Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
It’s been a couple weeks since my last update, so here goes another long one. As far as school goes, everything’s still good. I had 3 tests 2 weeks ago and think I did fine on all of them, and I have my poetry class midterm this Wednesday. I know I’ve already mentioned this, but both the professor and the poets we’re reading are crazy, so we’ll see how that goes.
The more interesting info is that I had my first of 2 spring breaks last week and it was a blast. I met up with a bunch of friends from home (Luke, Jessie, Betsy, and Abby) in Prague for the first part, and then headed to Berlin with Abby for the second part.
I’ll start with Prague. I really had no idea what to expect before. At least in other countries I’ve had a general idea of some sights I wanted to see, but in Prague, nada. I guess I’d heard of the Charles Bridge and King Wenceslas, and I’ve seen Vin Diesel’s cinematographic masterpiece XXX, but that’s about it. I mean do you really know anything about any country in eastern Europe? Me neither. Pretty much just picture dark, run down buildings, overcast skies, maybe a fire in a trashcan here or there, and lots of angry people. That wasn’t really what I pictured Prague like I guess, more just east Europe in general.
Well I got there last Thursday and first thing I had to do was switch some money. Their money is called crowns and I think it’s about 4 crowns = 1 euro. I’m still not exactly sure what the conversion rate is if that gives you any idea of what the money aspect of the trip was like for me. It really seems like it shouldn’t have been that hard, but when the pressure was on and I was ready to pay for something, I cracked. People could have been charging me whatever and I would’ve just been handing over money. “O what’s that? You want my debit card too? Sure, here’s the pin number. Enjoy.”
Once I had some money, I took the train towards the town center and found the hostel. Luke, Jessie, and Betsy were already there and our place was pretty awesome. We had 2 rooms with our own kitchen and huge bathroom. Really clean, nice, and cheap. We got some dinner that night, walked around and drank for a bit, then Abby came in Friday morning. We spent most of the day just walking around and it was incredible. Prague is a beautiful city and we had perfect weather. There’s tons of neat architecture there, and pretty much everywhere we went smelled like a tailgate. Ate a ton of meat like sausage and pork knuckle, had some awesome sauerkraut, and lots of cheap, good, huge beers. Real frat. At night we checked out a bunch of different bars, but the coolest one was the place where there are taps at every table and you just pour your own beer whenever you want one. Then there’s a big screen showing how much you and the other tables have drank, so it’s kind of like a big race.
On Sunday, everyone started splitting up and Abby and I took the train to Berlin. The trip took about 5 hours, but it was a really pretty ride and definitely beat flying there. We started out winding along the river, then there was a ton of really green open fields, some huge hills, etc.
Now like in Prague, I had some preconceived notions and questions regarding Berlin/Germany. For example, are German Shepherds just known as ‘shepherds’ in Germany? And is German chocolate cake just ‘chocolate cake?’ Still not sure so let me know if you figure that out.
Also, I had a somewhat skewed image of what I pictured the Berlin fashion scene to be. I pictured people wearing lots of leather, lots of metal chains (perhaps a studded chocker necklace or bracelet), maybe a leather vest or hat. Not sure why, but that was the first thing to come to my head. Basically, Berlin was where weird dominatrix fashion would meet biker gang fashion. Thankfully (or perhaps unfortunately) that wasn’t the case. Berlin was an equally awesome city and I had a blast there. We stayed at this place called Wombat’s Hostel, probably the nicest one I’ve staid in. During the day, I took a really good tour that showed us a bunch of German landmarks like the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and old Nazi Air Force HQ. One interesting part was when our guide pointed out a parking lot. There was really nothing to catch your eye at this place. It was just an unpaved parking lot with no signs or anything around. Turns out that was where Hitler’s bunker was and where he committed suicide. Our guide said the gov didn’t want anything to commemorate Hitler so this was the best thing they could do – make a crappy parking lot and try to forget the place. Now people bring their dogs there and poop on it (the dogs I mean. Maybe some people do too?)
