Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day Two in Athens: Don Quixote, the musical comedy, in Greek

Day two in Athens was on Sunday, and it was similarly busy. We got started earlier, stopped by the hostel breakfast area for a quick breakfast, and headed straight for the Agora. The Agora was the meeting place and marketplace of ancient Athenians, similar to the Forum in Rome. It has the foundations of stalls from vendors, open areas, a drainage system, and now it has a little museum as well. Apparently there is the regular Ancient Agora as well as a Roman Agora, and I honestly couldn’t tell you if we saw one or both, because sometimes it’s hard to tell what things are what.

In the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, which I mentioned yesterday as the best preserved temple in Athens. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to go inside, but you can see in through some of the doorways. I’ll post pictures next week when the internet is fixed.

We barely left ourselves enough time after the Agora to make it to the Parliament building for the changing of the guards, but we did make it. The guards are similar to those at Buckingham Palace, but their outfits, if you can believe it, are sillier. They have tutu-like puffy skirt things, tight leggings with bands tied around their knees, shoes with huge pom-poms over the toes, and red hats. They also perform a very strange march when they are changing the guard. It would be unwise to make fun of them, though, because they all have guns.

The actual changing of the guard was a pretty standard ceremonious sort of thing, with music played by the guard band and marching around and such. Interestingly, they are not behind any sort of enclosure when performing the change, so police officers continually have to shoo tourists back away from the area. I took a video of part of the ceremony, so I might post that later.

We made our way back from the Parliament building by way of some streets with a lot of shops and an old church which we were unable to identify. We tried to shop, particularly for dresses, but we couldn’t find anything that was both inexpensive and attractive. It was easy to find one or the other! Eventually we gave up and headed for the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, by way of a quick lunch on the go.

The Archaeological Museum of Athens is very well-known and well-respected, and with good reason. It has all sorts of artifacts from “pre-history” (what is pre-history, exactly?) through more recent, though still ancient, history. One thing to note about Athenians, particularly museum workers, is that they don’t like you to pose with the statues. We found this out by (repeated) trial and error. You can take as many pictures as you want of the statues and artifacts (with a few exceptions), but as soon as you try to be in a picture with the item, they come and scold you. Nonetheless, we persevered, and I have a very few pictures of us posing with statues. And pottery. We saw it as stimulating the Greek economy by preserving the need for museum guards.

In any case, the collection is very extensive, with statues, weapons, jewelry, paintings, a ton of vases and pottery, and so on. I especially liked the Stathatos collection, which consists primarily of jewelry, but also some other vases and things, collected by a woman who was very interested in ancient Greek history and had married a rich man who supported this interest. Most of the items are in extremely good condition. The couple donated the collection to the museum in the 1950s, where it has a special exhibition hall that is much nicer than the rest of the museum.

Also, there is a collection of statues and artifacts that were discovered from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean off the coast of the island of Antikythera. One of the artifacts is the Antikythera mechanism, described as the first mechanical computer, used to calculate astronomical positions.

After the museum, two of us headed back for dinner and the other went to catch her flight. We took the metro to get back from Omonia Square, which is supposed to be a landmark but it was unclear why. As for the metro, some of the stations are the nicest I’ve seen anywhere, and I consider myself a public transportation aficionado. The one where we got off had a mini museum inside!

We ate at God’s Restaurant again. I had the most delicious Greek salad I’ve ever had (good thing, because we were in Greece!) and we shared a flat fried cheese thing with lemon that was also really good. And of course, we had baklava for dessert.

At that point, we started seeing a lot of people walking in the direction of the theater, so we figured it was time to get going. For a few more minutes, we hung on to the hope that the show would be in a language we could understand (first choice English, second choice Spanish, which seemed a reasonable hope for a production of Don Quixote). As we walked with the rest of the crowd, though, we could tell this wasn’t really a show geared towards tourists. When we arrived and the programs were entirely in Greek, our suspicions were confirmed. Fortunately, the atmosphere was exciting, the theater itself is magnificent, and the actors were good. There was also a scene with pyrotechnics when Don Quixote is fighting the windmill! The theater is a mix of preserved parts of the ancient theater and restored parts that are intended to look the way the theater did when it was new. One difference is that squishy seat pads are provided. I think we need more outdoor theaters in the U.S.

