Wednesday, December 1, 2010

May 7, 2010 Day 16

We walked all day. This was the last day of our museum pass and so we hit up the Arc de Triumphe, Notre Dame, and the Louvre.

The Arc is cool; unfortunately this is restoration season and so the two large sculptures on the front were covered by a large scaffolding. We walked to the top and got a lovely view of Paris.

Versailles is grandiose; Notre Dame is just reserved splendor. As I've gone on this trip I've become fascinated with the amount of time and money spent on these churches. In a lot of ways it's the people of the city's palace, something they can build for the common man that is great. I just wonder about what if the time and money had actually been spent on doing Christian work. To worship a man so humble and possession-less with large structures costing tons of money and time is ironic to me. It is still a fantastic site. The stain glass windows are beautiful and the blues cast this beautiful light over the entire scene inside.

The Louvre is freaking huge. To that point that one can't walk through the entire place in one day. We started in paintings, then did sculptures and Egyptian artifacts. I prefer to see art in its natural habitat. Being around so many great works I think waters down the experience and we were in a rush to try and hit everything. I'm not a big fan of doing the tourist thing because I don't have the opportunity to actually take in the moment. Instead you walk somewhere quickly so you can see it, keep the line moving, and move on.

The Mona Lisa is as good as advertised. It's haunting and enchanting and you expect her to come alive at any moment. My other favorite was a picture of three monks aiding a woman and a boy on the side of the mountain. The storm is raining down all around and one monk is giving her water. It's a brief glimpse of peace in a moment of despair and chaos. David didn't even see it as he was rushing through the room, but I stopped and for a moment it was just me and the painting.

After that we went to a housewarming party with Natalia our lovely hostess. It was really fun and we just had a blast. Great food all around and we downed quite a bit of wine. O Paris how I will miss thee.

May 6, 2010 Day 15

This day was all Versailles. It was awesome, just old school grandeur. Where Spanish palaces have tiny ornate details Versailles has elaborate paintings and gold covered everything. I can't do justice to the place so you'll have to just check out the pictures.

Monday, November 29, 2010

May 5, 2010 Day 14

We slept in and thus decided the two day public pass to the various museums would not work out until tomorrow. Instead we walk around with the end goal of hitting up the Eiffel Tower. The architecture here is awesome. Definitely different then the Spanish.

French architecture just seems more zealous and showy. Walking around France gives you more of a hustle and bustle feel than Spain. The here are generally friendly everyone just seems to be busy, very similar to New York.

The Eiffel tower is amazing. Though I don't know if it's just me, but the sheer number of tourists and souvenir hawkers water down the experience. After wading through the masses I enjoy viewing it from several hundred yards away. A truly great monument.

Walking around we also saw Mary of the Fountain and tons of other monuments. I feel like the French commemorate everything. We eat at a casual restaurant recommended to us by the hotel concierge. I love being in the birth place of modern cooking. We split fried escargot that was creamy and buttery, and a crab cake with avocado and tomatoes which was phenomenal.

For the entrees we had duck which cooked perfectly and had that fantastic fatty flavor. The other was beef in a veloute sauce with morrel mushrooms. I originally mistakenly thought they were truffles due to the fantastic flavor. Dessert was a souffle and I can't recall what else. The souffle was ok. I've given up on that dessert I think. It's too eggy for me.

May 4, 2010 Day 13

Wake up in the morning not too tired. It will be 8 hours 'til we are in Paris. Sleep and read on the plane. Wow the hostesses on this flight speak three, but I suspect four languages.

Our hotel my dad has acquired for us the Park Hyatt is retarded. When you arrive you are greeted and walked to the check in desk. The hotel clerk then walks you to your room and shows you all the amenities. The shower has two heads and a sink inside. The bath tub is a sit down jacuzzi. IT IS AWESOME. We head down to the gym and do a few maintenance sets as the weight room is seriously lacking. I'm disappointed since I can tell I've gotten weaker since starting this vacation.

We meet up with some girls we met in Sevilla. One of them lives in Paris and offers her place to stay. We decide to stay there the last two nights after our hotel stay runs out. We go out to eat, the Company is excellent, but the food leaves much to be desired. Dessert is delicious though. We go for drinks and talk til 1:30 and call it a night.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

May 3, 2010 Day 12

written in Paris

Thorugh the day people tell us our songs (My Humps and Don't Stop Believing ) were the best. I think our popularity was heavily swayed by Kelli's booty dancing. We miss brunch with the German girls from the night before.

