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Sunday, December 13, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Friday, July 17th 2009
So according to my itinerary, we're supposed to be in Barcelona right now. However! After arriving to Ibiza we enjoyed it so much that we decided to cut out Barcelona and stay for two more days. :) Slight change in plans but I think it was a good idea. After 2 full weeks of hardcore tourism we were getting tired and Angelica especially wasn't up for more tourism. I told her that I have already been to Barcelona so if she didn't want to go then we could stay. Originally I thought it would be cheaper just to stay here but I think it's going to work out about even. I say this because of the expenses we would have incurred by going there would have been high, but at the same time we also had to pay for new plane tickets direct to Madrid. Because we bought them only 3 days in advance the price we paid was pretty high in comparison to our other flights (80 euros each). But! Ibiza is great! It's exactly what it's talked up to be: a vacations island with a younger crowd. There are a bunch of towns in Ibiza that cater to tourists. We are in the town called Sant Antoni (San Antonio in Spanish, Sant Antoni is the local dialect subset of Spanish), and the main town in Ibiza is called, well Ibiza. But spelled Eivissa locally. Pronounced the same though. Eivissa is about a 20 minute bus ride from the bus station here. The island is itself is lined with great beaches with good transport to get to all of the favorite spots. We haven't taken many photos because, well a beach is a beach and it's not as unique as Big Ben or the Colosseum. Back to the beach for now :)
More to come in the following days
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
I have found it is very hard to keep a blog while traveling. Kudos to those who can manage to do both!
We just arrived in Ibiza, it's 4:15AM. Long story, and I'll get to it in due time. Let me first start with London.
We arrived in London around 2PM or so after an early flight out of Prague. We literally got off of the plane on the tarmac and had to make a running dash for the terminal because the rain was coming down so hard. WELCOME TO LONDON!! Luckily I had my hoodie with me but Angelica got completely drenched in the 30 second dash. But hey that's london. Cloudy and overcast with rain 24/7.
After a siesta (it's become our MO for traveling: flight, followed by siesta) we mapped out what we wanted to see in London and took a tour of the town. We hit many highlights in the first day: We started by taking the metro down to the Tower of London, and seeing the London Tower Bridge and London Bridge. Then we followed the Thames along to St. Pauls. Luckily for me, Angelica only wanted photos. I've been to London twice before and wasn't really interested in entering in all of the churches and seeing all of the museums again. Angelica is more of the take the picture and bag it type of person. Especially in London as she later found the city to be rather ugly and boring. I told her the weather is always bad in London even in July but she didn't believe me. She also isn't a fan of all the grey rock used for the buildings. But having come out of Prague and Amsterdam one could understand why she wasn't very intrigued by London. She told me she thought as the "international capital of the world", it would be a prettier place. Then we hopped on a bus, did some of the street tours, went along the Strand, Trafalgar Square, etc on to Westminster. We took photos of Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, and then called it a day. Well a night at that point. We got some good night shots of Westminster and Big Ben, the London Eye, etc. The next day, (Wednesday, July 8th), we began the day walking through Hyde Park, making our way for Buckingham Palace. Our hotel was right off of the park to the north and we were able to see a lot of it. I was especially hoping to find the new memorial for the July 7th bombings of the London underground that had been opened and dedicated the day before, but was unsuccessful. They had yet to put up signs for it and it was a secondary goal anyway so I let it go. Still raining of course, but it let up every now and then. We were able to eat lunch in the park before going to the Palace. After the palace we walked to Trafalgar Square and took photos there with the lions and in front of the National Gallery, etc. We then headed back to the Westminster Abbey because Angelica wanted better photos than we had taken the night before.
Thursday we spent mainly in the hotel because Angelica somehow managed to pull something in her foot. She had been wearing sandals and slip-on shoes the entire trip and told me she was not a big fan of tennis shoes. Or regular shoes for that matter. I am still trying to convince her that sandals don't work for three weeks of touring and traveling haha. She still has yet to agree though. She's got a number of blisters, cuts, etc. from wearing sandals day in and day out but that doesn't seem to help my argument at all. Brazilians are a stubborn bunch ;) However spending the day inside allowed me to put up all my photos and write in my blog some too. Also I was able to watch satellite television so I was feeling right at home :)
Then Friday the 10th we went to the British Museum and Madame Tussauds. British Museum hasn't changed much since the last time I was there although I spent more time in the Asian and Middle East sections because I had yet to see them. Pretty interesting, and definitely a nice change from Western art and history. Madame Tussauds was Angelica's idea. I didn't know this but apparently Madame Tussauds is in pretty much every major city. But they all have a huge collection of wax replicas of stars, celebrities, historical figures, politicians, etc. and you can take your photo with all of them. So of course the one in London had more to do with British stars but at the same time a lot of celebs, politicians that are known all over the world. So we paid the steep 25 pounds / person and entered to take photos (see photos section). I didn't post all of them because we took a million photos. They had to create a line (or as they say in England, a 'queue' hahaha. ohh brits are so funny with their words) for the replica of Michael Jackson. They also had Hitler, Ghandi, Obama of course, Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr, James Dean, John Wayne, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock (spelling), etc. That night we packed up and left for the airport (not Heathrow once again, another one named Stansted). It was a pain! I asked our hotel guy for directions on how to get there and he totally led me astray. We took the underground to Marble Arch only to find out about an hour later that the bus to the airport does not pick up there, only drop off. So we headed to another nearby bus/train station, Marylebone, and the information guy there was clueless too. At this point it was maybe 10PM, and things were beginning to close. So we ended up taking the metro again to the big train station in London, Victoria. We then had to leave Victoria Station for the Victoria Coach Station which for some reason is not attached to the train station. Then we were directed to wait at one bus stop only to find out that there was an earlier bus to the airport leaving from a different platform. So we ran to that platform and as soon as we had boarded we left for the airport. It was absolute madness. We finally arrived in the airport around midnight for our 8:30am flight to Rome. Can anyone say sleeping in the airport?! woooooooo. It was our last night doing so (we had once before at the beginning of the trip in Milan). It's cheap, you don't have to pay for a room, but it's painfully uncomfortable.
So Saturday the 11th was our flight to Rome. Rather uneventful, only that it was Ryanair so not very comfortable either. Ryanair does cheap flights, but they are real cheapskates. If your bag doesn't fit in the overhead compartment they charge you 30 pounds to put it underneath the plane. There's also a 10 Kg limit for carryons and 15 Kg for checked items. Plus all of their pilots let the 1st officer fly the plane so he can gain experience. This sounds like a good idea but it makes for very rough landings. The type where you come in with the plane rocking to the left and right as the 1st officer tries to level the plane and then where you bounce a couple times on the tarmac before landing for good. Everyone always claps at the end too. Happy to be alive I guess.
Sometimes too they do they acceleration for liftoff real fast and it can be nerve racking. Our flight from Rome to Ibiza was that way. We literally made the turn to approach the runway for take off and I vaguely heard Captain Picard from Star Trek say, "Warp Speed, engage" and we rocketed down the runway.
So we got into our hotel in Rome around 2PM only to take a siesta (we slept in an airport, give us a break!). We had taken a bus from the airport to the bus station in Rome and then our hotel was maybe a 10 minute walk. Not bad at all. This hotel also had satellite TV! (yes!) but it was in Italian (no!). Angelica apparently understands Italian (she speaks portugues and spanish and the three languages are very closely related), so she was entertained by the Italian satellite TV. They had BBC news in english too so I watched that some. We spent the first day in search of food and checking out the area close to our hotel.
The following Sunday the 12th we went immediately to Saint Peter Square. Little did I know that Sunday at noon the pope always gives some type of benediction to all of the crowd below. So we saw the Pope! He was in his apartment way up high delivering his speech, but we saw him! There are huge jumbotrons and speakers in the square that broadcast his speech so all can hear. It's rather entertaining because many people bring huge flags from their country to wave above the crowd for the Pope to see and sometimes he will recognize those countries and give them a blessing. He did his speech/benediction in Italian first, then a part in German, a part in English, and a part in Dutch I think. Good stuff. We also went and saw the tombs in St. Peters Basilica before making our way to Castelo St. Angelo. We took pictures but didn't enter because it was 8 euros we didn't want to spend haha. Plus I think Angelica at this point was getting real tired with museums and cathedrals. So we ate lunch by the Tevere river there and did some souvenir shopping in a nearby open-air market. From there we visited a number of beautiful plazas in Rome. We went to Fontana di Trevi, Plaza Navona, saw the Pantheon, Plaza Venezia, and Plaza di Spagna (Spain Plaza). They say that Rome is like an open-air museum and you can spend days just walking around looking at all the things it has to offer. It's true really. Rome is jam-packed with history and you can see pretty much something from every era there just by doing a walking tour. The photos from all of these plazas will be in the photos sections, marked with the name of the plaza when I have time to upload! After Piazza di Spagna, we went back to the hotel to rest. It was something hot in Rome, 33 degrees Celsius (not sure in F) and humid. Very little shade and lots of traveling. And also a drastic change from 3 days in London where I wore pants and brought a jacket with me at all times. We ended up eating McDonalds after being unsuccessful in our search for food around 10:30PM. The following day (Monday the 13th) we made plans to meet up with a couple of our friends who had arrived in Rome about the same time. We met in Saint Peter Square under the big obelisk in the center around 12:30 and we went into the Basilica together. The day before Angelica and I went only through the tombs where we saw a bunch of dead popes, including the tomb of Pope John Paul VI I think his name is. No photos allowed and not even the elusive Angelica could sneak a photo of John Paul's tomb. Flanked by two rude security guys, there was no photo taking happening at all.
