Edinburgh

06/09/2009

Scotland gets 2 thumbs way up!  Shortly after showing up, Darcy, Keenan, and I scaled a rock called Arthur’s Seat, which was located just several blocks away from Brian’s apartment.  The peak was some 250 meters up, about 800 feet, and took about 20 minutes to reach the top.  It was the perfect climb, making the 3 of us breathe a little harder and causing a small sweat to break out across our foreheads.  Upon reaching the top, we were privy to the best views of Edinburgh and its bay, and I snapped many pictures of the city landscape as well as the fantastic sunset.

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After exploring some Monday night Edinburgh social life, we got some sleep and woke up early on Tuesday for our trip way up north to the famous Scottish highlands.  The main attraction: Loch Ness.  After a 3 hour train ride, we arrived at the largest town in the highlands, Inverness.  From Inverness we caught a series of buses and stopped at Urquhart Castle, situated right on the banks of Loch Ness.  From the castle we bussed to Fort Augsburg, a quiet loch-side village which we explored for several hours.  After a delicious lunch of ale and fish ‘n chips, we found some lawn chairs and parked it Loch-side for a few minutes, taking in the beautiful views all the while being heavily battered by the strong winds coming off the lake.  We kept our eyes open for any sign of the famous Loch Ness monster, affectionately known as Nessie, but to our despair, we had no such luck.  After retracing our steps with the various busses, we arrived back in Inverness in time to stop in a pub and have a few pints before boarding the 3 hour train back to Edinburgh.

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The next day, the 3 of us woke up with only one thing on our mind: GOLF.  Scottish lore says that at Saint Andrews, golf was born many years ago.  As this is indeed a fact, the lore lured us in and we rented clubs and walked 18 holes on Wednesday morning.  It was a great course, and for the 3 of us was plenty lenient as we slashed around the links.  But fun was had by all, and Keenan actually played pretty well and had a put for a 39 (which would have been his first sub-40 9 holes ever!) but he missed it.  Better luck next time big fella.

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Darcy took off right after golf, so it was finally time for me to actually tour the city of Edinburgh.  It is a fantastic city and with about 500,000 residents it combines the feel of a modern city with the tranquility of the Scottish rural landscape.  In the buildings, one can see the medieval origins of the city, but can also get lost in the cleanliness and well kept facades and storefronts that line the street.  Edinburgh was the first city I visited that did NOT have a metro, but it was incredibly enjoyable to walk around the city, with every major site and popular neighborhood only about a 15 minute walk away.  I got the expedited tour of Edinburgh castle on Thursday, which towers over the buildings in the heart of the city.  The castle has a long and battle-filled history and is a reflection of Scottish and British history throughout the centuries.  I also got the real quick tour of the Scottish Parliament, which was celebrating just its 10th year of existence, as ‘devolution’ was only granted by the English Parliament one decade ago.

The last paragraph of my travel log I will devote to my Scottish culinary experience.  In describing my meals, one must not focus on caloric count or overall healthiness of each meal.  Scottish people have the lowest life expectancy of any nation in the European Union, and for good reason.  Every meal I had all weekend was fried and accompanied with “chips” or french fries.  Obviously, this is awesome, but I don’t think I could have continued to eat like that for much longer.  My first indulgence was haggis, a Scottish concoction of stuffed sheep’s stomach with all sorts of sheep organs and oatmeal, which is deep friend and delicious.  It was surprisingly tasty and comes with my seal of approval for any adventurous eater.  After trying a wonderful plate of fish n’ chips in Loch Ness, I finished my Scottish gastronomic tour with black pudding and battered pizza, neither of which get any thumbs up.  But at least I can say I tried.  Lastly, the beer was amazing.  After a semester of crappy Spanish beer, it was pure heaven to indulge in Guinness after Guinness, all the while trying my hand at a few glasses of Scotch whiskey and some locally crafted beers (highly recommend John Smith’s Ale).

