Found in Fortune Cookie 11/3/04: "Traveling more often is important for your health and happiness"
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Sunday, June 05, 2005
Gab communing with cattle
Monday, May 23, 2005
Monday, May 16, 2005
Granted I think we've taken this idea a bit far but I still like the gist of it!
Monday, May 09, 2005
Sunday, May 08, 2005
Avila and Salamanca
Okay, so let me start this blog by saying that I had already spent two hours writing this earlier, but unfortunately, it was erased when my time was up at the internet café. Sad but true. So, here I am on a Friday evening, sipping a vodka tonic, watching the sun set behind our apartment while pondering how to share our recent adventures with you.
Last weekend was quite the journey. Like every weekend in Spain there was another holiday where people pack up their bags and head to the mountains, the sea or the islands. Sadly, while my students and our roommates headed for the Canary Islands, or other beautiful locations, their time is paid in full by their respective employers, whereas I am stranded without a penny. Feeling a bit left out, we packed up our bags, ran to the train and headed to Avila.
One of the finest remnants of Europe's medieval era, the walled town of Avila was sacred to an ancient Celtiberian culture long before the arrival of the Romans or Christians. The city was captured by the Arab Moors in 714 AD, recaptured by the Christians in 1088, and had its protective walls built in the 12th century. Extending for 2,500 meters (8202 ft.) and encircling the old town, the massive walls are punctuated by ninety, heavily fortified stone towers. Today Avila is often visited by tourists from around the world, but in the late medieval ages its visitors were pilgrims coming to the church in the center of the walled city. The current church, begun in 1091 and completed in the 13th century, is where the mystic St. Teresa (1515-1582) had frequent visions and ecstatic experiences. Nearby the church stands the house where St. Teresa lived.
Avila to me is like a beautiful version of a small Midwestern town. Despite the fact that small Midwestern towns lack an incredible walled city or snow capped mountains, they do have a unique feeling of stagnation and conservatism. Let me put it another way. Avila is a mix of old wealth, a few dozen monasteries and convents and heavy tourism. Many people visit from all over the world just to feel the “spiritual” nature of this city, hailing its intensity and beauty, whereas I felt like a character in the Twilight Zone. Ryan and I disagreed on the feeling of the city, but I promise you that it wouldn’t be on my top ten list of places to go back.
The three redeeming qualities of our visit were the “wall” itself, a 3 month old bulldog and the Biblioteca Palacio de Serrano, one of the most incredible architectural wonders I have ever stumbled upon. As Ryan and I were walking down the narrow stone streets, we saw a large wooden door open to our left containing blocky pieces of sculpture and vibrant oil paintings. Sheer curiosity pulled us through the entry, leaving us with distorted faces of disbelief and shock.
Beautiful hardwood floors were surrounded by white stones drawing your eyes to the shape of the room. Each room was neither square nor straight. Instead, every space was absolutely unique in its shape never once taking away from the art inside. Even the hallways and bathrooms kept the simple design of wood, stone and straight lines. It was one of those moments where you look around wondering if you just found the greatest secret no one else knows about. The Biblioteca was never advertised in a brochure or tourist book, mentioned online or raved about by friends or family. Instead, it just existed as a sweet secret for you to stumble upon.
Side Note: I went into the women’s room and waited for quite some time for a stall to be free. One was locked and the other appeared to be occupied. After a few minutes, a woman in her seventies joined me as we rolled our eyes with each passing minute. Finally, a large whoosh was heard from the stall and out walked a very sincere and relaxed man. He was neither shocked by our presence nor concerned with our large oval eyes. Of course, the older woman behind me yelled, “Es un cuarto para mujers”! He disagreed and claimed that WE were in the wrong servicio. Getting into a huff, she marched over to the door, opened it and pointed to the universal symbol of the woman in a skirt. Smirking, he said, “well, obviously someone is wrong.” I was never fully convinced who he considered the wrongdoer by the end of our visit.