So I finally got to see the inside of Saint Peter's Church! When I came here before with my parents in 2004 I was denied entry because I was wearing shorts. Apparently kids were allowed in with shorts but I was no longer a kid in their mind (15 years old) so I was forced to wait for everyone to go through except me and a couple others. I made sure to wear pants in Rome this time and in fact I wore pants the entire time in Rome because I didn't want to be denied entry to any church, etc. However! Since 2004 the rules have changed! Anyone can wear shorts now as long as they are not short shorts and come close to the knees. Also there's this neat little shop they added right before the entry where you can purchase a shawl type thing to cover your shoulders or if need be, to cover you legs in a dress-type fashion. It was funny I saw so many people entering in shorts and I was thinking, "what the !?!? Impossible!" So I'm a bit mad that I was denied entry and since then they have changed the rules so that pretty much every goes in unless they don't want to pay.
On a side note the inside of Saint Peter is very pretty :) we took photos naturally. For some reason it's allowed here and not in other places.
Following Saint Peter we headed to the Vatican Museum which takes you through a bunch of Catholic artwork, statues, apartments of late popes, and such where you eventually arrive at the Sistine Chapel. I didn't know this but the route for people in groups and people visiting normally is different. If you come in a group you don't go through the entire museum before the chapel, and that's kind of nice because to get through all of the museum it takes absolutely forever. And with people gawking into the next room in the doorways between rooms, traffic backs up quick. So we got held up a bit. We only wanted to see the Chapel the rest of that stuff is just fluff really (especially after having been to the Louvre, the British Museum, Van Gogh Museum, and getting ready to go to El Prado in Madrid). So we made it through and saw the Chapel. No photos allowed.
Then we found some shade outside the Vatican for a late lunch before taking the bus to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We didn't have much time for the walkthrough of the Roman Forum and Angelica wasn't that interested in entering the Colosseum so we just followed the usual routine of taking photos and bagging it. Then we made our way back to our hotel to collect our bags and head to the train station. The airport (one of the 2) was 30 minutes by nonstop train.
We arrived in the airport and did checking, however upon arrival to our gate around 10:30 PM there was a one hour delay, which ended up being about a 1.5 hour delay. Our flight to Ibiza got in late. The town we are staying in is called Sant Antoni (San Antonio) and a taxi ride to get there is 75 euros. So that wasn't an option. Unfortunately we had to wait for the last bus that leaves from the airport at 3:15 AM. It was a 30 minute ride and we got to our hostel around 4:00 AM. However the town was very much alive (it's Ibiza after all, the Cancun of Europe). So after checking in, we were real hungry and I went back down to the streets to find something to eat. There was still a lot people out having a good time but I was able to find a 24-Hour supermarket (ironically closed the following day). That was our arrival to Ibiza! More to come in the following days! Six days until my flight home
Monday, July 6, 2009
Thursday, July 2nd (part two!)
Paris day 3: So today we went to the Louvre and the Basilica Sacre-Coeur. The Louvre was good. Third time there but every time I see a different part so it's been good. New to this trip for me was Napoleon III's apartment, which was overly decorated and furnished, and the 76 rooms of french paintings (over a thousand). I think I had seen some but they're all on the top floors and it's quite a lot. We also did the norm, Mona Lisa, Hammurabi's Code, Venus de Milo, etc. etc. We spent about 2.5-3 hours there, and then we took the metro to the Basilica. I had no idea this place existed but it is gorgeous. You have to take 174 steps to get to it (Angelica counted) but it's worth the effort. It's a giant Basilica with one huge dome and 2 smaller domes. We went inside and the decor is outstanding. See the photos. It was good.
That afternoon we went to Gard du Nord to take the THALYS train to Amsterdam. The trip was 4.5 hours or so with stops in Brussels, Antwerp, The Hague, etc. We arrived later than expected because there was a train in front of ours near the end of the trip and we had to wait on the tracks before the final station. When we got to Amsterdam it was about 11pm and we had serious problems figuring out the Amsterdam metro/tram system. We bought a metro ticket only to find out that the metro does not go where we need it to. So then we went back to the streets and bought a tram ticket. Apparently they're the same ticket that lasts for an hour but in order to use it you have to "activate" it first, and we had no idea how to do this. (I still have no idea how to do this! haha)
Friday, July 3rd.
Our hotel was very nice. It was on the River Amstel with a great view, etc. But the actual hotel was more of a hostel and it was on the second floor (3rd floor by american standards). So we had to climb two flights of steep stairs Amsterdam-style in order to get to the hotel. There was a shared bathroom and kitchen, and our room was right off the kitchen so the noise from people coming and going was a bit disturbing. Besides that it was a great hotel. There was no breakfast in the morning but we made coffee, bought food in the supermarkets, etc. The following day (the 3rd) we went to the Van Gogh museum which I enjoyed a lot. Angelica not so much because everything was in Dutch and English. They had many of his famous paintings, however not starry starry night (sorry mom). And they had it arranged chronologically, separated into the different "stages" of his life (early years, time in paris, time in arles, time in the crazy house, yellow house, etc etc etc.) Then we met up with the Brazilian girls that afternoon and took the free tour that was offered by their hostel. We started out on the English tour and we began the tour with the Red Light District. The tour guide said that the town has been trying to change the image of Amsterdam by cutting down on the sex and drugs part of the city. So she said that the red light district was now only half as big as it used to be. But we did see the girls in the windows, etc. Angelica managed to get a picture of one (it's not allowed, she didn't know), and the girl got real angry and yelled at her, "BITCH!". However still not understanding that photos weren't allowed, she turned to me and the rest of the our friends, and said, "she called me a bitch? She's the one in the window." Pretty funny. I'm going to put the photo in the Amsterdam section once I get the time. :)
We then did a tour of the town in general, with a little bit of rain. The tour took us to the oldest church in Amsterdam next, in the heart of the red light district. They said that once the church was built the district popped up because both venues serve the same clients. From there we saw a couple canals and the typical housing. The houses were all really skinny and tall with skinny staircases. Like our hotel. I took a picture of the skinniest house in the world. It is 1.8 meters across and 3 stories high. 1.8 meters is the max a facade of a building can be without paying taxes, so the owners made it this way to avoid taxes. Then we saw the old prison that was later converted into shopping, some famous artwork, and finally the house of anne frank. Well, the hiding place of anne frank I guess you could say. They have a whole museum dedicated to it so Angelica and I left the tour to enter the museum. The actual building is the factory where Anne Frank's father Otto was the co-owner of the business (they made Jam). She originally lived in Germany but left for Amsterdam before the war. A bit expensive but worth it. To anyone that has read the diary of anne frank it is real cool to see where she actually lived, the factory, the secret annex, etc. You get to go through it all, and there are videos from interviews with Otto, and one of the caretakers. They also had the original diary of anne frank on display, on loan from a museum nearby.
After the Anne Frank House we went back to the hotel to prepare for the real reason why we were in Amsterdam: Sensation! Sensation is, or at least they claim it is, the "world's largest dance party". All the Brazilians had been raving about it all semester long so I agreed to go along and see what it was like. It took place in the Amsterdam ArenA, which is a full-blown indoor stadium. In the center there is a circular platform that hosted the DJ mixing the music and extending platforms for various performers, pyrotechnics, lights, strobes, etc. Imagine crazy loud techno music with overbearing bass in the subwoofers for seven and a half hours and that's Sensation in a nutshell. There's a bit more to it, though. The DJs are "world-renowned" (I didn't know them, but then again I'm not European), and they change every 75 minutes. The music is nonstop and this year followed an almost Alice in Wonderland theme with giant videoscreens and a narrator voice thing. There is also an MC who hypes up the crowd, etc. There was one "guest" DJ who was a surprise and also a couple members of the band Black Eyed Peas made a guest appearance. While they were on stage I had Angelica on my shoulders and she was sporting the Brazilian Flag. The singer saw her with the flag and began chanting "Brazil! Brazil! Brazil! Brazil!" and the crowd went wild. It was awesome. I went to Sensation with Angelica and 6 other Brazilian girls, so it goes without being said that everyone want to meet our group (for the girls, not me haha). I mean who doesn't want to dance with a Brazilian girl? We met a whole boat load of people during the night.
