Sunday, September 28, 2008

London!

Mom and I are in London and LOVING IT!

The weather is PERFECT! We have seen St Paul's cathedral, the Tate Modern, Tower Bridge, Milennium bridge, beautiful cityscapes, and have been really enjoying my friend Liz's hosting here in one of the CLEANEST cities I have been in! London is pretty cool if you can get over the prices!

Just wanted to give a shout out! Hope all is well!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Paris!

Hi all! Made it to Paris and it is a BEAUTIFUL CITY!!! Mom and I only have 3 days here and I can already feel it wont be enough!

Made 5 calls to find beds in Paris... Finally got a reservation and it is an ok hostel... nothing wonderful, nothing terrible. And Mom has never stayed in a hostel before, so this is really stretching her comfort zone. Way to go Mom!

We went to see the Louvre at night and wqlked over the Seine, saw the Champs-Elysee in the distance, and far away: the Eiffel tower (sigh!).

SUCH A BEAUTIFUL CITY!!

On the 26th we leave Paris on the Eurostar and arrive in London via the Chunnel.

The weather is cool, a little rainy/spritzy, and REFRESHING! Gotta go do so,e sight seeing!

PS: French keyboards are NOT QWERTY! The A, comma, m, w, q, z semicolon, etc are all scranbled! Fun!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We are family

In about 40 hours, my time traveling alone is over for now... I will be meeting up with my Mother and Brother in Rome and we will travel together through 6 European countries: Italy (Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan), Austria (Salzburg), Germany (Munich), Switzerland (Zurich), France (Paris), and England (London) .

I´m totally excited to be able to share the experience with family.

Talk to you soon!


Posted: 2008 Sep 9

Un-pausing Madrid

I stayed in Madrid for 6 weeks. It was a comfortable spot to “perch” before resuming my travels and meeting family in Rome. I took a month of Spanish classes, sampled the culture, met some natives, and had a lot of conversations... Basic ones... With a lot of pantomiming and “Como?” (What?) thrown in... But my Spanish ability had come a long way from the first day I set foot in Spain. I was happy with what I had accomplished while there.

My Spanish roommate had been working on a play the entire month of August, and finally the day came when it was presented—one single performance, and I made sure to see the show. I stayed in Madrid long enough to see it. It was to be my last day in Madrid.

Santiago arranged for his friends to give me a ride to the play, so I joined them and we were off. Aranjuez is the city where the play is performed, about 30 minutes south of Madrid.

The play was entitled “The Mutiny of Aranjuez”, Motín de Aranjuez (story), and it was impressively done. It is community theater, but the appearnace was quite professional. Although my Spanish HAD come a long way during my time in Madrid, I could rarely understand what the actors were saying, so it was a little boring plot-wise for me.

However, the songs, the costumes, the dancing, and the stagecraft were all fascinating! The play was performed at a large outdoor venue with a raised stage and thousands of seats


Behind the stage was the wall of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the summer royal palace

Using enormous projectors they used the palace walls as a giant backdrop, instantly changing the scene from a fancy ballroom to a street scene.




Here you can see me, illuminated in a stray beam of light from one of the coordinated projectors, with the stage behind me, and the backdrop behind that. (Aranjuez, Spain) During the play when they weren't singing or dancing, I was wandering around, looking at the technology they'd used... I always like to look "under the hood" to figure out how the magic works!!

There were fabulous period costumes and great dancing and music... Santiago and his crew did a fantastic job!



In the final moments of the play. (Aranjuez, Spain)

After the play, I got to meet more of Santiago’s friends, and got into a philosophical and religious conversation (my FAVORITE!) with Angel, a really cool hippy. We drank and danced at the after-party and had a really, really great time.

By the time we were done, it was 3:30 in the morning, so the same friends who gave me a ride to the play gave me a ride back to the apartment in Madrid.


I had not completed packing before I left for the show, and since I had to leave the apartment at 6 to catch my train, I was in a bit of a panic... I tossed my remaining items into my bags, left a lot behind, and grabbed the box that I did not have time to send—I would have to send it from Barcelona. Needless to say, I did not sleep that night!

