Friday, September 25, 2009

Cheers love!

I'm in Bristol visiting my friend Sarah. Unfortunately her wireless internet won't let me on with my computer, so no photos. We visited the SS Great Britain yesterday. It's a ship built in Bristol in 1845 that took people and goods all over the seas. It was really neat. Then last night we saw Beth Rowley in concert at the Colston Hall, she's a little like Bristol's version of Brandi Carlile, who I love, so I really enjoyed it. The opening band was Phantom Limb, they were very good. I got their CD. Today we went to Cardiff in Wales and visited Cardiff Castle. So far it's been a wonderful visit!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

El Oceanográfico

The day started out a little strangely, I walked down to the street to walk to the aquarium and there were hundreds, probably thousands, of bicycles going up the street.  I couldn't find anywhere what kind of race or event it was, there were people in cycling specific clothes but there were also a lot of people in street clothes, and with baby seats, and lots of kids riding too.  That hindered my progress to the aquarium a little, but it was cool to watch.
I got to El Oceanográfico and I was very glad I had purchased my ticket last week, the line to buy tickets was 90 minutes long.  Instead, I went straight in. 
 I sprung for the audio tour (which turned out to be a waste of money, but oh well) and the girl said I should go to the Dolphin show which was about to start.  It was awesome.  They had 10 dolphins and 4 trainers.  Very cool.  

Can you see all the dolphins jumping?  They were very impressive

They have exhibits for all the oceans and regions and most of the aquariums and displays are underground, which I would imagine, makes it easier to maintain the temperature.  I saw walruses and beluga whales.  I love the Belugas. 

 Then onto the antarctic penguins.  They were very boring and just stood around (although I did learn all penguins live in the southern hemisphere).  

Being a good herd animal I got in a line outside the red sea auditorium, and I was  glad I did.  They had a short program with videos about the behind the scenes operations of the aquarium, how they filter the water (it all comes straight from the beach 4 km down the road), how they take care of the animals (they train the sea mammals to do things that assist in their medical exams, like opening their mouths and rolling over to expose their bellies), and how they prepare the food for them.  You can see the instructor in the tank teaching us things.
They have a wetlands display, which wasn't terribly impressive but the Mediterranean exhibits were pretty cool. Lots of starfish, and I love starfish.
 The Oceans exhibit has several different kinds of sharks and a tunnel where you can walk 'through' the huge shark tank.  How cool is it to take a photo from under the shark?  They have a summer program where kids can come and spend the night on the floor of the shark tunnel.

This guy is the coolest.  He's a Mola Mola or sunfish.  He's huge and crazy looking, so I had to take a picture.

The coolest part was probably the connected displays of the temperate zone seas and the tropical seas.  You start on one end with displays of the different sea life that lives there and then there's a 70 meter (229 foot) tunnel where you again walk 'through' the aquariums and it's supposed to demonstrate examples of what you'd see if you could walk across the bottom of the ocean from England to the caribbean.
 Very cool!  Then they have two huge coral reef habitats.  There were no sea turtles, unfortunately.  They have a sea turtle rehabilitation program, so they only have turtles when they're being rehabilitated and then they release them back into the wild, usually at the end of their summer school program.  It was a fun day, I love aquariums!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Beach

So, it's been a few days, mostly because I moved closer to the beach, and I LOVE the beach.  Today was the perfect beach day, hot and sunny and not too windy and not very many waves.  
That's right. I'm wearing a ridiculous hat and eating an ice cream bar.  It's hard to be me!
The view from my beach chair, the mediterranean ocean, it's too awesome to capture in a photo.