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I am now home in Chicago, and plan on writing one more blog post before bidding adios!  Check back next week for my end of semester reflection.  It promises to be muy interesante!

Well, academically it is officially over.  I completed all essays, exams, and presentations last week on Wednesday.  Everything went very well and I expect my grades to turn out on par with what I have expected during my collegiate career.

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The goodybyes (for now) began last weekend and have been taking place all week long.  Its bittersweet, but I really did meet some fantastic people here in Madrid and we had an unbelievable experience traveling, socializing, and living the life.  Due to departures, I have been itching to come home a little more than I had in the past.  I suppose that’s normal, but I have been soaking up my Madrid environment this weekend, enjoying the sun and cervecerias, the language and the cuisine.  I went on two souvenir excursions this weekend, the first two of the semester.  My family can expect some cute little gifts and I also bought some funny Spanish/Madrid t-shirts that I will surely be wearing around constantly throughout the summer.  I also bought myself a pair of bright red jeans.  You should hope you see me wearing them around the States.  They are awesome. Enough said.

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Tomorrow I head way up north to Edinburgh, Scotland to visit my best buddy Keenan and meet up with Darcy once again.  This trip will mean that the 3 of us have all visited each other in their respective countries and the same time that all 3 of us have been there.  Does that make sense?  In other words, we united in Paris, Madrid, and now Scotland, all present at the same time.  I am pumped for some dark beer, english speaking people, pub food, brisk weather, and LOCH NESS.  I will find that damn monster, you shall see.  Edinburgh also happens to be the birthplace of the Father of Modern Economics, Adam Smith.  Hopefully I can soak up some economic wisdom while there, or at least, see his grave–or something.  I suppose in simple terms he did invent capitalism, so why not see where he is buried?

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I get back from the UK late Thursday night which leaves me Friday to pack my life into 1 large suitcase, 1 carry on, and a backpack before heading STATESIDE.  Weird.  Its strange to think that every semester of college I have made at least one trip BACK TO CHICAGO.  This semester, however, I haven’t even made a trip back to the US.  Therefore, it is easily the longest time I have spent away from family, friends, and American freedom.  I am ready to go back, its time to start thinking about the real world again.  That is not to say that I haven’t had the time of my life here in Spain.  I plan on putting my thoughts and feelings into words and posting my piece to this blog upon returning to the States.  Keep any eye out for that.

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On a different note, my mom has been sending me emails with “things that await me at home,” AKA things I miss and will love to have back.  Among them:

My comfy bed

Two parents that love me unconditionally (Aw)

MickPo4 full of gas

A refrigerator full of food and beer

American TV (especially the new season of “Weeds”)

…And the list goes on

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I have to say, sleeping in my air conditioned bedroom at 806 S School St, the only house I have ever lived in, will be a welcomed feeling.

Two blog posts left: 1) Edinburgh recap and 2) Semester reflection (I love getting philosophical and sentimental)

Until then!

For the most official of records, I have two academic obligations left for the semester (2 exams).  This excites me very much as I have found the academic part of the abroad experience to be lacking throughout my 4.5 months.  That is not to say that I havent learned a whole lot more outside the classroom and in regards to speaking the language, because I have, but I just find the expectations, instructions, professionalism, and overall structure of classes here to be entirely inferior to those back in the States.  Thank goodness for American higher education, it really is the best in the world.

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So come Wednesday at noon, I will be done with all school work and be just hanging out for a few days before heading up north to the land of kilts and Loch Ness, the home of bagpipes and the highlands, Scotland.  I am pretty excited about that trip because I get to visit two of my best buddies in the world and for the first time in the semester will get to set foot in an English speaking country.  Although I imagine that the English I will encounter there might be slightly different.  We shall see…

Beyonce was awesome last week. It was a kind of last hurrah for my group of friends in Madrid as people have already started fleeing back to the States in droves (that’s an exaggeration, but you get the picture).  It’s super cliche, but all good things must come to an end. Shit. Apologies for the profanity.