O ya and we saw the hotel where Michael Jackson was holding his new baby out the hotel window.
On another day we went to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp right outside Berlin. Tough to describe that but something definitely worth seeing.
At night, we hung out at the bar at our hostel quite a bit and went on a pubcrawl one night. The hostel was a great place to meet people and lots of us ended up going on the pubcrawl together. It was pretty funny looking back because I’m sure there won’t be many times in life when I’ll be sitting around drinking with people from Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, England, etc all in one place. Really fun night with one massive hangover in the morning.
The food and beer were great there, too. Lots of snitzel, currywurst, and other meat dishes for super cheap
I’m back in Sevilla now to catch the 2nd half of Semana Santa. It’s this huge Holy Week deal going on here and started on Palm Sunday (last Sunday). Most people get at least part if not the whole week off, and every day there are processions in the street. It probably sounds like a parade, but is quite a bit different. First off, there are people dressed up all over the place that are wearing the same outfits the KKK wears (Spain had them first). These guys are part of the procession, along with a band. But the biggest part are the pasos. These are these enormous elaborate statues that sit on big platforms and most of the year are hanging out in churches. For this week, though, they get to catch some air outside. Each of these dudes weighs over 3 tons, but during the processions (which can last around 7 hours), about 35 guys get underneath them, pick them up using their necks, and then parade super slowly around the city. So each guy has around 170 pounds on his neck. I personally would rather be in the band or KKK outfit, but the guys underneath see it as a sacrifice or repentance and it’s actually pretty competitive to be underneath.
The pasos are really cool though. It’s sort of like watching a huge, moving version of the Stations of the Cross. The different statues depict some aspect of JC or Mary’s life during the week. Pretty neat. I went and watched them yesterday with Concha, her daughter Ana, and Ana’s family. Ana and all her family are great. She’s super nice and has some cute kids. Concha is still doing good too. We had some beers yesterday after one of the pasos went by, and she got pretty drunk after 2.5 of them.
That’s all from here. I’m going to London on Wednesday so looking forward to that and will post some pics when I get back.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sorry it’s been a while since the last post. I’ve got plenty to talk about now though so you won’t have to read a watered down blog entry.
I’ll talk about last weekend first and start with a question again. What place do you think of when someone talks about the British flag, pounds for currency, and funny British accents. Britain right? Wrong! Well actually that’s right, too, but I’m thinking more of Gibraltar.
You’ve probably heard a little bit about it, but in case you haven’t Gibraltar is a British territory that sits about as far south as you can get in Spain. I went with a group of 7 people last Saturday to check it out and it ended up being pretty awesome. To get there, we took a bus from Sevilla (about 4 hours to get there) and then really only had about 2.5 hours to check out Gibraltar b/c the last bus left at 4. So we were sprinting most of the time, but still worth it. One of the guys we went down with (named Adam) had found us some British tour guide on the Internet, and this guy was waiting for us in a bus right as we crossed the border.
The border crossing was pretty funny. You show up, hold up basically anything that resembles a passport, and stroll on in. No lines, no hastle, no problem. After that, we hoped in the tour guide’s car and took off. This guy was hilarious. We went to the tip of Gibraltar first, and from there you can see Africa. Not super well, but you can see it (I couldn’t make out the shape of any elephants/zebras/etc, but I’m sure they were right there lookin back at me).
After that we headed up the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a giant rock, also has a cave in it. The cave was really neat inside (not quite as cool as the one in Aracena but still pretty sweet) but we were basically flashing pictures as we sprinted through. I’ll skip the easy stereotype here of our far east neighbors.
