Paris, France — Wednesday May 31, 2017

I left the hostel on foot yesterday morning as has been my custom since I’ve been back in Paris. My goal was to walk to Notre Dame Cathedral, but I got distracted on the way and didn’t make it that far.

One thing that is hard not to miss when one walks through Paris these days is the large number of heavily-armed police officers walking the streets and roaming around public buildings such as train stations, usually in groups of three or more. The residents of Paris feel, of course, that another terror attack could happen at any moment. How effective the police patrols are in preventing attacks is open for debate, but they may give the citizens a sense of security. My impression is that the French government is pouring a lot of resources into security but without much organization.

What distracted my attention on the way to Notre Dame was the Church of Saint Laurent, pictured below. It was constructed in the Fifteenth Century in the Gothic style, but it is the third church of that name to occupy this space.

Inside, there were a number of people praying, most of them of African origin. If you click on the following photograph to enlarge it, you will notice that the figure of Christ above the altar is also black. As I was still in the church, a white priest appear on the altar to begin mass.

I would like to know what makes this church so special to Catholics of African origin. Everyone in the church maintained total silence, so I was unable to get into a discussion with anyone to find out.

Below is one of the many stained-glass windows of the church. The image is somewhat blurred due to the shaky hand of the old man who was holding the camera.

After I left the church, I decided to catch a subway train back to the neighborhood where the hostel is located. After reached my destination station, I used my ticket to pass through the exit turnstile and, thinking it was now worthless, tossed it into the trash. That was a mistake. There is a tunnel leading from the metro exit to the street, and in it were three agents checking tickets. What could I do? Would I be fined? I told the agent who stopped me that I had tossed the ticket not thinking that there might be a ticket control afterward I had exited the turnstile. He let me off with a warning, telling me to hold on to my ticket next time.

Back at the hostel, I cloistered myself in the guest’s kitchen to eat a late lunch and then spend a few hours writing the novel that I am pretending I will publish some day. I do that every afternoon, and every afternoon there is an actor’s workshop in the park outside the window. There are usually two actors working on a scene with a coach sitting on a park bench making corrections and giving advice.

I can only write so long. When I started to feel as if cobwebs were filling my brain, so in the late afternoon I went out for a walk and snapped the following picture of a church steeple.

In Phoenix, I have the habit of getting up very early and heading out on my bicycle before the heat gets too oppressive. That means I also go to bed early, and I continue Ben Franklin’s habit of early to bed, early to rise when I’m traveling.

My two roommates, an Argentinean and a German, both moved out yesterday, and in the afternoon I became a new roommate, a Frenchman from the north of the country who told me he was in Paris to attend a play. He has trouble walking and maintaining his balance.

He came from the play just after midnight while I was asleep, but I was soon awakened by a loud crash. I ripped off the eye shade that I wear to bed while traveling and found the Frenchman on the floor. He had fallen heavily and didn’t seem to be able to get up.

I asked him if I could help him, and he said he needed a moment. He reassured me several times in English, “It’s not angry.” I had no idea what that meant and asked him to say it in French. “Ce n’est pas sévère.”  Ah, that I could understand. “It’s not severe.” He wasn’t badly hurt. His English is at least as bad as my French. I think he felt humiliated that I had seen him on the floor and preferred not to accept my offer of help to get up.

After a few minutes, he got up, and I went back to sleep.

This is my last blog entry from Paris. Tomorrow morning I have to leave very early to walk to the station and take a train to the airport. The flight from Paris to San Francisco is almost 12 hours, and after a few hours’ layover there, I’ll have a short two-hour flight to Phoenix. Perhaps I will be awake enough to upload the trip wrap-up entry during my layover in San Francisco. If not, I will upload it sometime Friday afternoon. I will be too beat when I get home tomorrow evening to bother with the Internet.