The official announcement for the 2016 Olympic Host City comes out on October 2nd of this year.  With both Chicago and Madrid vying for the nomination, there is a 50% chance I will be definitely attending the games in 7 years.  Clearly, I am rooting for the Windy City but if the games fell into Madrid’s hands, I would have few objections as a return trip to watch the international spectacle would be nothing less than a certainty.  Fingers crossed against Rio and Tokyo, sorry you two.

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This post is littered with random pictures from the semester as I have continued to neglect photo documentation in this blog.  Good things come to those who wait.  Someone tell me to stop using cliches.  Ok, thanks.

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My favorite spot in the entire city is most definitely El Parque del Buen Retiro, aka Retiro.  I have never before had access to visit a park so unique until my time in Madrid.  I would reckon that Retiro rivals even NYC’s Central Park, and has to be in the top 5 in the world.  The hippie population increases exponentially when you step foot into the wooded grounds of the park, and since the weather in Madrid is extraordinary, lounging by the man made lake with friends and some wine has become quite the pasttime.

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On a completely unrelated note, I have realized why people spend good money to buy high quality sunglasses.  Granted, I have a few pairs of nice shades.  But the street vendors insist on tempting me with new styles every time I turn the corner.  That being said, I have gone through 3 pairs of street-purchased glasses for prices of 5, 10, and 7 euros, respectively.  All purchases have either been lost or broken.  Therefore, I am in a dilemma as to whether I should pick up a few more pairs before I head home, or just take the 3 hints that have been thrown at me and let it slide….

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And here are two of my favorite pictures that I snapped from the bull fight.

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Things on the agenda for this week post finals: souvenir buying, picture taking of all my favorite Madrid hangouts, suntanning.  Until Wednesday…

-Two oral presentations in spanish, monday and tuesday

-Going to the Beyonce in Madrid concert, tuesday (anyone jealous?)

-Writing a 2000 word essay, thursday-completion

-Studying for a final exam, saturday/sunday

-Enjoying my last 3 weeks in Madrid, everyday

May 27th=all work, tests, papers…finished. aka the semester is over

June 1-4=trip to Edinburgh, Scotland to meet up with Keenan and Darcy

June 6=flight back to the land of the free and the home of the brave

I failed to write a bloody blow by blow update of the bullfight last week.  I stayed for 5 of the 6 toros.  I would’ve stayed for all 6, but I wanted to avoid the post-slaughter stampede out of the stadium.  I thought it was fascinating and found nothing morally troubling about the entire spectacle.  Obviously, many people feel the opposite way.  I do not see the need to express my in depth opinion about the public slaying of animals because it remains a controversial topic today in Spain.  In other words, I thought it was cool, very cool indeed.  And I will leave it at that…

I am soon to be officially a senior in college.  I will put that on hold until the 27th (10 days?!) and plan on enjoying the last days of my junior year to the fullest.  Let’s first get through these two presentations…

Happy mother’s day to all the fantastic women in the world and a special shout out to Mary Jo, one of the greatest of them all.  Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

Another week down and another week closer to heading back to the States.  I had my first final exam last week which I am confident will turn out well and I just finished writing my economics thesis proposal for next year (Ugh!).  If that gets excepted, I will spend an entire year developing my ideas and doing an empirical study on alternative development and crop substitution in illegal narcotic producing nations (Afghanistan, Colombia, Morocco).  If that sounds like the worst idea in the world, well it is ok because I picked the topic so I won’t be dying all year reading up on that stuff.  I am hoping it gets excepted, I put a lot of thought and work into it and really want the year long challenge.

Other than school work, I had a great weekend enjoying some new sights and restaurants with my friends.  People start to take off in less than a week, so it will be a slow trickle of less and less buddies left in Madrid, which will surely be a weird feeling after spending 4+ months with some of the better people I have met in my life.  We had our “fiesta despedida” for our BC group last wednesday which was a feast of tapas in an old and traditional restaurant near the Plaza Mayor.  We gave Ana and Paloma (our directors and above all, friends) some parting gifts, hugs, tears, thanks, etc.  I bought them each a rose from one of the gypsy men on the street.  I think it got me some brownie points.  Although they saw me purchase the roses, so it was more funny than sincere.  I would have it no other way.