When we came out of the cave, we walked into a scene from Jungle Book. Again, not sure how much you know about Gibraltar, but it’s a really weird place in that there are these wild monkeys everywhere. I guess some British soldiers brought them over from Africa because they thought they were funny/cute (true), some boy and girl monkeys escaped, and now they are hangin around all over Gibraltar. They’re pretty friendly around people and some will climb all over you. They’re normally pretty laid back, but there’s one thing they just go crazy for, and that’s food. Whenever these guys see a plastic bag, they assume there’s food inside and go wild trying to get it. We’re talking druggie lookin for the next fix wild. Our guide warned us about this, but I guess another guy standing by me later that day didn’t get the same warning. I had been looking at one monkey that looked like he was about to fall asleep, but then he saw this man with a plastic bag in his hand and this monkey’s eyes we’re instantly enflamed. He tore off and started jumping all over this guy trying to rip the bag out of his hands. Pretty funny. Wish I would’ve been quicker with the camera.
After chillin with the monkeys for a while, we had to book it back to the bus station because ours was getting ready to leave. Made it just in time.
Outside of traveling, everything’s been going great in Sevilla. Classes have been pretty easy for the most part. My poetry teacher is crazy and I have no idea what the poem we’ve been reading all semester is about, but I wouldn’t have a clue in English either (it’s Altazor by Vicente Huidobro if youre interested in checking it out. I’m sure his poems are great for some people, but I don’t understand a damn thing).
I’ve been going out quite a bit, blowing through money like it’s going out of style, and picked up a bit of a pastry habit. I walk by about 5 or 6 pastry shops everyday on the way to/from class and cant help myself. The things are too good and there’re 1,000 different kinds to try. I guess I shouldn’t judge the monkeys so hard because I know exactly what they’re going through. I’d be rippin plastic bags out of strangers’ hands too if I knew there was a chance there were pastries inside. Which I guess there could be? I guess if you hear reports on the news of an “enraged American” in Sevilla with chocolate smeared all over his face and ripped bags in his hands, you know what happened. Sevilla be warned
Also, as far as nightlife goes, we’ve found some pretty cool places. There’s one really neat place I don’t think I talked about in any of the other posts, but it’s a hole in the wall flamenco bar called Carboneria. It’s a really discreet place – no signs, only two red doors that look like you’re going into someone’s house. Then every night from 11-12, they have flamenco performances. Pretty cool, free to get in, not too expensive to drink.
My coat got stolen (borrowed?) at a different place one night. I’m surprised it took this long for something like that to happen. I’m a pretty easy target
O ya and probably the BIGGEST NEWS EVER happened last Friday. Laura, the 25 day returning champion of Pasapalabras (Spanish game show), finally won the grand prize of 282,000 euros. Concha and I had this girl pegged for a champion from the beginning and here we find ourselves. What a day
Outside of that, been trying to check out as many bars/clubs as possible and been having a great time. If you want to know a little more about what life in Sevilla is like, check this video out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1t3FnasmgY. I fit right in.
I’ve got my first test this week for my Arab World/Politics class on Wednesday. Tuesday night I’m goin to the Sevilla vs. Moscow soccer game. And as far as this weekend goes, maybe go to Cadiz again? Maybe Portugal? Somewhere else? Not really sure so guess I’ll have to leave you with a cliffhanger and you can check back later to find out
Friday, March 5, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
I would guess most of you have seen an old person before. They look just like you or me, but sometimes tend to have funny quirks about them. Maybe they smelled like mildew, said things that were politically incorrect, etc. Well Concha is said old person, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a little bit about her. I should also mention again that she’s an incredibly nice person so hope this doesn’t sound too negative.
As mentioned before, it’s just Concha and me living together. That means we have tons of together time and a very intimate dining experience. I figured I’d start with that. For lunch, we normally eat around 1:30 or 2 and dinner is around 9. Concha is a fairly old lady, and has a very regimented schedule we follow. Lunchtime = Spanish Wheel of Fortune. Dinnertime = Passapalabras (gameshow), followed by the news, followed by Arayan (soap opera). Variation from this (channel 5) is a no no. The funny part of the night tends to be the commercials. Since we’re watching the same channel every day, we tend to see a lot of the same commercials. Now having said that, Concha always likes to explain to me why the commercials are funny, how you need to pay attention to catch what product is being sold, etc. Even though we’ve seen it 100 times already.
Here’s an example of one. This commercial is of a fat man in the bathroom dressed up as a ballerina. It’s an ad for some sort of throat medicine, and basically the ad is the fat guy dancing around in the bathroom.