I was warned ahead of time that unlike almost everything in Spain, the high-speed Renfre trains to Barcelona ALWAYS LEAVE ON TIME, so I made sure to get to the train station at the correct time.

Once aboard, I was pleasantly surprised to find that these trains were some of the nicest I’d ever been on—even nicer than the Shinkansen high-speed trains in Japan. They were nicely upholstered, the even put headphones in each seat to listen to music or watch TV.




Looking out the windows at the beautiful pre-sunrise sky as I departed Madrid from the Atocha station. (Madrid, Spain)


The countryside on the way to Barcelona is quite pretty (Outside Barcelona, Spain)

Soon I dozed into a restless sleep as the scenery whizzed past at high speed. I restlessly adjusted and readjusted myself in my seat... Trying to find a comfortable position... And reminded with every move to check my bags... Look up at them... Make sure nobody had grabbed them... That they were secure.

As restlessly as I was dozing, I finally decided to get up and do something.

This was my breakfast on the train (Between Madrid and Barcelona, Spain)


As a fairly experienced traveler by now, I really appreciate good signage. The electronic status displays on the Renfe trains were really good... They show the train’s journey number, time, the number of the car you’re in (it is easy to lose track when you go to the dining car and forget how many cars you have to walk through to find your seat again!), and speed. (Between Madrid and Barcelona, Spain)


Arrival in Barcelona... First surprise: they have “Man Toilets!” Heh heh... (Barcelona, Spain)




Surprise 2: THEY HAVE SHOESTRING ACACIA TREES HERE! JUST LIKE BACK HOME!!! WOO HOO! AND THEY’RE BLOOMING!!! (Barcelona, Spain)



Public Art (Barcelona, Spain)



Boardwalk. They pay serious attention to how things look here (Barcelona, Spain)


To make a verbal comparison, I say that Barcelona is the exotic, beautiful, haughty little sister to Madrid. Where Madrid is lively, friendly, and accessible, Barcelona is fiery, snooty, and aloof. The language spoken here is Catalan, different to the Castillian Spanish we know as simply “Spanish”, taught in school. There are many shared words, but the language simultaneously sounds a lot like Spanish, and a little like German and Portugese.




Surprise number 3: They are selling TEXANS HERE! Surprise number 4: They’re REALLY affordable! (Barcelona, Spain)




Street performer. Yes, that is a real toilet. And yes, of COURSE there were sound effects! :) (Barcelona, Spain)



Barcelona is a vain beauty, and they do a great job of keeping her clean. Here they use a power-washer on the stone (Barcelona, Spain)


The Pier (Barcelona, Spain)


Barcelona appears to be fairly forward-thinking public-transportation-wise. These are rental bikes. (On the boardwalk, Barcelona, Spain)


The horribly named but really, really beautiful “Magic Fountain” (Barcelona, Spain)

Cool apartment building near the beach (Barcelona, Spain)


The beautiful Gaudi Park (Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain)


The spires of the whipped-meringue buildings of the Parc Guell (Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain)


Beautiful spikes topping the entry gate to the Parc Guell (Barcelona, Spain)



Unknown beuatiful building (Barcelona, Spain)



Cool!!--Swoopy balconies! (Barcelona, Spain)



Casa Batlló (Barcelona, Spain)



Looks like this building had a bad hair day. It’s an artspace (Barcelona, Spain)


Gaudi: La Pedrera (Barcelona, Spain)



Ornamentation of La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)


Night view of La Sagrada Familia’s spires (The ones Gaudi designed, and the spires that are BUILDING the spires Gaudi designed) (Barcelona, Spain)






Me




Front View, La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona, Spain)


Entry to a club on the Beach (Barcelona, Spain)




The ceiling at the Post Office (Barcelona, Spain)


Modernity meets the remains of an ancient Roman Wall (Barcelona, Spain)




They take art seriously here: A church door (Barcelona, Spain)