After the Biblioteca, we made a mad dash to the bus station only to find a cute little park with what else but a 3 month old bulldog chasing a tiny Yorkshire Terrier (as if their is another kind) like a imbalanced torpedo. For Ryan’s sake, I briskly walked over and asked “te gusta tu bulldog?” I lost 5 points for asking a severely stupid question like ¨do you like your dog?¨, but I lacked creativity for an opening line in Spanish. Fortunately, they didn’t really care and let me wrestle him until I was panting more than the dog. Again, in no way am I committing to our purchase of a bulldog, but I will agree that a three month old dog of any variety is pretty irresistible. You might enjoy Ryan´s recent sales pitch to me about the bulldog, ¨honey, bulldog´s are short and stocky like you, and look how lovable you are!¨I won my five points back after than line.
To travel with Ryan is to accept that you are required to taste the local cuisine no matter how revolting it may sound or look like. By ¨revolting¨I am refering to our experience in Portugal when Ryan asked the waiter to bring their typical dish: 10 ways to consume a pig! Fortunate for me, the traditional food in Avila contained neither pig´s blood or testicles. Instead, it is known for it´s lamb, roasted suckling pig (cochinillo) and veal T-bone steak. "Patatas revolconas" (a potato dish with bacon, paprika, peppers and onions), excellent white bean soups and a pastry tradition, often originating from the convents. The yemas de Santa Teresa (a sweet made with egg yolks and sugar) are one of the more strange and unappetizing desserts I have tasted. The only comparison I can make is eating an uncooked French crepe, pasty and loaded with sugar.
By the end of the night, we agreed to hightail it out of Avila and head to Salamanca.
A hour in half later, we were in one of the more interesting and wonderful cities that I have ever visited. I would never say that this city is “beautiful” but absolutely charming. We both compared it to Madison, Wisconsin in it’s down home feel and eclectic nature. Salamanca is known to have an incredibly large student population and when combined with tourism it creates one damn fun city to visit. As described by my students, “Gabriella, you go to Salamanca to feel relaxed and party with friends regardless of age.¨ I tend to agree wholeheartedly!
Salamanca was populated by Celtiberian tribes in fourth century BC., then Hannibal and Carthaginians, followed by the Romans and finally annexed to Lusitanian province. By this time it was an important communication nod in the Silver Way, a road who crosses north-south the peninsular west. Greek historians referred to it as Helmantike, and later Salamantica but it wasn't until the XIIIth century that it became known as Salamanca.
The cycle continued when the Christianization took place before year 600 AD by the Visigoths, and the Moors conquered the city one hundred and twenty years later. King Alfonso VI reconquered those lands definitively and in 1096 he ordered their colonization to his son-in-law, count Raymond of Burgundy. The repopulation of the territory took place by Castilian, Portuguese, Galician, Jewish, French and Mozarabic settlers. Whew! Quite the conquered city!
Today, the city offers the same aspect as do similiar ones in the rest of the Spanish provinces, although perhaps with a more intense spiritual life due to studies which were reanimated by the founding of the Pontificia University (catholic university).It is the university life, in all its aspects, which adds emotion and colour to its daily rhythm. Everyday life could be said to centre around the magnificent Plaza Mayor. Its archways echo with what is going on in the city.
Being that we are the “none planning type”, we of course took our “Lonely Planet” and hit the first hostel that read well. Unfortunately for us, this happened to be The Los Angeles, a hostel that cost 32 Euros, lacked windows and smelled of B.O. Sure, I could argue that our location was perfect, directly above Plaza Mayor, the major center point of the city, but location became a low priority over comfort. Hence, we thanked our host, a very robust and well fed man, explaining that the room just wasn´t a good fit and continued our search. We reserved a room for 30 Euros a window, a bathroom and the sweet smell of flowers at Hostel Las Vegas. FYI to the best of our knowledge, the city did not lack an obsession with Hostels named after U.S. cities.
Note to Self: A hostel here in Spain is not what you think of in the States. Like a Pension in Portugal, it is usually a simple room with a bathroom, not a house with a 100,000 to 1 ratio bedbugs to humans.
