Friday, February 25, 2011

Breaking up the Monotony

Wow, has it been two weeks since my last post?  Sorry about that.

School has picked up quite a bit actually.  I'm learning more and more why my university ( is so highly regarded.  This week I had something due in all four of my classes.  What makes up for a tough week?  A great weekend.  Last weekend I was fortunate enough to go to a concert of Fatboy Slim (  It was an interesting atmosphere, and a whole lot of fun.  The concert was advertised as being in Madrid.  I'm not going to say that it was a lie, but it would be like saying a concert is in San Diego while it's really in Oceanside.  From my door to the concert (La Fabrik in Humanes..there will be a test later of course) is aroundabout 40 km (64 mi).  Here is a map of the trip:
 The scale at the bottom left of the image shows what 5 mi and 10 km would be.  Easily showing this was no little trip.  But...what we found was in one word, epic.

If upon viewing these pictures you are thinking to yourself that it looks like pure insanity...that's because it was.  After the first hour of bumping into people every ten seconds, you understand not to worry about it.  After a long night (lasted until around 6 AM) we headed home.  And what are we doing tonight?

Hopefully it will not disappoint (I assume it will not).  It's in Madrid and it should be a fun night.

Now, I truly must be going, my Spanish roommates are expecting me to prepare some authentic American food...Hope they like Hamburgers!


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valencia Part Deux

Remember Valencia? I do.
Well, we entered the cathedral and found a beautiful interior.  To think that it took lifetimes to create such a superstructure, is amazing.  I do not know the exact time frame we are talking about here, but I guarantee generations worked on this marvel.  The perfection that was carried on inside shows in the intricate designs and Catholic icons spread through the enormous interior.  I candidly took some pictures without flash in order to allow a look (albeit poor) into this Valencian wonder.

Those familiar with Spanish Catholic architecture will find this familiar.

We returned home and prepared for a night out.  What was our mission? Paella.  Paella, in its purest forms, is rice and fish.  Spain is famous for it, but it really comes from Valencia.  Valencia sits on the Mediterranean, and for years have been exporting this goodness for the world to enjoy.  The four of us went out to find a quality restaurant to enjoy some Paella.  As we walked around, we were enticed by a small restaurant in a small street (sound familiar) and in we went.  What followed was quite a culinary experience.  We ordered two paellas, one with fish and the other with chicken.  A member of our group was not keen on having fish, thus we accommodated.  The meal was spectacular.  After a full meal, on we went to see what the night life of Valencia is all about.  I may have spoken of this before in my prior post, but Madrid works fast.  The people walk faster and seem to always be in a hurry.  In Valencia, that is not the case.  It may be like Southern California being a lot more calm due to being next to the Ocean than like a Chicago which is next to……nothing.  The conversation is slower and the people are a little older.  For example, in Madrid, I find myself to be a little older when conversing with patrons of bars and clubs.  You must remember that the legal drinking age here is 18, and I’m pretty sure they start earlier than that.  In Valencia, it seemed like the average age was somewhere north of 30.  While this does not bother me, it seemed to bother our elders.  The four of us received weird looks in every location…as if we were doing something wrong.  This did not bother me whatsoever.  The dumb things I have done since being in Madrid has given me many strange 
looks, and I know it is not about to be done.
After we had a great time in the night life of Valencia, we walked home in order to wake up the next morning to see many things: the Aquarium Spectacular (my nickname for it) and the sea.


As I believe I stated before, Valencia has a fantastic mix of old and new.  Saturday we saw cathedrals of ancient times, while on Sunday we saw the new.  The Aquarium of Valencia is truly an amazing sight.  I have seen marine life before, San Diego has Sea World, but this was spectacular.  Known as the Oceangráfic (take notes, there will be a test later), the aquarium boasts marine life from all around the world, as well as a live dolphin show!  My words will not do it justice, thus I will depend on the pictures.  Since pictures are worth a thousand words, it will also make this post a whole lot shorter.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A weekend in Madrid is always a good thing

Part B of the Valencia story will be coming to a theater near you very soon.  But now, I will talk about this past weekend, culminating in the victory of the Packers (henceforth known as “The Good Guys”).