Concha (laughing) “Look, look! Did you see that?”
Me (what I’m thinking): “I’ve been sitting next to you for the past hour. What else would I be looking at?”
Concha (explaining): “Now you see, it’s funny because the man is overweight AND he’s dressed up as a ballerina. It’s funny. Now if you didn’t see it, they are advertising a medicine for the throat”
Me (laughing inside/thinking) “Ooooooo. That humor is just way over my head. Thanks for the explanation haha”
What makes it better is that we’ve seen this commercial probably 10 times, but it still gets an explanation. Pretty funny.
In an unrelated note, Concha used to have a cat, but it died last summer. Apparently it tried jumping out of our 5th story window to catch a bird and missed. At least that’s the story Concha told me. Rumor around the apartment has it that the cat got fed up with the tv routine and decided this was the better route.
There's some more funny stories from her I'll write about sometime, so check back soon
Also I hoped to spark some debate in the comment section underneath. Feel free to weigh in. The topic is “Old people eat funny.” Discuss
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Yesterday was easily one of the coolest days of my life. Why you ask? Let me explain. It started off with a trip to Las Minas del Rio Tinto. Basically it was this place in the state of Huelva where they used to do a lot of strip mining. They don’t anymore, but there were a ton of really cool views, especially one that looked out onto this huge cliff with a lake at the bottom. The different minerals from the rocks have mixed with the water and turned it red. You can’t drink it, but looks pretty cool. Probably not what you would think of when you say “coolest day of my life,” but it gets better.
After that we got back on the bus and headed to Aracena. This is a small town about 2 hours from Sevilla known for it’s ham and sweets. More specifically, the ham is called jimón serrano and it is basically the leg of a wild pig (or boar?) that they don’t cook, but do something to it and then let it age for like 2 years. It’s a little pricey but pretty good. They even have a museum for it. We eat it fairly often in Sevilla, but I guess it’s supposed to be better in Aracena. Just between us I didn’t notice much of a difference.
After the meat museum, the 2nd biggest draw to Aracena (and reason for our visit there) was its cave. This place was incredible. They don’t let you take pictures inside, so put on your imagination cap and picture and enormous cave with lakes all over the place, awesome stalactites and stalagmites and a ton of incredible views. It looked like something out of the “Caves” edition of Planet Earth. Pretty unreal.
Once we were done there, we high-tailed it back to Sevilla because everyone was going to Cádiz for Carnival. Cadiz is on the southern coast of Spain and has one of the biggest Carnivals/Mardi Gras in the world. We got back at 6:15, sprinted home and ate, and then booked it to the train station to head south. A lot of companies organize trips done there, which most of the people ended up doing, but my buddy Jack and I were feeling dangerous so we decided to follow the locals and take the train. Time of departures for our train = 8:05. Time of our arrival at the station = 8:15. Oops, missed it. No biggie though ‘cause it’s ¡Carnival! Just get on the next one. We also had a backpack jammed with beer we were planning on drinking, but the police there thought otherwise and made us throw it all away. We were there pretty early, but there was already a mountain of beer the police had taken from people and I guarantee they are drinking it all today. Hope you can feel my bitterness.
We got on the train though, and two hours later arrived to what was hands down the most incredible party I have ever been to. Everyone there is dressed up and you couldn’t even walk through the streets. I didn’t take my camera, so hopefully you didn’t take your imagination cap off, but every plaza in this town was packed with people shoulder to shoulder drinking any sort of alchohol they could find. I’m not really that good at estimating crowd numbers, but lets say there were around 6 million people there. There were people from every part of Spain (and lots of Europe) that had come down for this and man was it worth it. Bands were playing all over the place, there was a stage set up with people performing on it, and most importantly, lots and lots of beer. I was dressed up as a Sudoku (fun to say and fun to do) and Jack was a crossword puzzle. Conversations started pretty easy for us most the night. I met a lot of really cool people and had an incredible time. I made it back to Sevilla at about 7:30 in the morning, slept till 2, and then spent most of the day trying not to look too hung over in front of Concha. Long day, but definitely worth it.
