Friday, April 28, 2006

from decadent elite to underground egalite

Note: if you look at the blog entry before this one, I edited it to add links of all the pics I was missing. :)

Tue I went to the Palace of Versailles with Irina. The town it's in is about 30 mins south-west from downtown Paris. A regular train gets there. You get to a regular train station, in a regular town, no cool signs or pictures or anything really... Outside the station, a girl handing out flyers and saying in English: "To the right to go to Versailles!"

So we walked about 15 mins through a town, complete with a Mac Donalds and other shopping stores. The first glance of the Palace is simply of a large building with a parking lot in front. I expected something more majestic... Huge line of tourists up front, of course. We arrived at 11am, and finally got in by noon (that's what the time stamps on my pics say. :) ) Inside it was mobbed. But i got pics of all the rooms, and since Irina went out of her way to get an audio tour, we learned a bunch. Overall it was cool, but I still like the Louvre best.

The main palace isn't all there is to Versailles. Huge gardens at back are set up in the symmetrical fashion of the times. Symmetry is key for most of Versaiiles. Even in the palace, all the rooms of one wing originally mirrored their counterpart on the other wing in theme for the decor and function of the room. Subsequent kings and queens completely remodeled the place is what I'm told.

Back to the gardens: all I thought of it was big dirt roads with gravel and fenced-in green part. The dust is a sore spot, I've noticed that every day i walk in Paris my shoes get dirty. It didn't happen in madrid... here they have a lot more dirt!

Walking to the back-right of the property, we reached another two buildings, used for less formal occasions. Le Grand Trianon and Le Petit Trianon. More cool rooms. The smaller building was used by some queen as her private apartments. Much cozier than the palace.

The part I liked best was the "queen's village". All the way in the back of the property, it's an area where they reproduced a small country town. Cute houses, lotsa green, little hills, a pond... even farm animals of all kind. Although to walk back from there to the front took 45 mins!!

By the time we made it back, we were both exhausted. But she had to work, and I had to meet Ana for dinner at her friend Kim's house. Which turned out to be really cool. Her apt was near the Moulin Rouge area. She's a professional juggler! She studied international business with Ana, but found a full-time gig with a company that tours France. For dinner she made us a yummy zucchini pie with cheese. Mad easy but was real good!

Getting home, I ended up staying hooked to the computer 'til way too late. So my plans for the next day turned to a day of rest, mostly :) We did have plans to meet Clemence (the girl we went to Chinatown with) in Paris, so I went out just for that. Ah, and I stopped by one of the main train stations to purchase my train ticket to Germany. Confirmed for next Friday afternoon! :)

We went to a bar near La Bastille. That section of Paris is pretty cool. Rows of restaurants and bars in the back streets. An art exhibit along the boulevard. I had my first crêpe in france. Didn't like it. Clem ended up eating more than half of it... it was ham and egg and cheese. An overdose of emmental cheese. Which the French seem to put in everything!

Cool thing: on our way to the bar we saw the filming for a local show. Inspector Mon...something. It was going on right in front of the place we went into, so we observed some of the rehearsing. We spent a couple of hours doing girlie talk, remembering old friends, and discussing life...

We got home at a decent time, so the next day (we're up to Thu now) I went to visit the not-so-famous catacombs of Paris. *Very* cool! It was 3 km of stairs and underground tunnels, leading to an ossuary half-way through. Piles of bones, arranged decoratively... quite amazing. And not so many tourists here. You can read the history in the wiki article, but basically they ran out of space in the cemeteries, they had plague problems, and they had these huge tunnels excavated from when they were digging up stones to make their buildings above ground... they had to stop digging or part of Paris would have caved in. So they started dismantling cemeteries and putting the bones here, nicely stacked. There are markers at every section saying which cemetery bones came from. The first guy in charge of this told his workers to go nuts and make it pretty. So they used femurs and skulls to create patterns and pretty walls to cover the mess of other bones piled behind them. The chambers are pretty wide, but the passageways you walk through aren't. The bones are piled up to 30 feet deep from the walls!

The only bad part is that i was alone, and a girl, and out of the 3 guys that keep an eye on things down there, I managed to graciously evade the first, ignore the second, but the third ended up following me for the second half of the tour, kept trying to be "friendly" and put his hands on me... I had to turn down a really cool opportunity to get in behind a closed section 'cause i was afraid he'd try something.
He opened one of the gates for me and let me take pics of a closed section. It was really cool, dammit. Stupid guys alway being stupid and ruining the good things in life...

I really need to go back with a tripod. And a companion. That place is so worth it. But it's so dark, it requires long exposures, and my hand isn't steady enough to be completely still for 1-2 seconds. Ideally, a halogen lamp, too :) The smarter people had lamps to look into the dark nooks and crannies. I had my little pocket flashlight which helped. Here are some of the pics I took of the catacombs.

Getting out of the catacombs I had no clue where I was. I randomly went down towards where some people were walking (there were few people down there. So no big crowd to follow!) and luckily ended up reaching the same train station I arrived at. I did some more walking around, then took the train to go to the movies. I had looked up cool movie theaters to visit. I wanted to see the animated Asterix movie, and it was showing at the REX, a supposedly famous art-noveau style building with the biggest screen in town. Of course that was only for big movies. Asterix was playing downstairs, in one of the smallest screens I've seen :P Still, I had a chuckle or two with the few things I understood in French, got to experience the voices in original French, and was happy with myself :)

Since when I got out it was only 4:30pm, and I had learned my lesson about peak-hour metro, I looked up some other place to visit. The target: Parc Monceau, a couple of kilometers away. I had read online that it was really nice. On the way there, I happened to see the Passages of Montmartre. Which are basically alleyways, covered with glass ceiling, and lined with quaint stores and restaurants. Very pretty experience. The park was also pretty nice. A designer park.Pics of the passages and the park.