Post tapas dinner we went to the coolest outdoor terrace bar on top of one of the nicer hotels in all Madrid.  After buying an expensive but delicious mojito, we enjoyed the fresh air and wonderful views before heading out to a few of our favorite weekend spots.  It will definitely be a shock to head back to the States where walking the streets at 5am and drinking beers in public is not an accepted form of social interaction.  Oh well, I guess I just have to put in my time while I am here.

Friday was more of the same, with the day involving lying in the sun in my new favorite park (Templo de Debod) and taking a ‘well deserved’ siesta before heading out for another Friday night of wandering the city from bar to bar.  I really try to stay away from the details of a night on the town in Madrid because there are few words to describe the social life when all of Spain is out in full force.  And plus I just really dont want to go into details.  But I fully enjoy every night spent meandering through the callecitas (little streets) and stumbling upon a new little plaza that you didn’t know existed before.  It is awesome. Period.

Tonight I am going to my first bullfight (corrida de toros).  There has not been a lack of opinions regarding the ethical and cultural value of the longstanding Spanish tradition, but I am trying to keep an open mind before heading into the Plaza to watch 3 toreros slay 6 bulls.  I guess its hard to put it in more politically correct terms, but from what I have heard and read, I am basically going to see a live butcher shop in action combined with some artsy traditions.  Every Spaniard I have ever talked to, whether for or against the toros, says you have to see a corrida before leaving Spain.  The bull is a national symbol of Spain, so I am going with an open mind to form my own opinion.  Pictures will abound, that is for sure.  And I might go have a hamburger afterwards to complete the experience.  Or not. We shall see.

In another note, I had the privelege of watching the Barcelona-Chelsea Champion’s League semifinal match with 30 Spaniards in my residencia all huddled around a TV no larger than the computer screen at which I am staring right now.  All those details are vitally important.  The first leg of the 2 game home-away series ended in a 0-0 draw.  The 2nd game was played on Chelsea’s home pitch and the London squad with the help of Michael Essien scored in the 9th minute to grab an early lead on the heavily favored Barcelona squad.  The first half ended with the same score and Barcelona turned up the pressure in the latter 45 minutes to try and equalize.  Unfortunately Barca lost a defender to a red card and was forced to play with 10 men for the last 25 minutes.  After 90 minutes, there were 4 minutes of extra time.  A hard charging Barcelona central defender scored in the 93rd minute with a side footed upper 90 strike that kids dream of as young soccer players.  The guy stripped off his shirt and set off a ridiculous celebration on the field in London and in my residencia in Madrid.  Now you might be asking, the score was only 1-1, right? Right.  But Barcelona won because they scored a goal on Chelsea’s home field while Chelsea was held scoreless in Barcelona a week earlier.  Tiebreaker to Barca and on to the finals go Thierry Henry and company.  The final is May 27th and it is marked with a large star on my calendar.  Sure to be an unreal night should Barcelona pull it off over Manchester United.  Vamos a ver.

Off to see the bulls.  I said some prayers for them this morning.  Oh yea, I finally went to a spanish mass this earlier today.  That was your mother’s day gift Mom! I know I make you so proud sometimes….

So I saw a play with the BC group last Thursday.  It was dialogue heavy, esthetically lacking, and altogether long and dull.  The name of the play was “La estrella de Sevilla” (The star of Seville) and is one of the great works by Lope de Vega, the famed Siglo de Oro author.  Well that is all fine and dandy but quite frankly, a dialogue heavy play in another language is nearly impossible to find appealing.  Think Shakespeare in spanish.  Not to mention there was no scenery, the entire cast was on stage at all times, and the main character had an issue keeping the saliva in his mouth (lines in verse always demand the utmost emphasis, this guy tended to emphasize a litte TOO much).  The highlight of the play was the court jester, or joker, who reminded me of a spanish quasimodo, as he was a wild looking guy with some crazy bald hair, a huge belly, and very animated gestures.  He made the play a little more enjoyable than if he was absent, although I wish he would have spoken a bit more, he was a very enthusiastic and odd hombre.