As for the production itself, to my surprise it turned out to be a musical comedy (I could tell it was a musical myself, and other people laughing told me it was a comedy, even though I had no idea what was going on and obviously didn’t get the jokes). It would be misleading to say that I stayed engaged (or even awake) through the entire performance, but I still enjoyed the experience.

And that’s pretty much it for Greece! After the end of the show, we got our stuff from the hostel and went to the airport, where unsurprisingly our flight was delayed, but we got back to Barcelona just fine.

As for Monday and Tuesday, I have nothing special to report, except that the intensive schedule didn’t start until today. Also, spinach turns out not to be a good investment, because it goes bad very quickly after you open it, even if it’s in the fridge.

Also, the girl of the couple I’m living with is on vacation visiting her dad, so it’s just me and her boyfriend, which forces me to speak in Spanish at home, which is good. Spanish isn’t his first language either, so we get a kick out of sitting there with our dictionaries trying to have a conversation. Her absence is also the reason the internet is not fixed, because she’s the one who needs to set up the new system. She’ll be back on Sunday, though, so by Monday hopefully I’ll be able to put up pictures!

Whew! Long post!

The first day in Athens

I've been back from Athens since yesterday, but the internet isn't working in our apartment, thus the delay.

In any case, Athens was extremely fun! My friend and I arrived a bit later than expected in the airport (new as of 2001), and took a bus to Syntagma Square, which was only a short walk from our hostel. A kind taxi driver pointed us in the right direction, without even trying to take us in his taxi. (The walk was pretty short.) His friendliness was a good introduction to the city.

We went to sleep as soon as we could in the hostel, where our other friend was already asleep. It was a room with 6 beds (3 bunks) and a bathroom, and I now realize that I forgot to take any pictures of it. But the whole facility was very new and clean, and other than that there wasn't much to note about it. The most important feature was the location, which was right near the Acropoli metro station. You might be able to tell by the name that the Acropolis is right there, as well. All of the major historical sites in Athens are very close to each other, which makes touring easy.

We briefly considered waking up at 8 am, but considering that we didn't arrive until 5 am, you can guess how that went. When we got up, our first priority was the Acropolis and the Parthenon. I really wish I could post some of my pictures here, but I promise they'll come when the internet is fixed. Most of the historical sites in Athens are on a shared ticket, which costs only 6 euros for students! It's 12 euros normally, so either way, it's a great deal. Included on the ticket are the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, Hadrian's Library, the Temple of Zeus, and maybe something else, I can't remember.

The Acropolis and the Parthenon are incredible! I honestly thing the two of those alone are worth the trip to Greece. When you climb the Acropolis (I think this is Greek for hill city), you have an amazing view of the entire city, which was built around it. The view includes some unbelievable ruins as well. Then at the top you get to the Parthenon, which was the finest temple of its time, according to various sources. For comparison, the Temple of Zeus was the largest, and the Temple of Hephaestus is the best preserved. The Parthenon is sort of continuously undergoing preservation efforts, which currently include a lot of scaffolding. Despite this, it is still incredibly impressive.

With little to no breakfast between the three of us, we decided to go for lunch. One of the employees at the hostel pointed us towards a traditional Greek restaurant that was slightly off the beaten path (or so we want to think). Ordering food was an interesting experience. The waiter brought us a whole tray of options, and we picked 7 of them to share between the three of us. My little dictionary came in handy when I wanted to explain, "I don't eat meat." However, almost everyone we dealt with spoke English, including this waiter. On the one hand, I'm disappointed by this, because it seems to diminish the traveling experience by making us too comfortable. On the other hand, it sure did make thing easier. I'll post food pictures later as well, for those of you who are interested. We had some really tasty tzatziki and spinach pie, and the meat eaters had mousaka.

After lunch, we went to the Kallimarmaro Stadium, which was the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. It was really big, and made from marble from the same mountain as the Parthenon, but we couldn't go in and it was pretty much just a stadium. Apparently the track isn't big enough to use for regulation races, so they only really use it for the finish lines of marathons.

We wandered back through the National Park, which was more tree-filled and less flower-/other plant-filled than I had expected. It was more like an arboretum, I guess.

