaur name. We would then run around at recess and pretend to be that prehistoric animal and ... uh... fight.. and (I was a T.Rex!)
  6. My favorite view in from West Braemar Road in North Vancouver at the bend at the top of the stairs. That quiet spot overlooks both West Vancouver and Cypress Mountain, and also Downtown Vancouver. I love looking at all the trees and the city lights over the water.
  7. My first film (made in Grade 8) involved stop-motion animation, fire, camera tricks, and a trip through my friend's fridge. The film was about an alien who arrived on Earth and was shown around by my friend. In fact we went through his fridge twice! Our teacher, Mrs. Hopkins, gave us good marks but told us if we went showed my friend's fridge one more time, she'd fail us.
  8. My house was broken in when I was in High School and I was the first one home. I noticed the door adgar and, without really thinking, I walked in. Stupid, I know, but I was curious and somewhat shocked! Our TV and VCR, gone. As was the Super Mario Brothers 3 video game (but not the original Nintendo system. Weird.) My Father's violin (the most disturbing of the stolen item's) was recovered by the police. I did eventually call 911 and luckily, not murdering criminal was still in my house!
There we go. Now, let's be really mean and tag Craig, Marianne, Randi, Stephanie, and Traumador! (I know it's not 8 people, but I'm not that mean.)