At 6pm, I deemed it safe to try the metro. It was still mobbed, so I sat and waited. Then got lucky and two came one after the other. So the first gathered all the ppl, the second remained empty. All the way home!

I tried to used Thu night to catch up on pics and everything. No way. So I took today Fri completely off, didn't step foot out of the house, and did virtual and real clean up. Tomorrow Ana's in-laws are coming to stay for 2 days. So it'll be a bit hectic. I'm going to try to stay out of the way. But Hopefully I'll do the St Denis cathedral (yeah, been saying that for a while...) and on Sun the Batoun-mouche, the fly-boat!. More on those after they happen. For now, I call it an update. And I am gonna have to start to take less pics. :P I'm also filling up my hard drive!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

quick quick before more accumulates...

[note: i re-edited this post apr 28 to add links to photos]

When I start slacking I have soo much more work to do... and I thought I was on vacation :P

Sat was a nice, lazy day. Almost didn't do anything... then by mid afternoon we went to meet another friend of Ana's to have some coffee and visit Paris' Chinatown. I've only really seen NYC's Chinatown. So I assumed they would all be as chaotic, smelly, with narrow streets, tiny shops piled one next to the other, tons of people, tourists and locals, struggling to check out the designer rip-offs... Instead, I find a happy, Parisian street, wide, with tons of trees, almost no people, huge souvenir stores and supermarkets, restaurants, no knock-offs... Just odd.

We made a short visit of it. A couple of hours later we were back home, having dinner and making sure to get enough sleep to be ready to go to the park the day after. My wonderful hosts made an indoor bbq (electric, neat stuff!) and helped me plan some more sight-seeing and travel options.

Parc Asterix was cool. Didn't take us too long to get there. The place was packed. It had opened only 2 weekends before, and they had been promoting it with the new movie that came out April 12. There were new attractions related to it. The lines were long for the rides, so we only got on 3 of them. Irina and Ana braved an upside-down loops rollercoaster... while I checked out the local magic show. lol. The rest of the day was mostly spent on shows, less lines and longer entertainment. I have pics, but still have to organize... I'm starting to lag on that... sooowwwy... but u know i'll post them eventually :) [apr 28 and here they are! pics from Parc Asterix!]

And today Monday I finally went to Le Louvre! It was an overdose of art, people, cultures, and walking. I think I managed to pass through maybe 80% of what was open. Some sections are closed on certain days. Of course I made my way to la Mona Lisa first. Which was more crowded than the Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. And you couldn't take pics. It's set in a huge free-standing panel in the middle of a room of the paintings section.

Other famous bits I got to see: eh, go to Le Louvre's website and see their map. Anything highlighted on it was where the tourists were, snapping pics where they could.

Tips: Even on a Monday at noon, it's mobbed. I imagine it's worse on weekends, but don't expect any less traffic even at odd hours. The Egyptian wing is mobbed with French children. The Mona Lisa is the busiest area, of course. I found empty rooms in the Northern European Sculptures area. In general the lower ground floor will grant you some respite from crowds. Must see: much of it is like any other big museum, paintings, greek sculptures, egyptian stuff... but just like the Met has the walk-in pyramid, Louvre has some cool, non-standard sections. The Mesopotamia section has a huge, high-ceiling room with Winged Bulls (entrance decorations). Next to that, the French Sculpture section has a cool setup of inside courts. Again, huge spaces in Paris... Upstairs from that, the Napoleon Apartments. Which have been used by different politicians as offices through France's history. Amazing to think this was actually inhabited. So luxurious... The medieval Louvre has an interesting atmosphere, but there isn't much to it. You walk around a circle wall of old stones. Oh, and all the signs are in French. The only way to learn is to pick up plastic notes that are positioned in strategic spots about certain objects of art. In several languages. Huge read for the one section. No middle-ground learning here. If you want to actually observe the art, I suggest you concentrate on a period at a time. And plan for a couple of days. It's still mad tiring to absorb it all in such a short span... See pics of the coolest areas of the Louvre.

After 4 hours, I was dehydrated, hungry, and tired. So I made my way home. Big mistake. Rush hour metro was hell. I forgot the inferno of regular commuters. But in Paris there is no AC in the cars. At stops, you hear a chorus of "Pardon. Pardon Messier. Pardon." With the French "R", of course. That's what makes it French. I'm trying to pick some French up... but I lack a lot. All I muddle through is whatever is similar to Italian.

That evening we made another indoor bbq, and I think I have the next 2 months kinda planned out. Looks like I won't reach Italy until almost July... lol. So off from my original plan. But I'm definitely leaving from here to be in Germany May 5-7. And from there to Holland. From there I have access to many other places. And I even promised a quick return to Madrid mid May... sucks when you leave things and people behind, and you wanna see them again, and you need to travel to do so... even in small Europe, travel takes time. And money. Stupid travel. Hey. Wait. No. Good travel. Happy times. :) Wish it didn't cost so much. Or take so long.

Aaight, tomorrow I have to get up early to make a trip out to Versailles, outside of Paris. So, off I go to get my... ugh, 7 hrs of sleep. Ah well. Pics will be forthcoming!

And yey Lila for reading my blog :)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Paris with company... so much more fun!

Ana has a friend from school, Irina, who works only part-time, and mostly on weekends, so she has time to do stuff during the day. She is fond of walking and seeing Paris, so Ana asked her if she wouldn't mind accompanying me yesterday, Friday. Luckily she agreed. She's a really cool person, has even more stamina than I do for walking and I think she ended up showing me the other half of Paris I was missing!