My last day in Barcelona was my birthday. For breakfast, a lovely, sprightly Californian named Julie bought me a cappuccino and a croissant that looked like a scorpion... Little did I know it would ALMOST make me late for my flight (the monitors were flashing “LAST MINUTE!”), AND serve as a foreshadowing for what would happen to me in Florence, Italy... (Barcelona, Spain)




Posted: 2008 Oct 3

Monday, September 1, 2008

Soñar en español

... to dream in Spanish

I was in middle school at the time... I was "Cristof" because we all had French names in class. We´d sit in class learning phrases like "Le stylo est sur la table" ("the pen is on the table") and "Je ne parle Français"... I knew nothing about Latin languages or conjugation--it was only 8 weeks of language class. I sat in class listening to the words of our professeur, Mademoiselle Bonnie Edlund when she told us: She had dreams in French. It didn´t happen all the time--just when she was speaking a lot of French.

I have always loved the idea and envied that others had this experience. The idea of dreaming in a foreign language has always sounded cool... But seemed unattainable. During My Former Life, I never invested myself to learn another language. I always admired others who spoke multiple languages, but my Spanish was limited to ´Si´, ´No´, ´Perro´ and ´gato´.

When I started my trip, I headed straight into Spanish-speaking territory: Central and South America. I took an intensive week-long course in intensive Spanish in Guatemala. My vocabulary was teeny-tiny and my ability to recognize what the other person asked was... Mostly limited to body language and common sense (1st question is always "Where are you from?"... ¿De donde eres?). But in October 2007, I had my first conversation in Spanish. It was a complete revelation that I was capable of doing such a thing.

That was almost a year ago. Since then, I spent about 3 more months in Spanish-speaking lands. I have been living in Madrid about 4 weeks, taking "intensive" Spanish classes and studying every day. I usually book-end my days studying--On waking and on going to bed.

I woke up that morning with the word "puesto" in my head. I realized that someone in my dream immediately before I woke up had said "puesto", which is the past participle of "poner", which means "to put" in English. And the odd thing was that on waking, I didn´t remember what the word meant! My brain had used a word during a dream that I didn´t consciously remember!

I have heard that having a dream in a foreign language is one of the indicators of improving fluency. My level is still very low, but it is improving!




The coolest umbrellas on earth. I was absolutely taken with these... 1) They provide plenty of shade 2) There is no part of it that I need to duck under (they´re tall) 3) When it rains, the edges of the umbrella do NOT drip on people: rain gathers in the center and drips down the column to the ground.

This kind of sidewalk cafe is very typical in Madrid. When you eat on the "Terraza", you will also pay extra. Generally, when you enter a restaurant, you have 3 choices: You can eat at the bar (for no additional charge), you can eat at a table (and pay extra), or you can eat on the terrace (and pay even more) (Plaza Melle, Chueca, Madrid, Spain)




This building is beautiful lit up at night. There is a very expensive bar on the top floor that I´ve never been to. Located on the Plaza Santa Ana close to Metro Sol. (Plaza de Santa Ana, Madrid, Spain)



This beautiful building caught my eye one day while walking down the street "Serrano". The windows are all arched and there are recesses where plants grow. I thought it was very cool. Two weeks later, I went to an open-air cinema to see the movie "Once". TURNS OUT the open-air cinema was ON THE PATIO OF THIS BUILDING! What are the chances? (Calle Serrano, Madrid, Spain)




My flat in Madrid
I got really lucky. Before I came to Madrid, I sent an email to a Spanish/English conversation group leader, telling him my whole story. His friend (Santiago) just happened to be working outside of Madrid during August & wanted to rent out his flat. I met Santi at his work, came to see the place, and moved in 2 days after I landed in Spain. I saved a lot of money doing it too... The hostel was 20€ each night (140€/Week), and the flat is about half that.

The place is QUITE small... Only 4 rooms: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room. But it is bright, secure, and well-located in the barrio "Chueca". It has been SO NICE to have a "home" again... A place where all my stuff stays, and I only have to carry.... Keys. I had forgotten how NICE that is!