Paris, France — Tuesday May 30, 2017

Today and tomorrow are my last full days in Europe. The day after tomorrow, I have to leave very early for the airport. It is cloudy out this morning. I hope that doesn’t mean rain.

Yesterday morning when I returned to my room after breakfast to get ready for my morning walk, I noticed a group of people doing Thai-Chi in the strip park behind the hostel. When I am home in Phoenix, I do Thai-Chi twice a week, so I was interested in watching this group.

I intended to walk all of the way to the Eiffel Tower, but after I walked a little over five miles, I decided it was time to go home and do some writing. I saw some interesting sites on the way. The building shown below is the National Academy of Music, located fittingly enough on the Place de l’Opèra. I wanted to get a clear shot of it, but as I raised my camera, that **(# bus pulled in front of me, and the driver seemed intent on staying there for awhile.

As you can see, I did get within eye-shot of the Eiffel Tower. The obelisk in the foreground appears almost as tall, but of course the Tower is much farther away. This is the 3,000-year-old Luxor Obelisk, originally located in Luxor, Egypt but now standing tall in the Place de la Concorde at the opposite end of the Champs Elsyée from the Arc de Triomphe. The Place de la Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. However, it is not a tranquil place. Heavy traffic passes through the square, and all the drivers seem to be in a rush. I have always felt that I was risking my life to cross the square, even with the help of pedestrian walk lights. It turns out, my fear is not unfounded, as you will see in a moment.

Below, a medic from the Paris Fire Department gives first aid to a portly woman who was apparently struck by a car while in a crosswalk just where the Champs Elysée exits the western side of the Place de la Concorde. She can’t be seen in the photo, but she was sitting on the ground with a bloody face and leaning against the post behind her. As is usual at such scenes, there were many more firefighters and police agents present than can be seen in the photo. Most of them seemed to be doing nothing to help the woman nor serving any other useful purpose.

This green car seems to be the one that struck the woman. Although it doesn’t show well in the photo, the windshield is smashed on the passenger’s side. The woman standing beside the car puffing on a cigarette appears to have been the driver.

I had no problems crossing the Champs Elysée for the first time in the many years that I have been visiting Paris. The westbound lanes were closed to traffic, and the eastbound lanes were at a standstill. The police officers present paid no attention to the fact that I was jaywalking.

Here is another picture of the Eiffel Tower taken from almost the closest point to it that I reached. In my defense, I will assert that I was closer to the tower than it appears in the photograph. I don’t want you to think that I turned around before reaching the Tower out of pure laziness.

Before I ended my walk and decided to hop the subway home, I passed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. The people working in that building have to figure out how to deal with our president.

I left the foreign workers not only trying to deal with Donald Trump but also with Vladamir Putin, who arrived at Versailles just outside Paris yesterday afternoon on a state visit. I suppose I’ll read more about that visit today on French news sites.

Paris, France — Monday May 29, 2017

This morning the sky is blue and cloudless, but yesterday it was overcast, and there were occasional very light rain showers that were barely sufficient to dampen the pavement.

One of my goals on this trip was to make some progress on the novel I am writing, and I did, but I also got out and about in the morning and visited the area around the Arch de Triomphe.

I took the following photograph just after I emerged from the subway station. The Arc de Triomphe is located in the center of a huge traffic circle at one end of Paris’ most famous street, the Champs Elysée. The Arc de Triomphe is second only to the Eifel Tower as the most famous Parisian tourist attraction. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you may see that there are people on top. For 12 euros the equivalent of $13.40 in US currency, you can go to the top and survey Paris from a great height. However, there was a long line waiting to do that, and there was also a TSA-style security check. I am not a patient person, so I passed on seeing Paris from the top of the Arc.

You don’t have to run through the heavy traffic that circles the Arc de Triomphe to reach it. If fact, you might be arrested if you tried to do that. There is a tunnel leading under the streets from one side of the traffic circle to the other with stairs in the middle going up to the base of the monument. I took the following picture from underneath the Arc looking up.