This year was the 10th anniversary of Sensation so there were two days of festivities. Luckily for me we only went the first day. Sensation takes place in cities all over Europe. It was in Prague in May and in December in Madrid. I enjoyed the first couple hours, but around 3AM, and after a FULL day of touring Amsterdam I began to fade fast. I took a break and was able to manage until 6AM when it ended. We then took about an hour and a half trying to leave and get back to the hotel. The same day we got up around two PM (July 4th) and began to arrange our stuff for our trip to Prague. We took the 10PM bus that night to Prague, 14 hours. But because it was at night Angelica and I both slept pretty much the entire way. We made stops in Frankfurt and Bayern before reaching Prague at 12PM,
Sunday, July 5th.
In Prague we walked to our hotel, about 30 minutes and checked in. We are staying at a hotel called Chili Hostel, geared towards American and Brits, as everything is English and the British and American Embassies are marked on the maps with phone numbers haha. It's an old house I guess converted into hostels. The cheapest place we stayed in so far but it's been very clean and nice I must say. We're without a television and fridge but that's ok because we didn't plan to spend much time in the room anyway. We actually ended up sleeping more than we had planned to upon arrival and had to start our touring late. We found a nice place to eat (hamburgers haha) and then we started a small city tour near our hostel (view photos when they're up). I found that everything in Prague is quite cheap. But that's to be expected coming out of Amsterdam and Paris I guess. A full pizza for 4 euros is a complete bargain. We took photos of the dancing house (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dancing_House), among other things before calling it a day around 9PM.
The next day we got up early, ate breakfast in the hostel (wasn't very good) and then headed out to do our own tourism. A tour was offered, but it began at 930AM across town and we decided that was a no dice situation. So we did our own tourism with our maps and guide books. We visited the astronomical clock at 12PM which is supposed to be a big deal (big crowd), and then did the general new town city tour, following the main square (Wenceslas square) down to the jewish quarter known here as the Jewish Ghetto. We bought tickets to see all the museums and building associated with the jewish ghetto for 8 euros (good price for 6 buildings). The best part was the jewish cemetery, which had plots that dated back to the 15th century. Because of a lack of space or because the spot was popular, the following centuries were buried on top of the previous, with the gravestones lifted up to the top level. Because of this the cemetery looks awesomely cluttered. You're not allowed to take photos of pretty much anything, but Angelica snuck a photo of the cemetery (good job!). So now we have that. It's cool.
There was also the Old New Synagogue, the Spanish Synagogue, a monument to the writer Franz Kafka, among others. A lot of exhibits about the treatment of jews, and one synagogue that had been redecorated with the names of 80,000 jews that were killed from Prague and nearby villages. In total 500,000 Jews from the Prague area were killed, but they only had the lists for 80,000 as the rest had been burned by the Germans I think.
Then we ate at a restaurant for lunch, having a beef goulash and chicken with rice to eat. At the end of our meal they gave us both a shot of vodka to help with digestion I guess. The Russian influence shines through!
Then we made our way to the Charles Bridge, which is a gothic style bridge from the 16th century that for many years was the connection that made Prague a great trade route between east and western europe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_bridge). We crossed the bridge and went to the Church of our Lady Victorious. Here is house the Infant Jesus of Prague (Child of Prague). It is a little doll that was brought to Prague by a Princess in the 1600s. Upon presenting it as a gift to the church, she uttered something prophetic and it became sacred. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infant_Jesus_of_Prague). It's world-renowned apparently. Very nice church! Very well decorated, etc. Just like the Spanish Synagogue which was also very nicely furnished.
After that we did some souvenir shopping (cheaper than AmsterdaM!) and took some more photos before heading back to the hostel. We didn't have time to visit the Castle of Prague because it closes at 4pm.... woops.
Tomorrow we leave for London at 10:30am. We are spending 3 nights in London, then 1 night in the airport, and then off to Rome!
Hopefully I can get all of the photos we have taken up today, I am having problems uploading but I will try my best!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
So Angelica and I left Oviedo this morning at 9:30AM headed for Madrid on bus. Both of us had our big suitcases, our two travel suitcases (mine being my backpacking backpack), and some food we brought for the first part of our trip. Our travel suitcases have to be less than 22 pounds because Ryanair, the no frills airline company that we are using, allows only 22 pounds of carryon luggage. It used to be 33 but they got cheap (ha.ha). So I am currently sitting on the bus enjoying the views as our journey is 6 and a half hours. Leaving Asturias was nice, well I mean I think it would have been nice had it not been rainy and overcast. Anyone seein g a trend there? Cesar, the Peruvian guy I lived with told me that summers in Asturias are usuallly 1 day of good weather for every 2 days of bad weather. He also said that the weather at the beach is usually never the same as in Oviedo. So you never really know when it's a good day to go there too.
This last week has been good. I got my Oviedo tourism out of the way (about time), and did all the necessary souvenir shopping. Last Thursday the Brazilians put together an going away party for the international students (Despedida Erasmus), and the ones that were left (probably about 2/3 had already left), came out to Funky Room, a popular Erasmus bar one last time. Then on Saturday Angelica's rent was up and she had to move so I helped her move her things to my apartment to stay for 2 days before our trip. I also went to the university bookstore and bought a shirt and sweatshirt to remember my visit and represent back at Tech. :)
Then yesterday was the finals for the Confederations Cup, and we all decided to watch it together. It was USA v. Brazil and I went to watch the game with the Brazilians, my 2 belgian friends Arnaud and Francois, my french friend Albin, and my Finnish friend, Elina. The first half was awesome and the USA was up 2-0 at halftime. I was rubbing it in pretty hard that the world champs were going to lose to a country who ranks Soccer as 6th or 7th in popularity, but then the second half came. Brazil scored three times unanswered and we lost. So naturally the brazilians went wild, made fun of me, and then made me kiss the Brazilian flag.
But that's ok. Considering that the US lost twice in a row first against Italy 2-0 and then Brazil 3-0, I wasn't expecting much. Somehow they made the semi-finals, and were able to pull of a 2-0 win against Spain. That pretty much pissed off all the Spaniards and from then on I voluntarily left out the fact I was American with introductions, etc. :)
Spain having won three cups this year, The king's cup (Spain), the Champions League cup, and one more that is within Spain and I forgot the name, they were considered the favorites to take on Brazil in the finals. But somehow we ended up in the finals and I find that amazing.
The Confederations Cup is always held the year before the World Cup (August, 2010) and it brings together the champions from each continent to play against one another. This year there was Brazil, USA, Italy, Spain, Iraq, Egypt, South Africa, New Zealand, and Argentina among others.
Last night and this morning I packed up all my stuff and we got up at 7am to finish packing/cleaning. When we arrived at the bus station, some of our friends had come to wish us off on our trip. Once we arrive at the Madrid airport we're going to store our big suitcases in the lockers and then catch our flight to Milan. We're sleeping in the airport tonight (super classy I know) and then 6am we have a flight to Paris from Milan.
Thursday, July 2nd, 2009
Today is our third and final day in Paris. On Tuesday we got in from Milan around 9:00 AM and then took a bus from the airport in Beauvais to Paris. About 1.5 hour bus ride. When you fly cheap they send you to satellite airports (except for Madrid which only has Barajas), so we arrived in Paris around 10:30 and found our hotel around 11 or so. We were able to check in fine. The hotel is in the northern part of Paris and about a 20 minute walk from the Arc de Triomphe. Also about 5 minutes from the nearest metro. On day 1 we checked in, slept a couple hours and around 5pm we did a city tour of sorts. We walked to the Arc and then on to the Eiffel Tower via the plaza of Trocadero. We hung out in the park there and waited for the sun to set so the tower would light up. Then we bought some crepes and headed back to the hotel--we were tired as it was. Day 2 proved to be super productive. We got up early and went to Versailles and did the Palace and Gardens tour there with the audioguides. Angelica opted for Spanish instead of Portuguese because she told me she understood it better than the Portuguese from Portugal. Apparently there is a big difference there. I had thought it was the same as the difference between English in England and the US for example but I guess it's a lot, lot different if she thought Spanish was easier.
Then in the afternoon we toured the center of Paris, seeing the Pantheon, St. Etienne, Notre Dame, and the Gardens of Luxembourg. Both St. Chappelle and St. Michel eluded us but we're going back today. We were going to finish the day with the Louvre but we were too tired so we're doing that today too.
Today is pretty much the finish everything else day. We're doing the Louvre first, followed by St. Chappelle and St. Michel, and then finally we're going to take photos of the Moulin Rouge and Basilica Sagrada Corazon.
The people in Paris have been really really nice. More than once when Angelica and I were looking for a place, someone stopped and asked us if we needed directions. In English too it was amazing. I guess when you don't travel in large tour groups people are nicer and more willing to help because the last two times I was here in tour groups I never got that.
The food has been good, but expensive. We're trying to buy cheap in super markets but even their prices are high. Luckily our hotel does breakfast and it's a good breakfast too, so we don't have to eat until around 4ish and then again when we get back to the hotel.
