Monday, July 26, 2010

Weekend in Switzerland

This past weekend, I went to Switzerland to visit my cousin in Luzern. Despite the colder weather (air conditioning compared to Spain), it was an amazing trip and definitely one of the coolest things that I have been able to do all summer. Right after getting off the train from the Zurich airport (flughafen) to Luzern, we headed over to one of the town's hang-out places, the Black Sheep. It is especially packed on Thursday nights because of their 2 for 1 special. The music was a good mix of European, German, and American dance songs, but also included one Arash song.

On Friday, 23 July, the Blue Balls music festival began. Music groups from all over the world come to Luzern to perform and although you need extra tickets to get to the really cool people like James Morrison, 15 CHF (about $15 USD) will get you entrance to the Schweizerhof Hotel's concert hall and ferrying across Lake Luzern from one concert hot-spot to the other. Friday night, at the orange Pavilion built in 1908, a Belgian group called Selah Sue played - they were pretty good and Sue was only 21 years old. After this concert, we went over to the Schweizerhof to see a funk band called Juan Rozoff play. They were pretty good and the concert hall in the hotel is about 100-120 years old too.
We had more time on Saturday to visit the town of Luzern. We walked by the lake into the town to see the Panorama, painted within four months in1881 about the Franco-Prussian war and the troops from the armies as they passed through Switzerland. It places the viewer in the center of the 10-meter high painting and uses props and set pieces coming out of the painting, giving it a 3D feeling. Because there are also background sounds, it really places the viewer in the middle of the scene and is pretty impressive. The tickets for the Panorama and the Glacier Park can be combined so after the Panorama, we walked through part of the Old City and went to the Glacier Park. The Park has a lot of really interesting rock formations made by the glaciers. There are also very cool gardens with a tower and view of Luzern as well as a house of mirrors modeled after a section of La Alhambra in Spain.

From the gardens, the statue of the dying lion in the cliff is visible. The lion has a spear sticking out of his side as he lays down on a shield depicting the fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy. Behind him, there is a Swiss shield, too. The statue is a memorial to the approximately 750 Swiss Guards that died during the French Revolution. It's another very impressive piece of art in Luzern. After this area of Luzern, we made our way across the old wooden bridges for which the canton is known to go to the wall surrounding the old part of the city. Given that I like to climb every single watchtower available, we climbed all the way to the top of this watchtower in the Alps. The view was amazing. Additionally, the Swiss Air Force was doing an airshow and given the close proximity of their base to Luzern, we got an awesome view of the fighter planes from the tower. The old city has also preserved many of the buildings there for centuries. In one plaza, old slaughterhouses with intricately painted facades still stand. Bay windows on building around this time were also a symbol of wealth.

Before heading out to more concerts at Schweizerhof, we went to this really cool lounge on the top floor of a building with a flat roof that extended straight out over the plaza by the lake. The roof is even flexible so that it can bend about 25 centimeters on each side. After taking break here looking out at the lake, we headed back to the apartment to make a good Persian meal (morghe-za'afron va polo) and play a game of billiards while the rice was cooking. It was the first time in about 3 months that I have had tadigh (the "bottom of the pot," the best part of the cooked rice). After dinner, we met up with my cousin's friends, hung out for a while, then the group of us headed back by the lake over to the Schweizerhof. That night, there was a rock band playing (I think named Sorgente, but not sure). They had a good, strong rock sound and the concert hall was even more crowded than the first night. When their show ended, the group of us went over to Roadhouse, another popular hang-out spot for the younger people in Luzern. It was a lot of fun with a pretty good mix of music from the 1950s/1960s USA rock music to modern European and American dance/pop hits.