We eat again at the same tapas place as before. The food was good, the waitress mean. Not sure why exactly though in Spain waiters and waitresses are not tipped so there is less incentive. We head to Park Gruell a park constructed over 15 years by Antonio Gaudi.

O ya it was raining HARD. My feet are soaked but I still thoroughly enjoy the park taking in the curved lines and natural features of his work. Upon our return we whip up some homemade pizza. The first one is a disaster, but the second turns out great. Both taste good. We also decide to teach some Brits danger ball. They are terrible. We blame this on their lack of hand-eye coordination due to soccer being their countries sport. They become more mad, and lose two more times. AMERICA F*** YA!

David and I prepare to go out partying for one last night and as we step out into the heavy rain head back. It's already 1am and we have a flight around 9:30. Not worth it.

May 2, 2010 Day 11

We started the day with some tapas and then took to seeing the Gaudi houses just north of our hostel. They're awesome and memorable because they are so different. They are lots of other great buildings, beautiful buildings, but these are the pride of Spain. I wonder how hard making the first house was? When no one wanted to test the boundaries. It was too different, too risky. These are the type of thoughts that go through my mind when I see things like this.

We hit up karaoke at night. It was badass. We didn't get sing as much as we would like but Kelli and I nailed "My Humps". This is after lots of Orange Fanta and Vodka. Apparently if you can sing with an American accent you are a god. Luckily, I barely had to try. We tear the house down and become superstars in our own right. After leaving the stage I immediately get pulled into a gaggle of german girls. They laugh at anything I say and I make fun of them for their accents (I'm drunk what can I say). They insist I attend brunch with them the next morning. I tell them most likely I will be asleep, but I will try. Lots of internationals there. I love this place.

May 1, 2010 Day 10

written day after in hostel

We woke up brutally late. I got up at 12:30 and David got up at 1:30. It was only after much effort on my part that this happened. It's labor day in Spain therefore all the stores and shops are closed. Restaurants are the only things open. As there isn't much to do we decide to cook for lunch. As things are cooking we decide to watch Lord of War. After the movie and lunch it's too late to do anything as Gary and Kelli arrive today between 4 and 5:30.

It's exciting to see them. Nice to have friends to party with you. We decide to all walk to to the shore for some dinner. At the cathedral a very large group of Socialist have gathered. They want more labor rights. The unemployment rate in Spain is around 20% compared to about 10% for the US.

We end up finding our way to Pizza Del Born again after searching for La Champarepo. Great food again. As we're heading back down the street protesters have spray painted the walls. Sickles and hammers as well as crossed out Euro symbols line the streets in red ink. I've never been in the midst of a political protest before. It seemed well controlled when we walked by on our way to eat; though there are rumors that it could get violent. With the rampant graffiti I wouldn't be surprised.

At night we head to a club called Opium. Another club on thebeack. The doorman doesn't like my sweet Grade A rain pants. I get kicked out of the line we have been waiting almost 10 minutes in. It then ominously begins to rain on us. My pants are dry, +1 rain pants. We head to the backdoor of the club along the beach and sneak in under darkness and poor lighting. Rain pants are now ready to rage. After a couple of drinks we head outside and talk to Aimee and Naomi two girls from Barcelona. It's hilarious to see Kelli spastically trying to communicate in broken Spanish. The girls stay with us the rest of the night. We get our dance on 'til 5 am and head home.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

April 30, 2010 Day 9

Woke up at 11:30. We got back last night at 3:30, which is early night by Barcelona standards. We got up and headed to this giant pita place. Great food. I've enjoyed the food here more than any of our previous stops. The plan was to cook dinner to save some funds, but we found ourselves along the coast and ended up trying fresh paella. This one was strictly seafood. I'm not a huge fan of it to be honest. With clams, mussels, prawns, shrimp, and scallops it tasted too briny to me. There is nothing else to balance out the flavor. We won't eat it again. Our appetizer of fried squid was excellent. Tonight we head to this place called Otto's which has three floors. We show up at midnight to an empty club. It's 1am and people start slowly coming in; by 2 am the place is packed. I love dancing and we do that 'til 5am. By the time we head home I've broken into a sweat. AWESOME NIGHT.

April 29, 2010 Day 8

written day after in hostel

The bus ride here sucked, real bad. The bus shook back and forth for the entire trip. The bus from Granada to Madrid was the exact opposite. We got in around 7:15 and got some breakfast before checking in. I slept for another 4 hours and we checked in at 1:30. On a recommendation of a friend in Houston we went to Pizza Del Born; really good. They use local fresh ingredients. I have a long list of places to try before we leave here. Dinner we head to a nicer restaurant we passed on our way down to the beach. We eat a lot of good food, my favorite being a paquillo pepper stuffed with apricot and mascerpone cheese. The coffee and fresh ham are also memorable.