You can view pics to follow through the descriptions below, but since I'm limited in how much info I can put in captions, you'll understand better if you read first, then see pics :)

We met at the same metro station I had come out of the day before, St Paul, but went the other way, to find Place de Vosges and the former site of La Bastille. Even though we were looking for it, we found Place de Vosges by chance, by entering through what looked like a museum. After the entrance, instead of entering a building you enter an enclosed courtyard. At the end of it there's a building, and we thought that was a museum or something, and there was no sign for entrance fees, so we pushed through. We were at the corner of an long arched passageway, which was the corner of another, huge courtyard... We kept going but we realized we weren't in a building anymore... this is Place de Vosges! Tourists were lying on the lawn, chilling. Everything was green, quiet, relaxing. It is just a public but secluded spot, and does have an actual road on one side, but on three corners it is kinda closed.

La Bastille isn't anymore. They tore it down after the revolution, and built a theater instead. All that remains is a tall, phallic monument in the middle of the traffic roundabout. From it to the Seine, though, there is a water inlet, a port, for tourist boats. On each side of it they were putting up stalls, as if preparing for a festival or something. Irina told me they often do parties or organize festivals there. Looks neat.

We followed that to the Seine and over it, to the area where the Museum of Natural History was. Tons of children, we just walked through their gardens (mostly under construction, unfortunately... Paris isn't much better than Madrid with that!) Behind this area is the Mosquee. They're open every day... except Fri, their prayer day! Go figure...

The walk from there to the Pantheon uncovered a very nice middle-eastern neighborhood, followed by a more generic touristy plaza with lovely restaurants and shops, and finally the area around the monuments, which was the pantheon itself, and another church (always churches at every corner, in every country, in every city...)

Next stop: Jardin du Luxemburg. Another nice area, to hang out, lotsa green... Unlike Madrid, Paris has many wide open spaces in the center itself. Madrid leaves those for the outside. The Champ Elysee is a huge wide area. All these gardens are also very wide, with big streets around them. Madrid is built with a smaller way-through in mind. The roads behind the main streets are impossibly narrow, cars bigger than a mini have to take care and time to negotiate the corners... I haven't found a narrow alleyway in Paris yet. Buildings are farther apart from each other.

From the Jardin du Luxemburg we walked to the Observatory. Unfortunately it is only open once a month, and you have to reserve an appointment by mail... I thought it would be more of a tall building to see Paris from. But it's actually one of those places where they have a telescope, to see the sky :P

We had plans to meet Ana and Nico for dinner in Montparnasse, a nice area of Paris, home of the Sacre Coeur, a church built on a hill, where you can see most of Paris. I think it's the tallest spot. We took the metro and arrived at Averne. Ana got out of work "early" (5pm on a fri) and joined us on the walk up the steps of the church. If we hdn't walked enough yet, this was 3X as intense! lol. At the top we got a nice view of the smog over Paris. And no Eiffel Tower. It was blocked by some trees and buildings. ;)

Walking behind the church there are some quaint streets, more like what I think of as a typical European town. All geared towards tourists, of course, so tons of souvenir shops, artists, restaurants... We walked downwards to wait for Nico, who didn't get out of work until almost 7pm.

Dinner was at a yummy place whose specialty are huge salads, served with fried/baked garlic potatoes, and your choice of ingredients. Ana keeps wondering at how much I eat... and yet I was the only one that couldn't finish the plate! And I hadn't even eaten anything but a bowl of cereal for brunch that day! Ils sont fous ces Français! :D

After dinner, a walk around... we were at the edge of an interesting street: Boulevard de Clichy. The metro stop is called Pigalle, and I think that is what they call the area. This is where the Moulin Rouge is, alongside all sorts of cabarets, sex shops, and the Erotic Museum. I actually convinced everyone to walk me through it, it was getting dark, and I read it was no good to be alone there at night. And a bigger feat: I got them into the museum! :) (I'll post a photographic walk-through as soon as I have a chance to finish processing pics...)

That pretty much tired Ana and Nico out for good. We headed towards the metro and they took off. Irina, a night-owl like me, was happy to continue my tour of Paris, to see some sights at night. We made our way from Place Clichy to almost the Eiffel Tower, all walking, of course, another 2 hours to add onto our meter :) Along the way, we saw a random bike-a-thon (haven't looked up what that was about yet), Opera, the Ritz, and all the nice areas and buildings in between, mostly the richer sides of Paris, the equivalent of 5th Ave or uptown in NYC. I ended up taking the metro back home only a stop away from where I took it the day before... same beginning and end, different itineraries!

I had been meaning to keep track on maps of where I go... in Madrid I just highlighted the map in my guide. Here I found a map online and tried out a digital version. Here's the itinerary of day 1, and the itinerary of day 2. (Yeah they're in Russian... bite me. It's the only one I found that covered everything.)

Made it home safely, St Denis was mostly deserted at midnight... Still managed to be online for a bit, and had a good night sleep. Today I am thinking of sticking to St Denis, walk about and discover this town by day. There's a famous church here, where the kings are buried... The metro stop itself has tons of statues and ads about it. Tomorrow we're going to the Asterix and Obelix park (yey!) so I can't make a late night out of it :)

Uff, this was long. One day I need to stick to one sight, like the Louvre... and have less to talk about ;) Keeping up with this blog with detail takes almost as long as all the things I do! lol 'Hope enough people out there are reading this and appreciating ;) Miss ya all, all over the world. This one is for you!

Friday, April 21, 2006

pics from day 2

As promised, here are pictures from day 2 in Paris (although day one was really just an evening... not sure if I should count it...)

Anyhoo, I arrived April 19 in the evening, and I set off for downtown Paris on the afternoon of the 20th. I think in 5 hours I walked a total of about 10Km. At least. Possibly more... wow. 2Km/hr. I wonder if this constitutes a statistic for the average tourist speed... ;)

See the pictures

Some side notes from the first day:

Do not go to Les Halles. It's actually a shady area. The guide makes it sound like a cool, underground mall. Which is kinda is. But it's full of shady locals and drunkards. I got molested by one on my way in. And you pay for bathrooms in there. A whole of 40 cents. For a stinky, not-quite-clean place. Better off using the free huts on the street.