View from my balcony. This is looking S down Calle Hortaleza, toward the center of Madrid. Very small in the lower-left corner of the picture is a sign from a pharmacy. For some reason, the signs I have seen all over for pharmacies are SO BRIGHT! This one is LED and has all sorts of graphics that scroll across it, and it tells the time and temperature too. For the first time in my life, I think of the temperature more in terms of centigrade degrees than Fahrenheit degrees. (Chueca, Madrid, Spain)


Kitchen. The laundry washing machine is under the counter, and the cooktop is broken, SO we have to put an electric plug-in unit on the counter to cook anything. As you may be able to see in the photo, I am still an egg fanatic :) The refrigerator keeps things at room temperature minus 5 degrees (milk never tastes refreshing!), the microwave is mounted on the wall, there´s no space for a garbage bin under the sink, and the corner is used for storage because there are no closets for household stuff. BUT one person living here has sufficient space. In case you´re interested in knowing EXACTLY where my flat is, it´s right HERE. (Metro Alonso Martinez, Madrid, Spain)




Bathroom. No, that´s not the normal spot my shoes live. I put them there for scale.... And just in case you´re wondering how a normally-sized human being can possibly sit on the toilet with the wall in the way... One can´t. The distance between the toilet and the tub is about 5", barely enough to fit a leg down there. So when you drop something, get ready to do yoga to reach down and get it. The door to the bathroom is an accordion door that collapses into the right-hand side. And when I enter, my shoulder rubs it unless I put one shoulder in first.




Bedroom. Big enough for a dresser, table, and queen sized bed and not much else. The Spanish are apparently really serious about NOT having to get out of bed once you´re in it. There´s this funny 4-way (?) switch to turn off/on the lights in the room. There´s a switch on the hallway wall, and then there´s TWO on the bedroom wall, right at bed height, so one can turn off the lights WHILE you´re in bed. Genius! Also visible in this photo is the windows on the inside of the window frame, PLUS the shutters on the outside. The shutters allow ventilation but shut out the light, for afternoon siestas. (Chueca, Madrid, Spain)



Indian Food. I met Anne in Puerto Madryn, Argentina in December 2007. I was delighted when she decided to visit me in Madrid! We had a GREAT meal at an Indian restaurant named "Anarko". SO YUMMY! This barrio (neighborhood) is called "Lavapies", and is known as being the least expensive barrio in Madrid (Metro Lavapiés, Madrid, Spain)



Cañas y tapas. A glass of beer at night in a glass is about 1.80€. Frequently it comes with a tapa, and in this case: shrimp. (Metro Lavapiés, Madrid, Spain)



One of the cool buildings along Gran Via lit up at night. The beauty of classic architecture above, the encroachment of capitalism below. (Gran Via, Madrid, Spain)



Vomitorio. Loved the name. And yes, it DOES mean "that which causes vomit" AND it also means "Entrance/exit to/from stairs" (Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid, Spain)



Copa. Inside the Santiago Bernabéu stadium trophy room are all the trophies of Real Madrid plays.This is one of HUNDREDS of awards/trophies they have collected over the years (Metro Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain)




Candy Shop. This place has a crazy amount of candy piled up in its windows. (El Rastro flea market, Metro La Latina, Madrid, Spain)




Dogs of Madrid. On my way to class each day, I passed in front of a church. The church usually had some collapsed cardboard boxes out front on the ground, on which someone placed water and food, and these two dogs were asleep there, every day. In case you can read the tape on the boxes, "Bershka" is a Spanish brand that makes snazzy and not horribly expensive clothes! (Metro Sol, Madrid, Spain)



Palacio de Comunicacions. One of the emblematic buildings of Madrid. It is located on the Plaza de Cibeles, with a big fountain in the middle of a big traffic circle (Madrid, Spain)




El Retiro. The Retiro is to Madrid what Central Park is to New York. It is a huge and beautiful public space right next to the botanical gardens, El Prado, El Thyssen, y El Reina Sofia museos. During warm afternoons one can find people napping on the grassy hillsides, rollerbladers playing street hockey, and fake Mickey Mouse and Minny Mouse making balloon animals for children. (Parque El Retiro, Madrid, Spain)



Parque El Retiro. This sculpture is amazing (Parque El Retiro, Madrid, Spain)