A major tourist attraction is the tiny frog which sits on a carved skull and lies hidden amid a myriad of other intricate carvings in the vault of the old university door off the Plaza de Fray Luis de Leon. The legend holds that the students who found the frog would pass their exams; the tradition has passed down through the centuries and today's more superstitious visitors play "spot the frog" in the belief that finding it will bring them good luck for a year. Ryan desperately searched in vain to find a ¨respectable¨frog as a souvenir, but typical of tourism, the poor frog is portrayed playing golf, wearing a business suit or drinking martinis than just being a frog.
As you walk around the old town you'll notice the signs of another ancient tradition in the red marks which have been painted on the facades of many of the city's historic buildings. In the old days, when the students finished their exams, there would be a three-day celebration culminating in a bullfight. The student who killed the bull would mix its blood with oil and paint a sign with his name on one of the city's walls.
Food in Salamanca is worth mentioning. We chose the tapa route eating at six different places during our two day visit and were never once disappointed. When it comes to restaurants you can take your pick of international cuisine or sample some of the local fare in one of the many fine restaurants which specialize in regional dishes. Typical regional specialties include cochinillo al fuego (roast suckling pig), chafaina (chorizo sausage with rice) and the famous hornazo meat pie made from chorizo sausage, ham, hardboiled egg and sometimes chicken. Sounds good doesn´t it, but we didn´t eat any of the above. Instead, we feasted on several tapas that were incredible and that Ryan can tell you in detail about later because my hamster brain eludes me as usual.
Did I mention the scary decaying arm of the bishop displayed in the main cathedral? Nope I didn´t, and really don´t want to think more about it other than saying that Catholicism still eludes Ryan and I. Remind me again why we need to pray to the a decaying arm of a bishop housed in glass and surrounded by gold?
Regardless, our trip was fantastic and I look forward to our next one!
Saturday, May 07, 2005
6:55 Alarm goes off
7:00 The kid’s alarm on the other side of our wall goes off
7:01 His second alarm goes off
7:02 His third alarm goes off
7:10 He finally wakes up, as does the entire building, and turns off all three alarms
7:10 Take a shower
7:14 Wake up Ryan by flicking on the over head light
7:15 Kick his feet hanging off the edge of the bed due to the lack of space
7:30 Finally grab coffee after taking 15 minutes to decide how I can be totally unfashionable
7:31 Blow dry my hair while simutaneously drinking my coffee
7:45 Run two blocks to the metro
7:50 Beat up a few old women so that I can edge my way into the metro
7:55 Elbow the guy behind me who is using the close quarters to his advantage
8:00 Switch from the gray line to the orange line
8:10 Wave to the security guards who say “Pasa Isabella”, sincerely pleased they have a photo of my passport with my name, security cameras, x-ray machines along with 10 security guards keenly observing the lobby. Good work guys!
8:15 Have class for 1 hour with the Financial Analyst for Banco de Espana
9:20 Catch the 147 bus to Barrio Pilar
9:50 Walk 10 minutes to Terra Amada
10:00 1 hour class with the Accountant Controller (no idea what this means)
11:00 Another 1 hour class with a Portuguese Accountant
12:00 Walk to the Metro
12:45 Go home and have an “early” lunch
2:00 Catch the 14 bus to Banco of Espana
2:30 Teach 3 computer geeks who rarely show up or care about learning English
3:30 Walk two blocks to the 134 bus and take it north to Plaza de Castilla
4:00 Sit at Te y Café and have a café cortado (espresso with a dab of milk)
5:00 Teach an 18 year old who is studying for the Advanced English Certificate
6:00 Teach his 14 year old brother who is a crazy nut, love him!
7:00 Take the metro home elbowing the mullet chica who is eyeing me with envy for my
fashionable American style.
7:45 Exit onto our street, Calle Sanchez Barcaizetui….damn Vasque names
8:00 Arrive home to the "La Familia"
10:30 Eat another Ryan gourmet creation!
11:30 Hit the hay!