September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
So Gabe and I visited Prague a few weeks ago. We had a great time. Here’s a video:
September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment
So, it’s been a little while (way more than that) since my last post, and to be honest I feel pretty bad about it. There’s a lot of blame to go around, but it’s only right that I take the brunt of it. I want to make sure that you the reader know that it’s not your fault that I haven’t been posting. Please, I would feel even worse about the situation if you blamed yourself. With that being said, there are probably a lot of questions, such as “Where are you living?” “What do you do with your time besides not keep up with your blog?” “Do you have any pets?” The answer to at least some of these questions will be shown forthwith. First, a quick recap if you will (and I think you will): I traveled for about two weeks with Wade and Jack through Paris, Rome, and Madrid. I am now studying in Madrid until December. Now, as to where I live…
Officially I live at Calle de los tres peces 21, primera ext. derecha, España, código 28012 in the neighborhood Antón Martín. Since that means nothing to almost everyone reading this blog (I’m going out on a limb and assuming that people are still reading this) suffice it to say that I live in an old flat near the middle of Madrid (Fun Fact 1: Antón Martín is where Cervantes lived whilst he completed the first edition of his novel Don Quixote). I live here with four roommates: Gabe, a friend from UNC; Gabriel, from Ecuador; and Felicitas, from Germany (Germans!). To be honest, it was really easy to find the place. Three days after Wade and Jack left for the U.S. I met Gabriel at a party in my hostel, we got to talking, and he informed me that he had two rooms in his flat that he needed to rent out (Fun Fact 2: Madrid is always empty in August, and it’s difficult to find renters. So that worked out well). It was a good price and location, so I checked it out the next day, and then moved in a day after that. Gabe arrived a few days later and we were good to go. At first there was a girl from Northern Spain living in the other room (which was crazy because she was never here. Seriously, Gabe never once saw, even though they lived in the same apartment for almost two weeks. Two weeks!). Then she won the lottery. Literally, she won the lottery. I have no idea how much, but it was enough to move to a nicer apartment. As a result, Felicitas moved in at the beginning of September. Here’s a quick description of the crib (Fun Fact 3: You have to live in one place for at least a month before you’re allowed to start calling it “the crib.”)
It’s purple. Very purple. There’s a kitchen with an awesome gas stovetop and a gas oven that may or may not be broken. Here is what I do know: it looks old, the door is falling off, and it’s a gas oven. While I can hear gas coming out of the oven when I turn the knob I would be lying if I said I wasn’t more than a little terrified of waving a lighter around the inside of it. We have two refrigerators, hot water, a washing machine, and a clothes line (you gotta love the low-impact lifestyle). There’s one bathroom (which is a little annoying with four people, especially early in the morning when I really have to pee) a dining, room, a living room, and a balcony. The living room has wood floors (well, fake wood floors. It’s really linoleum painted like wood, but I feel like it’s a nice touch). As I said before, the walls are a calming lavender color which is complimented by a very green couch. We have several bizarre plants in the room, and the strangest collection of paintings ever accumulated in one location. None of it is particularly good, but it’s all fairly awesome. For example, my room has two pieces of art (the only word suitable to describe them) that were already in place when I moved in. A giant (maybe 6 x 2 feet) framed poster of about 30 dolphins swimming through the cosmos (a Monet I think; one of his earlier works) and a picture of a gold Virgin Mary holding a tiny-yet-grown Jesus in her arms with angels above her head (think Eastern Orthodox iconographic art) placed above the doorway at the perfect angle for Mary to be staring directly at me while I’m (trying) to sleep. The main painting in the living room sits above the green couch, and depicts two rundown houses and a derelict canoe sitting in the middle of a swamp. I think that should give you a good picture of the apartment I’m living in (it really is fantastic). There’s no TV, but we have something even better to look at: pets.
