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Monday, May 31, 2010

Sitges

Located about 45 minutes south of Barcelona (via train), the town of Sitges has been called the "San Tropez of Spain". I got the chance to go there last weekend with some friends and had a great time.

Sitges started out a long time ago as a quiet fishing village but today it's apparently the gay-holiday capital of Europe. Yep, it's definitely got that feel to it and, pretty much like every gay-friendly area, it's posh and beautiful. It really reminds me of a gay La Jolla (San Diego, California) in a lot of ways. There are tons of great restaurants, shopping-a-plenty, miles of sandy beaches, lots of bars/clubs, and a heck-of-a-lot of people watching to do.

Oh yeah, there are nude beaches too. Well, actually all the beaches are tops-optional and a couple of them are all-out nude. It makes for interesting sight seeing when you're accustomed to more-or-less "prudish" American beaches. We walked by one volleyball game that you can probably picture on your own.

The town itself is very scenic and has maintained its village feel even with its popularity. I think you'd have a hard time taking a photo of an ugly place. This is 5th Avenue (like NYC) and it's like one of those Kodak-photo spots they have at Disneyland. There's even a small sign just above my head on the right that has a picture of the Statue of Liberty. All the tourists go to 5th Ave to get this shot:


We walked around for a couple of hours then had a super-simple-but-great lunch at a rotisserie chicken place. Here's a photo of one of the beach areas along with my three mamacita tour guides (Bea, Gema, and Diana):


This photo's here just because I think it's a good one and it's my blog and I can do what I like :-)


Thank you Diana, Gema, and Bea for the fun beach day. Let's do it again soon!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Workers' Rights Photo Show (Toledo Spain)

While in Toledo, I visited the Circulo de Arte de Toledo, which is a performance and art-exhibit space housed in a beautifully restored church. The photo exhibition that was on display, "Trabajo Digno, Vida Digna" (roughly: Dignified Work, Dignified Life), was excellent and I wanted to share some of the photos.

The space has a small bar with snacks, coffee, and alcohol. It appears that they also do live performances on the stage as well as a night club sometimes.


The four basic ideas of the show are: dignity, equality, liberty, and security. They are four of the rights listed in the 1948 United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says that everyone has the right to work, to equality, to freedom, and to safety. Having managed several factories and a whole lot of people, as well as visiting countless other factories in many areas of the world, the idea of workers' rights is close to my heart.

I like exhibits like this because they help to remind me to think about where my food and other "stuff" comes from. Here are photos of the show:







Thanks to my roommate David for the translation discussion.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Toledo

Okay, first off, NOT Toledo OHIO but rather Toledo SPAIN. Big difference...

Toledo is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located about 45 miles south of Madrid. It's famous for both its marzipan and its swords, both of which can be swallowed. This is a shot of the center of Toledo taken from the opposite side of the Tagus river:


Toledo's been completely restored and has tons of shops and stuff to look at. For me, one of the cool things about the historic city center is that they've hung canvas covers over many of the streets. It's very nice because it keeps the streets shady and cooler. Here you can see a typical street with the cathedral in the background:


While walking through town, I came across this friendly fellow named Uru. He came right up to me like he knew me and spent three or four minutes "allowing me the pleasure" of scratching his back. Oh yeah, I'm a sucker for English Bulldogs and I've wanted one pretty much all of my life (all white, if you're out shopping one day).


I spotted this Hyper Blue and White (same color as mine) MINI attracting crowds in Toledo:


As with pretty much every city in Spain, I came face-to-face with another "head shot" of John the Baptist. I've really gotta' figure this one out...


Toledo is a lovely small town and definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. It's fun to walk around the shops, buy marzipan from some nuns in a church, check out a sword shop, and/or just eat and drink in one of the restaurants. Thanks (again) to Alicia and Paco for the guided tour and to Diana (again) for sharing her friends with me.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Aranjuez

Located about 45 minutes south of Madrid via train is the town of Aranjuez. Originally the site of a royal summer retreat, it's now a bedroom community of Madrid. The official highlight of the town is the palace and surrounding gardens, which are very impressive, but, I've discovered what the true highlight of the town is. More to follow but first...