This afternoon at 6:30 we go to Amsterdam by train. It's a 4.5 hour ride by THALYS speed train and we should get in around 11pm or so. Our hotel in Amsterdam is realll nice too. Right on the river Amstel and in a great location in the center of Amsterdam. I'm excited.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
So as of Monday I finished exams, and I am now on vacation. Well I am preparing for my trip that starts next Monday (the date got moved up to the 29th). The exam format here in Spain was quite the surprise so we´ll see how my grades turn out. Basically for all classes, I would enter the exam room and find a stack of blank computer paper, upon which I was given another sheet with the questions and 2 or 2.5 hours to complete. So, now I am super grateful for multiple choice again. Really the whole approach to education here is different and I guess that is kind of the point of a study abroad, but once again without friends in my classes, useful internet resources, and professors who give out syllabuses, I was left asking a lot of questions. I had to ask every professor where the exam was and when and sometimes they didn´t know. I had one tell me that it would be posted on a billboard in the chemistry building and I needed to look for it....
So I take for granted seriously the following:
c)professors who use the internet to communicate
d)regimented exam schedules determined before the semester starts
e)blackboard (although I hate to say it!)
(blackboard is an online resource for students that has all of the prof´s info and things the professor wants to put up to help students)
g)multiple tests/quizzes throughout the semester
h)textbooks (not common here)
i)study guides for tests (especially finals)
So maybe I have it easy at Virginia Tech or maybe I am just not used to the system here but either way I found that I do not like it and I am now a big a fan of the VT education system :)
Probably if I were to look into studying here long term I would have to force myself to go to the professor´s open tutorial hours just so I can practice and ask questions when I need to.
As far as exams my Physics exam was hard, and it was the first so I went in on a completely blank slate not knowing how to study, etc. I tried going to the professor´s office hours the week before but he wasn´t in and I couldn´t get him at any other time... So it wasn´t the material that was hard it was more the format and actually there were a bunch of words on the test that I did not know which makes me sad after a semester learning spanish. But I justify it as being technical language so no worries. 4 pages of computer paper turned in as my test.
Then I took Population Geography which was long but I dominated it. 4 sheets of computer paper turned in as my test.
Then I turned in my term paper for Modern History of Asturias (modern being 17th and 18th century). 15 sheets of computer paper.
Then I took Organic Chem which was hard still with the language barrier. and long. 6 sheets of computer paper.
Lesson learned do not take sciences while studying abroad because then you actually have to study and it is no fun when you are enjoying your pretty much semester of vacation and tourism.
The term paper was easy although I procrastinated a bit on getting it done. I did learn how to BS pretty well in Spanish but at the same time I thought it was pretty well written for a foreigner (I´m not sure what the professor thinks yet!) haha
So that´s it for exams
Tuesday night at midnight was the beginning of... ANOTHER fiesta here in Spain. This time it was in celebration of San Juan and it was celebrated with a midnight bonfire complete with fireworks in front of the cathedral. It was a real cool event and traditional dancing, etc continued on wednesday which is the actual day. Not as well celebrated as the ascension because it was a wednesday and the spaniards have to work if not just a little on wednesdays. I got photos no worries.
Here´s a link for a wiki although it´s in Spanish http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festividad_de_San_Juan
For english wiki San Juan festival or Bonfire of San Juan or something like that. The photos I put up have good titles explaining the events.
Afterwards the cafes and bars were filled with people just enjoying the night so that was pretty nice to see. Once again people of all ages out and about at 1AM.
Oh yah I changed apartments again. I now live about 7 minutes from my old apartment. I had to change because the apartment is normally rented out to Med school students in a program called MIR (medicos internos residentes) and they´re moving in now. So I got a real cheap rate on the place because of the fact I had to be out on June 15th. Now I am staying with a guy from Peru named Cesar. He is also renting out another room to a girl from Salamanca, Veronica who brought her beagle, Ary. They´re both real nice and I do enjoy playing with the dog. He´s not very well mannered though and he´ll steal your food without thinking twice. But he stopped trying with me after I denied his first attempts with a smack to the nose :) Dog whisperer training. Photos of the new apartment!
I live real close to old town (about 2 minutes from my favorite bar), but a bit to the southeast so not as centrally located anymore.
Tomorrow I am doing my souvenir shopping so leave any requests below :)
Also a couple friends and I are doing some Oviedo tourism that we have yet to do until now haha. Pictures to come.
So that´s it for now, possibly 1 more entry before we leave for our big trip on June 29th and then there will be regular entries as I find time/energy to put everything up live from the trip!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
So this week is the last week of classes. Today was a holiday celebrating, nothing probably but everyone pretty much went out for a picnic with friends and family in the parks. So, like usual, everything closed down.
Also, I have been sick (again) since last Thursday. Looks to be the same thing, tonsillitis, so I am getting some more free medicine from the doctors (yeah Socialism!) I am not sure how or why I got sick but I have a feeling it's stress related because I got several deadlines coming up for my classes, plus next week begins the month-long exam period.
Anyway, some cool events did actually happen this week, The first one being last Wednesday night when FC Barcelona won the Champion's League Cup over Manchester United (from England). The Champion's League is a tournament where all the best teams in Europe compete throughout the year, and its considered the best Tournament in Europe. The final match took place in Rome, neutral ground (for soccer at least). So naturally Oviedo went wild at the end of the game, complete with people in the fountains, fireworks, cannon bangs, groups of friends roaming the streets screaming Barcelona fight songs, etc. Barcelona was considered a big time underdog because of how solidly Manchester United played all season, but somehow they managed to lose 3-0. owned
Also recently Oviedo held a fair call la Feria de la Ascencion. I believe it is to commemorate the ascension of Christ into heaven but I have no idea. Oviedo allowed a massive amount of artisans dressed in traditional Asturian-attire to set up shops in front of the Cathedral and other parts nearby. They then also had several parades of bagpiping groups from all over Asturias playing their traditional song from their area. There were maybe 3,000 bagpipers in Oviedo! And you thought one was annoying :) But it was nice to watch and I do have video and photos of that. The vendors sold traditional cheeses, meats, sweets, crafts, honey, art, etc. Right in front of the cathedral there was traditional dancing going on in traditional attire and you could get free carriage rides pulled cows haha.
Also, this weekend Real Oviedo (the soccer team here) was admitted to the second division soccer league in Spain (from the 3rd). They hadn't lost a single game all year and qualified for the move in points scored. So naturally parties were thrown everywhere this weekend (yet another reason to party). Everyone was in the streets, kids, adults, elderly, etc. They soccer players had several mini parties in different parts of the city just to hype everyone up, kind of like pep-rallies after the fact, and yesterday they held one in front of City Hall. I got some good pictures of that. They chanted their teams fight songs over and over and over and over and everyone on the team got a chance at the mic like 5 times. It was rather ridiculous. But the plaza was packed with supporters and it was a good time.
Finally, since Saturday morning there have been cannon blasts three times a day everyday. 25 blasts, 3 times a day. During the initial blasts, I was still sleeping (it was 10am) and it scared me half to death. I didn't know what to think. I still don't know what to think. It's something to ask my tandem friend because I couldn't find it in the paper or anything.
That's it for now... still sick, so sorry if this post reads a bit funny I'm having a hard time concentrating haha.
Upcoming events Toulouse June 10th-13th
Big trip through europe: begins June 30th.
Oh and it did get warmer here starting last Thursday or so. Actual summer weather! Today´s high was 80.
I don´t have too many from the Oviedo party but I´m going to get some from my friends.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Well not much has happened since the last blog entry... just going to class and planning out my upcoming trips. Barcelona this weekend if we can find good prices (we´re cheapskates!)
3 weeks left of class, and then begins the month-long exam period. I have 4 classes but I am only taking 3 exams. They're all spread out pretty evenly... one a week I believe. I am hoping I can move one up a week so that I can begin traveling sooner!
I have to change apartments next month as well. The deal with this apartment was I could rent it out up until June 15th, and then the normal renters were going to return from vacation or wherever they were. Kind of a sublease deal but it was nice because it afforded me a great apartment for a very good rate (200 euros/month). So I found another apartment I'm going to rent out for the final month here in Spain. It's not too far from my current one. And the rent is almost as good (225 I believe). I'm going to go there probably tomorrow to check everything and make sure it'll work for a month.
Sunday I got up nice and early (3pm) to videochat with Grandma, Grandpa and my parents (who went to W'burg for the weekend). However they had technical difficulties, so it was 2-way audio, 1 way video (no video from them for me). So that was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon... chatting with the family, joking about the Spanish education system, the lack of warm weather, and also picking up some travel tips from some very experienced travelers.
