Tag Archives: Spain

The Many Moods of Barcelona

barcelona

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Not long ago, we noted the top ten party destinations in Europe this summer, so named by Student Universe , and one of them is Barcelona, Spain. Taking a closer look, we find that it’s not all fun and games. It’s not the Barcelona of novelist Ruiz Zafón, anyway. In The Irish Times, prolific writer Arminta Wallace gives us “Creating a fiction that’s real,” which incorporates material from an interview with Zafón and also discusses his work, especially the novel The Shadow of the Wind. The city becomes a character, and Zafón says he treats it like any character, with costumes and make-up. According to Wallace:

His is not the sunny Barcelona of the tourist posters, but a city of dark alleys and medieval buildings, rain-sodden, fog-shrouded, sometimes carpeted by a sprinkling of snow.

Zafón must be doing something right, because his books sell in the millions. He has a great website, which includes music composed by the author, as kind of a soundtrack to the book, and some lovely video clips full of atmosphere.

There’s a Barcelona anecdote in The Third Tower Up From the Road, an incident that illustrates the Dolgin Theory of Cross-Cultural Communication, which has to do with useful foreign phrases. There’s also a whole essay called “The Street Performers of Barcelona, Spain.” Kevin went to a part of town known as the Barri Gotic, where the buskers ply their trade. He heard and saw a street musician playing a kalimba, an instrument very few people have even heard of, let alone played. He says Barcelona is “a magnet for singers and lovers and dreamers and poets and sculptors.”

If salsa dancing is what you go to Barcelona for, Cindy McCain knows how to find the right clubs once you get there. But it’s too late to catch Oprah Winfrey, whose 55th birthday cruise visited the city last month. Sorry!

photo courtesy of gramz , used under this Creative Commons license

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Of Taxis and Tuk-Tuks

Tuk-tuks By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

From the scholarly streets of one of England’s venerable university towns comes the story of the tuk-tuk proposal, as related by Jack Grove in the Cambridge Evening News. Grove, on closer scrutiny, appears to be one of those eclectic-minded journalists who writes about everything. He provides some helpful background to raise our tuk-tuk awareness:

¦ Tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled motorised rickshaw, is named after the spluttering noise emitted from its engine.
¦ They’re very popular in the Indian sub-continent and Far East, particularly in busy cities such as Mumbai, Bangkok and Delhi.
¦ Models proposed for Cambridge would carry a driver and two passengers, would have seatbelts and a maximum speed of 35mph.

These little vehicles, which seem more appropriate to a circus ring than a city street, are cute, but are they safe? A tuk-tuk can roll over, and it’s eggshell-frail, so there is little protection for passengers in the event of collision with, say, a bus. The safety issues are pointed out by the taxicab companies, whose motives are purely altruistic and community-minded.

Thus far, only one entrepreneur has applied for a tuk-tuk license in Cambridge, but worried clingers to the status quo have warned the public that once you let one fleet of tuk-tuks loose on the streets, others will soon follow. And they’re probably right.

The proponents say that tuk-tuks could help alleviate the congestion in the ancient streets, even if all they do is carry around guided tour parties, which is about as far as the idea extends, for the moment at least. They say we have the technology to improve on the Thai or Indian tuk-tuk designs, and with a speed limit of 30 mph they should be safe. Besides, your average tuk-tuk gets 150 miles per gallon of fuel. Which is always a plus.

In The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin documents his surprise to find that in Manila, the tuk-tuk is an unknown species. Instead, you find vehicles that are kind of like bicycles with sidecars, some with the same rickety motors, others just with pedals. The passenger compartment is covered on top and open on the sides.

However, he does go on to say a few well-chosen words about Filipino taxi drivers. You might also want to check out his review of the tuk-tuk drivers of Thailand.

In other international taxi-related news, we note that Seoul, Korea, has a fleet of 120 taxis for the exclusive use of foreign visitors, with English- or Japanese-speaking drivers, that can be reserved by phone. In Myanmar, you can still catch a cab that’s so rusted out, the road can be seen through the floor. In the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the government has given up on trying to regulate taxis, much to the detriment of tourist transportation. In Colombia, travelers are warned not to get into a taxi that already has two occupants, and advised to let the driver see that you are memorizing the number on the side before getting in.