At night we headed to a local club. The drinks there were expensive at 9 Euros each, but had about 3-4 shots of liquor. The club was mostly foreigners and the music was an odd mix of obscure 90's, new age, and house. Still the club was rocking and we had a blast. Barcelona is going to be crazy.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

April 28, 2010 Day 7

writing while waiting to leave the Madrid hostel

The way to describe our Madrid experience would be rushed. We aren't staying the night meaning we have lost even one more morning here. I think it's lead to the tenseness of the day. The official breaking point for David and I to every waking moment together is seven days. We had a minor fight that's no big deal but still one never the less. With Barcelona we will be refreshed.

I enjoyed today personally. We went to the park and just sat for a good 45 minutes or so. It was nice. I realized much of this joy is something I can acquire back home. It's odd how it takes an ocean and several thousand miles to realize that.

We checked out the royal palace and garden. Something that will probably stick in my memory for far to long is the tranny with breast implants running nude barely covered in wedding dress lace. Yes it was as messed up as it sounds. We ended up not going into the palace due to the 10 euro price tag. We did check out the cathedral which was ominous and peaceful. I'm not sure I will ever understand the grandeur of the Catholic Church.

After that we went tot he museum of modern art and left shortly thereafter. David couldn't get into it. They did have many of Picasso's preliminary sketches which I question their artistic value; though not more than I question my own artistic taste. We then headed over to museo de jamon for the third time. Still love that place.

April 27, 2010 Day 6

My feet are really hurting. Not just the soles but the ankles and toes now too. I need a full day of rest off my feet. Today we arrived in Madrid. I've now realized that to truly experience a city you need 4 or more days. Otherwise you just rush through and lose the essence of it.

The only city that I feel we really got a strong flavor for is Sevilla. This is because it is very small and the feria is so culturally defining that we couldn't help but be immersed.

In arriving at Madrid I knew we wouldn't get a true experience for the city before we were back on the road. We hit the Museo del Prado to see all of the classic art stored there. It was free from 6-8 so we rushed through. Both of us agreed that the Italian art was the most interesting. After that we went to a large park. I really enjoyed just sitting there and taking in the scenery. People watching has become a new hobby.

There are a great deal of amazing fountains and sculptures throughout the city. Seeing them I couldn't help but compare them to the "masterpieces" in the museum. Like a zoo I think something is lost when you pull the art out of its natural habitat.

We ate at a place called Museo de Jamon. It's a butcher/restaurant. I loved the food. It was great; ham sandwiches of excellent quality. I could eat there everyday.

April 26, 2010 Day 5

written while watching the sun disappear over the Granada cityscape

Last night we went out to have some beer. In Granada, if you order a drink you get a free tapas (appetizer). Surprisingly after a couple drinks you've had a meal for about 6 euro. Once we finished we walked around and landed in a hookah bar. We hoped to smoke hookah, but was 15 euro which was too much for us. We settled on some chai tea.

This morning we got up incredibly early to see the Alhambra which is an old Muslim palace. To be around such great craftsmanship that is over 600 years old is humbling. David took some great pictures, but I'm sure that a photo can't capture everything. Each room is individually detailed with such precision. The craftsmanship required is something I'm not sure exist anymore. The way things were built then will never be replicated. It's beauty for beauty's sake.

I lack the penmanship to adequately describe life here. People work just like anywhere, but there is an old town respect and reverence for their city. I'm sure in some cases families have lived here over 1000 years.

After our now daily siesta we went to the cathedral to see the tombs of kings. It was breath taking. The art and the altars are magnificent and command both time and thought into the majesty of the Christian Experience. Several of the statues are so lifelike that you feel at any moment they will come alive. The stillness speaks to both death and peace; regardless of your faith you leave feeling holier for having been there.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

April 25, 2010 Day 4

We went again to the feria last night. This time our hostel mates Juan and David from Canada knew a group making the trip from another hostel. We bar hopped a few few places and then went to a large caseta. Sebastian an Aussie has been in Sevilla for two years to study Flamenco dancing and shows up with several women. We bought jarra de cerveza for 6 each. Not cheap, but not terrible either. Travelers are a fun bunch because they just love the road. And you get the feeling with each person you meet that they don't quite fit in with their home culture and therefore set out on the road searching for kindred spirits. Perhaps they travel because of this or the other way around.