Right now in my trip planning I'm trying to roughly estimate the total cost on the entire trip to make sure I can afford everything we want to do. I have to change my flight date, so that means a $200 fee maybe. I had some friends change their flight for free and they were flying out via Iberia too so we´ll see. I'm trying to fly out of Madrid without going through Oviedo, so hopefully that'll save me some money... we'll see. Before I change anything however I need to figure out a way to get my luggage to Madrid (the part I don't want to travel with) so that I don't have to return to Oviedo in order to fly out of the country (flying out via Madrid). We´re thinking that instead of taking the train directly to Paris, we´ll bus to Madrid first, and then fly to Paris. This is probably the cheapest option especially if we can find someone in Madrid to hold our luggage for free! If you´ve got any contacts in Madrid let me know!
If this isn´t possible, I'll take the bus back to Oviedo from Madrid at the end our grand trip and then fly back to Madrid (my flight home goes through Madrid and London). Sounds counterintuitive, but hey, I'm a broke college student haha. The bus ride is 5 hours. The flight back to Madrid is... about 45 minutes? :) I would rather avoid the trouble so hopefully I can get my luggage to Madrid. However, I am very excited for this trip! Overly so probably.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Wednesday, May 13th, 2009
So I've been slacking on the blog entries. I blame Spanish cultural influence :) :)
The last 3 weeks have flown by! Usually that's a good thing but during a study abroad I would prefer that they didn't! I wish I could stay a full year but that is not the case. I've got studies to complete at VT, not to mention I'll be returning broke! Nothing much has happened the last weeks... There was a trip scheduled to Llanes, a "beach" town on the northern coast, but it was cancelled due to lack of interest (no one wants to go to the beach when its 60 degrees and overcast...). I've also been working on my essay for my History of Asturias class. It's the paper concerning Commerce between Asturias and the Americas in the 18th century. Pretty exciting huh? It's not too bad and some parts are interesting to me. Some parts. Like piracy and the exportation of wood for the Spanish armada... But as of this week that class no longer meets, and all I have to do is complete the 15 page essay and I'm done. No exam. And what have I learned? Well, let's just say I learned very extensively that, historically speaking, Asturias is possibly one of the most boring parts of Spain. I learned that there was an extreme lack of business incentive, and that the people generally preferred to be left to their own methods of self-sustainable life. Farming enough for one's own, living in small pueblos, very often without roads interconnecting them. Limited interaction with the Spanish court and very little commerce-wise. The port towns typically were composed of fishers who fished enough to feed themselves and sell to neighbors. Much of the class was comprised of comparisons to better parts of spain that were more aggressive commercially, or had developed much farther. Parts such as Galicia, especially La Coruna. Also Santander, Barcelona and the whole Cataluna area, and the Basque country as a whole. However at the same time, I only have to remember about 5 people who were historical figures in Asturian history so that's nice.
But when you're walking around Oviedo and seeing Asturias on trips, it's not that way at all. Of course it still has all the small pueblos but the cities have modernized to the level of competition with other cities here in Spain. Oviedo is still considered a "small" city but it's got all the parts of a big city. In my population geography class we looked at the population growth in northern Spain compared to that of the South and Barcelona area since 1900 and its quite one-sided. Northern Spain has come quite a ways in 100 years. So yes my report on the commerce in Asturias is rather limited and I'm hoping to squeeze out 15 pages. It's also hard to BS a paper in another language. If it was English, no problem for sure.
I also have yet to poison myself with my own cooking so that's proof to my mom that I can cook. barely! I have also been learning through the good graces of my friends and the all-knowing internet. In the supermarkets you can buy full pig ears which I thought were only for dogs but I guess I was wrong. Also cow tongue, a family favorite, and full baby pigs. Peanut butter is also hard to come by! My french friends were going through my food and saw my peanut butter and started giving me a hard time. "You know how I know you're American? Look here! Your secret stash of peanut butter!" The Europeans are bigger on Nutella. Ironically, my jar of peanut butter says: Capitan Mani: the original peanut butter (in english). Somehow I don't believe that. However it goes along with a similar theme here. All the t-shirts are that way too. They have some random english written on them to imitate (I guess?) shirts found in the U.S. Many shirts promote random U.S. states, or something that is "American". My favorite so far is a shirt that reads: Indiana Backup Power: America's Original Emergency Energy Source Since 1908. It makes no sense but it's in huge letters on this bright yellow shirt. I also saw a shirt once that said: Seminole Indians: Original Arizona Tribe. Or something to that nature where the tribe and state did not line up at all. But if you're bored in Spain it is definitely worth your while to wander through a clothing store to see all the random atrocities they have for t-shirts. Pretty much all contain the words/things: Authentic, Original, Established, a date, and a U.S. state. But they don't know what it says so it's like Americans who wear shirts with random Japonese/Chinese symbols on them... it's all good!
On a similar note, I forgot to include in my Semana Santa entry this awesome menu translation that we found in a restaurant in Burgos: "The client who asks for the "Menu of the House" will be forced to the integral payment of he himself, although she resigned to consume some of the components of he himself." Word for word. I took a picture if you don't believe me. At first I had no idea what it said, but I believe it means to say that if you order the House Menu (which includes Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert and drink) you have to pay for the whole thing even if you don't want certain parts.
Oh also big news (for my dad at least). I was sitting in my History of Asturias class (of 2-4 people, depending on attendance of the Asturians in the class), bored out of my mind, looking at a map of Oviedo when I saw marked: Old city wall! So knowing that my dad would probably be interested, immediately after class I headed to where the city wall was on the map and lo and behold, city wall. Well at least a section that runs about 300 yards or so. I took pictures :)
As the time to travel through Europe gets closer, my plans are becoming more concrete! However the trip to Barcelona next weekend (May 22nd) may or may not happen. Only 3 people want to go, and the prices aren't as low as we thought they'd be. Alternatively, I have a couple other friends who are backpacking the picos de Europa, a mountain range East of Oviedo which is supposed to be breathtakingly awesome. So... I may ditch Barcelona and go backpacking. We'll see on that one. I do like backpacking...
Speaking of mountains, I started running with my friend Mathieu from Brussels just to be less lazy than normal, and we decided to run to the top of el naranco where the statue of christ is. Twice we've done this and it is absolutely painful and awesome at the same time. You kill yourself on the way up, but then the view is awesome and you get to fly down with relatively no effort whatsoever.
In mid-June I'm going to Toulouse, France with Angelica. Just for a weekend because it's during the exam period. We're going to take the train that runs through Oviedo to Paris. We'll be getting off before Paris, but it's a relatively cheap trip which is always good! Although I've been to Toulouse before, I hardly remember it, and I am a big time fan of southern France after our trip last Summer, so going again in June will be awesome!
Finally, the big trip through Europe has come together! I am not traveling with my European buddies because, well, they live here and have seen most of it and my American friends are going to Andalucia (Southern Spain) and Morocco. However, my Brazilian friends are setting up a trip through Europe because this trip to Europe is pretty much the only opportunity they have to visit the major parts of Europe.
So we're going to: Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest, Prague, Vienna, London, Rome, Ibiza, possibly Lisboa, and Madrid. Yes I've already been to Paris, London, Rome and Madrid but unless I want to travel alone (which does not sound fun) I have to go again. I'm sure I won't mind.. I'm in Europe after all! I do have the option to leave them at certain points and meet up with other friends, but I would only want to do that to visit my Belgian friends who live in Brussels. Also Danielle (the other Hokie here) wants to go to Denmark to visit a friend of ours, who invited us to visit, so I'll see about that too!
The big trip will last just short of 3 weeks, which I might make shorter because the last couple nights are in Madrid, and I feel that I've covered Madrid pretty well. Although we will be there on a Sunday which means... Bullfight!!! So I might stay for that!
Pamplona running of the bulls is out of the picture now because of this trip, but that's ok. I feel like I'm spending my time better traveling in this manner.
Naturally we're staying in Hostels all along the way and taking the cheapest form of transportation. I might even make it official and wear a backpack like I'm truly backpacking through Europe! haha. The order above is the order we're going to the cities, starting with Paris finishing with Madrid. It's pretty much trains all the way with flights for the longer trips between cities. But it's very possible that I might skip out on the 3 days in Paris and continue on to Brussels to visit my friends and then meet the Brazilians again in Amsterdam. I'm not about to go up the Eiffel tower for a 3rd time ;). I would classify that as a no-dice situation. I heard Budapest can be a bit rough. But if it's rough on European standards (our tour guide thought Spain was rought), then it's not biggie. We're only spending one day there anyways. And Ibiza is one of the Spanish Islands to the east of Spain. Known for a younger tourist crowd this is not too interested in visiting cathedrals but much rather prefer beaches and sick sunburns.
So it's rather hectic, but we're covering a lot of Europe!
I'm also looking to get my flight changed to leaving from Madrid instead of Oviedo so I can avoid an unnecessary 4 hour bus ride back to Oviedo. We're still working on how to get our luggage sent to Madrid ahead of us so we can arrive in Madrid, pick up the rest of our luggage and head home. I'm sure there's a way!
I'm still really wanting to visit Switzerland and Germany but I think I'll be back soon enough (skiing in the Alps anyone?).
