Friday, March 27, 2009

Family's Visit to Spain!!!

Palacio Real Album

Sorry about the lack of posts, I really haven't done much so there was not much to write about, however, my family did visit last weekend and now I have a lot more material to write about!

My family flew into Madrid on Friday morning, which meant I had to wake up before the sun was up to go pick them up at the airport which is about an hours worth of train and metro rides away. Oh well, I got peanut butter and jelly out of it (which is very difficult to find here) so I guess I should not complain too much. Once I met them at the airport we hopped back on to the metro and took it to the hotel that we were staying in for the weekend.

We stayed at a hotel just a short walk from the "Plaza del Sol" which is the very heart of Madrid and is comparable to NYC's Time's Square without all of the advertisements and skyscrapers. Also, from above, the streets branching off from the plaza create the effect of the rising sun, quite cool city planning even centuries ago. After we got to the hotel, everyone decided it would be best to take showers and relax a bit before embarking on our tour of Madrid. We took a free tour (the same company as the one in Dublin) around Madrid and the tour guide was very informative and provided a lot of history of the city and country that I didn't know yet. After the tour, we were all pooped and we decided to get something for dinner and go back to the hotel and sleep... one set an alarm so we all ended up sleeping for 11 hours! I'm pretty sure everyone needed it though, so it wasn't so much of a bad thing. It did take a while for everyone to get ready to leave (about 2.5 hours) therefore we got a late start to the day. We found a pretty decent pizza place for some grub then we headed over to the Palacio Real to take a tour. When we got there we found out there was free entrance for families larger than 5! Needless to say, my dad was pretty happy with that. We spent quite a long time in the Palace and all of us took a bunch of pictures and toured the exhibits and the rooms of the palace, it was quite impressive and apparently it's the biggest in all of Europe because it has 4 levels underground. Check out my pictures on the link at the top of the post!

After the palace, we took the subway over to the Parque de Retiro, Madrid's Central Park but bigger (I think). It was quite a lovely day, so the park was filled with families and sunbathers taking in the glorious day. We spent some time there looking at a few of the wonderful views the park provided before we headed over to the Prado art museum for their free entrance hours. When we go to the museum the line was incredibly long so we decided not to get in it and just wait to see how fast it moved. To our luck, the line moved very quickly and after we saw this we decided to get in line and within 15 minutes we were in one of Europe's best art museums. We meandered around until the allotted time of the free visit was up and saw some stunning masterpieces from French, Spanish, Italian artists and ancient Roman sculptures, among other things. Once we were done visiting the Prado, it was back to the hotel after a long day of sightseeing plus we had an early wake up call to go to the largest flea market in Europe...

...El Rastro awaited us as we woke up early (it still took us quite a bit of time to get ready but nearly as bad as the day before). If you can imagine a place where basically everything you want is in one place (for pretty good prices too) the Rastro is what you are thinking of. We meandered all the booths that lined the street blocked off for foot traffic only on Sundays looking for anything that caught our eyes. I ended up getting a knock off Liverpool soccer jersey and a Holland soccer shirt for 15 euros combined (let's see how long they hold up though). After we finished shopping, the boys decided to go up to the Bernabeu Stadium to see if there were any tickets available for that afternoon's game. We took the metro packed full of fans and started walking towards the stadium after climbing four flights of stairs to ground level. Once we found the ticket window, we were informed that the only tickets remaining for the game were 60 euros and they were not together. So we grabbed a few cokes and just sat outside the stadium watching the mass of people swarm to the stadium and then once the game started there was no one to be seen except for the police. We found a place to watch the first half of the game then decided to take the Metro back early in order to avoid all the crowds and we got back to the hotel and watched Barcelona score 6 goals on an ineffective Malaga team. Dinner was next on the agenda and then we all headed to bed early for our trip to Alcala in the morning.

We took the train to Alcala and met my host mom in the plaza and she took us to a place to have chocolate with churros. Mmmm, I think everyone needs to try chocolate with churros at some point in their life, it's well worth it. After churros, we went over the main university campus and took a tour of the campus. The tour guide spoke only Spanish, so I got to translate what I could understand (most of what she said) to English for my family. Although, we did use an audio guide in English so we could get a better understanding of each place. At noon, my mom, David, and I met my host mom to go over to my host sister's school to talk with the director of English studies about setting up a pen pal program. We went to two different classes where the kids asked my mom and I questions and English. I was very impressed by there level of English and I hope my mom can set up the pen pal program because I think it could be a great experience for her kids and the kids here. Next, we visited a palace/museum building here in Alcala which was quite impressive for its small stature. Once we finished visiting the palace we returned to the hotel in Madrid, ate some dinner, picked up some souvenirs and then I returned to Alcala to finish up my homework and get some sleep before class the next day.

All in all, it was a very fun weekend and I was very glad to see my family. Tomorrow I am going to another football game but this one should be way more exciting than the other two I have been to. It is a World Cup Qualifying match between Spain (FIFA #1) and Turkey (FIFA #11). If you are having problems viewing the photo albums, let me know and I will try to correct the problems.

That's it for now.