Unlike Madrid, there are no such things as free museum days. Well, supposedly the first sunday of each month. But it must be a mad house. And transportation is more expensive, too, so plan things properly.

Off I go now to another fun afternoon! (This having a permanent internet connection really helps! My blogs should be a lot more frequent now :) I'm also going to try and catch up with email, finally...)

Paris, day 2

I walked for 5 hours through Paris today. My first pic was taken at 1:46pm, the last at 6:46pm... other than a 5 min break once or twice to check on the map and plot the next move, I kept going without a pause... lol

I must have seen half of the tourist attractions already. If not that many, it was still a good chunk. Didn't actually enter any place, just strolled through to get a sense of the place, of distances, and or Paris in general. They have these multiple days museum passes, which are supposed to be a saving on museum entrances... but I can't imagine how you can get 30 euros worth of museums in 2 days... even when the average entrance is 8 euros. le louvre alone must take a whole day or two... and Paris isn't as compact as Madrid. I could walk around the whole center of Madrid in a couple of hours. Here, I barely went across in 5!

I have a selection of pics but i still have to watermark them and add captions. I will post them tomorrow, I promise. I got some cool wide-angle lens action on the Eiffel tower :)

Cool plans I'm looking forward to: seeing an original Asterix et Obelix animated movie in the theaters (I won't understand more than 3 words, but I'm so going!), visiting the Asterix et Obelix park with my hosts, seeing Paris by night (the Eiffel tower wasn't too impressive in daylight) and finding good food (I always suck at finding anything beyond junk food when I just walk around on my own, aimlessly, without a clue what to look for...)

And I better learn some French. For a town that thrives on tourism and has so many immigrants, they really do not accommodate foreigners...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

yey Paris!

I set off for Paris this warm, sunny-turned-partly-cloudy afternoon. Barajas to Charles Du Gaulle. It was hard to leave, I really did get to care, and I have promised to return... I'm leaving behind in Madrid more than a couple of guide books ;)

Terminal 3 of Paris' CDG airport was very tiny; a domestic terminal, no security or baggage checks whatsoever. Walked straight from it to the train station and managed to get the right train ticket to find my new hosts: Ana and Nic. They picked me up at the train station and we walked through a sight I had found missing in Madrid: a very diverse racial mix, lots of blacks. Madrid was strangely white. At most you'd see latinos and some arabs or eastern europeans, although also fair-skinned. A couple of darker-than-night Africans can be seen selling pirated goods on the streets, but they are a strange crowd that stands out.

An unfortunate side-effect of such a dense immigrant population is, like NYC, that crime thrives. So, holding tight to my backpack, we made it to a nice flat (damn british english i've started to pick up on this side of the world...) away from the worse side of town. Here Saint Denise is a quaint Parisian neighborhood, with a Basilica, a theater, and some other touristy spots I'll have to check out.

After a yummy dinner we started going over maps and information. We even walked to the metro to pick up a 10-pack of tickets (unlike Madrid's system, they give you 10 individual tickets instead of just one that is recognized by the machines and stamped until it reaches 10 trips. Pain in the arse to carry so many little purple rectangles in the wallet... I'm going to look into a weekly for next week. They go Mon-Sun, so it would be a waste to have it for just 4 days.)

In Madrid I kinda discovered my way through life and places. Here I think I know more about things before even setting foot out of the door. They gave me a nice overview of everything. I guess it's also easier than I have the experience of Madrid. Many concepts I am already familiar with, like the intermingling of metro, trains, trams, and buses through the same sections of the city. So now all I have left to do is learn French. lol. (and I have to remember to try and speak Italian or Spanish to them, rather than English. Sadly enough, doing the latter can cause unnecessary rudeness on the locals' part...)

Going over the guide books I realize there is *a lot* to visit. I actually couldn't finish the overview of sights in downtown Paris in one sitting. I am also exploring ways to save money on the touristy sights... I can get a multi-museum pass for 3 days, but it's only worth it if I visit 6-7 museums. If I have to include the Louvre in the list, forget about it. That alone takes a couple of days!

For tomorrow I think I will just stroll through some of the major sights, get a feel for things, then plan out an effective way to plow through museums. I'm going to start at the Ile St Louis, then hop to Ile de la Cite, to see Notre Dame. Then up over the Seine to Les Halles and the Forums, then walk the grand axe: Louvre, Champ Elysee, Arc Du Triomphe... if it's still early by the time i'm done with that, I can go check out the Eiffel Tower. I think I'm going to leave actually visiting the inside of places for Mon-Wed, hoping for less touristy traffic.

I haven't whipped out my camera yet, conscious of the outside dangers and the inside exhaustion of my hosts. I'll be sure to pick it up tomorrow and click away! Hopefully in a while I will have a more portable, any-time camera (cell phone) to cover those gaps when I can't use the big guns ;) If anyone knows an actual date of when the Sony Ericsson W300i comes out, let me know! I read somewhere of a special edition coming out in June... but I'm hoping for an earlier release of the regular model.

Au revoir!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

All the bookstores and comic stores I found in madrid

Used English Bookstores:

Petra's International Bookshop
A small but cute second-hand shop, with books in several languages, very helpful girl was working there while I visited. She even directed me to the other international bookstore in the area when she couldn't find any books from Kurt Vonnegut, which I was looking for.

J & J Books & Coffee
Coffee shop upstairs, and a basement full of books in English. Very helpful people there, as well.

Comic Bookstores:

El Aventurero
I think this was the first one I found, right off of Plaza Mayor.

Arte 9
Doctor Esquerdo, 6
Cruz, 37
91 402 96 08

San Bernardo, 20
91 521 39 75

Useful website when you travel through Spain

General yellow pages, and a callejero (think mapquest/google maps).