I have been doing something other than sitting at the beach (although not much, and mostly only when it's raining).  Yesterday (it was cool and gray out) I spent the day at the Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe (Prince Felipe Museum of the Sciences  It's a great science museum with lots of interactive exhibits, and luckily most of the signs describing the exhibits were in English as well as Valenciano (the local dialect) and Castilian. My science vocabulary in Spanish is sadly lacking.  They have a great exhibit on the human genome with separate displays for each of the 23 chromosome pairs with an explanation of what information is carried on each and then interactive activities related to that information.  So, for the chromosomes which are related to sight there were activities related to visual acuity.  It was fascinating.  They also had an exhibit on Marvel Comics superheroes with interactive activities related to the different super heroes and their powers.   It's a really good museum.  I went to the Imax too and saw a movie about the sea, they have the real imax with the dome screen and everything.  Very cool.  In the same complex there's an aquarium, that is supposedly the biggest in Europe, I'm going there tomorrow (it's supposed to rain all day).

I did go out one night and interact with the locals.  The guy who owns this pension is American (from Des Moines of all places) and he invited me out with him and his friends on Wednesday.  Everyone says I sound like a Mexican :)

PS Thanks to Sarah and Kari for the advice on how to add more than one photo!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walking in the Rain

There are things I remember from when I studied in Spain in college in '98 that I don't realize I remember until I see them again.  It rained today and tonight it was still cloudy so when I stepped out of my pension about 8 everyone was out walking, as usual, only carrying big black umbrellas.  None of those wimpy compact jobs around here, oh no.  Only the cane handle full length, beat off an attacker kind of umbrella.  I'd forgotten their popularity here.  It started raining again while I was out and my flip flops got slippery and the sidewalks aren't all cement, a lot are like granite so they're slick so I'm walking very carefully and all these little old ladies in their heels with their giant black umbrellas just go striding by.

This is one of my favorite things about walking around exploring in Spain. You can be walking down any random street and all of a sudden turn a corner and find a very old building or church with a lovely fountain in front.  I turned another corner and was in a little plaza and I could hear someone practicing a flute in an apartment above, and I could here Maná playing in a bar down below.  

Sorry!  I still can't figure out how to put more than one picture in per post, so all you get today is a fountain.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Meeting the Locals

Today I bought some stuff at El Corte Ingles to make a 'picnic' lunch and I took my book and went and sat in La Plaza de La Reina (the plaza of the Queen).  This is the view from my bench 

The cathedral is from the 13th century and built over a former mosque (the Spanish pushed the muslims out of places, but being a practical people they used what the muslims had left and built on top of or inside of existing structures, the one in Cordoba is the best). I kept changing benches until I had the best shade that looked like it would last the longest.  Which, put me close to the bus stop.  So, an older gentleman (turns out he's 79 until November) asked if he could share my shade, I said of course.  He sat down and just started talking to me.  I had forgotten this.  When this would happen to me when I was in Valladolid in college it would freak me out because I didn't actually speak Spanish and I would feel rude for not responding appropriately and I never really understood what was being said to me.  Well, for all of you who were wondering, it turns out I actually DO speak Spanish now, so I really did understand most of what he said to me.  Nice to know I actually speak the language huh?  He recognized that I did not know Spanish from here but it turns out he LOVES Texas and watches Walker, Texas Ranger every night (at 8:00 PM on channel 1 if you were wondering).  Another thing that used to freak me out when Spaniards would talk to me is that, unlike Americans, they happily talk about politics and religion all the time.  So, once this man learned I'm from the US he told me how much he hated Yankees and that all republicans are fascists and that he likes Obama but thinks it's ridiculous that people don't have access to healthcare in the US.  I used to take these types of comments as attacks on me, because I just didn't understand the culture.  Anyway, the most interesting part is that this man was 7 when the Spanish civil war started and his older brother fought for the republican army (against Franco).  He told me some pretty gory stuff about bayonet fighting.  He does not have a very high opinion of Franco or of the Catholic church and he's a communist.  He showed me pictures of his granddaughters and told me his son speaks very good English and his daughter is independent and doesn't need any help from a man.  It was a fun afternoon and an interesting history lesson.  Then I got a ice cream cone and walked back to my room.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mediterranean Ocean