Friday morning I caught the Ave train to Barcelona with plans to spend 31 hours (1 night) in the city where I spent 7 days about 4 years ago.  I really only wanted to see the Gaudi stuff that I fell in love with in high school (I have two framed posters in my room at home).  So I did.  Kinda.  Sortof.  After arriving and dumping our bags at the hostel, we headed directly to Parque Guell, about our only touristy stop during the two days.  The park immediately satisfied my Gaudi craving as seeing the two gingerbreadesque houses are reward enough for making the journey from Madrid.  We caught a distant view of the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famed church that will supposedly ‘never’ be finished (although I heard it should be ‘completed’ within 3 years).  I met up with some other chicas and we headed to Las Ramblas, the crazy tourist laden drag with all sorts of street performers, culture, outdoor pet shop, cafes, etc.  After meandering through the street for a while and watching a SICK breakdancing show, we settled for some sangria and beer, I bought a fruity little bracelet from a street vendor, and we snapped some photos of the Columbus monument before heading back to the hostel before dinner.

That night, we met up with some other peeps and had a fantastic tapas dinner Barcelona style accompanied by three different types of wine (red, white, cava).  Mistake?  Too much wine is never a mistake.  After hitting up a few bars we retired for the evening and woke up at 10am the next day to get some sun before heading back on the train.

The Barcelona beach was sunny and filled with people.  I wouldn’t say it has been my favorite Spanish beach to this point, but after 5 hours I definitely was super relaxed, a little burned, and my clothes were saturated with sand (the 3 best things about a beach day).  I could include a few more details about the afternoon in the sand but frankly, I shall omit them at this point.

Headed back to Madrid on the Ave at 7pm and got some early rest before waking up Sunday and getting some work done.  I have a final this week on Wednesday, which starts about 3 weeks of a consistent work load, including papers, presenations, and a few more tests.

The money is holding up and May 6th marks the one month countdown until my flight back to Chitown.  However, I will actually not be counting down as I am trying to hold off the mental transition to the real world for as long as humanly possible (ie a month).

Happy birthday to Kelly and Maggie this week.  Feliz Cumpleanos!  I will dearly miss the usual Chuipek May-bbq bash but cannot wait for the dual graduation celebration in June!

Ciao

Saturday April 25th

04/27/2009

I went skydiving. It was super awesome.  My friend and I hopped on a bus early Saturday morning en route to Lillo, Spain, a sleepy little town with not a whole lot of anything going on except an airport where people get on planes and jump out at 12,500 feet.  I decided I wanted to be one of those people, so I payed some money to jump and get a fancy video of my freefall, and an hour after arriving at the base, I was attached to a Britisth fellow named Dean, and Dean and I went for a little fall together.

It was incredible.  55 seconds of freefall felt like 10 and 7 minutes of parachuting felt like 2.  I have an amazing video that was documented by a fellow named Ernesto who along with Dean and I went for a little fall  He was a small fellow and said he would have a hard time falling faster than I, seeing as though I was a little larger than he.  But he did a good job and when I figure out how to share this video (any suggestions on converting a DVD to a shareable file?) everyone can see the absurdity of the sport I took part in that one sunny Saturday afternoon in Spain.

Why did I jump?  It has always been on my list of cool things to do in life, so I decided to do it.  It was a truly unique sensation, falling so fast you actually feel like you are floating.  For anyone who can muster a charge against the fear of heights (and hitting the ground) I would reccommend it.  Tandem jumping is super safe and the only skydiving accidents you hear about are when people get greedy and try to do super complicated and difficult things in midair.