France’s unknown soldier from World War I rests beneath the Arc de Triomphe. Here is a picture of his tomb. He is still honored, and the flowers surrounding the tomb are frequently replaced.

I took the following picture from the traffic island where the Arc is located. The broad street at the far side of the traffic is the Champs Elysée. There were so many large tour buses circling the Arc that I had to wait for a break in traffic to snap the photo.

After writing in the afternoon until my brain was in a fog, I took a walk and returned to the hostel to find the final stage of the Giro d’Italia bicycle race, an individual time trail, on TV. The Colombian rider Nairo Quintana was in the leader’s pink jersey at the start of the time trial. By the end if it, he was second. Quintana is a great rider in the mountains, but this time trial course had a number of 90 degree turns, and he didn’t navigate them well. He lost time on each one. The Dutch rider Tom Dumolin won the overall classification.

Everyone else here seems more interested in the French Open tennis tournament. How can anyone be interested in a junk sport like tennis when they could be watching cycling?

Later I did some reading. I finished the Gabriel García Márquez autobiography Vivir para contarla over a week ago and am currently reading Kommant in Auschwitz, the memoirs of an SS Officer who was one of the commanders of the Auschwitz death camp during World War II.

Paris, Sunday May 28, 2017

It rained a bit during the night, but now at 8:30 am Paris time, the streets and sidewalks are already almost dry. The sky is mostly cloudy. Perhaps the rain and clouds will alleviate the heat. I perspire constantly. It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago when I first arrived in Paris, the weather was chilly enough to require a jacket. Of course, I shouldn’t complain. In a few weeks I will be back in the inferno of June in Phoenix.

Yesterday, I went out walking from mid-morning to early afternoon and then returned to the hostel to spend a few hours working on the novel I am writing.

The picture below shows the modern building where the hostel is located where I am staying. It’s futuristic design has been successful in attracting yuppies to a neighborhood that is otherwise declining. The building is home to such business as Bob’s Bake Shop and the General Store.

Hostels used to be called “youth hostels” and still are in France (auberges de jeunesse), but today the clientele consists of people of all ages including middle-aged and older people traveling on a budget. The advantage of staying in hostels is the ability to meet people from all cultures and of all ages. For example, when I arrived the day before yesterday, my dormitory companions were a young man from India and a retired Algerian who now lives in Vancouver, Canada. Yesterday, my companions were a giant of a man from Argentina in his middle ages and a young American.

Below is a photo of the outside of the General Store. Businesses designed to attract urban professionals often sport English names. Like a “general store” in a yuppie shopping center in the USA, this one tends to sell items such as coffee, baked goods, beer, wine, etc. Smokers tend to sit outside, and people who are allergic to cigarette smoke, as I am, sit inside. Notice the beach chairs to the left designed for those who want to sit in the sun and work on their tans.

Others may prefer the Champs Elysée or the Eifel Tower, but I am attracted to bike and book shops. Book shops are in decline everywhere (although Paris’ famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore continues to do a brisk business selling books in English), but cycling is quite popular everywhere including on the traffic-choked streets of Paris.

The picture below shows a typical residential street of Paris away from the broad boulevards of the tourist area. Almost all Parisians live in apartment blocks like those shown in the picture. Rents are sky-high, so you have to be well off to live in this city or to have purchased an apartment decades ago when prices were lower.

There are very few really tall buildings in Paris. Most buildings are four or five stories tall. They were built, of course, before elevators were common, so the height of the buildings was limited by how many flights of stairs the residents were willing to walk.

That reminds me of an online story I read on a German website a few weeks ago. It claimed that many elderly people in Germany are stranded in their apartments, because they are no longer able to walk the stairs to reach the street. They lead isolated lives and depend on relatives or care-givers to do their grocery shopping.

