Thursday, May 31, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Back to Rochester again. Sometimes it's more of a shock to be back than to go to foreign places. Just had Pukhet Thai for dinner. I've missed their food. Now I'm ready to watch some spelling-bees and go to bed. Night night.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gatwick Airport

Looks like another miserable day in London, gray, cold and rainy. I decided to camp out in the airport instead of trying to get to the city for few hours and hurrying back early in the morning. We waited for a good hour and half to get through the customs. The two girls ahead of us were from Buenos Aires and another one from Mexico. They spoke in Spanish but I could kind figure out what they were saying. Once we retrieved our luggage Dayna met up with her friends and we said simple good byes to each other. Perhaps she will come to New York for a visit before end of the year or perhaps I’ll see her in Australia next spring. It’s a small world, I’m sure our paths will cross again somewhere along the road.

With 20 hours to kill before my next flight to JFK I wondered aimlessly around the airport a bit before locating the shower on the balcony of the South Terminal. I’ve never showered in an airport before, might as well give it a try since I got nothing better to do and a shower would be great. I dialed the assistant line and the lady promptly sent a janitor over to open the shower for me. The shower is free to use; 1 pound if you need to rent a towel. Once inside I was pleasantly surprised. It is much nicer than I thought with a private room similar size to average bathrooms you would find in people’s homes. It was clean and the water pressure was perfect. I felt a little surreal to be standing under a warm shower in the airport occasionally hearing the faint sounds of announcements over the speakers, almost like Tom Hanks in the Terminal. I can honestly say I’ve never felt this refreshed in an airport before! Later I stopped by Delta check-in to see if I could catch an earlier flight. Although there were seats available on the 2pm flight the lady insisted on charging me $200 for the alternative flight. I don’t think so. Just went to Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food to pick up a Salmon and Cucumber sandwich and some milk. Now I have all the time in the world to read and update my blogs.

2pm: Well, that salmon sandwich didn’t quite fill me up; what a surprise! I went back to Simply Food and got sweet chili chicken & butternut squash salad, a prawn layered salad and a container of mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes! It wasn’t until I got through half of the food did I realize that I went a little too over zealous with the salads! I just got enough food to feed a family of four! I don’t know if anyone is paying the slightest attention to me here. It’s quite a scene with me surrounded by my luggage and three big open containers of salads and milk. I’m rather amused myself.

If these bottles were really all that dangerous maybe they should keep them somewhere else so the airport won't blow up.

Farewell to Spain

Although I wish I had more time to live here in order to get a better understanding of the culture and people, not to mention the language, I have done a lot in a month. I feel pleasantly satisfied like as if I just had few light tapas. I have samples plenty of sights in less than month but it will take longer to digest them all. Now I must take a step back to reflect on my travels. Strip away from the photos and guidebooks, Spain is just a feel, an impression which I can’t quite explain. Like the works of Gaudi, the Alhambra, the gardens, the cathedrals, bullfights and flamenco, Spain must be experienced not explained by words. I believe art is everywhere if you just open your eyes and heart. It’s not a matter of seeing but to feel and except. Perhaps it will come to me suddenly one day while practicing, or when I hear the birds in the woods or the sound of the fountain in a garden.

I’m I love and it makes me happy.

Now my tommy is tapa-ed out and my bank account is tapped out it’s time to go home, rest, work and practice.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Prado to the airport

It’s my last day in Spain, and there was no way I would leave without a visit to the Prado. After showering and breakfast I got to the museum just before 10 thinking I was running late since it opened at 9. When I talked to the security he informed me that it’s not open until 10 (don’t know why). As I waited to get in a huge line formed behind me within 5 minutes. I was the first one to get into Prado! If this was a school project I think I deserve some kind of extra credit. Getting pretty tired from all the traveling, I went straight to the first level of the museum for all the big names I’ve studied in art class back in high school: El Greco, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velazquez, Ribera, Murillo and Goya. It was great to see the painting I’ve only seen on books before in person. I would never have imagined Velazquez’s Las Meninas is so huge like Monet’s Water Lilies in the MOMA or Picasso’s Guernica at Reina Sofia. I loved seeing the before and after shots of Goya’s Maja after having seen them so many times on Romero’s CD cover. And to walk through the dark Goya room where Segovia and Alicia De Larrocha once played their museum concert was also quite the experience. I didn’t stay in the museum for too long since I had to meet with Dayna for lunch around noon. Before leaving I purchased the big illustrated catalogue of the masterpieces in Prado so I can take a closer look at them later.

While waiting for the restaurant to open at 1 I made a quick stop at the Conde shop and got a price list for their guitars. It looked like a typical menu…yes, I would like to have the spruce top with Brazilian Rosewood for the back and side please.