Via Michelin

For longer trips, this seems to be more accurate to plot itineraries. Also useful for other countries.


This is where I found my plane ticket, for a little over €80 , with a 2-week advance notice. Only downside: they charge an extra fee (supposedly refundable within a month). They claim it's completely normal and travel agencies always do that... Still, this was better than although the site seems more reputable, it originally gave me the same quote, but after inputting my credit card info and finishing the order, told me the ticket was actually going to cost €120, and did I want to confirm that.


The local train system.

Spain has several transportation systems:

- Metro: subway system. About 12 lines, they go by color, and you have to figure out direction by the name of the last stop (not a simple "uptown/downtown like in Manhattan :P )
- Renfe Cercanias: goes next to the metro through most of Madrid, but goes out further, towards the suburban areas. One stop to avoid: Pitis. Apparently there's heavy-duty druggies there, they get on the train and bother passengers...
- Renfe: I think this is the regional network, goes to other cities.
- Bus system: there's red buses and green buses and blue ones. I've always used the red ones, which seem to be more local. I got on a green one once, and they didn't accept my regular metrobus ticket. I think those are for longer trips to suburbia, but not sure. No clue about the blue ones.
- AVE: Alta Velocidad E(something). High speed trains that go to other cities or countries. I had looked up this option to go to Paris. It would have cost €120, an overnight train, I think about 12 hours total trip time. Maybe a little more. This was the cheapest option. No bed or anything, just a reclinable seat, airline-style. Imagine 12 hours on that? And I think the luggage just sits next to you. For heavy sleepers, not a safe option.

Other random trivia:

- You can walk into a bar and just ask for "beer". They will serve you anything they got either on tap or the most popular bottle. I've seen served anything from Mahou, Cruzcampo, to Heineken. In a club, we got a Budweiser! First and last time I saw that in Madrid...

- Can you tell I hang out with drinkers? (No comment on how much *I*'ve drank this past month. But I kept it decent.) ;) Another interesting cultural difference: Most bars will serve beer with lemon in it. This seems to be usually 1/5 lemon fanta and the rest beer. It seems to be a common way to drink beer. I didn't try it, so can't tell ya how it tastes. Another common drink is sweet, fizzy water with wine (I had a sip but didn't care for it.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

random update

Nothing much new, at least no easter travels, no sight-seeing... I'm saving my energies for the next portion of the trip. I'm [boring the crap out of cris by blogging instead of doing other, more fun, stuff...] <-- of course this is cris typing while i'm not looking ;)

Yesterday I went to the movie with Angela and Santi, he had suggested a film from Columbia called "Sumas y Restas" which sounded scary as he explained the plot, but turned out to be really good. Not counting the more violent bits about guns in the streets and sequestering, the people, the way of living, and the general attitude really reminded me of Costa Rica. The funniest part is, the movie was in Spanish, and yet they had subtitles... in Spanish. For all the slang words not used in Spain. It was kinda odd.

The rest has been fairly quiet. Sleeping in, hanging out... I completely ignored Easter, as did everyone else I know. The only plan coming up is to go back to the Korean restaurant Tue night, the last night I'm gonna be here. That's where I met everyone, the first Friday I was here. Kinda of a beginning and end. Plus it was good food :)

I probably won't have another update 'til I get to France. Or from the airport if I find a connection here in Madrid while I wait. When I came into Barajas, though, they told me there was no wireless anywhere...

Random side notes: I saw Cannabia beer in a supermarket. Has a scratch-and-sniff on the label. Interesting.

Other random side note: Here's some slang I learned in Spain:
currar = trabajar (work)
vale = bueno, 'ta bien (ok)
polla = picha (dick)
que morro = que feo (yuck)
guiri = gringo (foreigner)
como mola = que tuanis (how cool)
chungo = feo (ugly)
pijo = fresa (posh)

Friday, April 14, 2006

(12) of 12 for April 2006

See them in this other window. I'm too lazy to work the code into this window. ;)

last week in madrid

I have final reservations for a plane to paris this wed, april 19. If all goes well I'll be arriving around 6:30pm at charles de gaulle. Then I have to find my way through the public transportation system and arrive at Ana's. I have a nice step-by-step for all the trains. Let's see if I manage as easily as I did in Spain. I have the extra difficulty level of not speaking French. :)

I have some more pics from last weekend. I have relaxed a bit with the sight-seeing, and I'm more just hanging out, soaking in the contentment, and waiting for the next big city adventure :) Plus "Semana Santa" in Spain is a big thing, everyone gets 4 days off, at 3pm Wed everyone is rushing out towards the beaches or other vacation spots.

Not sure what we'll be doing this weekend and through Wed. Angela had Thu-Sun off, but Cris has Sat-Tue off. So only their weekend coincides. We had some vague plans of taking off for the beach, but Ariel is with her the first two days, and with the father the other two, so it kinda impeded any long-term planning. We did visit a friend outside of Madrid yesterday, past a national reservation with deers and all... I got to lay by a pool in the bright mid-April sun for an hour or two. No tanning, though :P

The only things I did this week have been trying to get to the Monasterio de las Descalzas reales (closed this week) and the American Museum (also closed early on Sun) and the Faro de la Moncloa (closed since last August). So, lotsa walking about but nothing much accomplished.