Friday night:
Phillipe, a French Canadian friend, had his birthday on Friday and thus a party ensued.  Before the party, I was invited by my roommate to play basketball with his friends.  After an hour and a half of play and a bottle of Mahou Cinco Estrellas, I was headed home to shower and walk over to my friend’s house for the fiesta.  While only crazy people would walk 20 minutes when you could take the metro and be there in 8 minutes, I was happy to walk in the refreshing night air of Madrid.  It has been rather cold here as of late and I was happy to be able to not hate being outside.  Even today, it’s a mild 55 or so, and I couldn’t be happier.  While I am still wearing a sweater and a jeans, at least I do not feel like my face is going to freeze off.  Enough of that, back to the party.  Typical of parties/bars/clubs I have been going to, there was a wide range of people there.  In no particular order: Austrian, German, Dutch, Belgian, French, French Canadian, American (me!), Spanish, Chinese and Italian.  We were practically the United Nations in there, at least most of the important countries.  If you couldn’t speak English, Spanish was spoken.  That being said, only the Spaniards could not speak English, which was perfect because I want to speak Spanish to them anyways.  Phillipe and I decided to show the Europeans how to play Beer Pong, an American (and apparently Canadian) drinking game.  Search it on YouTube if you want, just know that it’s awesome and hilarity ensued.  After hanging around the apartment for a while, we decided it would be a great a idea if the 20 or so of us that were left over went out to a club.  The club was advertised at being 10 minutes away, but that was just a lie.  After walking about 20 minutes, we arrived at the bar.  After paying the entry charge, we received our free drink and we got our dance on.  The rest of the night was spent laughing, dancing, and pointing out weird public displays of affection.  The Spaniards are always happy to be affectionate towards one another in public.  Notice earlier how I said it took 20 minutes to walk to Phillipe’s?  Then after, it took 20 minutes to walk to the club?  Well, fortunately for me, the club happened to be 2 minutes walk for me to get home.  Went to sleep, Saturday morning, around 630.  Just another night out in Madrid.  Fast forward to Saturday night.
Saturday Night:
Richi, a Spanish friend of mine, had his birthday on Saturday night.  Two birthday parties in a row and they could not have been any different.  Whereas Friday night the most commonly heard language was English, Saturday night there was barely any English spoken.  Spanish was the language being thrown around, and at times, it is difficult to understand.  That being said, it’s getting easier and easier to understand the frantic pace in which Madrileños (people living from Madrid) speak.  There same amount of beverages were consumed, but the antics by the partygoers were a little different.  Richi is from a small town to the North.  And when I say small town, I mean he is from a town of 6 people.  Though, there is a tourist boom in the summer and the population goes to 24.  Yes, you read that right, there are 4x as many people there in the Summer.  Ridiculous, no?  While he was a kid he had friends from surrounding towns, and all of those friends (about 9 or so) were around for the party.  Before I came to Spain I was told by all of my advisors that I should try to keep calm at parties and not try to be the typical loud and drunk American.  I have done exactly that, staying back and watching hilarious drunken events occur from a relatively sober mind.  The Spaniards at the party were not following along with this ideology.  They were happy to be there, and were showing it.  I imagine it would be like someone from a small town in the U.S. going to New York City, except that drinks here are cheap and you don’t have to deal with New Yorkers (on a side note, apparently the only Baseball cap you can buy in Madrid, or Europe for that matter, is a New York Yankees hat…and I can’t stand it.  Giants World Series champs? Doesn’t matter) .  After we decided the place had become too small for us, we decided to go to a nearby club to once again, get our dance on.  After paying the cover charge and dropping off our coats (1.5 Euros btw) we hit the dance floor with our free drink in hand.  Unlike the night before, and pretty much every other night, no American songs played.  I’m not about to tell you that I am a good dancer (quite the opposite, but I haven’t heard any complaints…yet) but to ask me to dance to music that I have never heard before is quite difficult.  It’s just difficult to get into the rhythm and the emotion when you don’t know what is being said…and everyone else around you does.  Weird rhythmic clapping appeared all the rage in this club, except for me.  All right…now Super Bowl Sunday.
Super Bowl Sunday (really very early Monday Morning)
In Madrid, the Super Bowl starts at 1230 AM.  That means I did not leave the bar until 4 AM with class at 11 AM, yeah…that’s Madrid for you people.  We’ll get back to the end of the night later, let’s talk about the build-up.  We decided to get to the pub playing the game early in order to get a seat.  We arrived at 11 PM to see the bar pretty packed.  Which was okay, since I wanted to stand anyways.  Since I was rooting for the Good Guys (remember, Packers) I decided to tell all of my European friends why they should root for the Good Guys.  Here was a my list of reasons: The trophy is named after a former coach of the Good Guys, the Steelers (henceforth Bad Guys) are evil, the Bad Guys’ QB is less than a good person (if you don’t know the events prior to the season-search it), the Good Guys are led by a young QB and an even younger Linebacker.  Even though they did not understand what a Quarterback or a Linebacker were, that did not matter…they were rooting for the Green and Gold, at least until they left.  I coordinated our spot around a group of what appeared to be die-hard Green Bay Packers fans.  They were all from Central Illinois (yeah, and Packers fans believe it or not), but that would do.  After trying to explain the basics (by the way, how do you do that?) of football, the game was about to begin.  After the end of the first quarter, a group of the European girls left, I guess American Football is not for them.  Fast forward to the end, a somewhat quiet group of Bad Guys’ fans all of a sudden got real loud at the end.  Knowing that a touchdown+extra point would give them a Super Bowl trophy (Or the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but who’s counting?) and when Ben Roethlisberger failed for the third time to not throw an interception, the place erupted in both sounds of joy and of anguish…the Good Guys won.  With this victory in hand (on a side note, second year in a row the team I wanted to win won.  Hasn’t happened in a long time.  Steelers…I mean Bad Guys, and the Patriots (Cheaters) kept on winning in the 2000s.) I walked home with a smile on my face.  What a weekend?