Friday, March 13, 2009


Dublin.1, Dublin.2, Dublin.3, Dublin.4

Ireland! What a beautiful place to be!

We got into Dublin at around 10PM, got our passports stamped (woo!!), and found a bus to get us to the city center. Our hostel, Jacob's Inn, was not bad for the money and location. Once we got settled in we walked around for a little bit and found an internet cafe where we all ordered and printed off our tickets for the Guinness Storehouse tour. Everything had already closed down for the night so we decided to just call it a night and get some rest for the next morning.

I woke up at about 830AM the next morning and took advantage of the free breakfast that the hostel offered (only toast and juice, oh well). Then we waited for the free tour to start! There is a company called New Europe Tours (link) that provides free tours in 9 of Europe's biggest cities. The tour guides work on tips only and inform you of that only once at the beginning and once at the end, besides that no more money talk. Our tour guides name was Ali from Northern Ireland (if I remember correctly) who did a wonderful job at describing the cool history of the city. He even played an Irish tune on the tin whistle for us! We saw the Dublin Castle, the Temple Bar district, Trinity College, Christ Church, and many other Dublin sites. After the tour was over we headed to find some good food to eat (for cheap, of course) and while we were walking, I SAW A GUY WEARING A STARS JERSEY!!!!!! I never thought I'd see a Dallas Stars jersey and Dublin, Ireland! Okay, sorry for that little sidebar -- after we had some (decent) pizza, we walked over to the Guinness Storehouse. It was a self guided tour through the museum which included the process of making Guinness, the history of the beer, history of Guinness advertising, and finally the Gravity Bar at the top of the Storehouse (the tallest building in Dublin) with 360 degree views of the entire city. I had never tried Guinness before, but I had a free pint in front of my so I decided not to let it waste. What a very bitter beer it is, I think I'll only be able to drink it if I am eating something or maybe I just have to get used to it. After the tour, we all did some souvenir shopping then met up with a friend of one of the people in our group who was living in Dublin. She showed us around some of the cool nightspots in Dublin but we didn't stay out late because we had a long day ahead of us.

The next morning we woke up early and headed off to the countryside of Ireland! We took a bus out to Enniskerry, which was about an hour outside of Dublin. Man was it green -- everywhere. I even got to see a Irish golf course! Then we trekked 7 Km to see this magnificent waterfall, quite worth the walk and the 4.50 to see it. I can't really say much else about the countryside because my words can not describe it's beauty, so check out the 3rd and 4th albums to see my pictures. Once we got back to Dublin, we picked up our bags and headed to the airport. Our flight didn't leave until 6:20 AM the next morning but the only way we could make the flight was to spend the night in the airport. So, we spent 7 hours in the very cold Dublin airport. The flight home was very uneventful and once I got back to Alcala, I slept for the rest of the day.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and theres still some things I want to see, so I definitely have to visit Ireland again! That's all for now!


Monday, March 02, 2009

Midterms, Cuenca, and Futbol

Cuenca Photo Album
Athletico Madrid - FC Barcelona Game

This past week, I had midterm exams for my classes and unlike classes at OU where teachers schedule their own tests, the university here has a certain week for midterms, therefore all of the midterms fall on this week. It was quite stressful! Aside from the stress of studying, I think I did pretty well on the exams, I shall find out soon enough.

Enough about class, lets talk about futbol! I joined a futbol siete (7) team through the school and we started playing games last week. We had just enough players to field a team and no substitues, so needless to say, we got our butts handed to us (5 - 0). This week we will have one sub so maybe we can get some fresher legs rotated into the game. Besides being beat so badly, it was quite a lot of fun and it was a great workout.

On Friday, I went on an excursion with the University to Cuenca, Spain which is about 2 hours away from Alcala. It is a quaint little town in the middle of Spain with some very cool art and architecture. We took a tour of the modern art museum (with some questionable looking art) and a cathedral (these are getting a little bit old, not gonna lie). Check out my pictures from the trip on the link above!

Today, (the best part of my weekend) I went with my friend Conner (a huge futbol fan like me) to see a match between Athletico Madrid and FC Barcelona. We got to our seats about an hour early to get some good pictures of a somewhat empty stadium and to catch a glimpse of our favorite players warming up. After a while, the fans started to fill the stadium and the excitement of ensuing game was building up. Our seats were right right next to "los Ultras" (they are the fanatical Athletico Fans for life) and the atmosphere was amazing for this thrilling game. In the end, Barcelona ended up losing 4 - 3 but there were some fantastic goals in this game (I will try to post a link to the highlights once they are online) and I got every cent out of the 80 Euro ticket!

Here's a video of the fans:

I also bought a few scarfs so I could act like a local when I go to games:

Of course, I had to buy a FC Barcelona scarf! The other one has a quote on it from King Juan Carlos I when he told Hugo Chavez to shut up (¿Por que no te callas?) at the 2007 Ibero-American Summit in Santiago Chile (watch the video here), when he kept interrupting the Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, while he was speaking. It's become a very popular quote in Spain, obviously, it's on a scarf!

That's it for now, I must get to bed and start another week of classes. I can't belive it's already March!