Monday, July 25, 2011

Sevilla, Spain

After nearly missing the bus to Sevilla Jordan and I prepared for the long overnight bus.  We arrived in Sevilla around 5 am before the sun was even up.  So we wandered the streets trying to find the hostel in the dark and found some pretty cool things… like a shop that sells clocks shaped like animals and all the animals eyes move with the pendulua…ok well that was actually pretty creepy. 

Anyways we went to the wrong hostely by accident… but they had the same name for some reason.  So we eventually got to the hostel and couldn’t check in until noon or something like that so we waited in the general common room and slept a little more on the couches, used the computers and mooched some of their breakfast.  After finally checking in, we acquired a map and went exploring.  We just hit up things on the map that looked interesting such as; the main cathedral in the city, some really pretty gardens, a park (were we sat and swung a little ) and la plaza de Espana.  My favorite place that we stopped at was la Plaza de Espana (see picures).  It was a beautiful plaza that had a moat running on the inside of it and across the moat in the semicircular plaza there was a dedicated mural and map to each region of Spain.  It was quite spectacular.

From there we continued exploring a bit and had churros con chocolate from a stand and it was amazing.  We learned about this in Madrid but basically you dip a churro (or fried dough) in liquid chocolate and simply eat it.  Amazing. 

On our further explorations we ran into what looked like a parade of the KKK.  Now I must reassure you, it was not a KKK rally or anything of the sort.  What we ran into was a procession of the Semana Santa (or Saints week) basically the three days leading up to Easter (as we found out later).  It was really cool at first seeing the procession and the floats with the virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and various ones of Jesus, but eventually it made crossing the street nearly impossible and we would try to avoid the streets where it was but it was excruciatingly hard to do so. We eventually made it back to the hostel to nap and check the internet and such, but not before taking a massive detour. 

Later that night I was talking to some of our hostel-mates and we all decided to go out together to see a flamenco show in the city.  As soon as we left our hostel we had to cross the procession route…  it was a proper mess.  I ended up getting separated and taking a wrong turn.  Then map-less mike found a hotel and got a map so I could find my way to where we thought the show was.  I made it to the place walked around for about an hour looking for them and the show, before deciding to just chill under the awesome looking parasol.  Then I tried to make my way back to the hostel thinking that if the procession is on the east side of the city center, that I should try the west side to get back… WRONG  the church is on the west side and naturally the thickest part of the procession is near the church…  it took me about 2 hours to get back when it was only like a 20 min walk…  I did see the resurrection of Christ float which was pretty cool.

After getting back I found the people I was going to meet chilling on the roof lounge and it turns out they didn’t find the place either and we just sat up there and told stories of the night and how ridiculous the crowds were.  We then went to bed after it started raining.

The next morning i was eating breakfast and turned around and saw a guy that looks just like my floor mate from freshman year at PSU.  We stared at each other for a while and then randomly enough it was!

Yes i saw Tom Schweers randomly in my hostel in Sevilla...But it rained pretty much all the rest of the day and was completely miserable.  BUT they didn’t have the procession in the rain so streets were clear and bars were packed.  Jordan and I hung out with two Norwegians that we met the day before and we went back to the Plaza de espana cause we liked it so much and they hadn’t seen it yet.  Then they had to catch a bus back to Portugal (where they were studying) and Jordan and I went back and packed up our things to leave the hostel. 

When we booked the hostel basically every one was filled because of the Semana Santa and we were racking our brains for alternative places to sleep since we had a flight the next day.  Well turns out Jordan has a good friend who studied in Sevilla last year and her friend has friends in the city so we ended up staying at Jordan’s Friend’s friend, Oscar’s place which was just outside the city center, an easy 45 min walk from the hostel.  His place was pretty nice and him and his friends were really great hosts.  Oscar works as a translator so that was perfect for us who spoke very little Spanish.  The next day he drove Jordan and I to the airport so we could catch our flight to Rome.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tales from Madrid

Im finally getting to my blog after returning home...