Ah well.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

almost got mugged!

note: this is the first post my new editor in residence is editing before it goes live... so all proper capitalization and grammar and spelling are thanks to him :)

So there I am, walking Cris to Atocha to catch the train, we are strolling happily through the rainforest portion when two girls stop me and tell me: "Hey, your cell phone just got stolen." Startled, I check my pockets, where I keep Angela's work phone, which she kindly lets me have for emergencies. It's there. I calm down, thinking they were completely off, and say "no it didn't." They insist that a guy just opened my bag and stole something. I check my little backpack, where i was keeping my camera lenses, a book, some water, my glasses. It is open! I quickly checked the contents against my mental inventory. It's all there. I ask for more info, they point at a guy who is happily strolling by as if nothing happened, and they said he did it. He looks at me as he passes by, and says something like "don't worry, I didn't take anything," and keeps on walking, as if nothing happened, calm as a clam (...don't ask where the clam idea came from, I have no clue :P) (ed note: I can verify that most clams are pretty relaxed.)

Cris, through all this, just sees me calmly chatting with some girls and doesn't understand something went wrong. As the girls point to the guy, I make to go after him, but they stop me, saying no, to let him go. I check myself, wondering how to react, slightly in shock, kicking myself for thinking all the while I was always aware of my bag and I would notice if anyone tried to go for it... I keep walking, leaving the girls behind, and we pass by some cops. Atocha has been full of cops since the bombing a couple years ago. I finally explain to Cris what just happened. I wonder if I should tell the cops, seeing how nothing was stolen, and the guy had walked off. He says "of course," so I approach them, feeling silly, but also thinking it's a good thing to do. Fortunately they take it all seriously, probably more than I did. They ask for a description and follow me towards where I saw the guy going to, and assured me they would check on it. We walked away. I was a little reassured, but a bit of my world shaken. It's like I lost a bit of my cool. Being shown you're vulnerable sucks.

The good part: nothing was stolen. Just my pride. So I get to learn with minimal loss. ;)

In other news, now that I've purged that bit, today was a cool day at the park. All 4 musketeers went to the Retiro, and we spent all day walking about, taking pics (the card is full!) and chilling about [ed note: if this is not a phrase yet, it should be]. Yesterday, Friday, was Ariel's first day off from school for spring break, so I got to babysit. After a late start (he was told by Angela before she left for work to let me sleep) we took the bike to the park and walked about a bunch. Funny thing was that his bike hadn't been used in a couple of years, so the tires were pretty low. Not having a pump, I figured he didn't weigh enough to bend the rims, plus the training wheels helped... I ended up lugging the damn bike most of the time since he couldn't ride it properly! All in all, it was fun, though. I even got to take him to lunch. Training to be a full babysitter I guess... lol. The funniest bit: as he was getting bored waiting for me to get up, rather than actually trying to wake me, he wrote a note that read:"Baleria, despierta!" and put it on me. I found it much later and told him it didn't work because he mispelled my name ;)

I'm trying to remember what I did Wednesday and Thursday... I think I had lunch with Angela Wednesday, then walked about looking for more places to see. I went into the Fine Arts School, which had some Renaissance art, and tried to go for the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales, but it was mobbed, so I walked on. I have more pics for all these days, but I have to download, organize, and clean them up... so I'm gonna post this for now and work on the pics later.

Hmmm... let's say i'm all caught up again, and off i go out to do more stuff :)


Thursday, April 06, 2006

new week, new decisions

Monday of decisions. The original plan was for me to leave this Wed. Well, the original original plan was to leave before the weekend. But then Cris told me his bday was coming up, why didn't I stick around 'til then. Angela loved the idea and also wants me to stay more, plan more outings... I'm having a blast. I am barely starting to really absorb Madrid and its culture. I crave more. I have great friends here. Good company, great fun, a great setup... Easter is coming up, and traveling is a pain... I like it here, and no matter how much I want to continue and see more people and explore more places, I find myself procrastinating on finding my way to Paris.

So I have decided. And I hope all the people that are waiting for me will understand. I am sticking around Madrid until after Easter. It'll be a total of a whole month here. It's been 2.5 weeks. Sometimes I feel it might be too long to stay here through Easter. But I already have plans for most of the days that are left, and I feel I won't have enough time to do all I still want to do!

This sets my visiting plans back a little, and I know I told many I would be there by now (I was supposed to be in Germany this past weekend!)... but the whole point of me taking off and doing this trip was to live life. Why not enjoy the good stuff while I have it? You never know what tomorrow will bring. Forcing yourself through a schedule is for when you have a job and responsibilities. None of that now :D

So, while I still look forward to see all, bear with me while I relax and enjoy myself here another 2 weeks :D Plus, at least calmed down... and Germany won't be underwater anymore.

Easy start on Monday, but I spent most of the afternoon walking about in search of book and comics stores. I think I now know all of the two used english bookstores, the area of comic bookstores, and where to find new books in english. Very few places, but they exist! And I found a EU-only publication of Battle Chasers! (yeah, Apuy, copies are on their way to ya ;) ) It's odd to see everything in Spanish, all the same titles you see in a regular store in the USA, but inside is all translated. Kinda cool that they're so popular! Although I do wish I could find original titles. This was my first real shopping day. I probably shouldn't have done it, no point carrying books traveling... and no point wasting precious savings... but damn it felt good to mill about the books for a couple of hours, and to have something to read on all the bus and train rides ;)

The night consisted of bday celebrating at a Jazz cafe (yeah, kick me, I didn't think of bringing the camera...). Since it was a Monday night it was hard to get ppl to go, but the show was really good. Live music with a band of Latin Jazz, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the show!

Today Tue I started a very late day, left Cris at the train station so he could make his way home, and I headed off to the park. No camera today, either (damn thing is heavy to carry around...) but I spotted a couple of cool places to go back to (6pm at the crystal palace looks awesome!) And I saw an art exhibit at the "Casa de Vacas", a gallery in the middle of el Retiro, right north of the big pond where people rent boats. Fermin Ramirez de Arellano, a series of snowy, melancholic landscapes, very nicely done. It was a gorgeous day, I laid in the grass for a while, planning my next sight-seeing tour. Found lotsa cool new things on a new travel guide that my big all-of-europe guide doesn't have space to mention... So I have a marathon planned for tomorrow. Let's see how much of it I manage to get in. I think I have enough for 3 days worth of walking!! Wed is a free day for many of the public museums, so I can't waste the opportunity. Maybe I'll leave the outdoor stuff (like the Tower of Picasso, Spain's tallest building) for Thu.