Our last paella together at La Paella Real Restaurante near Plaza de la Opera was wonderful. I got Dayna and me two matching necklaces from Toledo the day before as a little token to remember our trip together. She seemed to have liked it. We talked about the trip and how much we learned about each other and ourselves from traveling. Dayna has been such a good travel buddy for putting up with all my impulsive micro management tendencies. She barely complained at all the whole time and just sat back and let me took care of the details. Still, traveling takes team work and it definitely have brought us closer together. I’m glad to have met Dayna in London and traveled with her and made a new friend. I’m looking forward to visit her in Australia in the near future. I wish her the best luck during the rest of her travels in Europe.

I didn’t really care to see the royal palace as it looked rather plain on the outside. My sole intention was to have a peek at the music room which houses the only matching Stradivarius quartet: 2 violins, a viola and a cello. Unfortunately it was closed for the day so we didn’t bother to go in.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sorry, I had babe for lunch!

A visit to Toledo is not complete without stuffing oneself with cochinillo asado or roast suckling pig. So I stopped by the super friendly Restaurante-Meson Palacios recommended by my guide book for lunch. Although the picture doesn’t look like much…

This is probably the best pork I’ve ever had. The skin is a bit crisp and the meat is very tender and flavorful, although no sauces were added during the cooking process.
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much pork in one meal. No more pork for me for the next month or two. I also had the bean soup with partridge, which was equally delicious. I think there's a similar dish in Cuba (?) and Argentina, but never tried it at either places.

A day in Toledo

I had a lovely visit to Toledo today. Located an hour south of Madrid, Toledo has been the capital of the country for many centuries before it was moved to Madrid. Being the first city to fall back to Christian control by Alfonso VI of Castile, 400 years before the fall of Granada, there is very little trace of a Moorish kingdom left in the modern day Toledo.

The main part of the trip for me was to see the cathedral. I’ve been hearing and reading so much about it before I landed in Spain.

The cathedral’s sacristy is a mini Prado with 18 paintings by El Greco and few others from Goya, Titian and Velazquez.

I was very glad to have stopped by the Santa Cruz Museum after lunch near Plaza Zocodover. The Renaissance building, once an orphanage, now hosts more paintings of El Greco and Murillo in a more intimate sitting. It was much easier to appreciate the pieces standing up close in the quiet halls along, far from the noisy crowds and tour groups. You can almost hear the whispers from the paintings telling tales of the artists, saints and what live was like back when Toledo was the center of Spain. The upper level of the building displays various ceramic tiles from several regions throughout Spain. The similar tiles are prevalent on many old buildings in Lisbon. They were once used as a decorative and affordable material to insolate buildings. It was interesting to see that while tiles from Barcelona and Valencia consisted mostly of floral patterns, the ceramics from Sevilla predominately featured equestrian scenes of bull fights.

Surely many wars have been fought in the name of God, but where would El Greco be without god, or Bach, or Raphael, or Michelangelo. It’s almost impossible to stand in the massive cathedrals surrounded with paintings depicting stories from the bible and believe that god doesn’t exist. Spain would not be the same without the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors and certainly the Catholics. I am not a religious person and don’t have the habit of saying grace before a meal but I feel like I should thank god for inspiring such moving pieces of art. As Bach once said: "The aim and final reason of all music is none else but the glory of God."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday in Madrid

Sunday morning in Madrid is quite an experience walking by the stumbling bar hoppers, who have just started to slowly making their way home. 7:30 is too early for anything except a walk in the park so I started at Puerta del Sol, the center of the city, and walked along Calle del Alcala to Parque Del Buen Retiro, which used to be a private 300-acre royal park.

Madrid is absolutely a beautiful city. Being a rather new and developed metropolis, it is much more open, airy and greener than Barcelona, making it very pleasant to explore on foot. I mapped out my routes in the park for the rest of the day, starting with Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, then lunch, siesta in the park, and Prado in the afternoon, but not without trying out the Madrid specialty first: Churros con chocolate! I met up with Dayna at 9, half hour later we were both on a sugary overload and stuffed with greasy deep fried dough.

I went to see Carmen this evening, not an opera but a Broadway flamenco version. I’m always leery of going to these shows since they’re often made for tourists, but the tickets were half off so I thought I’d give it a try. There were no live music and the recording they played was awful enough that I had to come back to listen to some Callas to erase them from my head. The dancing had nothing to do with flamenco. The opera didn’t have much to do with flamenco either. I don’t think Bizet had even set his foot in Spain, but I remember liking the opera from seeing it 5 years ago. Anyways, the dancers tonight were doing the right moves and everything but they had no meaning. There was no intensity like the flamenco show I saw in Sevilla. People sung and moved with almost a sense of desperation as if their lives were depending on it. I was very moved by that performance enough though I had no clue what any of the lyrics meant.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Movie day

The weather is finally clearing up and I'm totally exhausted from the milonga still. I dragged my butt to breakfast and walked around the block for few minutes picking up some nice cheese from a small store nearby. I love the cheese here. It’s very mild, almost like yogurt with feta cheese texture.