China is about to acquire 1,000 London-style taxis, which will be manufactured in Hangzhou. In the Shanghai Daily, Dong Zhen and Ni Yinbin report that Shanghai installation of special rooftop lights in all of the city’s 40,000 taxis. A taxi must signal availability, and then make itself available to any passenger who wants to ride, rather than being picky on the basis of whatever criteria taxi drivers tend to be picky on the basis of. Shanghai also now offers a hotline that travelers who speak English, Japanese, French or German can call for help in communicating with taxi drivers. And Laura Bashraheel reports from Saudi Arabia on the sad and very expensive plight of foreigners and, more importantly, of Saudi women, since neither class of people are allowed to drive. Taxis are not a satisfactory solution.

At TechCrunch, Jose Antonio Gallego Vazquez gives advice specific to Madrid, Spain, while at Associated Content, Jeffrey Hanes offers five handy foreign-taxi-savvy tips, and Jose Soares offers several more. General rules everywhere include: carry plenty of small-denomination money so you don’t encounter a situation where a driver claims he is unable to make change. And always, always check for stray belongings before exiting a car, which is so much easier than trying to track them down after your taxi has driven away.

Sicilian photo courtesy of geoftheref, used under this Creative Commons license; Thai photo courtesy of Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer , used under this Creative Commons license; Cuban photo courtesy of exfordy, used under this Creative Commons license

Literary Tourism: Moscow and Beyond

reading
By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Vit Wagner engages in the purest kind of literary tourism. He travels to another place and, while there, reads a novel set in that place. His essay in The Star, “Journalist’s novel way of exploring the literary landscape,” goes into more detail:

If memory serves, reading The Sun Also Rises in Spain was pretty much the entire purpose of the trip – never mind that I had already devoured the Hemingway masterpiece at least three previous times. As luck would have it, the same adventure later took me to Paris where – since an important part of the novel is also set there – I read it again. Bonus!

In Havana, Cuba, Wagner stayed at the Hotel Sevilla, a place where both Graham Green and his fictional Our Man in Havana character used to hang out. He interviews a fellow named Ben Walsh, of Nicholas Hoare Books, which is in Toronto, Canada. Here’s the thing: the store hosts a book club of a very special type. For six months, the people read books about, for instance, India. Then, they go together on a trip to India.

The theory, and we’re quoting Ben Walsh here, is that literary preparation equips a person with “tools and skills” for a richer travel experience. The mental background “enhances acclimation.” He gives the example of Moscow, where literary tourists will look for a certain narrow alley that hides the entrance to a brothel. This is because they have read Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, described here as a “devilishly sly satire” of Stalinist Russia. One of Walsh’s friends told him the novel is “a key that opens doors to so many conversations in Russia. People are excited that you’ve read books that they value so highly.” Kind of like how, in the Sixties, counterculture people bonded over their shared appreciation of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, or Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

The Master and Margarita, incidentally, is a work taken very seriously by a lot of very serious people. Aside from being funny, that is. It just might leap to the top of your must-read list, if it hasn’t already. We don’t have space here to explain why, but check out Jan Vanhellemont’s captivating multimedia website about it.

Naturally, we consulted the pages of The Third Tower Up From the Road, by our favorite travel oracle, Kevin Dolgin. He’s been to Moscow, too, and describes such spots as Manezh Square, where young folks like to congregate. “Between the trees are expanses of grass, upon which sit or lie couples in various stages of relationship-building, ranging from stilted conversation to sucking on each other’s tongues.” This is the in-depth, quality reportage for which we have come to count on him. He also takes us to New Arbat Street, which continues to be the same kind of “in crowd” part of town as it was in the Soviet days.

Which brings up another novel… Children of the Arbat, by Anatoli Rybakov. That would be a terrific one to read before going to Russia, or while there, or any time at all, actually.

But why should we have all the fun, matching up novels with destinations? This conjunction of fiction and actual travel interests us so much, we’d like to hear of some more examples. So please share your literary tourism memories…or fantasies.

photo courtesy of Photocapy , used under this Creative Commons license