So Madrid...
After finishing up the sea survival training friday afternoon Jordan, Marissa and I departed for London at 2:30 am.  Boarded our flight at 8 am and were in Madrid smoothly by noon.  After taking the metro to our hostel we decided to grab some food from a cafe across the street.  We successfully ordered and when the food came, i got a quesadilla the size of my palm, Jordan got a ball of fried dough attached to a magnifying glass and cheese in a syringe and Marissa's food was moving, not alive but still moving...  It was quite the meal to say the least...  So later we met up with Marissa's friend Deidre and the notorious Samantha, who found her way to Madrid to meet up with us.  Deidre took us around the city which included this small little bar that serves infamous liquor made from berries that are alcoholic when they are growing on the tree.  The symbol of Madrid is an alcoholic bear trying to get at these berries on the tree, or so the legend says...  anyways this little bar is the only place where you can get this alcohol and they serve it in chocolate coated ice cream cone glasses.

 After that we went to this really cool market called El Mercado de San Miguel where we enjoyed some quality (yet expensive) spanish tapas.  After eating real food we went to a bar to watch the Mardid vs Barcelona football game (soccer).   This is a big rivalry not just because they're two big cities in spain but Barcelona is ranked #1 and Madrid is #2 in their league.  It was really cool to just sit back in a bar and enjoy the game.  After the game the had some drinks in the street as spaniards do and then we went our separate ways, in my case, back to the hostel.

Day 2 (Apr 17)

On sunday we met Sam early and went to this street market where we met Deidre.  This street market was absolutely massive taking up all the streets in about 4 city blocks.  They had just about everything you could be looking for.  My favorite bit was the small side street that had all the art vendors displaying and selling their work.  Some of them were amazing and some of them i felt that i could do with my eyes closes while painting with my feet.  I wish i had the means to get some of the work home with me.


After the market we went in search of this restaurant Deidre had heard good things about but had never been to.  We found the address and the building looked super sketchy, but as Deidre knows the culture she knew we had to take a rickety elevator up to the 6th floor to find the nice restaurant.  After a substantial wait we finally got a small table outside on the balcony where we were greeted angrily by a waiter who was angry we were taking up so much space.  After a nice meal it was now time for my most anticipated part of spanish culture... the Siesta!  We headed to a sweet park where we found a nice napping spot within earshot of a guy playing the saxophone.  

After a short nap Deidre had to leave for her easter break and the 4 soton americans went to the Museo del Prado, an art museum very near to the park.  The museum featured some very famous spanish painters such as Goya and Velazquez.  I was excited to see some fine art again, the girls were less impressed...  After the museum, everyone was still tired from a busy day so we decided just to chill.  We ended up getting some pizza for dinner, ice cream for desert and chilled in an Irish pub (of all places) discussing a variety of things while enjoying a Guinness.  We then called it a night because we planned to get up early the next day.

Day 3 (Apr 18)

On Monday, since our spanish student/tour guide friend Deidre left, we decided to go on one of those free tours that they offer around europe, much like Dublin.  Our tour guide for today was a Brit studying in Madrid.  We saw alot of major sites in Madrid, including the worlds oldest restaurant, the bar with the alcoholic berries liquor again and a really amazingly ornate palace.  After our tour and everything we wandered around a bit like we do best and then we planned to go with sam to her couch surfer meeting/social thingy.  So we made our way as the sun was going down to what they call the temple park.  The place was set up on a hill overlooking the outskirts of the city.  The temple that was there was actually moved to madrid from egypt to try and raise money for Egypt some years back.  We met up with the couch surfers and had some interesting conversations with some Norwegian guys and after the meeting we went in search of some food (at midnight cause we hadnt eaten yet).  Our new friend Guillermo took us to this one bar where he talked to owner into giving us proper tapas by saying that by giving us a decent meal he would create a butterfly effect for his buisness cause we'd tell all our travelling friends about it (which i did).  So the owner gave us basically an entire delicious meal and all we bought were 2 pitchers of Sangria.  After that bar we went in search of La Leche de Pantera... or Panther Milk at the cave bar.  This was refered to us by one of Marissa's or Sam's friends and we eventually made it there and split 2 liters of this panther milk between us.  The bar was actually themed like a cave... with stalactites on the ceiling and the milk part of the panther milk came out of one of the stalactites.  After this bar we made our way back to the hostel.