We headed back to the buffet for lunch even though this is the city to be in for some really amazing grilled fish. We stayed in most of the day and watched High Fidelity and 40-Year-Old Virgin with a nice guy from Barcelona.

Lisboa is so old, some people call it antique. I think it’s a bit too antique for my taste. Now we’re getting ready to leave for our over night bus to Madrid, very excited.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Milonga in Lisboa

Another rainy and cold day in Lisboa. We took one more bus tour in the morning before selling our tour passes to two American girls which paid for our lunch at yet another buffet! If there’s a buffet tour around the world, I’ll be the first one to sign up. We sat next to a friendly older couple from the Netherlands. The husband didn’t speak much English but he did manage to say to us “you’re at the best time of your lives with the whole world in front of you.” It’s truly encouraging to hear comments like that once in a while, especially from total strangers, definitely added a smile to my face. The afternoon was sent in the shopping center adding few more much needed dresses to my wardrobe.

Most of the excitement came in the evening when I found out about the on-going Lisboa Tango Festival and that my favorite band Colortango will be playing at the milonga tonight. From the map, the milonga couldn’t have been more than a 10-minute walk away, but after wondering around for 15 minutes in the dark I was completely hopeless. When I finally track down a young man for directions he insisted that I wait for the tram instead of walking by myself at night. Once boarded the tram, I looked around for people with shoe bags, luckily a nice German lady took me in with her group.

This is the first real milonga I’ve been to since BA, they even operated on an Argentine schedule by starting the milonga a hour late. As I talked to the German lady she informed me that people didn’t switch partners and her group had to rotate amongst themselves. What a great way to prep me up. We finally got into the place around midnight and after waiting around for few songs people started to slowly fill up the dance floor. There was also a very old Argentine DJ who played from tapes and talked during and between songs! It didn’t take long before a nice gentleman walked over to invite me to dance. Two tandas later I found out that he’s actually from Argentina and studies in Princeton. The dances were good but only with Germans and French, no locals. I stayed up and danced until 5 in the morning like the good old days in BA.

Later I was really proud of myself for walking home without even opening my map. After a good 20-minute walk 5 in the morning I thought I was safe back in the hostel until the front desk guy tried to kiss me. Yuck, what is wrong with people!



Thursday, May 24, 2007

Olissipo

We took the overnight bus to Lisboa and arrived this morning at 6 local time, which is an hour earlier than Spain. We dropped off our luggage, had some breakfast and started our walk around town. I felt completely lost without my guidebook since I only bought one for Spain and the young man at the check-in didn’t speak any English to be able to tell us where to go. I was barely able to pay for my room with a tiny bit of broken Spanish I know. Luckily, we were very close to the Plaza de Commericio where all the tour buses take off. Having never been onto one of those I figure it was about time. We got a two-day unlimited ride pass for 30euros and hopped one of the big blue double deckers. It felt surprisingly reassuring to be on a tour bus, much less stressful than walking around and checking my map constantly. I soon found out that it was impossible to take good photos on the bus and being tired from the overnight ride, I started to fall asleep every few minutes! Finally we decided to get off the bus around the Belem district to snap some pictures of the Discoveries Monument (Monumento a los Descubrimientos) and the Belem Tower (Torre de Belen). We went into the tower for a quick look. It wasn’t until then did I learn that it was actually used as a military complex designed by 16th century architect Francisco Arruda. From the size of it, I’d be surprised if it could fight off 50 enemies. The top of the tower offered a nice view of the bridge and the city of Lisboa. Later we took the bus to Jeronimos Monastery for some delicious grilled fish in a fancy little restaurant called Rosa del Mares.














Since we were there already, I had to poke my head into the cathedral and found Vasco de Gama's tomb inside.








The afternoon was spent with more naps on a smaller red tram tour but the rough ride going up and down the slops startled me every now and then. At one point near the end of the tour I looked around and noticed that a good half of the people were dosing off as well. There was a stunning Italian lady with Audrey Hepburn eyes who I probably spent more time looking at then the whole Lisboa. She humored us by tickling her husband in his sleep. After going back to the hostel I took a shower and completely passed out by 8pm. Making it the second 12-hour sleep I’ve got on this trip.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Alcazar