I’ve often thought that I would like to have a second story added to my house if I had the money to do it. Perhaps I should rethink that. I am already 74 years old, and who knows how many years it will be until I, too, am unable to walk a flight of stairs?

Saturdays seem to be flea market days in this neighborhood. An elevated train, part of the metro system, runs just a few blocks from this hostel. Under the tracks, merchants set up improvised stalls and sell anything imaginable from vegetables to clothing, to nick-knacks to household appliances. The photo shows just a small part of the market. It stretches on for many blocks in both directions.

I have only a few more days left in Europe, and I plan to divide them between sightseeing and writing. One of the objectives of this trip was to get some writing done. Otherwise, I have a complete lack of responsibility, and I am not looking forward to getting back to the hassles of everyday life in Phoenix. Luckily, I only have to endure the hardship of a normal life for two months until my next trip to Europe.

Incidentally, the European press was quite critical of President Trump’s visit to Europe. One German news site mentioned that during a speech by the Italian president, delivered in Italian, Donald Trump did not have his headset on and therefore couldn’t have been listening to the English translation. Did Donald Trump suddenly learn Italian, or was he simply showing his lack of interest in anyone’s ideas but his own?

As the NATO leaders were lining up for a group photo, Trump is shown in a video shoving the Montenegro prime minister to one side so that Trump could get to the front of the group. Another head of state seemed to criticize him for his rudeness, but he reacted to her comment with a dismissive gesture.

Trump also has the habit of a grade school boy when shaking hands with a foreign head of state of squeezing the other person’s hand hard and not letting go as if trying to humiliate the other person before the cameras. He made the mistake of trying that trick with French president Emmaneul Macron, but President Macron squeezed back until Donald Trump turned white in the face and backed off. Maybe our president will now realize that his childish games don’t always work out to his advantage.

Paris, Saturday May 27, 2017

I traveled from Arles in Southern France here to Paris yesterday afternoon. By the time I got here, I was too worn out to make my blog entry, especially after my experience with the computer bag. I had to take four trains to get here, two short-distance trains to reach Avignon and a high-speed train from Avignon to Paris, and a local train beneath the streets of Paris. Once I got on the high-speed train, the journey to Paris was less than three hours, a trip that once took all day. The high-speed train reached peak speeds of almost 190 miles per hour.

I might as well tell the story of the lost computer bag first. I arrived at Paris at the southern railway station Gare de Lyon and then boarded a local train for the norther station, which is close to the hostel where I’m staying. When I reached the platform, the train was about to leave. Instead of using common sense and waiting another five minutes or so for the next train, I jumped on board, pulling my suitcase and computer bag behind me. The doors closed on my computer bag leaving it outside the train. A young Chinese couple grabbed my bag, and I hoped they would board the next train with it, and I would meet them at the next station.

However, it didn’t work out that way. I did off at the next station, and the couple did arrive on the next train, but they explained that they had left the bag with “the police,” in reality probably one of the railway employees. I took a train back, and inquired for the bag. I was sent from a security guard to an information both, and to lost and found, where I spent a lot of time answering questions a man who had apparently never used a computer before laboriously entered information into a computer terminals. They had no idea where my bag was.

Because the Chinese couple has said thy had left the bag with the police, I next looked for the station’s police office. I found it, but before I entered, a young man in a railway worker’s uniform asked me my name. When I answered “Jack Quinn,” he said “We have your bag.”

To skip the rest of the story, I’ll just say that ten minutes later I had the bag with all of its contents. One of the officials had used my cell phone, which was in the  bag, to call my sister, my emergency contact. Of course, it was a useless call, because without my computer and cell phones, I had no way of receiving communication from my her.

There is an ancient merry-go-round operating near the Tourist Office in Arles. The poor operator doesn’t get much business. I don’t think I ever saw more than four kids riding it at one time. When I took the following picture, there was no one riding it at all.