The living room also contains a decent-sized fish tank, and that provides all of the entertainment I could ever need, because it’s the craziest fish tank ever hashed together. It belongs to Gabriel (he loves animals) who has a practice of buying random fish that he knows nothing about and throwing them together with little thought as to whether they could or should coexist together. For this reason, our aquarium contains two Angel fish (who don’t get along) two small sharks, a large number of small colorful fish, a Picastamus (which we named Pablo), and a Beta fish. That’s right a Beta fish, the one fish that you’re definitely not supposed to put into a tank. Fortunately it’s calmed down some (the big Angel fish keeps it in line) but I think it’s killed at least two or three fish (including a second Beta fish which I think lasted a day in the tank before being killed by the first one). We tried to explain to Gabriel that that’s what Beta fish do (destroy anything in their territory) but he shrugged it off. To his credit, he takes great care of the tank (much better than I did with my fish tank, which was cleaned once in two years) and none of the fish have died recently. He even has plans in motion to build (that’s right, I said build) another fish tank to put in the dining room. This one would 2.2 meters by 0.8 meters, which doesn’t sound very big until you realize that’s almost 7 FEET BY 3 FEET! Ridiculous. Simply ridiculous.
The most recent development in the apartment has been the addition of a new roommate: Fiona, a Korean squirrel (Fun Fact 4: “Squirrel” in Spanish is “ardilla”). I’m not sure why Felicitas and Gabriel decided to purchase the squirrel a few days ago, but I suspect it was a clever ploy to keep morale high while we dealt with not having any cooking gas for three days (the ploy worked—the squirrel is adorable. Watching her clean her face was one of the most precious things I’ve ever seen. The gas has since been refilled as well). She (we think it’s a she, but the people at the pet store weren’t too sure) looks exactly like a chipmunk and sits in a cage in the living room. She eats some kind of dry mix (but fruit) and spent the first two days sitting in a corner of her cage, terrified out of her mind. Since then, I’ve made it my goal to befriend her, and to coerce her into loving me by feeding her small bits of fresh fruit. I think it’s actually working because she doesn’t climb up the cage when I pet her anymore. I give it a week before she’s sleeping in my bed and following me to school in the morning.
Well that’s about it. We cook a lot (gotta save that money) which is good because I’m learning how to make some cool dishes (most of which involve some combination of chicken, rice, or eggs). The apartment as a whole isn’t particularly new or fancy, but it’s clean and cozy and I definitely think we’re in the right living situation. I don’t have any pictures of the apartment, but hopefully you can imagine it from what I’ve written. Thanks for sticking with this terribly inconsistent blog, and I’ll try to write some more in the next few days. Seriously, I will.
August 28, 2010 § Leave a comment
Okay, so here are 15 more pictures from my time in Rome. For a little update, I’m currently in Valencia right now with three friends. As soon as I’ve shared these photos I’ll update everyone on what’s happened since Wade and Jack returned to the U.S. (I’m sorry I haven’t been keeping everything up-to-date). Enjoy these pictures of Rome for now, and in a couple days I’ll fill you in on everything that’s occurred in the last two weeks (I promise). But enough about that. Here’s a little visual guide of Rome.
So there you have it, five days in Italy with Wade and Jack. I learned a lot about the places we went to (thanks to Ian) and I’ve tried to share some of that knowledge with all of you. I hope I didn’t bore you, and please feel free to cite this blog in any historical or art papers that you may have to write in the future (I can’t guarantee you’ll get a good grade). You may also be wondering why there are no pictures of the famous Cistine Chapel. Well there would be, but security does its utmost to protect all of the images inside. Not from any physical damage from flashes mind you, but from the even more devastating copyright infringement damage that could be done. Apparently all images of the Cisitine Chapel are currently owned by a Japanese company, and they don’t like tourists infringing on their property. Weird. My next post will try to catch you up to where I right now : sitting in my apartment with sunburn on my back (and front and face) and tomato-induced rashes on my arms (it took me a few days to finish this post). If that sounds like a story you want to hear, then stay tuned.
August 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
Time to add a little color and excitement to this blog. Here are some pictures of Paris. Each picture gets a description (as promised), but you have to click on the picture to read it. Enjoy.