I visited the Alcazar this morning, an original 10th century palace built for the Moorish state, now still used as the royal palace making it the oldest still in use in Europe. Most of the buildings now are reconstructed for the Christian king Pedro I by the same Moorish workmen who worked on the Alhambra. It is said that the King built the romantic suite for his mistress and abandoned his wife to live with her in the Alcazar. I tell you, mistress always seem to get the better deal. Little girls should grow up and aspire to be mistresses instead of kissing frogs and marrying princes. The interior of the palace is very similar to that of the Palacio Nazaries, although not nearly as ornate and full of praises for Allah. The garden has a more personal feel with narrower walkways, small water fountains and lush greenery. The whole complex creates a peaceful escape from the traffic and tourist packed plaza in front of the Cathedral. I really enjoyed my visit especially since I got in for free for being a student (it was a nice surprise)!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mezquita

Went to see the Mezquita in Cordoba today. The weather was cold and rainy; the bus driver was impatient and grumpy. Cordoba itself didn’t seem all that interesting, but the Mezquita was very impressive. The juxtaposition of the Cathedral inside a mosque created a very strange effect, not sure if it’s good or bad. It would have been nice to see how the mosque really looked like with the forest of all 1000 columns and open space inside. It’s getting late night and I must go to sleep soon. I’ll have to write more another day. In the meantime enjoy the photos.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Capital of Andalucia

Here I am in Sevilla, the home of Carmen, Don Juan, Flamenco and famous madators, birth place of Velazquez, Murillo and Turina, yet I can talk about is my food and ice cream! This post will be strictly designated to explore the non-food part of Sevilla.

For centuries Sevilla has been the capital of Andalucia and the artistic, cultural, financial center of southern Spain. Now it is the fourth largest metropolitan area in Spain and hottest city in Europe (literally, according to Wikipedia: the National Institute of Meteorology has a record of 47.2 ºC on 1 August during the 2003 heat wave, the highest ever recorded in Europe).

I started my morning with the 10am service at the Cathedral. Although tourists were only allowed to hangout around the back entrance I was still glad to be there. The organ, complete with 7,000 pipes, was played very briefly during the service. Since the voice was being amplified with speakers throughout the Cathedral when the organ started the sound wasn’t as big as I had expected. Of course, it wasn’t been played at full blast with trumpet stops and all (that would have been a treat). Still, I could feel the vibration of the low pedals and hear the resonance in the Cathedral. It was rather difficult to make out what the priests where singing standing behind the choir. Whatever it was, they’re no Vienna Boys Choir.

Binge eating

Which one is better binge drinking or binge eating? I can’t do much of the first one since I’m allergic to alcohol but I sure can eat a lot! I have been referred to as the lean-mean-eating machine. After walking around the park in Sevilla all morning I found an all-you-can-eat place and happily informed Dayna when I met her up at the hostel around lunch time. The food was very good in quality and all for only $10 euros including drink and tax. That’s by far the best bargain I’ve found so far considering I just paid that much for one damn sausage last night! We were in heaven! Even documented all the stuff I ate…I haven't had this much salad since I started my trip. So happy to find some thousand island dressing! Everywhere else we went just had mayo...yuck.
Potato salad, seafood salad, meatballs, fish, paella, chicken with garlic and mushrooms. Now the most important part is on the top left...can you guess what is it?! TABASCO!
More paella with tobasco.
And more room for dessert. People always ask me where I put all that food. I probably have some kind of secret storage compartment in my gigantic head.

Dayna, although look cute and innocent, ate almost as much as I did. After so much food we could barely walk and had to go shop it off. Shopping was quite exhausting so we came back and had a nap. Now we're ready for some ice cream! They are so delicious here...can you imagine if there is an all you an eat ice cream place...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Corrida del Toro

The day started with endless waiting at the bus stop. First hour was spent waiting for the bus to Chiclana central, and then another hour of waiting for the bus to Sevilla. When it finally came in the rain it had already reached its capacity. The next bus from Chiclana was 5 in the afternoon, that’s 5 more hours at the bus stop! With very little patience left I re-routed our connection to Cadiz and got onto the 2pm bus to Sevilla.

We finally checked into our hostel by 4 in the afternoon and went straight to the Cathedral thinking that it was free on Sunday. It wasn’t until we got to the ticket office to find out the good lord is making money even on Sundays now. Luckily we got in for only 2 euros with our student discount. The interior is very similar to the cathedral in Granada but much darker. The Granada cathedral was painted white during the plague to look more sanitized(?) and the locals liked it that way so no one bothered to change it. It gave a much more airy and spacious feel even though the Sevilla Cathedral, built on a former mosque that was ripped down in 1401 by the Reconquista Christians, is the biggest one in Spain, third in Europe after St. Paul and St. Peters. It is the largest Gothic cathedral anywhere. It’s such a torture to walk in the beautiful space and see the massive organ not being played. The altarpiece is the largest ever made: 65 feet tall with 44 scenes of Jesus carved out of walnut and chestnut covered with insane amount of gold leafs.The cathedral also holds the tomb of Christopher Columbus (who was first buried in Spain, then Dominican Republic, then Cuba and now Sevilla) and supposedly a piece of the true cross (didn’t see it anywhere on display). The view on top of the bell tower is absolutely breathtaking and well worth the climb.
No trip to Spain is complete without seeing the Corrida del Toro. Sevilla, being one of the more traditional cities, still hold bullfights on most Sundays and holidays. The event took place in Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza, which is said to be one of the most handsome and important bullrings in Spain and probably the oldest beginning building in 1758. We got to the ring just in time to get our tickets and find our seats, which happened to by right next to a guy we met in Valencia. The whole thing lasted over 2 hours, much longer than I expected with 6 showings of three different bullfighters. Each of the showing includes 3 distinctive stages. In order to help me to get bed earlier I’ll have to copy and paste the explanation from the reliable source of Wikipedia:

“The modern corrida is highly ritualized, with three distinct parts or tercios,start of each announced by a trumpet sound. The participants first enter the arena in a parade to salute the presiding dignitary, accompanied by band music. Torero costumes are inspired by 18th century Andalusian clothing, and matadores are easily distinguished by their spectacular "suit of lights" (traje de luces).

Next, the bull enters the ring to be tested for ferocity by the matador and banderilleros with the magenta and gold capote, or dress cape.

In the first stage, the tercio de varas ("lances third"), the matador first confronts the bull and observes his behavior in an initial section called suerte de capote. Next, two picadores enter the arena on horseback, each armed with a lance or varas. The picador stabs a mound of muscle on the bull's neck, which lowers its blood pressure, so that the enraged bull does not have a heart attack. The bull's charging and trying to lift the picador's horse with its neck muscles also weakens its massive neck and muscles.

In the next stage, the tercio de banderillas ("banderillas third"), the three banderilleros each attempt to plant two barbed sticks on the bull's flanks. These further weaken the enormous ridges of neck and shoulder muscle through loss of blood, while also frequently spurring the bull into making more ferocious charges.

In the final stage, the tercio de muerte ("death third"), the matador re-enters the ring alone with a small red cape (muleta) and a sword. He uses his cape to attract the bull in a series of passes, both demonstrating his control over it and risking his life by getting especially close to it. The faena ("work") is the entire performance with the muleta, which is usually broken down into a series of "tandas" or "series". The faena ends with a final series of passes in which the matador with a muleta attempts to manoeuvre the bull into a position to stab it between the shoulder blades and through the aorta or heart. The act of thrusting the sword is called an estocada. The bull's body is dragged out by a set of galloping mules.”


I guess in a way the whole thing was a little less extravagant and gory than I had imagined. Everything from the bullfighters’ colorful and shinny costumes to the carefully choreographed steps and gestures making the event seem more like a ceremonial play. It is truly a form of art rather than merely few macho men killing bulls. I’m very glad to have taken a friend’s suggest to witness such special event.

By 9:30 we have not eaten anything all day other than a scope of ice cream. I’m usually crazy about food but not when it comes in conflict exploring new cities. I don’t want Dayna to think that she’s traveling with the food nazi so we walked quickly to a nearby restaurant for a much needed dinner. I finally broke my fish and calamari diet with some spicy sausages and potato pancakes. They were very overpriced but tasty. It’s hard to believe that I haven’t eaten any meat since I started my trip with the exception of a small bit of chicken occasionally mixed in with the paellas. This is turning out to be a very healthy trip with good diet and lots of walking.

After coming back to the hostel and reading about how Rose have been frequenting the milonga until 6 in the morning still I felt the need to go tango! To make the day more productive I got dressed and took my tango shoes for a walk. I only stayed for 20 minutes since it wasn’t very busy. A nice gentleman came to ask for a dance as soon as I putted my shoes on, which rarely happens at a new milonga. After we danced a tanda, he led me to his friend, who turned out to be a very good dancer, for some more dancing. As I sat down for a break and friendly woman came over to talk to me about the milongas in Sevilla and invited me to come back on Wednesday night. Tango people are usually pretty nice but I’ve never met so many friendly people at the milonga in such short period of time! It was well worth the 30 minutes of walking just to be able to meet the nice people and say that I have tangoed in Sevilla.
Now time for bed. More exploring tomorrow.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tapas

Afternoon at the beach, tapas and sunset...what could be better?

Beautiful Mistake

Don’t tell anyone, Chiclana is a little slice of heaven. I originally planned to go to Cadiz for two days but I made a mistake in booking and ended up in Chiclana, a small town right outside of the city. The beaches here are beautiful, clean and quite. Our hotel is situated right on the Barrosa beach, which stretches over 8km along the coastline. We checked in around 2 and headed right over to the beach after a quick lunch. The Atlantic Ocean is a bit chilly at first but after few seconds of getting use to it’s actually quite nice. Dayna is from Australia so she has been experience beach withdrawals (especially for being in London). We were both so happy to be lying in the warm sand and work on our tan. As you can see, Dayna snatched a picture of me working hard on the beach! We stayed out until 6 this afternoon; luckily no one got burnt…yet.