Unfortunately, the Study Abroad office thinks that missing days/weeks of work and class is a bad thing so even though I did not want to leave Switzerland, I returned to Madrid on Sunday, taking the scenic train ride from Luzern back to the Zurich airport. While waiting for the flight, one elderly Spanish man started speaking with me (en español, por supuesto) and told me that I already knew Spanish well enough and asked why I wanted to learn more. He also asked me if I knew that Obama had Swiss ancestry and how great Obama is. Despite the short time that I was in Luzern, it was one of the coolest things that I have been able to do this summer and I would love to go back.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Waka Waka WIN


It has been amazing to be in Madrid for the World Cup when Spain won. Sunday, 11 July 2010, my roommate and I went to Plaza de Colón to watch the game with the crowds on the big screen set up by the Hyundai Fan Park. The plaza was packed from Colón all the way to Cibeles. The game was so intense and when Spain finally scored its winning goal, the crowd went wild. When we found out that we had won, people broke down the barriers to all of the fountains and climbed inside to celebrate. People brought firecrackers and would toss them on the ground so that the crowd had to quick spread out. Fans that had brought flags with them were jumping in front of the honking cars and acting like toreros. We met up with the Spanish friends in Bilbao and walked back through the fan park to Retiro. One old man was carrying a flag and shouting that it was a national holiday and no one should go to work tomorrow (unfortunately, my office does not agree with that sentiment).

The president declared a 36 hour national holiday as soon as the game was won. On Monday, the streets were blocked off and the area by Principe Pio was set up for the concert. While we were waiting for the plane to arrive, there were various DJs and musical artists who performed, including Soraya (I have no idea who she is, but there are posters for her everywhere). There was also a pretty cool fly-over by airplanes who used colored exhaust to make the colors of the Spanish flag. The players rode on an open-roof bus through the streets lined by millions of fans to Principe Pio, where they got on-stage. They actually opened for David Bisbal and a pretty impressive fireworks show. We were standing (for about seven hours) to the right of the SAMUR (emergency services) station. When the players arrived and Bisbal came on-stage, the SAMUR workers were all dancing and celebrating too. Unfortunately, we all had to work in the morning so we were forced to take the metro back home, but it was absolutely amazing to be right in the middle of the entire country's celebration. Might have to do it all over again in another four years...

[David Bisbal]
Seremos grandes
Seremos fuertes
Somos un pueblo
Bandera de libertad
Que viene y que va
Que viene y que va...

When I get older, I will be stronger
I'll make it better, struggle no longer
When I get older, I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom, just like a waving flag
So wave your flag, now wave your flag, now wave your flag...

Spanish Bull-shhhtuff

Friday, 9 July 2010, my Belgian roommate and I went to see a novillada (novice bullfight) in Madrid at the Plaza de Toros. We paid 5 euro each for second-row seats in the shade. The fight lasted about three hours total and was definitely an experience. There were three bullfighters, ages 21, 22, and 16. The bulls at the novice fights are young and "small" - less than two years old. One bull did not really want to fight and was lucky enough to be herded out of the ring. Once the disoriented bulls start charging people, then they will be killed. Another bull, who was like a heat-seeking missile as he charged the picadores and bandarilleros, charged a horse (the horses are blindfolded) and flipped it over on its back.

The older two were awful (the Spaniards around us agreed), but the youngest one had the makings to be a good bullfighter. However, he got a bit too close to one bull, which picked him up, tossed him around, then ran him over. The bandarilleros were pretty smart and jumped out really fast to distract the bull while others carried the kid out of the ring. He got to the side, took off his jacket, jumped back over the wall into the ring, and finished the bull. Afterward, it was "halftime," where the toreros walked around the ring. The kid was crying and as the second part started (with the 22 year old, the worst fighter ever), he passed out and was rushed out of the stadium. After seeing the novice fight, it would be interesting to see one professional fight (even if the ticket prices are at least ten times higher) because the pros can kill the bull with one try with the sword, ending the bull's suffering a little sooner. The 21 and 22 year olds took at least 6-8 attempts to make the bull collapse and then had to stab it behind the head to kill it.

On a brighter note, in the seats right next to us were three Americans; two were teachers from Flint, Michigan, and one knows a friend from my university. After the fight, we met up with our Spanish friends to go out by Gran Via to Bar El Palentino, a popular hang-out place (bartender Casto is well-known). Also, my roommate and I finally figured out how the night bus (buo = owl) works in order to get home instead of always taking cabs once the metro closes at 1:30am.