August 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
One of my readers wanted me to clarify and say that I do not believe Germans are bad. She was worried that I used too broad of strokes while painting my picture of the German people, resulting in an unfair portrait. I would disagree with her, and tell you what I think of her worries, but she’s my Mom and she reads this blog—I’ve also learned that she’s almost always right, even when I disagree with her (make that especially when I disagree with her). I am in fact directly related to several Germans, and every one of them is lovely and kind-hearted (this is not said tongue-in-cheek. My cousins from Germany are awesome). Trust me, I would have been irritated at any group of children that sang songs and chanted on a hot and crowded metro train after hours of walking around Rome in August. It just so happened that the group of people who did this were German middle-schoolers. I’m sure if I had gotten the chance to talk to them I would have found them to be wonderful people. Actually, that’s probably not true at all. My guess? Middle-schoolers are about the same everywhere, and previous experiences with those from American have showed me that trying to talk to one is difficult enough; trying to talk to a group of them is an exercise in futility and may cause emotional and/or physical damage. Add in the language barrier and our location at the time and now you’ve got some serious problems. Typing this out has made me come to the conclusion that my Moms (how Biggie would’ve said it) was right: the fact that they were German was far less of a problem than the fact that they were middle-schoolers on the metro.
August 21, 2010 § Leave a comment
So now we get to the final stage of the first part of my journey to Europe (it’s a two-part plan). We did a lot more hanging out in Madrid, especially compared to Rome and Paris which were go-go-go. Madrid is also my home for the next 4-5 months, so I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to see everything because I’ve got plenty of time. As Jillian Vogel (a friend who also enjoys puns) pointed out, the last two posts have been rather long, so I’m going to keep this one shorter (I tried really hard to think of a pun for this sentence but I couldn’t. Sorry). I’ve got five months to talk about Madrid. Here are some highs and lows from the first five days.
KNOWING THE LANGUAGE – This helped a lot. A lot. I would not say that I was fluent getting off of the plane, but I could communicate ideas and get around. I’d also been to Madrid before, so I knew a little bit about the layout of the city.
PARKS – The parks here are expansive and beautiful. A lot of shade, lakes, and cool statues and gardens. It’s a great place to park yourself after walking around the city for a few hours (there you go Jill). I’m hanging out in the Madrid parks over the next few months. Believe you me.
HOSTAL ADRIANO – Cheapest/nicest hostel we stayed in. It was more of a hotel room, with a private bathroom, free wifi (pronounced “wee-fee” in Spanish), air conditioning, and a lot of pink. The staff was nice too, and very helpful in finding places to go (except for this one dude that lied about where to get Paella. He sent us to a restaurant that didn’t have Paella). It was also in a great location, only a few blocks from the Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid.
METRO – The metro in Madrid is hands down the best one we’ve seen. It’s fast, cheap, and it goes everywhere. Walking is the best option for getting anywhere close, but I will be using the metro quite a bit to get across town or to-and-from school.
BOCADILLOS DE CALAMARES – Delicious. I could have had an entire food sections, but this is all I would have talked about (and all Wade and Jack would have wanted me to talk about). We found this one Bocadilleria (a store which sells bocadillos) on our first day in Madrid that sold incredible calamari bocadillos. It was pretty close to our hostel, and I’m pretty sure that Wade and Jack ate at least one a day every day we were in Madrid.
THE WEATHER – It’s hot. That’s the only way to describe the weather over the first five days in Madrid. Hot (pronounced “hhaaut”). It’s dry too, but it’s so hot during the day that it stays hot during the night.
NATIONAL JERSEYS – Nowhere to be found.
RUMMY – We did a lot of chilling in Spain, and when Wade, Jack, and I chill we usually play some form of Rummy together. This is a very good thing, obviously, because it increases camaraderie through friendly competition. So why is it in the cons list? Well, I’m writing the blog and Jack happened to win the most games, and was therefore the champion rummy player of the trip (Wade was clearly the loser of the trip). This is a very bad thing.
So there it is. Our 15-day excursion through Europe condensed into 7,000 words (only 600 of which are in this last post, down from 3,000 in the post before). I hope you realize that this has been two full posts in as many days. Pretty impressive, I must say. Pictures will follow shortly, and some of them may even have captions. Hooray! Until then, stay fly my readers.
August 20, 2010 § 1 Comment
Now I realize that the purpose of a blog is to update constantly and keep you informed of my daily activities. I have failed to do this due to my desire to provide longer posts with in-depth analysis and a lot of thought behind them (laziness). From this point forward, you should not expect my posts to be in a timely or frequent manner. I am currently writing about events that happened almost two weeks ago. Sorry. But as they say, better late than never. Here’s a look at the good and the bad of Rome.