Until next time, hasta luego.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Aquarium, Cathedrals and the Sea

There is a coastal town east of Madrid that is often overlooked by the bigger Barcelona.  It is the home of plazas of antiquity and modern observatories of science.  It has cathedrals that will blow your mind in its scale and intricacy of design.  On the other side of the city, newer developments have laid claim to some epic buildings, including the largest aquarium in the world.  Oh yeah, did I mention the Mediterranean Sea?  This, ladies and Valencia!

The train ride there was less than eventful, though we arrived safe and sound after 6 hours of rocking and shaking through the countryside in Spain.  I was amazed on how untouched the earth was in the countryside.  Of course there are farms and buildings that may not have been around 500 years ago (some houses appeared pretty ancient, and farms have been around...well, since Mesopotamia, but that's neither here nor there), but I feel that the terrain has not changed much over the centuries upon centuries of rich history that the Eastern portion of Spain has.  Hannibal's Carthaginian army brought 50,000 soldiers, including some 500 elephants, in 218 B.C. through the same mountains that we crossed in 2011 A.D..  I'm not accustomed to that kind of human history.  I assume I was the only person on the train that had that particular historical event on their mind, but just looking out the train window and imagining such a force is astounding.

Upon discovery of the city of Valencia, we traveled by metro (subway) to the center of city known as Colon.  Our first mission was to find a proper youth Hostel that the four of us could stay.  After literally being laughed at for asking if we could all stay in the same room (yes, it was asked and the woman burst into cruel, eh?) we were able to find a place to accommodate us.  After putting down our gear in our new home, we walked about the town for a meal.  We found a quaint cafe in one of the narrow streets that I have grown so fond of since being in Europe.  We sat outside, it being almost 15 degrees (that's in Celsius by the way), it was practically summer time in Spain.  While being outside, what appeared as the local chapter of the Hell's Angels appeared and started a bit of a ruckus.  We decided to move inside for a mixture of safety and peace.  After a phenomenal meal and a few beers, we were on our way home.  We made the perfect turns to end up at the Plaza de la Virgen which was absolutely beautiful.

I'm going to finish the post here.  Part deux will cover the inside of the cathedral and the rest of Valencia.  Ciao!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

crossing signals are just suggestions

Well, there it is folks, one week down...

This truly is a wonderful city.  I have been awake at all hours of the day (literally) and something is always going on.  While one thing closes, another one surely opens.  There are huge tourist areas with plenty of the world's stores, and there are quaint corners of the city that have been around for centuries and are not going anywhere anytime soon.  You can get all the food you'd ever want (with wine) for 10 Euros or pay 15 Euros for a tapa.  The plazas are amazingly European and the parks are classically beautiful.  I hear so much about Paris, Nice, Milan, Venice and Barcelona, but not nearly enough about Madrid.  The capital of Spain is more than just the home of the government, it is a city rich with all the cultures of the world and more ham than you will ever need.  If the cities listed above are half as stunning to the sense as Madrid, I am far more fortunate for being on this trip that I ever imagined.

Over the course of the week I have met many people from what seems like all over the world and I'm not even close to peeling off the many layers that Madrid contains.  Dinner after 10 Pm has become commonplace while lunch at 5 PM is just another week day.  Getting lost in a city like Spain, no matter the hour, is a glorious experience...I would know, I've done it plenty of times.  Spain loves its statues, it feels like every corner there is a statue of some sort.  I guess after thousands of years of history, they have enough heroes to fill every street in Madrid.

In one week, what have I learned?  What the Spanish do with hamburgers and hot dogs is a crime, the leg of a pig sitting in your kitchen is no big deal, Spaniards love Cola Cao, bread should be eaten at every meal, ordering drinks (including soda) at restaurants and bars causes food to magically appear at your table, there is a shop that will buy your gold and sell it for more (cash 4 gold anyone?) and they have plenty people in the streets that will tell you about it whether you want to hear about it or not, the cross/no cross signs for pedestrians are merely suggestions and have no lawful bearings whatsoever and lastly (at least for this entry) people will walk the streets telling you about how amazing this club is and that you and your 8 friends can get in for free with a free cup of whatever you want only to get there and find out that it's 15 Euros for guys and 4 Euros for girls...and no free drink.

As week one is now over I only look forward, at the end of the week I plan to go to Toledo (a neighboring city to Madrid) and once this weather warms up (it was -5 Celsius this morning going to school...for those playing at home that's 23 Fahrenheit) I plan to venture into Central Europe.  Hasta Luego

Sunday, January 23, 2011

San Diego Airport

Chicago Airport

Philadelphia Airport
Barajas (Madrid Airport)

Fun fact, that white suit worn by John Lennon was sold at a Soethby's auction for a lot of money, it did not sell for as much as an authentic Fabrege egg would, but it was like $40,000

Nicely folded, eh?

Plenty of space for everything, though my shirts are a little too long

The living room.  We have a washing machine that dries clothes as well, but it is not that good, therefore, the object to the left of the chair on the left of the picture is the Spanish way of hang drying clothes.


TV with DVD player and CD player to the left.  Our collection of music above.  Oh, and a bowl full of oranges (Godfather anyone?)

The first thing I saw when the door was opened to the flat