Saturday, June 29, 2002

Tribute to Kent Ruffino

My brother, Kent, died in a car crash on June 12th while I was on my trip to Europe and I didn't find out until I got back because I was out of contact.

He was a 19 year old college student and was a medic in the Army Reserves. He still had his whole life ahead of him. My biggest regret is that I didn't get to know him better because he lived with my mom up in Riverside County and I only saw him a few times a year.

Friday, June 21, 2002

Western Europe Trip - Final Part (Frankfurt, Germany)

Well, we are unexpectedly in Germany for an extra night in Europe. We missed our flight connection in Frankfurt but we are enjoying ourselves anyway after finding a hotel room.

Chad and Noah enjoying a German Beer.
We went and found a cool little place to eat, a home that had been converted into a little outdoor family restaurant. I think our table was where the driveway used to be. We had the schnitzel and German beer, of course.

Delicious schnitzel
We catch the next United flight to LAX tomorrow.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Western Europe Trip - Part 3 (Barcelona, Spain)

I finally found an Internet cafe in Barcelona. I love this city. A big difference from the first time I came here with Greg when it rained the whole time and we were robbed.

Early morning on the train traveling along the Italian Rivera
We ended up spending about 24 hours on 4 different trains to reach Barcelona. After a short train ride to Pisa, we took another sleeper car at 2 am to Nice. Our train to Montpellier ran over someone as it entered the Toulon Station. Bummer! The last train was the best. I had fun talking with several people with different nationalities. A Cuban who was sitting next to me was in Europe for the first time. He was coming to France to meet his French girlfriend and teach Salsa Dancing. We were so tired when we arrived in Barcelona at 11 pm that we went straight to sleep.

Noah at the center of Barcelona spiral staircase.
The Barcelona apartment where we are staying for a week is so cool! And so close to everything too. There was a cool spiral staircase up to the apartment on the third floor. I spent Sunday at the beach since everything is closed. It was so crowded. I had a few beers at one of the many bars on the sand. Started talking to a Colombian guy who was playing the saxophone and lives here with his Spanish wife.

Tutu guy dancing on Barcelona beach
Walking back from the beach I saw they where filming a scene from a World War II movie at the train station. Lots of extras in period costumes and stuff. It was supposed to be Antwerp. I got to see them yell action and everything. Later, I went to a park near our apartment with Chad and Fatima where there was some kind of Rave going on. Dancers, Drum Circles, Jugglers, and lots of Marijuana being smoked.

Fatima and Chad at a rave in a Barcelona Park
On Monday, we visited the unfinished Gaudi church, La Sagrada Familia. We climbed the winding stairs up one tower and walked across the narrow bridge at the top with great views of the city. We ended up getting tickets for the Red Hot Chili Peppers when we saw a poster on Las Ramblas. It was a great concert, but it was in a hot and humid arena filled with the haze of thousands of smoking cigarettes. We had an interesting midnight adventure walking back to the city centre because the subway closed down before the concert ended. After walking many miles we found a bus that was running and hoped for the best when we boarded it. We lucked out because it's route came pretty close to our apartment at Port Vell.

Lisa, Noah & Chad inside La Sagrada Familia chuch tower.
We spent the next few days hanging out at the beach, but we went to the Aquarium and the Picasso Museum. My respect for the famous painter grew after seeing his work displayed in chronological order. He was actually very talented in the realistic style when he was growing up in the city before he went abstract. I also had dinner and went to a nightclub with Amanda and her friend who I met on the train to Barcelona. On Thursday, everything in the city was closed down by a National Strike. The only open place to eat that we could find was a Chinese restaurant. It was good! The next day there was allot of spray paint graffiti on buildings around the city.

Chad and Fatima relaxing on Las Ramblas after dinner.
On Friday, we took a bus out to the mountain-top Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. We watched a Catholic wedding in the Abbey and touched the black Virgin of Montserrat statue. We rode the two funiculars and hiked the trails in the jagged peaks surrounding the Abbey. There was beautiful weather with great views of the surrounding countryside.

Noah meditating on the rocky cliffs of Montserrat
I was rooting for USA in the World Cup (obviously), but I was surprised that they beat Mexico and made it into the Quarterfinals!! The USA lost to Germany while we were out at Montserrat, but Spain played Korea today in the Quarterfinals during our last day in the city. The streets were empty during the game and we watched it on our TV. Through our window, the city was crazy noisy as the game came to an end with a zero-zero tie. The noise level increased during the shoot-out, but when Korea scored the final goal to win, the city went deathly silent for several minutes. It was very eerie.

Chad, Fatima and Noah about to go dancing in Barcelona.
After the game in the morning, we rode the cable car up to Montjuic to see all the 1992 Olympic facilities and go swimming in the Olympic pool. Too bad we visited it on the day of a school swim meet so we were not able to swim like we planned. Oh Well. Tonight we are going dancing.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Western Europe Trip - Part 2 (Florence, Italy)

Our last day in Paris was great. We went to the Musee d'Orsay. It was my favorite museum in the city. I really like the art from this time period of the late 19th century. We spent the rest of the day hanging out at a cafe in the Latin Quarter, waiting to catch the night train to Florence from the Gare de Bercy. The waiter, Anthony, was really cool and friendly. The opposite of the snooty French waiter stereotype. The sleeper car was fun. It had compartments with seats that folded out into 6 beds. I had one of the top bunks and slept very well.

Fatima contemplating my favorite painting, The Floor Strippers, in the Musee d'Orsay
First thing in Florence, we took the 17 bus to the Duomo and visited the Galleria dell'Accademia Museum with the "David" and other amazing sculptures. It was fun walking the streets because the Italy-Mexico World Cup game was going on at the same time. The city erupted in a loud roar when Italy scored a Goal while we ate lunch. Horns were honking and people yelling from windows all around and above us. Pretty Cool! I think Mexico won though because some kids waving Mexican flags were singing out a window awhile later. I took there picture. Heh! I think World Cup fever was low back in France because they did so badly, finishing last in their group. They were pretty embarrassed because they are the defending champs. Last I heard, the USA team had won and tied another game.

Chad in the Florence Hostel
The Florence hostel is very beautiful. It is in a country villa surrounded by vineyards and the fireflies come out at night. And a few mosquitoes. I have stayed here once before with Greg back in 1995. Last night, we ate a really delicious meal at a restaurant just a short walk down the road. The Gnocchi was crazy good.

Noah on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge
We thought about taking a day trip to Pisa today. After checking the schedules at the train station, we realized it would not be worth the time it would take to travel there and back. Instead we went to the Uffizi Gallery and I saw the famous "Birth of Venus" by Botticelli. We had a nice little side adventure when we caught a bus going the wrong way and rode the entire circuit in reverse before we reached our destination. We are now back at the hostel hanging out on the terrace and drinking beers until we have to leave and take a midnight train. We have a long journey to Barcelona.

Chad and the Boar in a Florence market

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Western Europe Trip - Part 1 (Paris, France)

I am writing from an internet kiosk thing in our hostel.

Noah, Fatima, Danielle & Lisa in the Paris Metro
Chad, Fatima, Danielle, Lisa & I arrived in Paris around 1pm on Thursday. We flew in one of those new Boeing 777s. Pretty nice! The closest train station into Paris was closed so we spent quite a long time wandering around the airport lost, confused and tired. I ended up hitting my head when I walked right into a closed glass door. After finding our hostel, we cruised the Champs-Elysees all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe. I climbed to the top on a cool spiral staircase to see the great view. For dinner, I ate this delicious, ham and cheese grilled sandwich, called a Croque Monsieur. The rock hard salami baguette I had with it was not so good. We were really tired by the time we went to sleep around 12pm.

Chad posing with a statue in the Louvre
Friday started out drizzly, but it went away before we reached the Louvre. It is HUGE!!! I have taken so many pictures already. First thing, we headed to find the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory and then checked out all the paintings from Europe's 16th & 17th centuries. Lots of religious iconography. My favorite area was the large sculpture garden. Before heading over to Notre Dame, we had a nice lunch at a brasserie. I had a steak with pepper sauce. There was a children's choir singing in the famous cathedral when we arrived. We were going to go to the top, but we didn't want to wait for over an hour in the line. We had plans to go to a Jazz club, but the girls fell asleep too early when we went back to the hostel to rest for a bit.

Two French Angels who posed for me on the Champs-Elysees
You can't go to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower. Chad, Fatima and I climbed the stairs up to the second level where we stopped for a chocolate croissant and an espresso before taking the elevator to the very top. Chad got a little freaked in the glass elevator. Heh! For lunch we stopped at a creperia before exploring more of the city. We ended up at the Hotel des Invalides to see Napoleon's Tomb and check out the French World War II museum. Our second attempt to go to a Jazz club was a success but it was hard to find tucked away in a side alley of the Rue de Lombard. They served a delicious hefeweiser-type beer and the music was good even though I am not a big Jazz fan.

Sharing a laugh in the Eiffel Tower
I still wasn't over my jet lag by Sunday. I was so tired I fell asleep on the train to Versailles, but I perked up by the time we arrived at the palace. First, we explored the large gardens filled with statues and elaborate fountains. We rented a boat to row around the cross-shaped canal at the base of the gardens. It was pretty funny when we accidentally rammed another boat and got cursed out in French. While touring the inside of the palace, I kept close to a English-speaking tour group as they explained what each room was for. The Hall of Mirrors was impressive, but I really enjoyed seeing the living quarters and the three huge murals commissioned by Napoleon.

Chad and Noah rowing Queen Fatima across the Versailles Canal.
Arriving back in the city, we went to the district of Montmartre to see the shiny white Sacre Coeur Cathedral at the top of the hill. Nearby, I had my best French meal of the trip so far, but the service was really slow. After we were seated, it took about two hours before our food arrived. I am not complaining though, it was nice to relax for awhile. The girls wanted to go shopping, so I took the metro to see the Moulin Rouge. I would like to watch the show someday, but it is pretty expensive. 150 Euros!

Flowers and Notes left on Jim Morrison's Grave
The World Cup has been going on while we are here. Team USA is doing well. Chad and I watched them score a goal against Korea before we went to pick up the rental car. It was very time consuming and it was crazy driving it back to our hostel on the busy streets. The traffic on the ring road circling the city was worse than Los Angeles. After five days together, we decided to split up for the rest of the day. After exploring the expensive shops near the Champs Elysees, I went to see Jim Morrison's grave at the Père Lachaise cemetery. I had a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant and read the International Herald Tribune. It was nice to have some alone time. Later, I stumbled upon an outside concert near the Hotel de Ville and I had a good time talking to a Portuguese guy who lives in the city.

Chad and Noah in Fontainebleau with the rental car.
Tomorrow we are driving 35 miles outside of Paris in our rental car to visit Fontainebleau, Napoleon's Palace. I hope it is worth it after the huge hassle it was to pick up the car.