The group of 20 or so broke up at different parts of the night. David (brother) and I head off with Sebastian, Serena (England), Christi (Cal) and Natalia (Cal). In chatting with them we find out that Natalia lives in Paris. She offers her place for our last night two nights there. How can we say no? Paris has the most expensive hostels out of any of the cities we will visit. I've learned mistakingly and to my detriment I am too weary and unaccommodating of strangers. It's a mistake and one I need to correct. The few people that will do you harm are such a small faction that to change for them will do you a great disservice.

I'm supposed to be on a train right now, but I'm not. Due again to another traveler's advice the bus is almost half price and the ride only slightly longer. The view is well worth the added time. As I write we are driving through mountainous countryside through an orchard of olive tress. It's beautiful. Looking outside in this moment I'm happy.

April 24, 2010 Day 3

written while laying in bed after a siesta

The fair or "feria" as it is called here is something I can't do justice to describe. Upon turning down the street you are greeted by a four story sculpture featuring the symbol of the city. A knotted rope representing the slogan of the city "No me ha dejado" which translates to "You have not abandoned me". A quick recap from a fellow blogger:

The Saint-King Fernando III (super beloved king turned saint) had a son, Alfonso X, also known as Alfonso the Wise or The Scholar King. He was a scholar, poet, composer and astronomer. He was a patron of the arts and of learning and champion of Christians, Jews and Moors living together in Spain (Jews and Moors paid higher taxes but they didn't have to suffer through an inquisition). Because of all of this (plus from family bickering), he was considered politically weak. When a civil war broke out to determine who would rule Spain (Alfonso or his son, Sancho IV), Seville chose to remain loyal to Alfonso. Supposedly Alfonso paid tribute to the fidelity of the Sevillanos by saying, "No me ha dejado."

Once inside white Christmas type lights string across the walkways making luminous archways throughout the feria. Lining the streets are hundreds of tents or casetas. Inside people dance Flamenco to either recorded or live music. Casetas range in size to 20x20 yards or the size of a football field in a few instances. North of the casetas is a carnival complete with rides. It's about two or three times as large as the one at the rodeo. People walk around the feria eating Gosetas or chocolate covered waffles.

Today we went on a tour of the Alcazar which is a palace and the highlight of Seville. It features Muslim-Spanish and Christian architecture. Pieces of the palace date anywhere from the 1400's to the 1700's. Truly a great masterpiece. We took a tour around the city with a tour guide from Australia. He showed us much of the architecture and buildings remaining from the three dynasties: the Romans, Muslims, and the Christians. As with most ancient cities the new was simply built on top of the old and therefore most of the past is buried far below the city. The cathedral which is an amazing gothic design and the third largest in the world is built with many stones from the Roman and Muslim eras. We also visited the first home of Washington Irving the American Consulate to Spain. The entry way was spectacular.

For lunch we had Tapas at a popular place called La Columbas. Inside the man behind the counter points at an individual and gets their order. I found what I wanted calamari fritatas 1.90 and David pointed to a pile of sandwiches. I grew nervous as I didn't know the Spanish word for sandwich (FYI it's bocas or bocadillo). At my turn I said "calamaris fritatas y dos sandwiches," while pointing to them, he laughed and grabbed my finger, "y two cervezas," 8 total. Not bad for a nice lunch. Tonight the hostel is serving Moroccan chicken and then perhaps to the bars on the north side of town.

April 23, 2010 Day 2

Written while watching Paella being made
I can't sleep on planes. Turbulence over the Atlantic mixed with sleeping upright just doesn't do it for me. I waned in and out of lucidity for most of the night and woke up exhausted. A short trip through Barcelona and we are on our way to Sevilla. The interesting thing about my first foreign experience is that interactions between people are the same. And though you don't know the language, in your mind you try and piece together the conversation. And you see the same personality types and body language you would see back home.

Once in town, we made our way through the honeycomb of streets to the Oasis hostel. The rooms are very nice and exceed my expectations. I demand to take a nap so that I can function. Once we venture out we make our way through various landmarks, statues, and cafes. The fair which is the highlight of the year for Sevilla. We spoke to an American and apparently the best bull fighters in the world are here this weekend. It's not cheap at 70euro but how often does one get the opportunity? The buildings here are amazing. The lavishness of old architecture and craftsmanship is something you don't really see today. Things were done with patience. We are headed to the fair tonight just to check it out. I will recap tomorrow.