The next day, my roommate and I woke up early to go with one of the Spanish friends to Pamplona. Driving through Spain is beautiful and sharing the gas money saved us each about 20 euro from bus fare and also gave us a clean (if small) place to sleep. We stopped along the way in Burgos, a small little town famous for its cathedral. We did not go inside, but instead walked around the cathedral and its plaza before finding a place to eat. We arrived in Pamplona around 6:00 or 7:00pm, parked the car (outside the center of the city - we didn't want anyone messing with it), walked to the center, and hung out in a park for a few hours until it got dark.

During July 7 through 14 every year, there is the San Fermin festival in Pamplona (San Fermin is the patron saint of the city). People wear all white with red scarves as belts and red bandannas around their necks. People will also spray red wine everywhere - when it stains your shirt, it is supposed to look like blood from a bull gore. There is crazy-intense partying all night for the whole week and the famous running of the bulls takes place every morning at 8:00am. Spain is the most organized country ever - Pamplona gets absolutely trashed and filthy (I would not have been a happy tourist without old pants and closed-toed shoes), but the limpieza has the city clean again by 1:00pm. The actual running of the bulls is extremely overrated - I didn't even know the bulls had passed because there were so many people "running." It was over in less than 45 seconds from where we were standing. In total, it took the bulls less than 4 minutes to get to the end of the track. If I ever go back, I will run for sure.

The fiesta part, on the other hand, is absolutely i n s a n e. It's Spain, so the fiesta literally lasts all night. It's Pamplona during San Fermin so there are thousands of people packing the streets and clubs all night and tons of outdoor music - we even saw Los del Rio playing, the group famous for the "Macarena" song. There were also a surprising number of grown men carrying SpongeBob Squarepants balloons (7, to be exact; I did not count the Patrick balloons). It was fun for the first four hours, until I started to get sick of people pushing me and the creepers creeping around. Basically, the fiesta part of San Fermin is like the craziest/best college party that you've ever been to, but with an entire city and people from all over the world.

Once we watched the bulls run (I was a little far back in the crowd so I had some other Americans take pictures for me), we wandered back to the car to sleep for a few hours before beginning the drive back home to Madrid. We made it back in time to shower and go to Plaza de Colón to watch the final World Cup game between Spain and the Netherlands on the bigscreen with the crowds. All in all, a fun-insane-sleepless weekend.

Oh, and George Clooney is selling churros, whether or not he knows it.

Monday, July 5, 2010


This week, the festival begins in Pamplona (July 7 to 14), where the Running of the Bulls is every morning at 8:00am. I told my host mom that I want to go, just to watch, but also to find my Ferdinand. Because for some reason great literature did not make it across the Atlantic, Ferdinand the Bull is a children's story about a bull named Ferdinand who just wanted to sit and smell the flowers under a cork tree in the fields. My host mom laughed and laughed. She said Ferdinand was not a bull, that the story is a tonteria, and that Ferdinand must be like a donkey because there are no Spanish bulls like Ferdinand. No pasa nada, I will find Ferdinand anyway. Below is the 1938 Disney version of the story (please excuse Disney's racism - I promise that the story book is legit).
Esta semana, la festival empieza en Pamplona (7 hasta 14 de julio), y los torros corren cada mañana a las 8:00. Se dije a mi madre española que quiero ir a Pamplona, solamente para ver, pero para encontrar mi Ferdinand también. Porque literatura buenisima no se cruzaban el oceano Atlántico, Ferdinand el Torro es un cuento para niños sobre un torro que solamente quería odor los flores y sentar debajo de un arbol en los campos. Mi madre española se rió y rió. Ella me dijo que Ferdinand no es un torro, que esta historia es una tonteria grandisima, y Ferdinand es un burro porque no hay torros del tipo de Ferdinand en España. No pasa nada, voy a encontrar Ferdinand. Debajo de ese mensanje hay una versión de video de Disney se hizo en 1938 (perdón el racismo – me prometo que el libro de ese cuento es legit).

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Walgreens Printable Coupons