I told my parents via skype and sort of showed them my video.  My dad was impressed.  Mom said “oh, I am going to have a heartattack!”  Good thing I decided to tell them after I was already safely on the ground and back in Madrid.  I never intended to tell anyone beforehand and only mentioned the topic to a few souls.  It worked out in the end and I had a blast doing it.  The people at the base were super professional and the whole process went incredibly smooth.  I would do it again. In an instant. Let me know if anyone wants to go over the summer.

More work to be done this week as I have no plans to travel and am thouroughly enjoying Madrid for my last 5 weeks.  Still in search of a summer job.  So I am subscribing to the old adage of Carpe Diem and am taking it day by day because frankly I will never have this opportunity again in my life and I want to squeeze every last drop out of it.

See you on the flip side.

Keenan and Darcy have left and it is well past time for me to get to work.  I declared the time with my friends a ¨vacation¨ in Madrid meaning that I would eat out when they wanted to eat out and tour them around the city as much as I could (when I didn´t have class).  Not to mention accompanying them to my favorite bars and clubs.  But now it is a new week and I will be struggling through the days studying, reading, and writing (I am here to go to school after all).  But after 19 days of continuous vacation, it will be difficult to change modes, but I am confident it can be done.

The weather looks like it is taking a turn for the better which means afternoons spent in retiro, soaking up some sun and getting a few things accomplished.  Funny thing about school in Spain, it takes real long to get any sort of grade.  Explanation:  it has been now 3 weeks since I took 2 midterms and the teachers have not yet returned the tests.  I feel good about getting them back, but its hard to feel any sort of satisfaction academic wise if you don´t know how you are doing.  Maybe Tuesday will bring some more news…

The Bulls knocked off the Celtics in game 1 which brought me great joy across the Atlantic as I followed the updates on ESPN.com.  The Cubs also are in first place (at last glance) which means my hopes are high and likely to be crushed come mid-October.  The sting from last year has still not gone away.

I am in the stage of my time in Madrid where I am satisfied with the places and people I have found and met.  There no longer is a need to look for a ¨new cool¨ bar on the weekend as we have a rotation of about 7-8 places that we know are surely a good time.  The clubs are still an adventure, but the place I was denied from entering a while back let me in this past weekend as I took no chances with my outfit.  I borrowed a pair of absurdly european shoes from my roommate which were a far cry from the sneakers I tried to get in with last time.

It is Marathon Monday in Boston which makes me miss BC just a tidbit.  I know a few people running the 26.2 miles today and I wish them all the best of luck!

It is time for me to read a few things for class so hopefully I can buckle down and focus.  Os escribo pronto!

Visitors

04/17/2009

I have two awesome visitors this week, my two good buddies Keenan and Darcy.  Keenan has already come and gone.  Madrid was his final stop after a 17 day eurotripping vacation.  He started in Paris, where I also saw him, proceeded to visit several German cities and then moved on to Italy before making his way to Spain.  We had two great nights out and he also went to the Prado.  It is hard to tell people what to go see in Madrid, because it is not a strictly touristy city in terms of sites to see.  But everyone knows the nightlife, food, and drink is incredible.  So I tend to play that angle.  Show my friends some good bars, take them out for tapas, and keep them out late.  Keenan took off yesterday but Darcy arrived yesterday and will be here until Sunday.  Saturday the BC group is going to El Escorial, a large palace about an hour Northwest of Madrid, which is sure to be a great day.  Upon Darcy’s departure on Sunday, I will transform from tour guide to intense student for two weeks, as the work is starting to pile up…

Travels so far…

04/13/2009

And an update on all of cities visited to date:

Madrid, Lisbon, Segovia, Rabat, Tanger, Chefchaouen, Toledo, Algeciras, Valencia, Granada, Cordoba, Marbella, Malaga, Paris, Tarifa, Sevilla, Puerto de Santa Maria, Versailles, Gibraltar

Postcards collected to date: 54

Money spent to date:  to be released at a later date