Monday, July 25, 2011

London Calling

House of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye from the Thames

This is the first time Doc & I have visited London without the jet lag battle. Generally, Doc is falling asleep over afternoon tea during the first few days of our London visits. This visit, Doc is also not haunting the house wide-awake at 2:00 AM. We’d been in Spain for two weeks and are well acclimated to the time change.

I sorely under-packed for London. I brought no cold weather clothes. I have a light jacket, t-shirts and shorts. I packed one pair of Levis: no long sleeved shirts. I did, thankfully, remember an umbrella. I did not need the swimsuit in London.

Doc & I generally visit London in autumn, winter or spring, not summer. This is our first summer trip to London. It is July! How cold can it get? It’s been cold and rainy. I don’t know if it’s been exceptionally cool this summer or if this is normal weather. It explains the pale pallor of the Brits and everyone’s comments about our having been on holiday.

I absolutely love London. It’s the one city in the world I’ve visited most often. I don’t know that I could actually LIVE permanently in London but I do love visiting. We generally stay with our dear friend, Peter. in Islington in a home older than the United States. The home is in also in better shape than the US, I’m afraid.

From Islington, we make our daily excursions into London. This year, we are traveling primarily by bus, as the Underground seems unusually crowed. I don’t know why. I enjoy the busses as it affords a view of London unavailable by tube. It’s rather like traveling the surface streets of LA instead of taking the freeways. You get to “see” the city.

Doc and I do our best to not be burdensome house guests. We are definitely NOT labor-intensive house guests. We are quite capable of entertaining ourselves during the day. Doc & I are off to museums, galleries and theater most every day. We meet up with our hosts for dinner often and make sure we top off the fridge with wine, milk, bread, cheese, pate, butter, etc.

We seem to have had more Asian food than usual: Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese: repeat often. We also made it to a great fish & chip shop in Islington (Central Fish) only to find out it is owned by the cousin of our neighbor in Palm Springs!

This blog was posted on Monday, July 25th. We return to Palm Springs tomorrow. We need to be on the tube to Heathrow at the ungodly hour of 5:30 in order to check in on time. I’m ready to return home; it’s been a long trip with lots to do, see and friends to catch up with. Although it does not feel like it, we’ve been to four countries in two continents.

I hope I can still close that suitcase.

I’ll talk to you on the other side of the pond AND thank you for listening.

Jerry L. Hanson

Monday, July 18, 2011


Returning to the Nieuw Amsterdam in Tunis

In Barcelona, Doc & I joined up with the RSVP cruise on a Holland America Cruise ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam on July 9th. This one-week cruise of the Western Mediterranean was our primary reason for the month in Europe.

The beauty of a cruise is that you check into the “hotel” and take the hotel with you to all these marvelous places. We unpack our bags in the stateroom and then visited four countries on two continents over 7 days! And what a week it’s been! We left Barcelona, traveled to Tunis in Northern Africa, then on to Sicily then Rome then Florence & Pisa & Lucca with a last stop in Marseille, France before returning to Barcelona.

The ship is over 11 stories tall with a passenger capacity of 2,500 and a crew of over 900. That’s a lot of people in one space! Before our fist excursion, I was dreading the dis-embarkation process with so may people on board. Holland America has it figured out. We met at the designated meeting site and within 10 minutes 400 passengers were on busses and we were on our way. Easy.

The only day we skipped the excursions was the day we docked in Rome. Doc & I spent a week in Rome some years ago and decided it wasn’t worth the 3 hours ride into Rome on a bus in 100+ heat. Besides, we’d been up until well after 1 AM and that 7 AM departure for Rome was just too early. Our day aboard ship sitting around the pool, sipping Bloody Mary’s and/or G&T’s was far more relaxing.

Everyone who has taken a cruise on one of the large cruise ships goes on & on about the food aboard ship. And with good reason: it is amazing. There is food available somewhere aboard ship at any hour of the day. Breakfast is from 5AM until noon. Lunch is from noon until 5PM and dinner begins at 5PM and goes on until 10 or 11PM. Then there are deserts from 10PM until 1AM with the midnight breakfasts available from midnight until 5AM. If you go hungry, it’s your own damned fault.

I vowed to gain not one ounce while on vacation. I don’t think I did on the cruise; however, I’m not weighing myself until I get home. Often during breakfast, would have a bowl of cottage cheese and a cup or two of tea. “That’s all you’re eating?!?!” Doc would ask. “Yeah. I’m full,” I’d reply. Doc would scowl. Just because it’s “free”, you don’t have to eat everything! And, to be honest, we did pay for all that food if you look at the cost of the cruise. I still don’t have to eat it all. I was content with my portion. I did not go hungry.

I did have my moments. There was sushi at lunchtime and there was tomato, cucumber & shrimp salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. Lethal. I went back for seconds on both and then thirds. I admit to an urge to waddle. One dinner, I selected two starters and seconds on the gazpacho. I skipped desert to compensate. The food is good on the Holland America Line. Yes.