This is a shot of the palace that shows just how big and grand this thing is:


I like this shot that shows the side of the palace that faces the gardens and river:


As I mentioned, the gardens are impressive, probably more so than the palace (to me). The gardens seemed to be divided into three distinct areas. The first is in the area between the palace and the center of the town. It's full of fountains and lots of flowers. Very pretty!


The second and third areas are "behind" the palace and are made up of the "small" gardens and the much more extensive "large" garden. This shot shows one of the many pathways throughout the grounds:


For me, the highlight of the palace and grounds was this fountain and sculpture of Baco, the god of wine. It's nice to know that, no matter how big you get, you can still have a six-pack if you drink enough wine.


I mentioned that I encountered what the true highlight of the entire Aranjuez area is, and no, it's not Baco. In fact, the highlight(s) is Paco and his wife Alicia. Wow! Paco had some (probably like 100) secret, unlabeled bottles of wine that he kept pulling out of nowhere and serving up along with the amazing food he kept making. Forget Baco! PACO IS THE GOD OF WINE!!! Here they are in their place serving up an amazing paella that Paco had made:


A super big thank you to Alicia and Paco for having me at their place for a few days. The food, the wine, the conversation, the trip to Madrid, and the trip to Toledo (the next story) were all outstanding. You guys are amazing hosts, great folks, and, along with a bunch of other people I know, make me enjoy life! Thanks also to Diana for the introduction. I owe you a big one too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guernica (Madrid)

I have a (unwritten) "to-do-if-I-ever-get-the-chance-but-don't-make-a-special-trip-for" list of items that I might like to see one day. Things on this list include places like Teotihuacan near Mexico City and the Taj Mahal. I wouldn't plan a trip to see "just" these places/things but if I'm in the area I'll definitely go. Last Thursday, while in Madrid, I had the chance to cross one of the items off of this list.

Located in the center of Madrid is the Reina Sofia National Art Museum in which is housed the painting Guernica by Picasso. This large painting is Picasso's interpretation of the bombing of the city of Guernica in northern Spain by German and Italian airplanes during the Spanish Civil War. What I like about it is Picasso's focus on the impact of war on innocent civilians. I also have always loved the drawing of the screaming horse...

(Note: you can't take photos in the actual room so these photos were taken from the adjoining rooms.)


While in the room with the painting, you have the opportunity to look at a series of photos that show the work while it was in process. In addition, an adjoining room has a series of studies that Picasso did of the various aspects of the painting. I probably enjoyed viewing these photos and studies as much as the painting itself as you get to see what he was thinking at the start and how he modified it as he went along. For example, the bull in the upper left-hand corner started out as a mostly full-bodied figure but ended up as mostly just head-and-neck.

As for the rest of the museum, hmmm...well, it's an art museum with lots of nice stuff. In other words, I skipped most of the non-Picasso exhibits. If you're into Picasso at all, I'd say it's definitely worth the price of admission to see Guernica and related works.

And, of course, the required "hey, here I am" shot:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Formula1

I like to drive fast. I like to drive fast on racetracks. Really fast. It's a problem. Like an addiction. This past weekend, on a track about 12 miles from the center of Barcelona, I got to spend a couple days watching others drive really fast on a what-looks-like-lots-of-fun race track. I'm not sure if what I witnessed makes this addiction go into a temporary remission or just makes it worse. I guess I'll see after a week or so.

For those who might not know, Formula1 is a type of car racing popular in many places around the world. The cars, tires, and fuel are mostly defined by and limited to the standards (the "formula") set by the race-organizing body. For example, cars must use a 2.4 liter V8 motor and cannot weigh less than 1,367 pounds (620kg) including the weight of the driver and all the fluids. Because of the relatively-light weight of the cars and the over 700 horsepower the motor puts out, the cars are really fast. As a comparison, my MINI Cooper S weighs approximately 2,500 pounds and has less than half the horsepower. Again: FAST!