The Europe trip is set for June 30th-July 20th(or so). And then I get back to the U.S., and 3-4 weeks later I'm in Blacskburg!
That's all I've got for now...
current weather: 65 degrees and overcast. Starting tomorrow it'll be more around 58-60 and rainy. woohoo! One day I might wear shorts. That would be cool.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Monday, April 20th, 2009
I saw Marcy´s comment and I realized that I put up pictures of my new apartment, but I failed to mention the switch! Yes I switched apartments 2 days before I went on my Spring Break trip with mom and dad. I´m now much much closer to the center of town and getting around has been a million times easier. I am no longer living with a family, instead I am living with 2 Brazilians and 1 Uruguayan. The Brazilians are two girls who are also international students here at Oviedo and the Uruguayan is a woman in her early 30´s who works in Gijón. I also have internet and a desk, which is really handy as a student :) . The desk is pressboard on two sawhorses (you can see it in my photos) but hey it beats doing my work on a twin-sized bed as I was doing. The apartment itself is ridiculously big... in total there are 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a giant kitchen, giant family room, porch type deal, and like a million closets. And somehow, with such great location, functional equipment, internet, huge room, etc., the rent is only €200 a month! Of course that doesn´t include my food expenses, but considering the rent was €575 a month to live with a host family in a small room, no internet, on the outskirts of the town, I totally scored. The obvious downsides are: I have to cook, clean and do all the chores now. But totally worth it I say. The family was extremely helpful the first month or so as far as getting my bearings, learning Spanish to a functional level and trying the local cuisine (of Ham, Bread, Cheese, Potatoes, and Olive Oil haha). A higher level of independence for sure. My roommates are all extremely nice and the apartment is very well kept!
Food expenses run maybe €25-30 weekly. Not too sure yet on that because I´ve only been in the apartment a week and a half or so... However there is one supermarket where you can get great deals on pretty much everything and it´s the second closest supermarket to my apartment so I try to go there.
So yes new apartment, it´s great, I have my own bathroom. Enough said.
I´ve been buying the paper everyday because it´s great language practice, there´s some pretty sweet puzzles and sudokus, and the international section provides an interesting perspective on U.S. issues (as well as other countries). I combine that with cnn.com and I get my daily dose of news, both American and Spanish. Obama is in the paper pretty much everyday, but right now that´s because he was doing the G-20, then he visited some other countries in Europe, and now he´s making the news with his politics during the American countries summit. And there has been an amazing amount of coverage on Bo, the Obama´s dog. Mathieu, another friend of mine from Belgium, put it all in perspective when he said that it´s amazing that the whole world knows the name and story behind the Obama´s dog, I mean, it´s just a dog. It just goes to show how bent on U.S. news the world is. But yeah Bo was on the televisions and in the papers for 2 days.
On a similar note, my fellow Hokie and pro-John McCain friend Bo from South Carolina was rather upset that he now shares his name with Obama´s dog.
Also another interesting note this week, I was visiting my host family on Thursday, and on my way there I was noticing an incredible amount of police standing in the sidewalks. Upon arrival, my host family told me that the King and Queen of Spain were about to pass through Oviedo. They told me (and I remembered Fran had told me this too) that they were on their way to visit an opthamology institute here in Oviedo because apparently the opthamologists there are the best in Spain. Their office is up in the mountains just a little bit right on the outside of town, but long story short, I got to see the King and Queen of Spain´s motorcade as it passed through the street to this institute where apparently all royalty get their eyes checked out. So that was pretty cool.
I´m working on making more travel plans as we speak. For sure I am going with a bunch of friends to Barcelona to see a home soccer game there (Barça is the best in the Spanish league right now! They are also in the semifinals for the Champions League Cup which is coming to a close here shortly). We wanted to go see them play Real Madrid (translates to Royal Madrid), their rivals in early May, but the game is incredibly expensive, minimum €325 I saw. So I think our choices are... Villareal and Osasuna, two teams that Barça will probably destroy.
On that note, I´ve been watching an immense amount of soccer, considering it´s one of the few sports they broadcast here. It´s soccer, formula 1 (there´s a famous driver from Oviedo, Fernando Alonso, hence the coverage), sometimes tennis, and sometimes european basketball. But usually just soccer because there´s so many games. Also in the papers it´s these sports, PLUS! from the NBA the Lakers, Grizzlies and Heat, because those three teams have Spanish players. The most famous being Pau Gasol from the Lakers, his brother plays for the Grizzlies and I forget who plays for the heat (I think it´s the Heat at least...). So it´s interesting to get random American sports coverage depending on the consistency of the team.
I am also looking at going to Pamplona for la Fiesta de San Fermin aka Running of the Bulls. We´ll see though because I am still trying to form a group.
Also I am looking into setting up a small trip through some major cities in Europe with some friends. I am looking to do the trains/hostal to keep it on the cheap.
We´ll see though! It´s a bit early and nothing is definite yet. The hardest part is finding a group of friends that are interested in the same places. Seeing as how the majority of my friends are European they have an agenda of their own, and many aren´t traveling, just going home once the semester is over. My American friends have decided they want to go to Andalucia (southern Spain) and Morocco, but I would rather see the rest of Europe instead so I probably won´t go with them. I know I have at least one friend interested in doing the major cities tour with me, so that will probably happen.
That´s pretty much it... my mom was worried about my lack of cooking skills but so far I am surviving. Proud to say I haven´t yet bought any prepared meals or microwave and go type deals. And proud to say I haven´t gotten sick from my cooking haha. Boy Scout skills at work (aka boiling water). No I do more than that but my skills are still pretty limited. I just make sure to hit all food groups + my daily cup(s) of coffee and bingo good to go. No soda neither. Believe it!!
Culture note for my mom: Check out music artist Melendi. He´s from Oviedo and he has a pretty interesting style I guess. I think it´s boring but you can listen and see if you like it.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Woo Spring Break for me!
So for the University of Oviedo Spring Break (here called La Semana Santa, the religious week more or less) began last Friday and continues until Monday the 13th. A lot of international students choose to tour during this time, or if they live close by they head home to spend the week with friends and family. For me my mom and dad wanted to visit Northern Spain, so they flew out for the week (our Spring Breaks line up so that made everything possible). They were set to arrive last Saturday the 4th around 1:30 so we could do a day tour of Oviedo, but a delay in their flight caused them to miss their connection, and they arrived closer to 7:00PM. So that night we took a short walking tour of the downtown on our way to dinner in the center of town. My parents got to experience sidra (pouring and all), as well as dining in Oviedo. I made sure to tell them never to pour their own Sidra, because if you do this the waiter will never return to your table to pour you more. I guess you could say they take pride in the pouring of Sidra. They were still pretty jetlagged so following dinner we walked back but due to a slight blonde moment on my part we ended up taking a "detour tour" of another part of Oviedo. The next morning we met up around 9:00 AM to eat breakfast and took a short driving tour of the rest of Oviedo. We drove by my new and old apartments, and drove by both of the campuses I have classes at (El Milan and El Cristo). I pointed out some other places in Oviedo and then we began the drive out to Cantabria (the next "state" over, to the East of Asturias and Oviedo). After figuring out how to get out of Oviedo (as navigator I was responsible but failed miserably -- I´m usually traveling Oviedo by foot!!), we took the scenic route to Cantabria through the mountains instead of along the highway. However the day was very foggy and rainy, and so a trip to the very popular Picos de Europa in Cantabria was not worth our time. This would have involved a tram ride to the top of some of the highest mountains here with great views in every direction however it was not to be. We ended up stopping in a small pueblo (literally probably 200 people) to have lunch and then we headed on to Comillas. This town is famous for some architectural work done by Gaudi and also his mentor. El Capricho, now converted into a restaurant, was a building designed by Gaudi and sits next to a small royal palace. Across a slight dip and up the mountain is a University that is still under construction, and closed to the public due to it being la semana santa (holy week).
The next stop was going to be the Caves at Altamira. These caves are supposed to be some of the oldest remaining evidence of cave art, however the caves you get to see are painstaking recreations, as the originals were deteriorating due to humidity from the breath of visitors. Unfortunately, caves close on Mondays! I didn´t know caves could close considering they don´t really have doors and such but the Spanish decided that caves shouldn´t have to work on Monday and therefore we had no choice but to miss out on a second great sight.
Having had to cut out the Picos de Europa and the Caves of Altamira, we found ourselves with free time so we headed to Puente San Miguel on the way to Santander. According to mom this is José´s (one of my mom´s colleagues) hometown. I for sure hope it was because we ended up spending a bunch of time there walking around and taking pictures, etc. to prove to José that we made the pilgrimage to his hometown! Puente means bridge in spanish so we finished this short trip with a picture on the puente and then it was on to Santander, capital city of Cantabria. Also a major port town in northern Spain past and present. Here we visited the Royal Castle of ( ) which had been used by the current royalty, Rey Carlos and Reína Sofia as recently as last year. We took a short mini-train tour around the peninsula upon which it is situated, learning about the surrounding port, lighthouse, and activities pursued by the royalty over the years. Also we learned about the multiple uses of the Castle over time. This train tour dumped us out near the Castle at the Santander ¨zoo¨. I say this because there wasn´t much to it--- literally small penguins and seals. They had a huge setup for lions or something of that sort but it was only occupied by ducks who seemed to enjoy a place where humans could not bother them. There were also some replicas nearby of Spanish galeons and one replica of a SS Minnow gilligan type raft. Samples of the maritime past of Santander.