Also near the Tourist Office, an exhibition of old Corvette automobiles was taking place. Many people were snapping photos of the car shown below. I know nothing about old cars, but since everyone else seemed to be photographing this one, I did, too. In total, there were several dozen Corvettes parked there.

While walking to the Arles railroad station, I happened upon this tunnel. The sign above it says that it was part of the old Roman aqueduct that once carried water to Arles.

To enter the little railroad station in Arles, we had to pass through a metal detector, something I had never seen in France. The five or so officials operating the metal detectors seemed to have little training. We had to go through the metal detector carrying our suitcases or backpacks. Naturally, anyone with luggage set off the metal detector. When I set it off, the official asked to see my passport bag, but before I could show it to him, he changed his mind and asked if I were carrying a knife. I was, a Swiss Army knife, and I made the mistake of showing it to him. He shook his head and said I couldn’t carry the knife on the train.

I objected. To the best of my knowledge, there is no rule against carrying a pocket knife on a French train. He consulted another official. Soon all five of them were huddled around me discussing the situation. Finally the official who had examined me shook his head. “C’est bon ?” I asked him. Is it OK. “Oui, c’est bon,” he answered.

It’s no wonder that France has a bigger problem with terrorist attacks that most western countries. Except for the airport, the security measures in France are for show and too poorly conducted to have any genuine effect.

Here’s a picture of the waiting area in Avignon for those of us taking the high-speed train to Paris. Compared to the cramped conditions in the main part of the station, our waiting area was comfortable and spacious. Instead of standing in cramped conditions in the main hall, we had large seats and plenty of room to stretch out. The train itself was immense. It is not exaggeration to say that it carried thousands of passengers. The trip from Avignon to Paris was non-stop. It was amazing to look out the train window and see that we were speeding by cars and trucks on the freeway. We were traveling at well more than double the speed of freeway traffic.

Arles, France — Thursday May, 25 2017

I only have one week left in Europa. A week from today my plane lands in Phoenix. Time has gone by far too rapidly. I will be back in August for another visit of Spain and Portugal.

Tomorrow I take the train, or actually three trains, to Paris. The first two just get me to the TGV or bullet train station in Avignon, which is not far away. Then the TGV will get me from Southern France to Paris in less than three hours. However, I travel in the afternoon and evening, so there will probably be no blog entry tomorrow. When I get to the hostel in Paris and get checked in, I will probably just want to have a beer and a shower and go to bed.

There were two French women at my breakfast table this morning who are doing the Camino. This hostel was their first stop. By the time they get to Santiago, they will have walked much farther than I did on my Camino, because they are starting from farther away. They planned to hike 25 kilometers or just under 16 miles today carrying their backpacks. I hope they made it.

I left the hostel this morning on foot with no plan in mind. The first thing of interest discovered was s segment of the old city wall and fortifications, shown below. There was a stairway leading up toward the top of the wall, which I climbed. I went through a doorway in the wall itself and found myself just a few blocks from the Coliseum, which I had reached yesterday by a different route. Arles is not a very big city.

After I came back down the stairway and continued my walk, an elderly woman stopped me on the sidewalk. She was probably almost as old as I am. I didn’t understand her first question, so she repeated it in French, “Where are you from?” “The United States,” I answered. “What are you doing here?” “I’m on vacation.” “Are you traveling all alone?” “Yes, all alone.” “And your wife?”

At this point I was getting nervous. There are a lot more elderly women in the world than there are elderly men like me in good health. I hoped she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I probably should have played it safe and said, “My wife is back at the hotel,” but, I am a poor liar so I answered truthfully, “I don’t have a wife.” With that, she giggled and then turned and walked away. I found the whole encounter quite strange.

A few minutes later I came upon a smaller section of the wall, shown below.