This is a perfect stop during the middle of the trip to rest, relax and recharge our batteries before heading out to Sevilla, Lisboa and Madrid. There are no paintings of Mary and the baby Jesus here! I can’t tell you how good it is to shower, shave and lay down on the comfy bed with some Debussy and wifi! In fact, neither one of us have shaved for over a month. The first thing Dayna said when we got into our room was “We can shave now!”

Ok, I’m going to study for a bit and then go out for dinner. Yes, studying…history of Spanish music. I brought two books with me from the Sibley library. It’s nice to have them especially now that I have no ipod to entertain me on the buses. I also like the fact that I’m carrying a tiny piece of Eastman with me everywhere I go.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tangier, Morocco

I’m not a fan of organized religion or organized tours. We signed up for one to Tangier hoping to avoid being mobbed by the local sales people and private tour guides. I had a suspicion that we will be shepherd to stores in order for the company to make money off of the commission. It is yet another very windy day in Tarifa. The ferry between Tarifa and Tangier took 35 minutes across the rough waters of Straits of Gibraltar. This is officially the fifth continent I have been to this year!

We started the tour with a drive through the Beverly Hills of Tangier where all the rich diplomats live, nice houses with even nicer views. The camel ride was followed by walk through the markets and streets of Tangier. We had couscous for lunch accompanied by some local musicians on the Arabian lute and violin played like the cello (very much like the Chinese Arhu). The afternoon was mostly spent going to stores. We had a rug show and a pharmacy presentation, which turned out to be very entertaining.

On the lesser exciting side, I did my laundry today for 5euros. Whenever on the road, free wifi and clean laundry are always luxuries!

Ironically, the ferry from Rochester is going to be running between Tarifa and Tangier in July. Here is the full story from Wikipedia:

“A short-lived, high-speed passenger/vehicle ferry across Lake Ontario linking Rochester to Toronto, Ontario ran between June 17, 2004, and late 2005. The Australian-flagged vessel, Spirit of Ontario I, ran under two operators, Canadian American Transportation Systems and Bay Ferries Great Lakes Limited before service was discontinued after two financially unsuccessful seasons of operation. On May 3, 2006, Mayor Robert Duffy announced the tentative sale of the Fast Ferry to Euroferries Ltd. for $29.8 million, to be used to provide service between Dover, England and Boulogne, France. After delays in securing funding, the ferry left Rochester on December 20, 2006, bound for Nova Scotia, where it berthed for the winter. Unable to close the Euroferries deal, on April 2, 2007, Mayor Duffy announced the sale to the German firm Forde Reederei Seetouristik Gmbh & Co (FRS) for $30 million. In July, 2007, the ferry will inaugurate service between Tarifa, Spain and Tangier, Morocco.”


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tarifa

After a good night of rest we caught the bus at noon to go to Tarifa. From what I could understand there was a poetry festival going on while I was in Granada and all the buses had various poems pasted onto the windows. Too bad I can’t read any of them but that seems like a pretty neat idea. It would be great if they did that in the States with some Robert Frost and Walt Whitman and once in a while a few maps of the world map the population. I rarely get sick on buses, but the on this trip are really tiring me out. I’ve been taking my vitamins everyday with good hydration and schedule times to relax and go to the beach. Still, I get nauseous easily on buses. I had to take some sleeping pills on the ferry over from UK just to put myself to sleep; I knew there was a reason to pack them. It was a very uncomfortable ride to Malaga. After we switched to the front seats at Malaga I finally felt a little better. It took 5 hours to get to Tarifa from Granada with transfer at Algeciras even though the distance looked more like a 2-3 hours drive. The coast line is very beautiful with nice sandy beaches and the coast of Africa in the distance. There are many residential developments along the way. I heard the real estates have grown rapidly in the past few years some due to foreign investments and lots of companies are over building now with no buyers in the future. I guess this is a common problem in the housing market all over the world.

After arrival, we booked a tour to Tanger for tomorrow and grab a quick meal nearby. The restaurant had a good description for Tarifa on the menu:

“Most of the cultures that formed the history of the Western world have passed through these lands and waters: Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, Goths, Moors – they have all left their marks. Some settled for centuries, and others made brief attempts to do so. Nowadays, the southern tip of Continental Europe plays host to a very different array of travelers who come to experience its winds, beaches and local culture. Here lies Tarifa, the southern-most point in Europe, also known as the wind capital.”