The entertainment was just as good as the food. We were entertained by Chita Rivera, Bruce Valanche, Rosemary Ashe, Amy & Freddy, and the amazing Holland America ensemble. We enjoyed Amy & Freddy, enough to go to all three of their shows. Doc & I saw Chita Rivera in a one woman show about 20 years ago. She is 76 yrs old today and her voice is still wonderful although she’s slowing down and no longer does those amazing kicks. Still, she is graceful and spry. I wish I could move as gracefully. Pilates can’t do everything…..

The week went incredibly fast. We had seven incredible days on the water with great weather and no rain. We met wonderful people and had a good time. I will admit to being glad to leave the ship just to catch up on my sleep!

We docked 24 hours ago. I still feel the rocking of the ship.

Thank you for listening,

Jerry L. Hanson

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Don't Let the Rain Come Down!

A month in Europe – Part II

Don't let the rain come down. Oh, No! Don't let the rain come down.... Remember that song?

We left Madrid this morning (Monday, July 4th) catching the fast train to Barcelona. We transferred to a commuter train & arrived in Sitges just after 2:00PM. A short taxi ride later & we were in our seaside hotel, the Platjador. We are across the street from the beach. The only thing between us and the water (other than the road, of course) is a bar/restaurant. Convenient, no?

Madrid was a whirlwind of fun, alcohol and Madrid Pride. Everywhere we went in Madrid, we were told “Happy Pride”. At the local Mac Donald’s, we got a free Madrid Pride fan. It was unreal with virtually every shop displaying a rainbow flag or some other acknowledgement of Gay Pride.

On Saturday morning, Doc & I met Ronny & Hernan for breakfast. We got there early: 10:30AM. Yeah, that’s early for Madrid. Over breakfast, we discussed the day’s schedule. Ronny & Hernan needed to be to the Madrid Pride Parade staging area around 5 PM. Doc & I decided we needed to be on the parade route around 6PM to ensure a good seat. There were about 2 million visitors to Madrid for Madrid Pride. They were ALL going to the parade, right? We needed to get there early.

We walked the two blocks to the Calle Gran Via & found a great spot with a great view of the street. I noticed that there were not many spectators lined up along the street. Most of those we saw were strolling down the street towards the beginning of the parade route – about 10 blocks from where we’d staked out our seats. I began getting suspicious.

As the time for the parade’s beginning approached, the crowds grew. They took to the street crowding Calle Gran Via. Police cars & motorcycles patrolled the calle pushing the crows back. Still, Doc & I had plenty of room on the side of the street. I’m still suspicious. Something’s wrong.

Madrid, at 7:00 PM was hovering around 95F. The crowd was feeling the heat. I’m from Palm Springs. 95F is cool and comfortable. The crowd along the street is looking up towards the balconies overlooking Calle Gran Via. I’m clueless.

Without warning, a bucket full of water came flying over the balcony railing just to the left of us. The people sitting next to us were soaked. The crowd on the street was ecstatic. A chant of “Agua! Agua!” began.

I’m still clueless & I let the people above us know I was not pleased. The young woman indicated she wouldn’t drench me. Could I trust her?

Another shower rained down to the right of us. I then noticed water raining down from the balconies all along Calle Gran Via. A couple came and sat down next to us. The woman said to me, “Isn’t the water refreshing on such a hot day?”

I’ve always been a slow learner, but I’m beginning to catch on. The crowd is enjoying the cooling rain of water in the heat of the street. I’m already enjoying the cool 90 degree temperatures and the added “precipitation” is not cooling. It’s damp and cold!

I’m beginning to appreciate the fun the crowd is having both on the ground and above. The spectators directly above us are honoring the request of the Yanqui grumpus below them. Water rains down to the right & the left of us. I decided to walk out to the center of the street to see if I could take a picture of the “rain”.

Before I could even turn on the camera, a bucket of water was poured off the balcony directly above us, right on to Doc’s head! A young man three floors up is giving me a huge shit-eating grin. I wanted so badly to laugh: if I did, Doc would never forgive me. I gave the guy a bug grin and a thumbs up…...

Doc was soaked through to his undies. He dumped the water out of his boat shoes and scowled at me as if I’d planned it!

I didn’t get a photo.

While Doc walked the two blocks back to the hotel to dry off & change, I loosened up, dropped the Yanqui attitude and enjoyed the parade. Happy, Pride, Madrid!

Thanks for listening,

Jerry L. Hanson

Monday, July 4, 2011


On June 27th, my husband and I took off for Europe. We will be visiting three or four countries over a four-week period. I’m calculating we will have to pack/unpack about six times in four weeks. That’s less than a week in any one place.

My ideal vacation is to spend the entire time in one place. My husband’s preference? Pack as many stops into a vacation as humanly possible. We’re at an impasse here already.