I don’t think most Americans are aware of affection many French have for the United States. Even when the French government opposed the US invasion of Iraq and the second President George Bush demonized the French, the French people reacted with sadness rather than anger. Below is a photo of a memorial that the local French have erected in memory of and in gratitude to two American Air Force pilots who died at Arles in the process of liberating the French from German occupation in World War II. If  Many locals in France still celebrate the anniversary of the day the Americans liberated their city. If the picture is too small to read the English at the bottom, you can click on it to enlarge it.

The Rhône River flows through Arles, We are not that far from the Mediterranean, so the river is quite wide at this point. I’m sorry to say that I have not been to the river’s other bank.

It’s hard to believe that the French Communist Party is still alive if not well. It has very few members and zero political influence in this country, unlike Italy, where it is still a force in some municipal governments. The headquarters office in Arles is just a small storefront.

The old Roman amphitheater in Arles is still in use. The steel towersand light array look out of place in this pre-medieval setting, but I suppose that it is a good thing that the theater is still used to provide entertainment to the residents of Arles instead of only standing there as a museum piece.

To close today’s entry, I include the following street scene from the old part of the city. Not only are ancient constructions being admired by tourists like me, some of them are very much a part of the city.

2nd post, Arles, France — Wednesday May 24, 2017

I wrote the first post this morning before I had a chance to go out and see the city. Since then I’ve been walking around in the hot sun until my legs ache and I am sipping water to recover from the dehydration.

I ran into the three people shown in the following picture this morning. The sign alongside their truck reads “on hunger strike.” It goes on to say that merchants have been forbidden to work in the street for four years.

The guy in the black t-shirt looks almost as chubby as I do, so the hunger strike must have just begun. Also, they may have given up food, but from the amount of cigarette smoke wafting from behind their table, it appears that a hunger strike does not involve giving up tobacco.

Arles seems to be quite the tourist place, especially among the British. I spoke to several Brits on the street today, and I also ran into a number of guided tours in which the guide was speaking English. Arles does have a number of old buildings of interest to the tourist, but they have been allowed to decay and accumulate centuries of soot on their exteriors. Things appear about to change, however. I read a sign today that stated that a huge renovation project is about to begin.

One of the main attractions is the old coliseum. I haven’t been inside yet, but I plan to visit the interior it tomorrow. I overheard a tour guide explain to his group that the coliseum originally had one more story, which is gone now. The tower was not part of the original construction. Also, for a time, the coliseum served as a fortress. Houses were built inside to take advantage of the protection offered by the coliseum’s walls.

Just up a small hill from the coliseum is the church Notre-Dame-de-la-Major. Notre Dame means, of course, Our Lady, and the de la Major part refers to the fact that the church is build on Arles’ highest hill. The church was built in the 12 century on the site of an older Roman temple, and the church was remodeled in the 18th Cenrtury. The church’s bell tower was damaged by bombing in 1944 during the Second World War.

I hope that the city’s plan to renovate its historic landmarks includes removing the grime from the church’s exterior. As shown below, the inside of the church is well preserved. Just as I arrived, a woman who appeared to be a nun opened the church door for visitors. I write “appeared to be a nun,” because so many nuns wear modern dress these days that I don’t always recognize them as members of a religious order.

The following is a street scene in the old part of town. I don’t know what the round building is at the end of the street, but I probably should have taken the time to find out.

I included the picture below for my cycling buddies The sign translates as: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.” The quote is attributed to Albert Einstein. When Albert wrote or said that, he had probably never heard of doing a track stand.

Below the entrance to the Hôtel Dieu or God’s House. However, it was a hospital constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its most famous patient was the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, who spent about a year in Arles, where he is said to have executed about 300 pictures and drawings. It was also in Arles where he cut off one of his ears. After he did so, this is the hospital he went to for treatment.

I am quite tired after walking around Arles all day in the heat. It’s not quite as hot here as in Phoenix, but given the cool weather when I started the trip, this heat is a sudden shock. The afternoon temperature was in the 90s, which feels fine in the shade, but the sun was beating down mercilessly.