Day 4 (Apr 19)

The previous night and a few days before there was talk of Sam going out to the countryside outside madrid with Guillermo and the preious night jordan and I decided that we should go with Sam out to the countryside to Guillermos place.  So we met Sam and Guillermo at the bus station where we took a bus about an hour outside of madrid.  Upon getting off the bus it really did seem like the middle of nowhere.... and so we started to walk.  Tramping through the desert esque lanscape because it was a shortcut, we made it to his "house" about a half hour after getting off the bus.  The house was pretty rundown but very campy and outdoorsy.  But Guillermo doesnt actually live in the house... no. the property is actually his friends and she lets him and some other people stay there when they want.  Then he showed us his accomodation... a tent out past the 3 little ponds.  

When we got there Guillermo's hippy friends were literally building a raft out of wood they found.  It was pretty funny and i was doubtful that it'd float but by golly it did.  We spent the day just hanging out in nature, by the river, by the ponds, in hammocks, in fields of grass, etc.  I spent a good bit of time on the raft as well :)  and i gave guillermo expert advice on the carp fisheries of his pond haha :)  

It was a sad time when we had to leave but Jordan and I had to catch a bus to Sevilla at 11:00 pm so we treked out to the bus stop and waited forever for a bus.  After finally getting to madrid Jordan and i were super rushed to get to the metro so we could get to the bus station and make our bus.  We literally ran from the metro to the bus but did make it and so we were off to Sevilla.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Surviving the Sea

So the past week (4 /11-15/ 2011) I've been doing this course in Southampton to train the 1st year students of the School of Ocean and Earth Science how to use survival equipment on the boats.  This is needed to do any kind of scientific work on the boats.  In the course we had lectures and practice in Sea Survival techniques, First aid, Small Boat Driving, Local species identification, bathymetric mapping, and sediment lab work.

The sea survival lecture was basically just telling us what kind of clothes to wear for different weather conditions, and what the life rafts are like on the schools boats and how to survive in them.

Another part of the course was learning how to drive the RIB, which is a small inflatable boat that is very easily maneuverable.  Well i should say more maneuverable than the Grady but less than the Aquatrax...  They taught us the basics of boat driving like turning from the back, then moved on to docking in the simplest way possible and turning around in a confined area.  It was actually really fun and really easy for everyone, especially me and another guy in my group Aiden who has been boating just as long as i have.

Today we had our pool session where we had to experience getting into the life raft, that we had learned about the previous day, while in the, o so realistic environment of the pool.  We also had some group bonding time practicing huddling together to concerve body heat.  Brian Dickie creepily took pictures through the ordeal and if he ever makes them available ill post a few...

In the afternoon we learned more about the life raft and they told us about flares and how to use them but didnt shoot any off :(  im not sure how well ill be able to preform in a pressure situation if i dont practice with the flares....

I started the day looking at sand.  Well not just sand but many different types of sand, in our sediment dynamics lab.  The highlight of which was the flow tank that demonstrated how sand moves when exposed to a strong current.

In the afternoon we went to the NOC aquariums (a bunch of fish tanks with critters in them) where we met a crabby old lady who helped us hone our skills of observation and identify local species.

Group B started out on Bill Conway (the smaller of the research vessels we use) and collected data for a bathymetric map.  To do this we had to divide ourselves up into different jobs.  I was standing quietly on the side of the boat and somehow was chosen to be the Chief Scientist who was in charge of making sure all the data got recorded... Its because im a "3rd year"... whatever... haha.  It was actually a pretty fun role cause i got to talk to everyone (Some more than others... Sophie).

In the afternoon, we took our collected data, plotted it in excel and made a bathymetric contour map similar to what I did in GeoSc 040.  Since I had done this before and am a pro in excel, it was quite an easy task.  But i think i did more teaching of my fellow group mates than the ever so fit Gemma Smith (our "TA" who my friend Andrew essentially hit on during the session before me )(She has the same name as my flat mate so thats why i remember her name...)

We did first aid and CPR all day today.  The only thing that made this bearable was, again, my friend Andrew's outgoing american antics.  The instructor really enjoyed talking (taking) the piss out of him in the nicest way possible during the session.  At the end we witnessed some real first aid when one of the other groups members passed out when we were talking about amputation.

After the session a I went to starbucks with Nayna, Sophie and Aiden before heading home to finish a paper and start packing for Madrid!

Friday, April 15, 2011

France: Nice and Monaco!