From here we headed back West a bit to Santillana del Mar and we stayed at a Parador there. Paradors are typically historical buildings like convents, houses of the nobility, etc., that are then converted into hotels. They are really unique because the point is to maintain the original style of these buildings, and no two paradors are alike. This Parador was a former house of nobility built in the 17th century that was then converted to a hotel. Very nice unique surroundings but expensive at that. We ate dinner at the Parador that night. I almost ordered ox tail but my mom recognized the word tail and saved me from that. Apparently it is quite good and I may have to try it sometime.
My parents have decided there are exactly 5 principal foods in Northern Spain: Ham (jamón), Cheese, Potatoes, Bread and Olive Oil. They like to joke/complain that all foods are a combination of any of these products with more olive oil doused on top. Olive oil on everything is quite common. Cooking in olive oil, dipping bread in olive oil, frying with olive oil, and then when you´re finished it´s acceptable to put more olive oil on top of the meal. And naturally there are not one but two bottles of olive oil present at the dinner table. Good luck finding fresh ground pepper though, that´s a rarity.
The following morning we walked through Santillana del Mar and then left for Bilbao, the capital of el Vaís Basco (the Basque Country), an autonomy of Spain more or less. They like to think that they´re separate completely for Spain but only when fiscal government handouts aren´t involved. Cataluña, the next state to the East with the capital Barcelona, has more or less the same mentality. The basque people are known for being a bit rough. Eta, the terrorist organization, has its roots around here, and just in general, maybe not the nicest people you´ll meet. We had no problems with them though. Our only major problem was it was a Monday, and for some reason Monday means closures. The caves of Altamira were closed like I mentioned, and then the very popular contemporary art museum in Bilbao, the Guggenheim, was also closed for Mondays. So we got some pictures of the outside, as well as a sweet picture of a 30 foot Westie Terrier looking dog made completely out of flowers! Check the picture section for that one. We decided it resembled a very large Chia pet, and we read that it contains about 60,000 flowers which are pansies right now.
The drive to Bilbao and through the area in general was very pretty. You climb into the mountains but still remain on the coast so you get great views of both expanses of land and sea. On the way to Bilbao the weather let up a bit and when the roads hugged the coast we could see quite a bit of the area.
From here we turned South, and went to Vitoria-Basteiz in a southern Basque state. We toured the city and ate lunch there as well. I´m not sure exactly what Vitoria is known for, but we do know they are proud to have fought off a French invasion in 1813, and that every year on the 4th of August they have a celebration involving a guy named Calderón. An effigy of his likeness descends on the 4th from the tower to start the partying and then a week later he ascends back into the tower and disappears. We did find a statue of the actual guy and my Dad took a picture with him. We also went to Plaza del Machete, where politicians in Astorga take the oath of office, only in the Basque country!
Our next stop was going to be the vineyard Marques des Riscal in the Riojas region of Spain. Riojas is a region in Spain known for its wine. However we did not have exact directions and ended to Lograña, a bit past the pueblo we needed to be in. We backtracked a bit to Elciego, and found the vineyard which is located next to a very expensive contemporary hotel. It´s funny because Elciego is a very small town, and this hotel only caters to wine-connosseiurs obviously. Unfortunately, we think the vineyard is only open to tourists during the morning and early afternoon, and it was closed when we arrived! So we bagged the vineyard and drove on to Burgos, where we ate dinner. We did a very short tour, and then ate at a nice restaurant in the old town. Here we were able to have Rioja wine, so we indulged in that to salvage our failed journey to Marques des Riscal, and then drove 2 hours to Leon to stay the night. Finding the hotel in Leon was extremely hard at night. We were all very tired after a long day of touring and driving, and there were festivities in the streets for La Semana Santa. León has many many many roads that are pedestrian or residents only and we had a tough time finding parking. Finally around 1-1:30 we figured everything out and were settled in our hostel for the night. Only to get up in 7 hours or so to continue on! All in all, a tough Monday for sure.
Tuesday would prove to be much more enjoyable. We got up the next morning, having a small breakfast in a nearby cafe and then toured the Cathedral of leon. This cathedral is known for its serious amounts of stained glass, which we couldn´t photograph very well (cathedrals aren´t very photo friendly). We then went to the nearby Museum which talked about the history of Leon, and how many things had been destroyed by the invasion of Napoleon. We then ate lunch at a cafe and drove on to Astorga. Here we went to cathedral (of course!) which had a neat museum attached that showed some typical traditional attire from the area, as well as history of the Cathedral, and other works of art special to the state (Which is named Castilla y León). Then we went pretty much next door to visit the Bishop´s palace, a giant palace designed by Gaudi after the original burned down in the late 1800s. Then it was off to Lugo. I went in with a preconception that Lugo was an ugly city with nothing to offer. This was because upon talking with my host family they told me there was nothing to do there besides see the Roman Wall. However, upon arrival we ended up in an AWESOME hotel, in a great location. We parked just outside the wall and walked in to the city. Our hotel was right inside the wall with great location to the main drag of the town. The wall itself was amazing. Probably a good 2 miles or so all the way around and it was completely intact since the 2nd century. We viewed a holy week procession of catholics with music etc., and we spent a good amount of time on that wall, walking the entire thing. We then went out to eat a typical tapas restaurant, and see some of the town. The hotel itself was a converted house of nobility of some kind I think. My parents had a 42 inch flat screen in their room, and i had my own room with a 32 inch flat screen. Also I had a very sweet jacuzzi shower with like a million jets that I never really figured out. Very nicely decorated hotel, with many historical items like roman helmets, medieval wear, etc. etc. decorating the halls and staircase.
That was Tuesday, and then on Wednesday we headed off to A Coruña. This is a port town on the northwest coast that I visited 10 days prior with my friends on a tour provided by a company based in Asturias. We went to the fish market, which was very cool. My mom took plenty of pictures here. Then we went into old town to Praza Maria Pita, a famous girl who is known for fighting against Sir Francis Drake´s men when they tried to invade during the time of the Armada and all that. Story goes that she somehow got a hold of Drake´s flag and destroyed it I believe. So she´s famous in A Coruña. We also passed by the house of Emilia Pardo Bazán, famous Countess, writer, and women´s rights activist of the more or less 1880s. Then we took a walking tour to see some of the sights, and then on to Santiago de Compostela. We arrived here, and turns out the Parador that we stayed in is located adjacent to the super popular Cathedral in Santiago! Literally less than 100 yards from the door to the cathedral. This Parador was a hospital built by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in 1499 to nurse all of the pilgrims who arrived sick back to health. It is a huge building and the atmosphere is very unique as well. We ate dinner there, which was a seafood affair. Very good food. The dining hall was what we thought a converted horse stable or carriage entrance into the hospital.
Thursday we woke up and did the tour of Santiago. The highlight here obviously is the Santiago cathedral, which for us was only a short walk of about 100 yards from our Parador (hotel). We then went shopping in the rain, and then headed on to Vigo. However en route the rain picked up immensely to the point that any type of touring would have been miserable. So we decided to skip on Vigo. In Vigo we were going to take a bout tour out to some islands that are a national park, however the weather was not permitting so we decided we would be best off heading south and hopefully out of the weather. So we skipped Vigo and crossed the border into Portugal.
However Portugal was also rainy, and upon checking into our hotel in Porto, we decided that touring would also be miserable and that an impromptu siesta would suffice instead. That night the rain let up so we went out for Dinner. We used our tour book to find a great restaurant named ¨Mal Cozinhado¨ which literally translates to The Bad Cooking Restaurant. Very funny story here though: As we arrived, the greeter there asked us if we had reservations. We told him that we did not, and he said, oh that´s ok, and he proceeded to give us a table. We walked down some stairs to the restaurant which was situated in a very nicely decorated and open cellar more or less. The little light provided was given off by candles. However this restaurant was special because every night there are a group of performers who perform a style of music called Fado. It´s considered by our tour book to be more like our jazz blues, with songs that usually talk about Portugal´s bittersweet relationship with the sea, and the loss of many loved ones therein. Anyway on to the funny part: After not having made reservations, it turns out that the greeter seated us with a front row view of the performers and the music!! Best seats in the house---To the Americans without reservations how sweet!! They performed for all of the parties dining (no more than 40 people or so) and there was a guy on guitar who held down rhythm and the baseline, a guy on a large mandolin, and two women who sung. The mandolin guy also sung some too. Very nice music, alternating between upbeat, rhythmic beats and slow mellow tunes. Fado in portuguese means Fate, and that´s what they called this style of music. Also funny, we read in our tour book that the performers start around 930, but unbeknownst to us, as we had crossed the border going south from Spain to Portugal, the hour had changed! So we arrived at the restaurant at 830, wondering when the performance was going to start! So we ate a bit early, and we wouldn´t find out to the following afternoon that we had been living an hour in the past. Apparently Portugal does not keep the same time as Spain, but Spain technically does straddle two time zones and instead opts to use just one (the one Madrid and the East is in more or less).