Yey! I'm all up to date! Time to go do more stuff :D


Tuesday, April 4th - not like every day isn't like a weekend to me... but i get extra company from my wonderful friends to go out and experience stuff with, so it's extra fun :)

fri night, after nursing my sore throat all day, and pretty much doing nothing, we decided to catch the release of Ice Age 2. About movie theaters in Madrid: there is only one movie theater that shows movies in their original language. All others are dubbed. All movies are released at least 2 weeks after they are released in the USA. (You do the actual math. I have no clue when ice age 2 came out in the US...) The movie theater we went to is the Yelmo Cineplex Ideal, near Plaza Mayor. A seat costs €6.40, and the price is even better on Mondays, as it's the "dia del espectador" (hmm, the day of the movie-goer?). The funkiest thing was that you are assigned a numbered seat. The ticket lady asks you which row and seat number you want, or tells you what is left open... None of this going earlier to get a good seat. If you want that, you have to buy the ticket in advance. And the other cool thing was that bathrooms are right inside the theatre, so if you really have to go, you can still hear the movie while you make a run for it (and hopefully no one in the theater gets to hear you... ;) )

After the movie there was some more milling about the streets. I got hungry at some point so we ducked into a random bar that was still selling tapas (small portions of food served alongside drinks, a very Spanish thing). I saw two odd paintings at front, one of a really fat man, another of a very skinny girl... I started noticing the bartender's shirt... it read "La Soberbia". On the back, there was a list: "ira, gula, pereza, envidia, lujuria, avaricia"... Yeah, the seven deadly sins. Now the paintings made sense ;) Cool place, although closes very early for madrid, at only 1am (although it was already 2am by the time they actually asked ppl to leave).

We made an "early" night of it, as Cris had parents' duties the next day. We are becoming experts at managing sleep deprivation ;) Well, him and Angela, really. I get to sleep in most weekdays :D

Sat was a girls' day out, of shopping. We strolled through the northeast of Madrid, in a shopping area (I have to ask what it was called...) We made it back home by 10pm, I think. Just enough time to get ready to try out a new goth place, 666. It was a pretty cool hangout, lotsa ppl dressed-up, must be where those that go to the Dark Hole go to before that opens. This closed at 1am on the dot, kicked everyone out. We had vague plans to go to Toledo on Sun, so we called it a night. Yeah, it was a slow weekend... lol.

Sun we managed to be on the road by 1:30pm. (lol, in checking the first pic of that day, i just realized the time on my camera is still NY's!) Made it to Toledo with only one wrong turn and one side trip... and found a city full of "obras"... for one reason or another, most tourist attractions were closed! The cathedral was closed 'cause the archbishop was in town. The Alcazar was under renovation (And I don't understand if it's a general name of a type of place, or if there just happens to be one here just like there is one in Segovia...!) The Mezquita didn't actually have weekend hours... *sigh* So I have a lot of pictures of the narrow streets and outsides of buildings... We walked up and down the steep alleys 'til we found a very lousy McDonalds (the fries weren't cooked all the way). We spent about 3.5 hrs in a town which the travel guide I have says it's impossible to see in just a day. Either we walk real fast, or they don't know what they're talking about! The way back was a combination of random side trips and random road picking. It seems I have a built-in GPS, that manages to get me back to a central point. Walking around Madrid, I always end up back to Puerta del Sol. Outside of Madrid, I was doing a decent job of getting us back. So I'm the official navigator :D Here's a whole album of Toledo pics.

Overall, I liked Segovia better. Maybe 'cause it was one of Cris' very special and convenient drive-through sight-seeing tours (he says he has coined the term!), maybe 'cause it was a disappointment to see everything closed in Toledo... Although the latter is supposed to have a bigger historical background, or it's more famous, or something... I wish I had taken the camera with me for the first trip.

Another weekend in Madrid and its outskirts (actually, Toledo is in Castilla y La Mancha... home to the famous Don Quixote!) and still having a blast! Man, it's hard to plan to leave to go to the next spot, however enticing it is to see more ppl I haven't seen in so long...


Friday, March 31 - Turns out I had a slightly wrong idea of flamenco. I expected the ladies of Sevilla, with castanets and slicked hair and stuff... Flamenco is more of a gypsies folklore. What we got on Wednesday night for €26 a person was a couple of chairs around a tiny table, in the back room of the restaurant "Casa Patas" (about 6 blocks from Angela's), 3 singers, 2 guitar people, and 2 dancers, a guy and a girl.

At first the guy looked like he was on crack. There was some grace to the movements, but mostly it was a flailing of legs and arms, with lots of stomping. The singing was ok, but didn't manage to get to me. The first portion of the show was short, too, and I was almost disappointed. Many people left during the break, and we almost thought that was it. The performers didn't say anything like "we'll be right back, enjoy the break, drink and eat..." but I refused to believe it was that lousy. Some other tourists, as puzzled as we were, asked a waiter if there was more to come, and they were reassured that yes, there was.

The second part re-vindicated itself. The girl's performance and looks were weak compared to the guy, but the guy had a solo performance that finally showed all the training, passion, and control of that art. I walked out feeling inspired and invigorated. If I had to go again I'd probably look for another place, but at least I was left with an overall good impression of Flamenco :D

With so much energy, even though it was after midnight, we started walking the streets of downtown Madrid looking for some place to chill. After an hour of milling about, we ended up at a place we had tried to get into before, but was too full the first time to actually sit down and enjoy. It was still pretty busy that night, but we decided to stick around. 20 minutes later we appropriated a spot on the floor with cushions (the place is a "chill out" place, has sofas and cushions and a relax decor. They actually call it that in spanish. Chill out. lol) I had brought my camera in case they allowed pics at the flamenco show (they didn't) so we (Cris) got some funky shots.