Seriously, doesn't the title of this post kinda say it all?  That's right people, I'm a 15 minute city bus ride from the Mediterranean Ocean!  How awesome is that?  I finally made it to the beach today.  It's beautiful, soft sand and wasn't crowded at all.  It's nearly the off season after all.  I volunteered to take a photo of this cute couple together and then got them to take this one of me in front of a fountain on the 'boardwalk' or 'paseo maritimo'.   It was also comfortingly familiar, because people at the beach look about the same anywhere, except of course that all Spanish beaches are topless.  I kept my top on, as did most of the people around me, but not everyone did.    The water was warm and the sand was soft, it was a lovely afternoon.

When I walked out of my pension this morning there was a big to-do in the main plaza.  There was some sort of handball competition going on on the street in front of the beautiful old 'city hall' building and they had ice cream samples and bouncy houses for the kids.  It was neat to see so many people out enjoying the day.  

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some sights

This is the Estación del Norte, the train station in Valencia.  To the left you can see the bull ring.  Under the bull ring they have little like stalls of people selling touristy stuff and beachy dresses and stuff.  They do not however sell Valencia pens.  I came all the way to Spain with only 1 pen so I went out walking last night to buy a pen!  I finally ended up at El Corte Ingles, which is a massive Spanish department store.  They sell everything from groceries to electronics.  

Today, I moved to my new, much less expensive pension.  I am on the 4th floor and there is no elevator so I started my day by lugging my two 40 pound suitcases and my very full backpack up 4 flights of very old stairs.  Luckily, they do have internet here.  It's not as reliable, but it works ok.  Hooray!  After moving in I went for a walk to the big park in town, El Jardin del Túria.  I sat in the shade by a fountain and read a book.  It was lovely.  I would post a picture of the fountain but evidently I'm only allowed 1 photo per post.  On the way to the park I came across the Mercado Central, that's right Texans, a Central Market right here in Valencia.  Ok, it's slightly different from Central Market back home but it was neat to walk around and see all the different food.  Hams, hams everywhere!  And lots of sausage.  I just got some bread and a chocolate croissant.  It was yummy.  

Friday, September 11, 2009

The view from my terrace

This is the view from my 8th floor terrace outside my hotel. This place is really nice and has free wi-fi, but it's expensive so tomorrow I'm moving to a more moderately priced place with a less impressive view and no internet.  The big building on the opposite side of the square is the post office.  It's 7 PM and people are starting to be out and about dando paseos.  

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bienvenida a España

I made it!  27 hours traveling door to door but now I am in Valencia, Spain.  I flew from Austin to Chicago to Madrid to Barcelona and took a train to Valencia.  I thought the train was gonna take 3 hours, it took 4.5. I love train travel though because I don't usually get motion sickness on them even if I'm reading.  Things are going more or less smoothly, I had a few little hiccups using the pay phones to try to reserve a place to stay.  The ring tone and the busy signal here all sound different than at home and I didn't recognize the busy signal.  I finally decided when I got here and I hadn't found anything I would splurge on a Rick Steves pick.  My room is HUGE and has air conditioning and they have free wifi.

So far my Spanish language skills are holding up to the challenge.  Tomorrow should be easier since I should get some decent sleep.  In Spanish in Spain any word with a C or Z that in other places would make an S sound, here they use the th sound. That's gonna take some getting used to, but I'm gonna keep practicing.  Also, I've already gotten a compliment on my Spanish.  Of course, that's because I'm so obviously a freckle-faced American people are impressed I can speak Spanish at all.  I helped a bunch of Americans make our connection in Madrid because they woman just told everyone the gate in Spanish and very few people knew what jota meant.

I've also done some pretty ridiculous people watching. I've seen tons of girls wearing super skinny jeans or short shorts but also several women in wild colored palazzo pants that have elastic at the ankles.

Tomorrow I'm gonna explore a little and try to find longer term lodgings :)