As we left the park, we found ourselves at what appeared to be either the headquarters or a concert site for the Athens International Children's Games. Oddly enough, no one seemed to care that we wandered through the very pretty building and took pictures. It was pretty deserted at the time, possibly because it was the break between the end of the games and the closing ceremony.

We saw the Temple of Zeus as we were walking back to the hostel. Besides a few extremely big columns, there's not much to see. This temple is not as well preserved as either of the others.

As if this weren't enough, we then went to the brand new Acropolis Museum (only 1 euro admission!). It only opened on June 21, 2009 (last There are a ton of artifacts there, including pottery and art as well as panels from around the Parthenon, and statues, and see-through floors. These are cool on the ground floor, because you can see some excavation going on underneath, but they can present a bit of a problem when you're not on the ground floor and happen to be wearing a dress. Fortunately, you can walk around the see-through areas. On the top floor, they have a video about the Parthenon's construction and symbolism.

After the museum, we went to "God's Restaurant" for dinner on the recommendation of a hostel employee. The food was good, and the dessert was delicious.

Then we went to the hostel to go with some other people to a club. We stayed for a little while, but the music was a little too loud and we were pretty tired, so we went back to the hostel and went to sleep.

And that was just day one! I'll write about day two later, so stay tuned.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Athens is so cool!

Hello from Athens! I have only a very short time on the internet, but I'm having a great time in Athens! I've seen so many ruins, artifacts, and sights in only two days, and I've taken soooo many pictures! I'll post some when I get back.

Tonight we're going to see Don Quixote in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. We're not sure what language it will be in, but it's in an old theater (to say the least!), and it wasn't expensive. Should be fun!

I'll post more tomorrow, when I get back to Barcelona.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tonight I leave for Athens!

My flight is in 3.5 hours, and I'm very excited! I learned my lesson in Paris, which was don't bother bringing your computer because it's heavy and you won't use it, so I'm not bringing it to Athens. Our hostel has computers, so I might post from there, but otherwise I'll be back on Monday.

My roommate made me a really cute little dictionary with some basic Greek words. I can't wait to use it!

Next week we start the "intensive" schedule at work, which means working from 8 am to 3 pm with no break for lunch, and then we're done for the day. I think that using the word "intensive" to describe that schedule is misleading, but I'm looking forward to some fun beach afternoons!

Here is a picture of the library from yesterday. It's under construction:

I went to the library!

Sorry for the delay in posting, but our internet is in the process of being “fixed”, which means right now it’s not working and I have to post this from work. It should be fixed by tonight, hopefully. Pretend you’re reading this yesterday, though.

I went to the library today! I was very proud of myself, because the majority of the things there (books, signs, computers, etc.) were in Catalan. But I asked the librarian if there were any books in English, and he pointed me in the right direction. I picked out three books in English, since I finished my last one on Wednesday. Also, I got a Lonely Planet guidebook for Europe to take to Greece, and it’s in Spanish, which will be good practice for me. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to check the books out since I don’t have a DNI or NIE identification number, and I didn’t even have my passport with me. Luckily, they let me use my U.S. driver’s license, and now I have a library card!

On my way home, I was walking by a fruits and vegetables shop and realized that nectarines were especially cheap, so I got two and the total was only €0,18! I ate one as I was walking back. Around that time, it tried to rain, but it didn’t get going too well, just a little sprinkle.

When I got back, I asked my roommate (who is half Greek, and at least trilingual) to teach me some basic words in Greek so that I can get by in Athens. We made up a pretty good list, and my studies in ancient Greek after the Latin AP exam sort of come in handy for pronouncing the words based on the letters.

Tonight is my flight to Athens! I’m very excited!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Festival of San Juan

June 24th is the Festival of San Juan in Spain, which is basically a celebration of the summer solstice, as best as I can tell. It's a bank holiday, so no one goes to work and everything is closed and everyone goes to the beach. The real celebration, though, is the night before, when people set off fireworks, go to the beach, and eat a special cake, not necessarily in that order.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a dinner party hosted by one of my coworkers and her boyfriend. It was mostly people from work, which was nice because I knew them already. There were a few girlfriends and boyfriends, as well. Everyone spoke Spanish, so almost all of the conversation was in Spanish, which was so much fun! It was good though because all of my coworkers also speak English, so when I'm stuck on a word, they can help me.