*If you want to see some pics of the cave or the number of people at Carnival, google "Aracena caves" or "Cadiz Carnival". Also i should probably mention that we accidentaly ended up at a gay bar one night. Pretty funny. Didnt say too long
Well you, the anxious reader, has probably been waiting about a week for this, the next post. Hope it doesn’t disappoint. I haven’t really talked much yet about what I’ve been doing, so I figured I’d start there. As you probably saw in previous pictures, I’ve already been to Italica and Cordoba. Italica is a small town about 15 minutes from Sevilla. It was founded by the Romans and was home to Emperor Trajano and some other Emporer (guess the tour didn’t sink in as much as I thought. oops). It was pretty neat. They had some really cool Roman mosaics and a huge stadium where they used to have gladiator fights (it’s the third biggest one around).
The Cordoba trip was 2 weekends ago. It’s about an hour and a half from here and is a pretty neat place, too. It used to be a huge center for science/academia and was the 2nd biggest city around, right up there with Baghdad and Constantinople. **I should probably note here that this tour was about 2 weeks ago, and like Italica, the details are a little fuzzy. I guess you really wont know though if I’m making all of it up, so just go with it**. It was founded by the Visigoths, then the Arabs took it over, then the Christians booted them out and have kept it since. Because of this, though, there’s a ton of Arabic influence there (like in Sevilla) and a lot of really neat architecture/art/etc. The biggest thing in Cordoba was the Mosque (Mezquita in Spanish). The Arabs built this huge thing when they were there, then the Christians came in and instead of tearin it down, decided to throw up a Cathedral right in the middle of it and call it a church. They have mass there every week, but everyone still calls it a mosque. I’ll pause here in case you need to sit down and think about that one…
This week we started our real classes for the semester. 3 of my classes are at the University of Sevilla and 1 is at the CIEE palacio. I’ll post some pictures, but both buildings are pretty awesome. The classes I’m taking at the university are Hispanic Poetry, Contemporary Spanish Film, and Transition to Democracy in Spain from 1975-Present. At CIEE I’m taking Politics and Society in the Contemporary Arab World. All of my professors are pretty great and all the classes seem really interesting, especially the film class. We just show up, watch a movie, then talk about it. Tues and Thurs classes don’t start till 1 and no classes on Friday. Niiiicccceeee.
I’ve gotta talk about the University too. This building is awesome. It used to be a big tobacco factory where people would roll cigarettes/cigars all day. The opera Carmen was based here, and they think Carmen was sort of a stereotype of the women who worked there (but she still might have been a real person). They converted it to a university about 500 years ago and have been getting their study on there ever since. There are a ton of neat courtyards and fountains inside, and as you go to class you’re walking by marble statues, huge stained glass ceilings/open air courtyards, etc. Now don’t get me wrong, Mizzou is a beautiful school, but it’s just hard for me to put the Arts and Science Building where most of my classes are in the same category. In an interesting side note, you may be surprised to know (or not so surprised if you’ve seen them) that the bathrooms in both places look about the same. I’m not sure if that says more to the good maintainence skills over 500 years at the Univ of Sevilla’s or the sorry state of things at Mizzou. Both have seen better days.
Outside of school, things are still goin well. I’m sure you guys don’t want to hear this as you’re trudging through snow, but the weather has been pretty perfect here. The sun’s been shinning and sometimes you don’t even need a coat. It was 18*C today, whatever that means, but it felt like spring.
During the nights, we’ve usually been starting off drinking down by the river and then headin to the bars afterwards. A ton of Spanish people our age hang out and drink down there, and they even have their own word for it – botellón. It’s been a pretty good way to meet people and save some money (a liter of beer costs 1 euro, and you can find bottles of wine for about the same).