Friday morning and our last day of traveling. We walked downhill (the entire town was built on a hall really) and rode the Funicular up to get some great views of the town. Then we took a bus sightseeing tour that lasted wayyy longer than we wanted it to, so after about 1.5 hours or so we jumped ship, caught a cab and headed towards the wineries which were across the river in an adjacent town named Gaia. First we tried to go to the Sandeman winery, named after a Scotsman who set up his company in Portugal in the mid 1700s, however we could not figure out how to enter the winery and the guard out front just grumbled at us instead trying to be more hospitable. So we decided to move on and go to the Croft winery, which was at the top of another hill nearby. Here we had to wait for the English tour, and were able to try some Port wine at that time. However Portugal still hasn´t figured out how to run a business yet we think. They were acutely understaffed for the volume of people they were dealing with and it was very hard to try and get someone to serve you more wine tastings. My parents said (because I wouldn´t know) that in the US typically you are served many different wines, or all of the best wines they have to offer in order to a) let you make your own comparisons to what you like and b) get you drunk so you buy more. However here it was not so. We took the wine tour, and then afterwards we were given another sample of a different type of wine. Finally we bought a third sampling after much haggling to get them to serve us, and we bought a couple of bottles (after waiting in line for some time).
Essentially we were just not very impressed with the flow and efficiency of a business that has potential to run better. It may not be about making money for them, but at least they could work on their customer service to the point where you feel like they are attending to you, the customers who buy their products in order to keep them in business. I guess we are just too used to the capitalistic system of the US or something. A lack of business acumen there for sure(credits to my mom on the SAT vocab there).
Following this wine tour we were out of time for the day (the tour book recommended a day of touring, and a day of tasting and we tried to combine). Having spent nearly 2.5 hours in one winery we could not go on to another one. We had to head back to Oviedo so my parents could catch their flight the next day. So we got in the car, plugged in the 5.5 hour drive into our GPS and we were off. There was snow on the way back in the south of Asturias. It´s a very mountainous region with many huge long tunnels. Quite impressive. However there was enough to cover the road some so we had to be careful.
We got into Oviedo around 11PM, and then the next morning we did breakfast and my parents left for the airport around noon.
And that´s a basic outline of how our trip went! A very jam packed trip -- 20 cities/pueblos in 6 days. Here´s a summary with the bigger cities in Bold: Oviedo, Comilla, Santillana Del Mar, Santander, Puente San Miguel, Altamira, Panes, Bilbao, Vitoria-Basteiz, Logroño, Elciego, Burgos, León, Astorga, Lugo, La Coruña, Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Porto, Gaia. This is more or less in the order that we visited them. The weather blocked us from doing many things we wanted to do but we did see a whole bunch still! A summer vacation would have permitted better weather but also more traffic, so we won and lost by doing this trip now instead of later. I know I was very brief on the whole trip, but as I´m sure everyone knows it´s impossible to cover everything on any trip. However if you have any questions / want a clarification just let me know and I can post it up here!
Thursday, April 2, 2009
This weekend I went to Galicia which is directly West from Asturias. It's the "state" right above Portugal. We went specifically to visit Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña. The former is a widely-known in Europe as the destination for a religious pilgrimage through northern Spain and the latter is a big port town in the northwest. I have some pictures, but I didn't take many because I have a friend who takes really good pictures so I'm waiting for him to put those online so I can steal them and add them to this blog :). The trip went a bit like this: 7AM departure from Oviedo, a stop in Gijón to pick up some other students at Oviedo´s campus there. Then 5-6 hours travel time to Santiago. Free time to sit down for lunch. I went with some friends to a typical café. In Galicia the dialect spoken is known as Gallego (or in Gallego, they call it Galego), but they also speak Castillian (the proper name for Spanish from Spain, also known as Castellano in Spanish). So we didn´t really notice a difference when the waiters spoke with us--probably because they knew we were foreigners and stuck to the Castillian. However I listened to the news at the café and you can hear the difference and see it too in the spellings of the words (on the TV). For example, (this is probably more for my mom) they say maña instead of mañana, and jovés instead of jueves. I think that second one is correct... Anyways small differences here and there. My two belgian friends have a friend from their university in Brussels that is studying in Santiago, and he met up with us and gave us a nice city tour and showed us his apartment which was pretty very skinny and four stories tall. Not sure why but it was very nice I thought. He is currently taking classes in Gallego to help him understand the language because it is spoken in the classes at the university. The tour included going to the cathedral in Santiago, which, well, is the highlight of the town. We also visited parts of the university there: USC (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela), not USC California or USC South Carolina. Afterwards we met up with some other friends including 2 Americans (one from VT, she´s the only other Hokie at Oviedo), 2 Scots, a girl from Peru, my belgian friends, my German buddy, and a girl from France for dinner. I noticed that the menus had considerably more seafood items, which I guess is to be expected when two sides of the ¨state¨ face the Atlantic. Chipirones was unique to the menu. It´s basically specially fried calamari, and they have it here in Asturias too. I´m not a big fan though. As we walked through the town we noticed many seafood shops and many interesting items. I took a picture of one storefront showcasing a bunch of exotic seafoods.
Later that night all the students on the trip met up at the hotel for Sangría (mostly wine, sugar, fruit, juices) and then we went out on the town to check out the Santiago nightlife.
That night was the night Daylight Saving Time began (here in Spain at least) and because of this, I got one less hour of sleep. The next morning we met up at 9AM to travel to A Coruña. Upon arrival we went to the all-famous Tower of Hercules, but unfortunately the exterior was covered in scaffolding for renovations I assume. However we were still able to climb up to the top to take pictures of the sea and surrounding area. The tower itself is a couple kilometers from the actual downtown of A Coruña. Then we went into the town and had free time for lunch. I ate with a slightly different group this time-- a bunch of italians, a couple girls from France, my German buddy and my belgian friends.
One of the best parts of being in Oviedo I must say is meeting all the people from all over Europe, and then being able to converse with them in Spanish. Not having that normal language barrier is very nice and you can learn so much. Usually whenever I meet anyone for the first time they like to ask me about Obama and American politics in general. So I´ve gotten very good at explaining the current situation of the economy, what I think of Obama, what I think of Bush, and more. I also have learned to keep up on US politics because all the Europeans read up on it too and they like to ask me questions about current events. For example: ¨Matthew, what do you think of the Geithner plan?¨ At first I was baffled that so many Europeans follow the US so closely, but I realize it´s because what happens in the US affects what happens in their country as well.
I also learned not to talk politics with the Turkish. There´s a couple students here from Turkey and I was talking with one for a while when he then decided to tell me that he flat out hated the United States. However, he told me that he liked me, so I felt a bit safer after that. Talking with my host family I found out the Turkish are very heated when it comes to politics and current events. They share a border with Iraq so I guess between that and maybe differences in their culture, they can seem a bit raw and contemptuous. I don´t know if all Turkish students feel the same way as the one I talked to, because I´ve talked with a couple others that were much nicer (although I avoided the subject of politics so that probably helped).
But I digress! I had lunch with a very diverse group of Europeans, and I had a seafood paella which was quite good. Rice, scallops (I think,I don´t know what they´re called), Shrimp, some other shelled something or another and bread of course. As my mom knows, the shrimp come heads, legs and all and it´s up to you to pick them apart if you want to. After lunch was a guided tour of A Coruña, starting at the Plaza de María Pira, visiting many cathedrals / churches from different eras in the history of A Coruña. A very interesting city historically speaking: Being a major port city, they were often subject to occupation by other nations and pirates such as the famous Sir Francis Drake have ties to A Coruña. That´s one thing about Spain too: like the French, not very good fighters. Often many parts of Spain were subject to occupation by stronger neighbors, and I think they just got used to it. Of course there´s Philip II´s famous Spanish Armada, but even that was torn to pieces by the English, leaving Spain broke and ceding control of the Atlantic to the English. Following the failed Spanish campaign to England, the Armada limped back to A Coruña with Sir Francis Drake pestering them all the way. Also you can visit the house of Emilia Pardo-Bazán, the famous women´s rights activist and writer from ~1885 or so. Following the city tour we boarded the buses around 5 to head back to Oviedo. And for some reason on the way back the tour leaders put in a movie, The Patriot with Mel Gibson which is a movie about the American Revolution. Somewhat interesting to watch with Europeans because a couple times in the movie the colonists joke about the French and it seems that everyone agreed that the French acted in this manner. Everyone besides the French I´m sure.