To get to the track, I had to take the subway to the train and then walk about 20 minutes or so. It's a pretty tough walk and the entire trip takes about an hour-and-a-half (remember the 12 miles?). I did see and meet a bunch of interesting people on the way...


These guys had a whole bunch of props, including a blue-plastic inflatable cow (???), with them as well. I'm not sure what the deal was but they seemed like tons of fun.

Friday was a practice day for the racers. It's great because there are so few people that you pretty much can go and do what you want. It feels much more personal than on race day. I got this close-up of the tow truck taking a car that had broken down:


As you can guess, the people who show up on Friday are basically the hard-core fans. You can see in the photo of the group above and by the one below that they are definitely into the event. These guys (some are not in the shot) each had one letter of Fernando Alonso's name on their shirts. I was never able to get a picture of them lined up but you get the idea:


I didn't attend Saturday as I was tired from Friday's journey and full day in the sun. Sunday was a completely different animal. There were so many people everywhere--the official count was 98,113. What a difference. The added crowds did make it much more festive than Friday's relative calm but I'm glad I had the opportunity to roam around on Friday as there was almost no space anywhere.

The show opened with the drivers being driven around the track in vintage cars. Here's local-favorite Fernando Alonso (note the almost exclusively-red clad people in the background...you'd think he was the only driver and Ferrari was the only team):


Next came a short airshow put on by the Spanish Air Force:


I learned a few things about using my camera in situations like this over the weekend. One: a photo of a race car driving really fast on a race track looks just like a photo of a race car parked on a race track...just blurrier. Two: you can tell who is faster than whom by how hard it is to get a photo of them on the track without it just being a blur. Slower drivers are easier to photograph but just aren't as exciting to watch. Three: videos taken with a small digital camera have a much-more limited perspective than what you have when you're there but they work better than still photos to express what you actually see.

Rather than show you a lot of slightly blurry photos of what looks like cars parked on a track, here are two videos that give you a hint at what I enjoyed. They both are shot from essentially the same location (a really nice spot) during the second lap of the race when the cars are still close together. (Note: they are both loud - you might want to check your sound before playing.)

video

video

Yes, I know. Shakey-cam and the sounds of cats in heat just don't make it look that appetizing. It was. I promise.

Mark Weber from Australia, who is on team Red Bull, won the race in 1:35:44 -- 24 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Alonso. I did manage to get a couple of decent shots of the eventual race winner.



And finally, as I mentioned, I like to drive fast on race tracks too. I'm not particularly good at it but I definitely enjoy and miss it. Here I am at Laguna Seca in the MINI last year with my Japanese co-pilot and part-time driving instructor, who, incidentally, got me hooked on Formula1 in the first place. Thanks Yo!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Partido de Barça

When you think about Europe, what are the things that come to mind? For me, it's old churches, fun-to-drive-but-expensive-to-maintain cars, and soccer, among other things. As I mentioned in another post, I've seen a whole buncha' churches already, own a Euro car (actually a few), but, up to now, I had never been to a professional soccer game. Well, on a VERY rainy day last week, I got my chance to visit the famous Camp Nou (New Field) stadium to watch a partido (match) between Barça and Tenerife.


To say that people of Barcelona (and many others around the world) are fanatical about their team would be to undersell the idea of fanatical. Everywhere you go in the town you will see FCB (Futbol Club de Barcelona) logos, colors, flags, and so on. I was very excited to finally get to experience first-hand one of their matches. Even though it was raining, the show of support for the home-town team was obvious...


Here's a shot of the stadium and field (with a view of the university and hills beyond) during the match:


The match ended up being very exciting to watch. I was actually pretty surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Soccer definitely seems to move faster (for me) live than it does on TV. Maybe it helped that Barça ended up winning 3-to-1? Nah...it woulda' been fun either way.

Oh yeah, did I mention that it rained during the match? A LOT??? It may have limited the attendance, which was only 57,401 compared to its largest-stadium-in-Europe potential capacity of 98,787. I think the picture below with the stands, lights, and Tibidabo Cathedral in the background gives you an idea of how hard it rained (hint: A LOT!!!).