FOOD – The food in Rome was equally as delicious as the food in Paris. Actually, it was slightly more delicious due to the fact that it was Italian food and not French food. I loves me some pasta based dishes. We ate out a couple different places, but the best place by far was one whose name escapes me. All I remember is that the slogan of this restaurant is “You eat what we give you” which basically means that you eat what they give you. The restaurant had no menu, just a fixed meal every night, and for about 25 euro (or is euros the plural of euro? This has been bothering me for weeks) you get two bottles of wine and a four course meal. You also don’t have to decide anything since it’s a set meal. This is a pretty big relief when nobody in your party speaks the language that the menu would be in. We went here our fourth nigh in Rome, along with Jack Parks, who had been travelling by himself for the past few weeks, and Gwen and her cousin Morgan who had just arrived in Rome. Getting there was an adventure in itself because we had to use the Rome bus system (whose slogan I think is “A free ride anywhere” because there was no form of buying/checking tickets for our bus) and then walk a few blocks without a map until we (somehow) wound up in front of the restaurant. The meal was more than all of us could eat—bread, lentils, mozzarella, potato hushpuppy things, two kinds of pasta, veal, and a thick apple pie for desert—washed down with a shot of limoncello, a digestive liquor that tastes exactly like how you would imagine a liquor made by the lemon drop candy company would taste. The most noteworthy thing to me was the little bits of treasure-bacon hiding in the pasta (I think I remember exclaiming “There’s something in the pasta…IT’S BACON!” after my first bite). I also ate Gelato for the first time. I don’t like ice cream much, but I do like peaches, and this was peach flavored and tasted exactly like a peach. One might say it was peachy (I don’t condone the use of stupid puns, but I know that at least one of my readers—Matt Harris—does. Got to give the readers what they want)
MONUMENTS – As you might imagine, the monuments in Rome are, as the ancient Romans would say, “mega-cool.” The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon, the various arcs celebrating various victories, etc. etc. There’s just so much ancient stuff to see in Rome it was blowing my mind. We would walk down the street and run into a five-story stone pillar with depictions of a war spiraling all the way down it, and nobody around us would even care. Beautiful old churches and buildings that nobody wants to see at all. “Oh that? Just some giant obelisk from the 300s A.D. Stupid piece of crap, taking up space…” At this rate it might take months, but there will be pictures eventually, and then you can see what I’m talking about. Until then, I dunno, use your imaginations. Or Google what I’m talking about.
MT. VESUVIUS – Climbing Mt. Vesuvius was a good decision. There was quite a bit of trepidation at the beginning of this trip due to me being attacked that morning and our inability to figure out the train system to and from Naples (see below). Despite all that, everything turned out great. We got to the top of the mountain and got to see the Mediterranean for the first time. It was also very cool (literally) because a constant wind from the Mediterranean blew cold air over the surrounding area. Very cool (figuratively). The view from the mountain was impressive, and the view of the mountain was equally impressive. We got to look down in the crater created by all of the eruptions and we also learned that it is still active. We could even see white smoke coming up from the rocks. We even made it back to Rome without a problem. A good daytrip overall.
TOURS – We had two great, cheap tours of the Coliseum and the Vatican. The company was called Romaround (very clever) and our guide for both tours was Ian from Scotland. He really seemed to know what he was talking about, but as I said to Wade and Jack, he could have told us that the Romans were a race of aliens that had the power to teleport, just so long as we got to skip all of the lines (which we did). This especially helpful for the Vatican because that would have been a long long wait. And our Roma passes didn’t work because the Vatican is its own country. Here’s a fun fact that Ian may or may not have made up – Due to all the visitors and petty theft, the Vatican has the highest crime rate per capita of any sovereign state. I’m not sure if this is actually true, but it’s interesting to think about.