1st Post Arles, France — Wednesday, May 24 — 2017

Incidentally, you can click on any picture in this blog to enlarge it and see it in more detail. Then use your browsers back button to return to this page.

I arrived in Arles yesterday evening and have seen so far only a little bit of the city. What I saw on my walk from the train station here to the hostel and later on a walk from the hostel to a grocery store and back did not impress me. It is a grubby little city with its buildings stained by decades of pollution. It reminds me of the towns and cities in the coal country of Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. However, I’m told there are some old Roman artifacts there that are worth seeing including a Roman coliseum, which is still used as a bullfighting ring.

Also, the first local residents I ran into at the very entrance of the train station struck me as being a couple of real jackasses. I took their pictures. One of them had no compunction about littering the sidewalk, as you can see in the picture below.

I asked the guy in the cowboy hat what the jackasses names were. The one on the right that has just made a mess of things is named Gordon. The other one is named Jerry.

That’s the only picture I have of Arles so far, but I did take some pictures in Girona before I left. The first two are symbols of Catalan nationalism, as opposed to Spanish nationalism, which barely exists. The large banner reading “Freedom is on the way” speak of so-called freedom from what many regard as the oppressive Spanish government. Spain has a democratically-elected government, but you would never know it from talking to many Catalans. I have to admit that I got a bit tired of Catalan independence talk while I was there.

The sign below reads “Catalan Republic” translated into English. I have been told by some of the locals that if you are not a fervent Catalan nationalist, you can have trouble with your neighbors. They are like those Trump supporters who physically attacked people who disagreed with them during the US presidential campaign.

Below is a picture of the old Iron Bridge or Pont de Ferro in Girona, which a nearby sign proclaimed was construction in 1877. It is one of several pedestrian-only bridges that cross the river in the city.

I took the following picture from the railway platform as I was waiting for my train in Girona. It helps explain why Spain is such a clean country. The woman is using a hand mop to clean a railway platform. Typically in Spain, when I would go out walking early Saturday or Sunday morning, I would find the sidewalks littered with cigarette butts. By afternoon, they were gone.

I took three trains from Girona, Spain here to Arles France yesterday. The first train was Spanish and took me to Cebere just on the French side of the border. Although the borders between the European countries are theoretically completely open, increasingly they are not. There was a passport check in Cebere before we could enter the station. The police barely gave my British passport a glance (I am a citizen of both the USA and the UK), but they did scrutinize the passport of a thin, shabbily-dressed black man and that of a woman from Thailand.

The other passengers hurried through the station and to the tracks on the French side of the railway station. Apparently they had trains that left immediately. I had a long wait for my train, and I was left in the station alone. Well, almost alone. the man in the background in the following picture is a railway worker buying himself a cup of coffee from a vending machine. Even the ticket office closed about 15 minutes after I arrived, and after I snapped the selfie, the railway worker took his coffee and left me alone again.

From Cebere, I took a regional train to Montpelier, where I was scheduled to have an hour’s wait for my train to Arles. However, for some reason that I didn’t understand, the train stopped several times, and we waited for something. The conductor did explain the delay on the PA system, but French is the weakest of my languages, and I could understand little of the announcement. I did understand that we would be delayed “a few minutes.” We were delayed almost an hour.

When the train finally arrived in Montpelier, my second train was due to depart in three minutes, and passengers are supposed to be on board three minutes before the train departs. Luckily, my second train was five minutes late in arriving, and I managed to get on board with minutes to spare.

For some reason, this train was crawling with French customs agents. I had my suitcase sniffed by a dog. Then another customs agent came by, shook my suitcase, and asked it it was mine.

This morning, I had breakfast and an interesting conversation  with a Dutchman. Like all Dutch people, his English was perfect.

Girona, Spain — Monday May 22, 2017

Today is my only full day in Girona, but I have visited this city several times before. I skipped some of the sites I have seen  and remember well such as the old wall around the city and the cathedral one previous trips and basically walked where my nose led me.