I had no idea this place was so WINDY! We were very excited to see the gorgeous beaches but as soon as we got off the bus we knew that’s out of the questions. The wind was so strong we could barely walk down the street with our luggage. The beach will have to wait until we get to Cadiz on Wednesday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tortilla Sarcromonte

The day has been more than perfect with Alhambra in the morning and guitar shops in the after. Although lunch was disappointing in the tourist packed Plaza Neuva, I got great homemade paella at the hostel in the evening. Later Dayna and I decided to climb back up the Albayzin for some more food. I had my mind set on ordering the local special: Tortilla Sacromonte, an omelet filled with mushrooms, onions, asparagus, green peppers, ham and brains. Yes, you read it right, brains. I'm adventurous enough to try everything once. The Chinese always liked to say that you gain what you eat. I already got a huge head but I figured more brain won’t hurt. The omelet was ok after I submerged it in hot sauce. Let’s just say I don’t think I’ll even be ordering it again. I’m totally brained out for the rest of my trip.

Antonio Raya

Guitarists are by far the best people ever! It was tempting to get a guitar here with so many good makers right around the corner from where I am staying. Visited Ferrer and Raya's shops this afternoon. Unfortunately, Raya didn't have any finished Torres models for sale. Actually, he didn't have any finished guitars in the shop!

The Torres model was first built by Antonio de Torres Jurado, who made guitars for many famous players in his days including Francisco Tarrega. During some point of the mid 1800s, Torres lived in Granada to acquire and improve on his craftsmanship. Many innovations on the modern classical guitar such as the fan-strutting and the mechanical machine heads have been attributed to Torres. In order to produce more volume, Torres increased the size of the guitar by 20% compare to makers before him. However, the Torres model guitars are slightly smaller and slimmer than the current standard classical guitars. The scale length for example is mostly tailored to 650mm, but 645mm on a Torres model. Since I’m pretty short, the Torres model fits me quite well, especially if I order one custom with 635mm scale length and 50mm width for the fretboard. Raya uses good quality material for his guitars. Most of them are German spruce top with Brazilian/Indian Rosewood back and side.

Raya seem to be a very warm person. Somehow we carried on a conversation for quite a while even though he didn't speak English and my Spanish is strictly limited to ordering at the restaurant and asking for directions. He told me about his trips to Japan and showed me many old family photos. He son, who have been building guitars since he was ten years old, was also working in the shop when I visited. I am totally convinced that how much you understand is directly proportional to how much you care to understand, no matter if it is language, history, music or a person. Still, guitarists are by far the best people... Like the german saying: "Wo man singt da lass dich nieder, böse Leute kennen keine Lieder." Translate to: "Where someone sing stay, cause wicket people don’t know any songs."

It's for luck...

Peaceful reflecting pool, beautiful landscape in the background what can possibly go wrong...No, this is not the wailing wall...As Eric and I stood under of the colums and bird poop on his head! Jan trying to clean the shit on Eric's head and proudly displayed the tissue full of poo. At last, Eric washes himself in the holy water!
Thank Allah it didn't happen to me!



Alhambra

I woke up at 6 this morning while it was still dark outside. I washed up quickly before waking up Jan and Eric, who also wanted to visit the Alhambra. Instead spending more time on breakfast I took off early as if I were on a mission and told them to meet up at the ticket office. The walk up to the hills of Alhambra was very pleasant. The path is lined with dense woods and flowers. I was surrounded by the sounds of birds and water running down the hills. I’ve been hearing the Alhambra ever since I started to play the guitar ten years ago. Francisco Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written for the guitar. If you haven’t heard the piece I suggest you go the nearest music store and pick up a recording of it ASAP. To be in Spain and not see the Alhambra would be too big of a disappointment to live through. I got in line around 6:50 and there were already close to 100 people waiting. It was safe to assume I was going to get in.

The Alhambra itself is very difficult to describe. We can attempt to explain it in terms of history, architecture, religion or art, but none of them quite captures the essence of the Alhambra.

I think Trend articulates this idea very well in his book Picture of Modern Spain:

Granada is a thing for painting or for music. Words are not the proper medium in which to express it, for it is impossible to write two lines without falling back on the stock phrases of romanticism. The old clichés can hardly be avoided, for in Granada they are all true. You cannot avoid saying, for example, that it is enchanting. All Spaniards pronounce it encantadora, and they are quite right. But its enchanting quality is only another reason why words are inadequate as a means of expression. The words describing enchantment are always meaningless – meaningless, that is from the point of view of ordinary conversation. They express magic by their sound rather than by their sense, which means to say that they are used for their musical value. Music has always been the only way of signifying enchantment as Shakespeare knew. And Granada is interpreted by a music of its own – the strange, oddly-twisted melodies of cante flamenco – from which Albeniz, Granados, Falla and Turina have gathered inspiration, and which is the most obvious mark of their definitely Spanish outlook upon music.”