One of the thing to do before leaving for Madrid... Blog about Nice... Check.

SO when the saga last left off Jordan and i were in the Dublin airport chillin till our flight to Nice was to depart. (Ryanair only flies to Nice from Dublin, hence the order of our travels) After the 3 hour plane ride, we disembarked and hopped a bus to try and find the hostel.  Now Jordan had been in Nice 4 years ago as a high school french student so i was leaning heavily on her for communication and navigation and basically everything...  We found the hostel with ease and started exploring.  We walked down to the 'old city', where the streets are to narrow for cars because it was built really long ago when the italians owned this part of France.  We enjoyed pizza for lunch and some gelato for dessert :).  Since Nice was once owned by Italy it has a pleasant mix of Italian and French culture.  Nice is also part of the French riviera, located at the base of the French Alps and the edge of the Mediterranean.  Many of the ridges of the Alps carry on down into the Mediterranean.  These ridges are great places to build castles and forts because they are high up and can see off into the distance.  Jordan and i's next stop on our aimless exploring was to find the base of a castle and hike up the steps to the top where we could see ALL of the city. (Pictures can be made bigger by clicking on them)

Find the French flag... aka subject of the photo
We spent a good amount of time just taking in the awe of the mountains, the sea and the city.  I would like to note that i do not speak a lick of French... thus far ordering and navigation has been difficult because of the language barrier.  I didnt believe those who told me before... but French is similar to Spanish when written, so i started to be able to recognize similar words from my stint in Spanish class.  After descending we continued to wander around a bit then headed back to the hostel for a nap.  After waking up we had dinner at a little cafe where the owner was really friendly and excited we wandered into his establishment.  Often in Nice we would be in a restaurant and people would walk in with a little dog on a leash and bring it right in to the restaurant where the dog would sit quietly under the table till they were done than quietly get up and walk out with them.  Tonight there was a slightly less well behaved dog who was really interested in either me or my food...  At times the dog was basically up on my lap until the owner yanked on its leash.  The owner completely encouraged this dogs antics in his very energetic french mannor...  Anyways... after dinner we walked down to the beach and caught the end of the sunset before calling it a night.  I sat in the lobby/reception/lounge area listening to peoples stories from backpacking across europe.  They were all so interesting.

The Sunset was absolutely brilliant!

Day 2 (4/6/11)

Today was planned to be a chill day for the weary US travelers.  What do you do in a warm beach town?  Go to the beach of course.  We were on the beach from about 11 to 4 or 5...  It's not much of a beach really... not in the sense that we on the east coast think of.... The beach is man made and uses large rocks as the main substrate of the beach.  Towards the water the smallish (1-3 foot) waves have broken many of the rocks into pebbles but definitely not sand... maybe in a few hundred years...  I'd also like to point out that France has topless beaches.  Unfortunately it was too early in the season for many people to be on the beach none the less topless :(... haha.

Proof of Swimming in the Mediterranean!

After being only slightly burnt, we headed back to shower up and chill a bit for dinner.  While checking in with the world on the internet i got a text saying "Hey!  I'm in Nice" from a random number.  Now who of the people that know im here could text me and me not have the number...  Lucky for said person i was on the computer and could get to the bottom of it via facebook (my phone can receive texts but not send them while abroad).  Turns out it was my American colleague Sam who, the last we heard, had hitch hiked to Portsmouth to try to get a free ferry to France.  She dazzled me and Jordan with the stories from her adventure through France trying to spend as little money as possible.  Sleeping in train stations, hitch hiking, hopping trains without buying a ticket... not below her on her endeavor.  We went to this pizza place where we all got a 12 inch bruchetta pizza for ourselves (very good btw) then we decided to share a bottle of wine on the beach and then go back to the hostel where Sam decided to spend the night in a proper bed.
Bruchetta Pizza with Salmon, Tuna and Olives (nom nom nom)
Sam and I in front of the fountain and mountains at sunset

Day 3 (4/7/11)

The plan for today was to go to Monaco which is its own principality just up the coast.  The bus there only cost 1 euro which is ridiculously cheap.  Some things about Monaco... It is the wealthiest principality in Europe, you cannot drive there unless you have a Monaco plate or a special French plate, they have their own Prince and the current Prince is into environmental conservation with his father being huge into Oceanography, it is home to Monte-Carlo which you might equate with Formula 1 racing.  On arrival one of the first things we saw was a statue of a old school formula 1 car and driver.