The way home was fun, we were looking for the "Buho" (="owl"), the one bus that travels between Plaza Cibeles and Fuencarral after 12am. We reached the bus stop around 3:30am, but the next bus wasn't 'til 4am... and we needed a bathroom. Turns out Madrid is very well lit, especially around the few trees and bushes around. Remember the picture from the second blog entry, the random bathroom at the edge of a plaza? Well, I remembered it, too. Strangely Cibeles didn't have one. But we managed to make it to the next plaza and back on time. Now I have finally seen how they work ;) For 30 cents you get a door to swoosh open and swoosh close, revealing a well-lit but private pissing spot ;)

Let's see, wed and thu, what else happened? Earlier on Wed I woke up pretty late, trying to catch up on sleep. I was supposed to meet angela for lunch but didn't manage to make it. The daylight savings time change this Sun messed up the clocks around the house, and I didn't know what time it was anymore. :P Once I managed to get out of the house I did some more walking about. I had looked up that the Palacio Real was free on Wed for EU citizens, so I walked that way. I managed to do a whole photo essay of the place, so if you're interested, here's the whole palace, with descriptions. From there they had directions to the "Convento de la Encarnacion". Also free, I decided to duck inside. I happened there just at the beginning of the tour (no milling around on your own allowed) but I got bored after 2 rooms and the continued excuses from the tour guide that they didn't have anything famous of important in this convent, unlike the one of the "Descalzas Reales", which was more famous and more important... I made my escape after 20 mins. The one thing I got out of this place was one of the goriest sculptures of Jesus I've seen.

From there I walked back home the long way to meet up with everyone for dinner. Angela and Ariel ducked out of the fun again, so I took Cris to my latest and yummiest discovery: This place has 100 mini sandwiches, one euro each, with fresh, real european bread (if you haven't picked up on that by now, I love bread!) delight of delights! :D Angela showed me the place on Tue night, when we went up north to her old place, it's a chain, and luckily there was one right next to Plaza Mayor, which is within walking distance of here. I don't think Cris was as impressed as I was. But I was happy :) I could live on that daily :D After food it was the flamenco, and the rest of the fun for the night i already told u about.

Thu I tried to catch up on sleep some more (while my brave friends went to work), but since I had bailed on angela for lunch the day before, i sacrificed sleep just so i could meet her at 2pm. from there i figured i'd walk to some other spots of downtown madrid. i had heard of Plaza España and of an egyptian temple near it. so after a quick lunch with my bestest Madrid girlfriend, i trekked for half an hour through the back streets (noticing a couple of comic book stores along the way, closed then, but i made a note of where they are!) and did some more sight-seeing. I walked through Plaza España, to the temple of Debod, saw the Park of the West from there (a huge park right outside Madrid), then went all the way south to another church and then all the way east, passing by some more cool neighborhoods, La Latina and Lavapies, mostly immigrants there.

Since we'd all been sacrificing sleep, that evening was a quiet movies night at cris'. Zathura was the flick of choice.

Today I decided to give up on sight-seeing. I started getting a sore throat a couple of days ago, so i made use of the wonderful local pharmacies to get advice and ibuprofen, to fix things up a bit. here's to hoping it goes away!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Cultural Tuesday

Tuesday, March 28 - Mornings still do not exists for me yet. If I'm not up late 'cause I'm going out, I'm up catching up on the computer or the tv :)

So, this afternoon I went to the local "Central Park"... el parque del Buen Retiro. It was a gorgeous day, and many were jogging or milling around. I entered the park through the door of the fallen angel. At the end of the road there is a statue of satan at the moment of his fall. i vaguely remembered this from 3 years ago, angela and her friends had brought me there to see it, and they were convinced it was the only sculpture representation of this moment of the devil, as an angel. I never did look it up to find out if it was true... maybe it's the only one in spain? i forgot to look for a plaque, but here are some shots of the plaza, a close-up of the statue, and a close-up of the details that surround the bottom, which are these funny gargoyle faces with lizards in their talons.

I also started a series of pictures of people at rest in public. Every time I saw someone sleeping on a bench or chair I took a snapshot. I'm going to try and make an album out of it, it's pretty fun, and apparently there's enough material in madrid :) take a look at the first series.

Leaving the park I saw the famous Puerta de Alcala` (famous to me only 'cause I have a song stuck in my head that keeps repeating the name... If you ask me about the history behind it, I'm gonna give ya a rain check until I have a chance to look it up :D ). To the uncultured observer, it's just an archway in the middle of a plaza, surrounded by traffic.

Continuing up north I reached the plaza where Angela works, but I went into the National Library to see a temporary exhibit of some of Rembrandt's work. Really cool stuff, the guy is amazing! It was only etchings, proofs of concept and unfinished stuff, but you could see the skill. No pictures allowed, unfortunately.

Back down towards the street of Alcala, looking for the Plaza de Bellas Artes, where every day there's supposed to be outdoor shows at 5pm. I walked and walked and ended up at Puerta del Sol, way past the area it was supposed to be in. No clue if I missed it 'cause it was under construction (half of Madrid is under construction!! I have come to hate them "obras" signs) or if I was supposed to turn somewhere... it was already past 5pm, and I had babysitting duties at 6:15 again, so I opted to walk back home. The evening was spent going to Angela's old place, looking for a package I sent her with travel guides before I left. We didn't make it back until 10pm! At which time I looked for a local Flamenco show place to make reservations for tomorrow night! Yey!

Here's a pic of me about an hour ago, Angela's handiwork, and how I spend most of the nights I'm home ;)