I have to show you one of the purchases I made last night. I have a whole closet full of cycling jerseys, but I couldn’t resist purchasing yet one more. My credit card company must be overjoyed at the big bill I am running up.

Of course, after I wear the jersey once on a ride, the novelty will have worn off, and the jersey will spend the next 20 years hanging in the closet with all of the other cycling jerseys that I seldom wear. Nevertheless, if you are a cyclist yourself, you know that one can never have too many jerseys.

If I lived and cycled here in Girona, I would certainly not buy Cliff Bars. The cycling shop wanted 2.50 euros or $2.80 each! I seem to remember that they are less than a dollar each at Walmart when bought in a 12-pack and even cheaper in a 24-bar pack at Costco.

I spent much of yesterday evening and this morning at breakfast discussing international politics. Yesterday evening I discussed it in Spanish with an Argentinean who has immigrated to Spain and in English with an Italian who speaks no Spanish. This morning  it was with a local who works at the hostel and whom I had previously met several years ago. When the newspapers arrived, he gave them to me to read, but all three of them were in Catalán. I thanked him cordially, but unless I move here to live, Catalán will never be high on my list of languages to learn.

Incidentally, I have not met a single European or international traveler who does not have a negative opinion of our exalted president.

I photographed the staircase shown below, because an adjacent plaque in Catalán said they were built in the sixteenth century. There was some additional information about them on the plaque, but my ability to read Catalán is very minimal, and I didn’t understand the rest.

After photographing the staircase, I continued walking uphill on the narrow streets of the Old City when a young woman and a young man passed me. One reason I photographed them, besides the interesting view of the narrow old street, is because both were rolling bike shipping containers.

Girona is a Mecca for cyclists. Some of the professionals make this city there winter home and train in the surrounding mountains, and I suppose that fact attracts amateur cyclists from all over the world. There are a lot of people cycling around Girona. Watching  them today, I became envious. I wish I had my bike, helmet, and cycling shoes here with me. Well, at least now I do have a jersey.

After walking the narrow streets of the Old City, I decided to walk to the railway station to buy a ticket to the French border for my departure tomorrow. I could have bought a single ticket from Girona to tomorrow’s destination in Arles, France, but that would have been more expensive than buying separate tickets from the Spanish and French national railway companies, but I had to buy the Spanish ticket for the regional train at the station instead of online. The ticket to the border cost me 3.60 euros or $4.04 in US currency.

As I mentioned above, tomorrow I am taking the train, actually three trains, to Arles, France. I will arrive in the late afternoon, so I will probably have little to blog about. I have never been to Arles , so I am staying three nights. Here’s hoping that I can make the mental switch from Spanish back to my basic French.

Girona, Spain — Sunday May 21, 2017

I’m in Gerona, as we commonly spell the city’s name in English, or Girona, as it is spelled in Catalán, which makes this the official spelling.

I only have one photograph to upload today, so I’ll put it up right now. I took it out the front door of the hostel where I’m staying, and it show the street named Carrier dels Ciutadans.

Catalán is the first language in this part of Spain, and Spanish or Castilian, whichever you prefer to call it, is the second language. On the regional train from Barcelona to Girona, as I guess I’ll spell it, most people where chatting away in Catalán, and I didn’t understand a thing. In the streets here, I heard some Spanish but more Catalán, although I was spoken to in Spanish in the first grocery store I visited on my arrival and in English in the second one. I guess I look like a tourist.

I took the train from Logroño to Barcelona using the first-class ticket I had picked up at a promotional price over the internet. There are some real bargains on Spanish trains if one buys a month in advance.

In Barcelona I had to buy a ticket on the regional train in the ticket office, but I also got it at a discount using my Golden Card, which gives special low prices to people over 60 years of age.

There is not much more to tell about today’s journey, so I’ll stop right here.