Finally, I also received my membership to SEVici this week, and boy is it great. SEVici is this bike system that is basically made up of bike stations every 300 meters. The general idea is that you pay 10 euros for a year long membership, and then once you’re a member, you can go to any bike station, swipe you’re card, and then rent a bike for a half hour. You can then ride your bike wherever you need to go and return it at any other station you want. Sevilla is pretty flat and they have bike paths running throughout the city so it’s super convenient.
That’s about it for now. It’s Valentine’s Day on Sunday so I’m assuming I’ll meet that special someone Saturday. Or I’ll eat myself into a sugar induced coma and then cry my lonely self to sleep.
Cheers to a happy Nov. 14th
Friday, February 5, 2010
So after only two weeks in Spain, I’ve already been able to see quite a few differences. Some expected, some not so much. I figured I’d take this opportunity to talk about some of those.
I’ll start with a question. Have you ever seen 7 dogs hangin in a bar on a Wednesday night? How about a 3 year old passed out in his mom’s lap at 12:15am at a bar? Cause I have.
In terms of dogs, they are everywhere here. They’re hangin in front of malls, sittin with their owners in restaurants, and just exploring on their own. I like dogs, so no prob with me. Just kinda funny to see the different rules. One problem, though, is they poop all over the sidewalk and no one ever picks it up. There’s a street cleaning team that comes around at night and hoses all the sidewalks off so I guess no one ever really feels a need to do so. There tends to be some trouble on Monday, however, because the street cleaners get Sundays off. Basically, you’re looking at a minefield on Monday mornings.
*On a side note, my friend Jack here will be posting a Dog Blog in the near future with a sort of Best Of … for the dogs he’s seen here. I’ll throw up the link when it’s ready. It’ll blow your mind.
In terms of kids, there are a lot more relaxed rules here and a lot less discipline. They are kind of like dogs in that they are sort of free to do what they want and no one else seems to mind. I’ll be heading out for the night at say 10:30 or 11 and will be walking by dads talking a stroll with their friends and little kids. Kinda funny/neat to see.
Cervicieras/Tapas Bars: Like the US, Spain is in the middle of an economics crisis now, but from what I’ve been able to gather it’s worse over here. The official unemployment rate is sky high, and the real unemployment rate sounds like it’s out of this world. Now having said that, you would think most people are skimping where they can and saving up money. Nope. At least it doesn’t seem like it. No matter when or where you are walking, the bars and restaurants here are packed. Literally, every time of day. I was walking around last Saturday morning and saw three 70-80ish year old women having a beer at 10:45. That’s nowhere near 5. The big difference is that whereas people in the US (college students, I’m talking to you) usually tend to drink with the goal of getting drunk, its not really the same story here. It’s a lot more frowned upon. Also, Spanish people aren’t really as open as far as having people over to their houses/apartments goes, so bars sort of fill that void of places to meet. Makes sense, but I’m still not really sure how they afford it on top of the super expensive wardrobes everyone seems to have.
Bathrooms: Showers here are a pretty in and out business. You’re not really supposed to take long ones and the hot waters pretty limited. Pretty lucky in the US. As far as the actual toilets go, it’s a pretty funny situation. I know I’m 21 and should probably be more mature than writing about them, but I’m not. I’ve lived in Mexico before, so it’s nothing really new to me to have to toss your TP in a trashcan instead of the toilet. The great thing about Mexico was you did it everywhere and didn’t really have to question it. The rule everywhere was just throw it away. Here, it always seemed like a big debate right at first on whether to throw it in the toilet or a trashcan. Some places you can flush it, some you can’t. Always seems like a bit of a mystery to me and was the cause of some unnecessary anxiety. We were joking that if they don’t start adopting a set of rules around here, people are gonna start finding used tp in bathroom cabinets, under the sink, etc.
Siestas: In short, they’re pretty great. Everything shuts down at about 1:30 or 2 and everyone goes home to eat, out to grab a beer, take a nap, etc. Places start to open up again a couple hours after. People also seem to be a lot less worried about time here. If you want to go take a break from work and go run some errands or get some food, the attitude seems to be go for it. Maybe that’s not how it always works, but that’s how it seems to me.