First weird experience: Seeing a twelve year old drinking a handle of beefeater

Thursday, June 24, 2010

April 22, 2010 Day 1

Written while waiting for my flight for Spain

Last night was awesome. A bunch of friends came over and we partied all night. A true send off. The morning was equally brutal. I believe I went to bed around 2:30 and got up around 4:15. Perhaps this will help curb my jet lag. We've timed our flight where sleeping on the plane will align with our sleep schedule in Spain. Our flight from Houston departed around 6am.

We had a contingent of Chinese tourists on our flight. Many of them wearing newly purchased cowboy hats. At one point a Texas walked over and reversed a china man's hat. I wonder if four weeks from now will I be walking with the same refreshed joy of these guys. I slept all the way to New Jersey and zombied over to the train headed toward NYC.

We ate at A Salt and Battery a favorite of my last trip to New York. I was excited to visit, but in hind sight somewhat regretted that in a city of literally tens of thousands of restaurants I picked the same one. Afterwards, we hung around Penn Station people watching, until Cathy was able to stop over from her office above Manhattan Mall. Always a pleasure.

I always enjoy the unique style of New Yorkers. I think its a product of the fashion industry and the many unique boutiques that dot Manhattan. I must say that the Fashion Institute keeps a steady stream of attractive girls in its radius. Men in NYC be they 25 or 55 will holler at every girl they come across. Hell in a city of millions 1 of 100 can't be bad.

While walking David and I spot the guy from the "wow that's a low price commercial". Does that even count as "C" list? My favorite part of the city is the distinct feel that each area of the city brings. As we walk we hit fashion focused twenty somethings, to Ethiopians, to businessman, to hipsters, etc. They congregate together. For celebrating so much diversity the city's inhabitants strive to find homogeneity. Interesting, at the end of the day all people want to find relevance and comfort in shared culture.

This is what travel does. It removes the option of homogeneity. You just are. The small size of my pack leaves little (read no) room for vanity. I've replaced all sense of fashion with function. Here I'm not my clothes, my house, my job, my possessions; just a soul searching for commonality that lies in the human experience.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

April 20, 2010 Pre-Trip Post 2

The excitement is finally kicking in. I have almost all of my gear sans a pair of ear plugs, locks, etc. Nothing that is crucial to the experience. I’m currently reading Vagabonding by Rolf Potts and it’s already starting to change my mind set.

Particularly this quote has stuck with me over the last few days:
[We spend] the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.
- Henry David Thoreau

And it’s true. We work and work and work until retirement because culturally that’s what we do. We accumulate things; lots and lots of things that tie us like prisoners to a piece of land. What if instead we did like the Australians and took a 1-2 year vacation during our college youth. How would our perspective as a culture change? I didn't realize this, but to travel for approximately 8 months in China would be around $6-11K. Living on a beach in Thailand for 6 months is about 3-5 grand. That’s the cost of a new couch. So for a couch you can stay at the place above for 6 months. I mean that’s ridiculous. That’s our option, but instead we buy the new car, the house, and it goes on. I mean $20,000 which is the low low end for a new car could buy you 2 years in Central and South America and leave you with some change.

Now I’m not knocking the choice of consumerism, but if you are like me I didn’t even realize the option of trekking the world was there. I can’t imagine living and not having seen the world. It is too great to limit ones self to a couple weeks a lifetime. I did it for so long and now I’m not sure that I can do it anymore.

Monday, May 24, 2010

April 15, 2010 Pre-Trip Post 1

It’s now seven days from my trip. I have most of my gear sans a few random items that I plan to pick up this weekend. It’s odd sense that I have now. I know that I stand on the cusp of something fantastic, and I want to know what the end product will be of my experience. How will I be different upon my return. How will I have bettered myself.

And so I spend a lot of time contemplating this as if I can capture that mind set now. Or I think that perhaps I will be the same person and I knew who I was all along. It will be interesting to be ripped from your world and permanently displaced to a lifestyle and location that is unnatural and new. A month is a perfect amount of time because it’s not a new course, but it’s long enough to indent your life in a way that your course could change upon your return.

I’m not sure and that’s where the excitement is. As much as possible we have lent this trip to being unplanned and instead be whisked through our journey by happenstance and indiscretion. I’m hoping that the freedom will make the experience more organic. I’ve also maybe somewhat selfishly put David in charge o f the details and I don’t know much more than our general path. Everything will be new and adventurous to me.

I plan on documenting my travels in pen and hopefully daily. Subsequently upon my return I will type them out and post them on this website. I’m standing on the edge of clip ready to jump and I don’t know what’s below me or how tall the cliff is; and thus how I will come out the other side.