THE VATICAN – Not quite as ancient as ancient Rome, but equally as impressive. The number of years and the amount of money and care spent in creating the Vatican is simply astounding. There are things in there that you cannot see anyone else, and which no one living today would be able to create. Yes, there’s the Cistine Chapel, and its beautiful and really a work of genius (fun fact: Michelangelo was not a painter but a sculptor. He hated painting—along with a lot of other things and people—and the Cistine Chapel was really his first professional job as a painter. Not a bad start) There’s also tons (literally) of this purple stone called porphyry that the ancient Romans dug up in huge quantities. Today, this stone is valued at about 10,000 euros per cubic inch (according to Ian). In one section of the Vatican there is a giant bathtub that belonged to Nero, the sarcophagus of Constantina (Constantine’s sister) and the sarcophagus of Constantine’s mother. These three items are made entirely of porphyry and combined value roughly 100 million euros. There’s a lot more than that, but I’ll be able to show you better than tell you. When I’m done with these lists I’ll have a pictures post (for those of you who only want to look at the pictures) to help explain some of the things that I’m talking about. We also went into the tomb of all the former Popes, and got to see Pope John Paul II’s burial place. That was a pretty powerful sight. Think what you will about the past and present problems of the Catholic Church; the Vatican is a place you absolutely have to see. It really is a marvel of art, architecture, and religion all combined into one place.
VILLA BORGHESE – The Villa Borghese is a giant park in the middle of Rome, with a lot of cool museums surrounding it, and even a zoo (we only went to the Estruscan museum). We found it’s a great place to go and throw the Frisbee our hang out after several hours of walking and sightseeing. This is also where Wade and I taught Jack how to skip rocks for the first time. He struggled at first, but by the end of the day he could get two or three skips pretty regularly. We also hung out with Gwen on her first day in Rome. It was a good park.
ROMA PASS – These things save you so much money. Let me throw out some stats for you: free entrance into your first two museums/monuments with an entrance fee. After that, reduced entrance into every museum/monument that accepts the Roma pass (which is most of them). It’s also good for free public transportation (metro, bus, etc.) and last but not least, you get to skip a lot of the longer lines. All of this lasts for three whole days, and it only costs 20 euro (which I found out is the plural of euro for most European nations, not euros which is the plural for most English-speaking nations. Apparently you can’t go wrong, but I’ll stick with euro from now for continuity’s sake). I’ve got to throw up some mad props to Gwen Barlow for informing me about this awesome little card, or else we would never have known about it (me throwing up mad props to Gwen, whatever that means)
CASA OLMATA – There were a lot of good things about Casa Olmata: free wifi, cheap, great location, rooftop terrace, free breakfast, no lockout during the middle of the day, free pasta parties. All of these things gets Casa Olmata a mention on the pros list.
CRAZY PEOPLE – Let me clarify here. I realize that there are crazy people everywhere. I also realized that there are good kinds of crazy people; we even met a few in Paris (see George, Ellexis). Unfortunately Rome is where we ran into the bad kind of crazy person (literally). Our fourth and last full day in Rome, we decided to take a day trip to Pompeii via the train the Naples. We woke up a late, but were in fairly high spirits as we walked to the train station around 10:30 am. It was at this point that some guy (I’m assuming an Italian but we really don’t know) got off of a bus at the corner, ran across the street, and pushed/grabbed me from the side. I pushed him off, but he stood there really close and kept sort of pushing me. He also had a strange half-smile look on his face, and may have mumbled something. So I pushed him away again. Then Wade, who the dude completely ignored (as well as Jack), stepped in and kind of shielded me until he walked away. After a few steps, he turned back around and tried to get past Wade at me again. After about 30 seconds he walked away for good. Crazy person. He didn’t steal anything, he didn’t actually try to fight us (it’s like he wanted me to start the fight), and he didn’t even acknowledge Wade or Jack (he was more than willing to let them stand in his way). Three possible explanations, all of them ridiculous:
1) He thought he knew me (due to the weird smiling) and that was a friendly/creepy greeting that turned more sinister when I pretended not to know him.
2) I was wearing a Davor Suker jersey (Arsenal player who’s also the leading international scorer for Croatia) and he hated either Arsenal or Davor Suker. Still, that jersey was from the early 1990s, and Suker retired in 1998 from professional football. If that was the reason than it’s probably time to let that one go.
3) I looked exactly like someone who had robbed him/stolen his girlfriend/killed a cherished pet/embarrassed him in some terrible fashion (a whoopee cushion in the middle of mass or something).