We continued up some steps, following signs that led us to the Palace.  We decided not to go to the palace yet but continue following signs leading to the Musée Océanographique.  As english oceanography students we felt drawn to this museum...  A giant papermache type octopus greeted us from the ceiling.  The first room we went in was filled with taxadermied animals and live jellies and and and... a display about the overfishing of tuna in the mediterranean! (a topic i feel strongly about) This in itself made my day and set my opinion of the museum.  (picuted below: me with a tuna at the exhibit and a cocolithophore (phytoplankton))

The next room was full of even more treasures!  Whale skeletons, Fish type specimens, fossils and artwork in various mediums of marine creatures!  These two rooms rival each other for my favorite room in the museum.

Another room was dedicated to the history of oceanography and the roof was accessible to the public and the view was absolutely stunning.  On the bottom two floors, there was an aquarium (as if i wasnt giddy enough).  There were two large tanks with reef fish an a large number of smaller tanks displaying a sample of just about every ecosystem i can think of (ok i can think of a few they missed but there were alot).  On our way out of the aquarium there was a diver cleaning the main tank and i was truely inspired and someday i'll live there and work at the museum.

After the museum we grabbed sandwiches from a local vendor.  The french thing to do in France is to eat French baguettes so basically everyday this was our lunch.  We enjoyed these at the a scenic overlook along the castle wall.  The view is absolutely amazing from every angle up on the palace plateau...

After lunch we toured the Palace which is still occupied by the Prince to this day so the number of rooms was severely limited by guards and stuff... so then we mozied on down the large set of steps that led down to where we were dropped off and we decided to walk up the hill to Monte-Carlo.  After wandering around there for a bit we found the really super posh casino.

Outside we sat and were car watching... we saw a couple Ferraris, a Rolls Royce, more bmw's, porches, and audi's than we could count...  after wandering around a bit we decided to catch the bus back to Nice.
We grabbed dinner at a nice italian place just down the street from the hostel, walked to old town to get gelato and then headed home to just chill after a long day.  I chatted up some of the travelers staying in the hostel as well and met this really cool Aussie who is traveling around europe doing seasonal jobs.

Day 4 (4/8/11)

This morning i decided to get up to see the sun rise!  I actually did and it was quite beautiful and peaceful.  The waves really calmed some of the inner turmoil that had been swirling around in my head since last week.  It was great :) (and i took some pics too)

 This day we had felt like we had tapped out things to do because our plans to go to the mountains had fell through.  So we went to the beach again for most of the day.  At night some of the kids in our hostel had planned to go out on the town and hit up some of the local watering holes.  By this day we had made pretty good friends with the night reception guy Ugo and he came out with us, but not before joining us for wine and tequilla during his shift.  We went out to our first club over in the old where we were told it was closed... at 12:30...?  Turns out we got refused because the bouncer has a prejudice against Italians (Ugo, the only french speaker, is clearly Italian).  One of the Aussies i was with talked to the guy the best he could and we all got in.  The place did close down at 1:30 and we went to another club that was legit closed.  Our large group was now down to about half because the other group of americans were tired and went back.  We had 3 Australians, a New Zealander, an Italian, 2 Danish High School Students and me the American.  We had a good time in the next club and eventually went home. It was on the walk home that i realized that i had lost my necklace with my Bahamian Grouper jawbone on it!  I was super bummed.  I really loved the bahamas and that was a constant reminder.

Day 5 (4/9/11)

Today was our last day in Nice.  We decided to do something outdoorsy since the weather was supposed to be less than beach weather.  We made our way to a park on the south side of town that went up the side of a ridge.  We hiked all the way to the top (I climbed part of the way up using tree roots just for fun)

At the top of the ridge it was a different view that we had been getting all week.  It was more of the mountains and the other direction into the city.  The wildflowers were in full bloom and it was just generally peaceful up there.  We then decended and chilled around the town for the next couple hours just doin our own thing.  We then hopped a bus to the airport for our evening flight to Dublin.  We spent the night in the Dublin airport waiting for our 630 am flight back to London.  It was really an amazing trip.  Back to the grind on Monday..