All in all, a great time was had. Given another opportunity to go, I know that I will in a second. I'd like to thank Juan and Carol for the free tickets (woohoo!!!) as well as Diana and Ana Lucia for being my guides for another great adventure.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

No8Do

No, this isn't "No-eight-Do" but rather it means (roughly) "No me ha dejado". What? That's what I thought too while I was in Sevilla last week.

Everywhere you turn in Sevilla, if you're a detail junky like I am, you'll come across the symbol "No8Do" on everything. It's on buildings...


...utility covers...


...construction-site signs...


and even public restrooms...


...basically everywhere you turn. But what does it mean?

From what I've figured out, it's the word "No" followed by a symbol that looks like an "8" but is actually a picture of some twisted up yarn, or in Spanish, "madeja", and then the sound "do". When you put it all together it sounds like "no me ha dejado", which basically means "you haven't abandoned me". The story seems to go that, during the 1200s, the king's brother tried to overthrow him but the people stayed true. They did not abandon him and, he in turn, will not abandon them. The No8Do is a reminder of this commitment.

My original thought when I learned what No8Do means was that it is along the lines of Montreal's "Je Me Souviens", the idea of which is basically that "I remember". In both cases, it's a reminder of our past, of who we are, and where we've come from. It gives us a foundation on which we can continue to build who we will become.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Flamenco

Last Wednesday night I had the chance to go see a flamenco performance while in Sevilla. It's almost a requirement that you see a flamenco show while in southern Spain as it is a style of dance that is native to the area (Andalucia province) and famous the world over.

I have to be honest that I really didn't know much about it other than what I've seen on TV or in the movies so I had no clue as to what to expect when I arrived at the venue. Being me, I got there too early when the place was pretty much empty. I scored a good seat about three rows from the stage on the center aisle. Waiting with my "complementary" glass of wine, I got to watch the place fill up with older female tourists mostly from the U.S. My radar fired up but I stayed calm.


(Note: your eyes are not the problem...the photos are a little blurry...sorry.)

When the show started, I quickly realized what I had gotten myself into... OMG!!! It was DINNER THEATER!!! IN SPANISH!!!


Growing up I had a great friend that danced for a living. He cut his teeth as one of the Rita Rue dancers on Frankford Avenue (interestingly enough--next door to the Holmesburg Bakery) near where we grew up but quickly moved on to the world of Broadway, occasional dinner theater, and, best of all in my mind, on cruise ships traveling the world and getting paid for it. Anyway, in other words, I had some experience with this type of environment so I knew it as soon as I saw it. One note, saying this was dinner theater in no way reduces the professionalism and ability of the performers. The performers I saw were really good. I guess I had expected something different but, not having a Spanish tia that lives in the area, I should have known what to expect.

According to my trusty sources, flamenco music is the result of a combination of Islamic and gypsy (among others) influences while the dancing itself seems to be gypsy-based with a heavy influence from Latin America. It's definitely the type of thing I crave. I love, love, love the intersection of cultures.

I liked the show. The music was great and some of the dancers were top-notch. Here's one of the top-notch folks:


Overall, the show was a good introduction into a small piece of Spanish culture. I'd recommend you go if you get the chance. Just don't expect to find yourself in that dark, romantic place that you've seen in the movies...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cadiz

After leaving Gibraltar, I headed back north to Sevilla with a quick stop on the way in Cadiz. Cadiz is the oldest, continuously-inhabited city in Spain (estimated at 1100 BC). Geographically, it reminded me of a cross between Cancun and Key West. Cancun because it's on a really narrow strip of land and Key West because of the high-density, fortress-style, "island" feel to the center of the town.

I don't really have much to say about the town as I only spent about two hours there walking around and taking some photos. I probably wouldn't have written about it but I've got a couple of decent photos to share. This one's on the water front with some fishing boats and a view of some of the fortifications that are found around the island:


Here's a shot of the coastline at sunset: (The large building with the domes is the cathedral.)


And here's a closer-up shot with some surfers in the foreground: