Euro-Trash

Before my European friends get all spun up about the title of this post, I’m not talking about human beings.  I’m talking about trash.  In Europe.  Lots of it.

All over on our travels through Europe garbage is omnipresent.  I first experienced it over 15 years ago during “huelgas de basura” (garbage strikes) in Madrid.  For weeks at a time sanitation workers would go on strike and garbage would pile up in the subways and the rats and mice would grow too fat to scurry away from cigarette butt flinging commuters.  Piles of garbage as high as my head piled in some corners of the metro.

More recently, while vacationing in Crete, I decided to go snorkeling on one of the famous “black beaches.”  What did I see at the bottom?  Tires, typewriters, bottles, cans and debris of gosh knows what else.  I spent about 60 seconds in that water.

Graffiti adorns every block of historical Prague.  Churches, museums, even the castle is not immune.  I’m not talking the Lennon wall here either, folks.

Everyone in Europe talks green but my personal experience is that most of it is out of ignorance or plain old bluster.  To put it to the test, I tried to recycle some electronics one Saturday last year and found myself taking a 40 minute drive to the other side of town to the only sanctioned junk yard only to be told that they wouldn’t accept and old stereo.  They didn’t like my Czech ID and told me no.  I eventually forced it on them.  No wonder people leave so much crap on the side of the road.

When my generation grew up in America, we were repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with “don’t litter” campaigns, Woodsie the Owl saying, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” and even some ill fated kangaroo that tried reverse psychology in personal responsibility by proclaiming, “Let George do it!”  However, it worked.  I don’t do it.  Not even a tapa napkin.  On the other hand it’s quite obvious that Europeans have had none of that in their daily lives.  Or, if so, they didn’t pay attention.

I can go on about European hypocrisy.  They say the American lifestyle is unhealthy?  OK, compare them to infamous European smokers – not only the French.  Americans are fat?  Have one look at an Italian beach and you’ll believe that all American tourists have traveled to Italy,  are tanned and speak Italian while gesturing wildly.  Loud, ugly Americans?  Have you ever been in a beerhall in any of these countries?  Obnoxious?  Have you ever stood next to an unshowered French smoker?  Pushy?  Have you ever stood in a Czech excuse for a “line?”  Rude?  Have you experienced what passes for customer service in Europe?  Vulgar?  Ever seen a British stag party?

Having lived here over five years tends to strip away a portion of the romanticism of the idealized Europe.  Don’t get me wrong, living here is still great.  I just don’t think the Europeans have a leg to stand on when the claim superiority in so many different ways.  I’m not saying that America isn’t without problems of its own.  I’m just saying we’re not the only ones.

El Xampanyet

dueno

As a grubby American expat living overseas, there are few trips home.  They’re long, expensive journeys that seem too long when you’re planning them and too short when you get there.  However, I’ve found a home away from home on the Iberian peninsula.  As a matter of fact, with just one trip, you’d feel like it was home as well.  The welcome is warm, the jokes are well-worn, the food is delicious and the drink is, well, El Xampanyet.

Just a few steps down the street from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona is my home away from home.  It’s not much when you pass by.  Just some “botes” hanging from the doorway, and a glimpse of tile and nice white marble bar.  However, a cursory walk by misses what lives at the heart of El Xampanyet.  It’s the soul of the family the runs it.  (The owner and patriarch is pictured above.)  At least three generations are there, manning the bar, serving up sardines that explode in your mouth like  M-80s and delightful cherry bombs of goat cheese stuffed red peppers.  The house drink is, of course, El Xampanyet (a sort of Cava-spritzer) but everything else is available with which to satisfy your thirst.

There’s rarely a place to stand and it’s even harder to find a place to sit.  Crowds come in before going for the big night out.  Every night.  During our last trip there, we shared the area in front of the bar with everyone from trade show tourists to self proclaimed Spanish royalty.  The funny thing was, they gave drinks to everyone at the same speed.  They were gracious, did their best to remember our last visit, and made sure the lady with us did not go thirsty. ( Really, she tried to, but they wouldn’t have it.   I’ve never seen club soda forced on anyone.)

The Spanish proverbs that hang on the wall just add to the ambiance.  Loosely translated, one says, “When feeling ill, inject platelets of jamón and red wine.”  Sage advice – heeded. When you’re there, you feel like an honorary Spaniard.  There’s no pretense, just tons of good food, very little elbow room and a cold, glistening silver tap to make sure your caña is never empty.  ¡Viva El Xampanyet!

La Botifarra – The True Valencia

botifarra

The ratty, dog-eared business card above is for the “Botifarra,” a hidden gem in the middle of ‘el Carmen’ district of Valencia.  As two weary travelers, we stumbled into it at about 10:30 on a Wednesday night.  Easy pickin’s by Spanish standards but akin to Magellan’s arrival at the Spice Islands for us.  When we arrived we were tired, hungry and had no idea what lay ahead of us.

Luckily, it ended up being an small bistrot-type Spanish tapas bar where all of the cooking was done by the owner Jorge himself.  A small stove/grill in the corner, chalkboards on the wall advertising the wine and tapas and the drool inducing bowls and shallow clay pots of sausages, peppers, and various indescribable tapas were all that stood between us and the kitchen.  Well, that and a nice bottle of red wine.  I have no recollection of what wine we ordered at this point but I can tell you what accompanied it.  We had a delicious plate of gooey Spanish cheese (OK, I don’t remember what kind), with a tomato marmalade just sweet enough to cut the pungency of the cheese.  As a second plate, we had a Roquefort-stuffed pork sausage, cooked in white wine and in a natural casing.  Sublime.  In fact, I recall saying that on that very night.  “Just, uh, sublime.”

Indeed it was.  And the conversation with Jorge and his assistant proved to be the highlight of the night.  Terribly tolerant of my over-imbibed Spanish, Jorge proved to be his own version of the Valencia Chamber of Commerce.

The menu changes nightly but I can only imagine the quality and the experience is the same.  Go and give Jorge a shout from the gringos who forgot cash.

Garmin and Google – A Sync Match Made in Navigation Heaven

So I’m busy planning a trip to Spain with my brother that starts next week and am having fun “walking” the streets of Madrid using Google’s Street View feature.  Along the way, I save all sorts of points to my map.  By the time I’m finished, my map of Madrid is dotted with more tenedores y copas than one can count and I’m wishing that there was a way to make it portable – on my Nuvi 770.

Well, there is.  Thanks to the folks at takeitwithme.com there’s a great little on-line tool to sync most any device to Google Maps.  I tried the standard Garmin Communicator Plug-in download but it doesn’t support European maps – at least in the cities I tried.  But you should still download it.  It ends up being the bit of software that lets your Nuvi talk to Google Maps.  After you have your “MyGarmin” account all set up and the plug-in installed, just go to the link above, cut and paste your map link and, booya, you’re all favorited up.

So, now you know what I know.  If you just want to plot your favorite haunts in your US hometown, the chipper dude in this video will show you how to do it.