Alhambra simply needs to be experienced: the sight of the sultan’s palace, sound of the fountains, and the fragrance of the gardens combined with the emotions stirred by events that took place on this very ground hundreds of years ago. Imagine the splendid Moorish kingdom that once stood here, visualize the vibrant walls, carpets and draperies, and indulge in the sadness of the last Moorish king who was surrendered and left for Africa in 1492. The size of the fortified city doesn’t surprise me for when you grow up in China nothing seem as grand as the Great Wall or the Forbidden City, but I was absolutely amazed at the detailed wood carvings, colorful ceramic tiles, star-studded domes and stucco ceilings. I tried to take pictures but they speak of nothing for I can’t capture the sounds and the fragrance and the feeling of past glory. Music played constantly in my head as we walked through the Alhambra with sheer awe. It is the quintessential embodiment of melancholy.

Later in the afternoon we visited the Royal Chapel where Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand, the founders of Spain, currently reside. The Catholic Monarchs spent a quarter of their savings on this fancy chapel. Among the displays are the original banners carried into the Alhambra on Jan. 2nd 1492, Isabel’s bible, crow and the jewelry box she offered to Columbus and Ferdinand’s sword. I was surprised to see how well everything was preserved. The flags seemed in much better shape than the one left over from the revolution or Iwo Jima. Sorry, no pictures where allowed in Capilla Real.


Monday, May 14, 2007

From a distance

Waiting line

If you want to see the Alhambra, you've got to work for it. First you got to get up early, walk up a steep hill and then you see the ticket office:
So you look around and see this:
But that's not all...looking around the corner you see more...

According to the Rick Steve's Guide: "the Alhambra admits 7,800 visitors a day. 6000 tickets are sold in advance. The rest 1,800 are sold each day at the Alhambra ticket window." I didn't expect to get tickets today but I walked up to the Alhambra just to checkout what I will be dealing with tomorrow monring. Better get up early just to be safe...

First thing first




Got into Granada this morning at 8. The air is cool and crisp with temperature at only 13 degrees. After checking in at the hostel I went straight for the Alhambra, but not without stops at the guitar shops along the way. It was only 10 so many of them were not open…musicians, what can you do. I happened to walk by Bellido’s shop when he opened the door. It was such a great feeling to walk into the shop and smell the guitars. The guitars are beautifully handmade by Bellido himself right in the shop. He showed me two classical ones: cedar and spruce and two flamenco guitars both made of pine. I tried the cedar guitar with couple phrases of the Albeniz I remember. The guitar is well balanced with thin neck and good action making it very easy to play on. I then looked at the flamenco guitars, which had slightly thinner body, lighter weight and lower tension strings. Finally music again! Haven’t seen the Alhambra and I’m already in heaven!

Bus Station

Our bus to Granada was delayed. We didn’t take off until midnight and it took 8 hours for us to reach Granada. Here’s a picture me taking some rest at the bus station, roughing it on the road.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spanish Catholicism

I got up early this morning hoped to attend the service in the Cathedral. I was surprised to see a festival of celebration everywhere on the street. Many balconies are decorated with red curtains and flowers, streets are lined up with chairs for spectators and platforms where setup around the Cathedral for performers and musicians. I sat down quiet next to an older gentlemanl around 9:45 since that’s the schedule for the usual Sunday mass. The place was packed with locals and tourists wondering around the alter with their flashing cameras. From what I can gather, the ladies behind me were saying that the mass has been delayed due to the celebration (?). I had no idea how late this thing was going to start or what kind of ceremony was about to take place. And then it was 10:30, 11:00, 11:30…I’ve never sat in a church for so long my whole life. Finally a little past 11:30 the Cathedral was starting to reach it’s full capacity and people were starting to stand up to face the doorway. “They are coming!” the man sitting next to me said. I stood on my toes and looked, there they are: flags, banners, church officials and guys carrying a wooden statue of the Virgin holding the baby Jesus. People started to applad and chant in unison (sorry, no translations here, where is that English Audio guide when you need one!). The statue moved slowly along the isle through the sea of people, many of them pressed their way to the front to kiss the Virgin. The applauds and chants augmented and diminished at different points and finally reached its climax when she arrived at the alter. The sound was so overwhelming I felt tears running down my cheeks. People squeezed their way onto the alter to touch the statue and pass babies up to kiss her face. Being a rather none religious person myself, I was completely touched. After a while, the two older ladies next to me got up to leave, one of them smiled and patted me on my leg. That was the warmest gesture I’ve ever received since I came to Spain, so I sat around and cried some more before meeting Dayna out for lunch.

The afternoon was very hot so we wandered into the fine art museum to take advantage of the air condition and free Sunday admission. Although much smaller, it’s very similar to the Catalana Art Museum in Barcelona with displays of medieval church facades and countless portraits of the Virgin and baby Jesus. They all start to look very similar after a while. I made my way to the couple Velazquez and Goya paintings and went back to the hostel. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the Red Dragon and waiting around for our over night bus to Granada.