Thinking about it, I was never scared or angry about the situation (it was only one guy against three in broad daylight) just confused. Very very confused.
CASA OLMATA – What!? But Casa Olmata is on the Pros list. I know, but I’ve got to be honest, there were some cons too. For example, the free pasta party was great, but at the same time we found staples in the pasta (insert more iron in your diet joke here). Not conducive to good digestion. Also, it was pretty hot in Rome every day we were there, meaning that it was also pretty hot in our room every day we were there. And the worst part was the two girls living next to us who were always in the bathroom, and would always use up all the hot water. They would time it too; I would need to go pee and one girl would be taking a shower. Once I heard the bathroom door open I would go out in the hall, in time to see the other girl close the bathroom door and begin her twenty minute shower. Not exactly Casa Olmata’s fault, but somebody’s got to get the blame.
METRO – Remember all those monuments I was raving about earlier? Well there is a downside: the worst metro system I’ve ever seen. There are only two lines that run through the middle of Rome, and neither of them takes you exactly where you want to go. Everywhere cool is at least a half-mile walk from any metro stop. According to Ian (the guide) they’re trying to build a third line, but they keep running into ancient stuff and having to stop for archeologists to come in and do some work. As a result, the construction has already been delayed about 10 years.
TRAIN SYSTEM – So confusing. There are at least three different train systems in Italy, as far as I can tell (which I really couldn’t): the Eurorail system, the regional system, and the city system. All of them go the same places, just at different times and different speeds and different levels of quality. There is very little English in the train stations, which made it hard for us to figure out which train we were buying tickets for. There is also no semblance of a written schedule for any of the systems, making it impossible to find out information, such as when the last train from Naples back to Rome is. That’s important information to know if you don’t want to get stuck in the Naples train station at night (you don’t). Luckily we had no problems, but had we had problems, there would have been some problems.
POMPEII – Pompeii would have been cool if it was cheaper and if we had enough time to see it. I did want to see it, but it was 11 euros (I’m switching back to “euros” because I think that’s what they say in Spain. Sorry for all the flip-flopping) and we wanted to climb Mt. Vesuvius instead. The mountain was a great idea, but Pompeii just wasn’t happening. And 11 euros? Seriously?
GERMANS – Here I use “Germans” as a dual meaning. First, to encapsulate all the stupid tourist groups we came across in Rome, and second to refer specifically to the large groups of German children that we came across in Rome. We saw numerous tour groups traveling in packs, all wearing the same shirt, or the same hat, or the same bag and they were always some garish (that’s right, garish) color that only Andy Brown should ever wear, like flamingo pink or high liter yellow. Don’t get me wrong, we by no means blended in well with the Italian people, but at least we weren’t wearing matching outfits (like giant “ROB ME” flares). Now to the Germans. Oh the Germans. They travelled around in large packs like wolves. Small, pale-skinned wolves that loved to sing and chant in really crowded areas. At one point Wade got separated from Jack and me getting onto a very crowded metro train (this was a common theme throughout the trip: Wade selfishly leaving the group to do his own thing). Jack and I managed to get in the metro car with a group of German grade-school students. Now, you may know that both Jack and I are both fair-skinned (pale) and blonde (blonde), so there’s no doubt that the people around us thought Jack and I were a part of the group. The Germans then began singing and chanting something in some language (German maybe? I don’t know, I’m not a linguist). Jack summed it up perfectly when he turned to me and simply said, “This is my nightmare.”
WAITERS – The waiters we ran across in Rome fell in to two categories: jerks or simply indifferent. I understand that we don’t speak the same language (I don’t even expect us to) but as I learned in COMM 120, a lot of communication is actually nonverbal in nature. So that’s something to think about Roman waiters. While this did not at all take away from the delicious nature of the food, it was still a little irritating. We definitely did not come across any Emiles in Rome.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Stayed tuned sometime next week to catch the Madrid list of pros and cons. After that, I put up some pictures of all this stuff, and then try to catch you up on everything I’ve done since Wade and Jack left. Based on the rate that I’m going, by that time it’ll almost be time for me to come home. Anyways, thanks for reading. You may have noticed there were more shout outs in this post. You would be correct in you observations. If you play your cards right (and read my blog) you may be able to get a shout out yourself. Think about it.