This month-long trip began as a one-week cruise in the western Mediterranean. As Doc researched flights to & from Europe, the itinerary expanded. OK, we are using airline miles so that does require some flexibility in scheduling. Every day brought a new “issue”. “You know,” Doc said, “as long as we are flying all that way, we should visit Peter in London.” “OK,” I said, “It would be nice to visit Peter.”

A week later, Doc tells me our friend in Ghent is visiting Madrid for Gay Pride. “Wouldn’t it be great to go to Gay Pride in Madrid with Ronny & Hernan?” “Yeah, that would be nice,” I say. I add, “I don’t want to spend the entire summer away from Palm Springs.”

A week later, Doc informs me that, “Ronny & Hernan are going to Sitges after Gay Pride. I told them we’d go with them.” “WHAT??!?”

Our trip is expanding rapidly.

I put my foot down when the trip expanded to 7 weeks. “You can stay in Europe for the entire summer. Just book my flight back to Palm Springs before the end of July! I’d rather leave Palm Springs when it’s cold!”

So now I’m packing for a month in Europe with six pack/unpacks. I’m taking one medium sized suitcase and trying to cover all contingencies. We’re going to nude beaches. We’re dining at an upper crust club in London. We’re going to Gay Pride in Madrid. We’re going on a week-long cruise with 2,500 other gay men. How does one possibly pack for all this in a smallish suitcase?

I packed my suitcase. I had to use that handy expansion zipper to get the suitcase closed. That did not bode well. It meant I could not possibly purchase one souvenir in Europe without adding a second suitcase. Not good.

I took out all those items I’d packed. I counted the t-shirts – 15. I pulled 8 of them & returned them to the dresser. Next were shorts – 6 pair. I returned 3 to the dresser. Did I really need 8 tank tops? Six are staying home. Same with socks: I don’t need 12 pair. Four should do it. My suitcase is remarkably thin! I took out 6 of the 12 collared shirts. They DO have laundry service in hotels and aboard ship, no?

One pair of casual shoes will have to do along with only one swimsuit and one pair of sandals. I don’t know these guys on the cruise. Why do I really care if anyone sees me in the same lousy swimsuit or shorts day after day? I’m going for a good time, not to impress anyone with my fabulous wardrobe.

My suitcase is now down to BELOW 50 pounds with room to spare for any souvenirs I just cannot live without!

Doc was complaining about his suitcase being too small. “Since yours is so empty, can you carry my three pair of dress shoes?”

Bon Voyage!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mercado de San Miguel

I’m in Spain as I type this: Madrid to be specific. My husband and I are on a month vacation to Europe. We left the US on my 62nd birthday and I spent my birthday doing two of Doc’s all time favorite things: sitting in first class lounges and flying. He thought he’d died & gone to heaven. I had no illusions: this was NOT heaven.

We met up in Madrid with Ronny, a dear friend from Ghent & his partner from New York, NY, USA. How many bi-continental couples do YOU know????

We are starting our month attending Madrid Pride, one of Europe’s largest & wildest Pride events with about 2 million attendees. Yesterday, we attended the Pride Parade down on Calle Gran Via. I think more than 2 million came out for the parade. The parade began at 6PM and was not over until well after midnight. Madrid KNOWS how to party! And party we did!

But I am getting ahead of myself.

We arrived three days before the Pride Parade & met up with Ronny at the airport. Hernan arrived two days later from New York City.

Ronny showed Doc & me the sights of Madrid from his point of view. We visited his favorite haunts and squares. We had a great time. In addition to learning that “Happy Hour” begins at 11AM in Madrid AND that lunch is around 4 PM with dinner on the far horizon of 10PM, I discovered the necessity of the siesta.

What I really want to talk about in this blog is our discovery of the Mercado de San Miguel. We made a point to be there for our mid day meal three days running. The Mercado is an old market place that’s been rehabbed into a trendy food court. Think of a tapas bar with separate food stations. The place is not huge but it is large: seven isles of delicious. There is everything from specialty olives to Kobe steak and caviar to sardines.

Three days running, we met up at Mercado de San Miguel, securing a table and fanning out assembling our feast. The first day, we had an incredible tapas meal of olives, pork sausages, squid, a plate of 10 different cheeses and wine.

On day two, we limited ourselves to olives, grilled steak, caviar and wine. Would “limited” be the correct word? It was an incredible meal. Decadent & delicious

Hernan arrived from New York and the four of us met up at the Mercado for another incredible meal. Again, we had wine, olives and sausages. We added the 10 cheeses and a mushroom dish. We experimented again with the fish. It was a successful, delicious experiment! We added a second bottle of wine to “clean up”.

After these meals, we would either venture into the “ghetto” for the evening or return our hotel for a siesta. We are on day 5 in Madrid… I opt for the siesta.

As incredible as our tapas lunches have been at the Mercado, they pale in comparison to our dinners!

Will you believe me if I tell you I’m watching what I eat?

As always, THANK you for listening,

Jerry L. Hanson