Dinner was outside, and surprisingly vegetarian-friendly. There were two salads (one that I brought, and one that my coworker made), tortillas (omelette-like dishes) with potatoes, onions, and spinach, bread, and grilled vegetables. There was meat, too, but I didn't pay too much attention to it so I don't know what it was. There was also delicious sangria. While we were eating, we realized that we had quite a multi-national group assembled, including people from Hungary, the Canary Islands, Belgium, America (me), China, and Spain. After seeing the movie "L´auberge espagnole", this made me really happy. Here is some of the dinner:

After dinner, we listened to some music, primarily Spanish but also American, and danced in the backyard. Some of the guys played drums and a flamenco box that is used as a drum, and for some reason they also had a didgeridoo. Two of them also had guitars. At one point, another couple arrived, and the woman tried to teach me a little flamenco! It was so much fun!

As per tradition, we also went out to the street to set off some fireworks. All through the dinner, we had been hearing and sometimes seeing fireworks go off. Here is one of ours:

When we came back, we ate the traditional cake for this holiday, pictured below:

Finally we wrapped up the night and took the first train of the morning back to the city. (Yes, I stayed up all night.) I was very ready to go to sleep when I got home. Luckily there was no work today!

On a separate note, I met with my supervisors at work yesterday, and I think we're on the same page now. I'm going to look into the current state-of-the-art for displays of air traffic information, and if it seems like an area I can add to, I'll work on that. Otherwise, I will have the opportunity to shape my own project, I think. Either way, I think this is going more in a direction I will like.

Have I mentioned I love Barcelona?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Paris, Part 2: Fête de la Musique

After a slightly late start, I finally made it to meeting two of my friends at Notre Dame. Before we explored the church, we took a very worthwhile detour to a crêpe place, where we got both savory and sweet crêpes. Mmmm:

Then we took a quick spin through Notre Dame before one friend had to go catch her train. Here is a picture of the outside:

I wanted to go up to the tower where you can get a good view of the city (without waiting as long as you'd need to if you wanted to go up in the Eiffel Tower), but we didn't have time before we had to meet up with some of my friend's former coworkers. We did, however, have time for a quick stop into a clothes/shoes store, where the shoes were much cheaper than in Barcelona. I found two pairs I liked, for a combined cost less than the ones I bought in Barcelona, so I decided to invest in looking more European.

At this point, my camera batteries were starting to be dead, but after seeing the prices of batteries in that neighborhood, I decided that I didn't need pictures that badly. I can also get some from my friend, so never fear!

We stopped in a cafe and had hot chocolate because it wasn't that warm in Paris, and we had a great view for people-watching. After the hot chocolate, I went to the bathroom and observed an interesting phenomenon. In some bathrooms in Europe, you have to pay to get in, but in this one you had to pay to get into the stall. However, it is easy enough to hold the door open for the person after you. So even though there were two stalls, everyone formed a line waiting for the one that they could get into for free, and we just held the door open for the next person. I was pretty amused.

At that point in the afternoon, the Fête de la Musique was starting to pick up, so we spent the rest of the afternoon, evening, and night walking around from place to place listening to different types of music. The idea with this festival is that the city of Paris (and it has spread to many other cities as well) invites any and all musicians to come play their music outside, whether it's in the parks, or on the sidewalks, or along the river, or wherever. There are more formal performances outside of certain landmarks, and less formal performances everywhere else. It's a pretty cool idea, and I wish Boston had something like it. Here is an example of one of the bands that was playing:

Walking over a bridge from one place to another, the last thing I was expecting was to hear anyone call my name, but I did! And it was one of my friends who was an intern with me last summer! I can't believe I ran into two people I knew in random places in Paris this weekend, but I did! We talked for a while and I couldn't really get over the surprise, but it was fun.

I didn't end up getting to sleep at all last night, which didn't set me up well for work today. Our flight was late, unsurprisingly, and I experienced my first missed approach on a landing. I think it happened because another plane was on our runway, but I'm not sure. I was too sleepy to pay as much attention as I would have liked.

I went in to work, but only for a couple of hours before deciding I'd be better off bringing some work home with me to do after I took a serious nap. Which I did, and it was great.

Since I didn't post them before, here are some pictures I took in Paris. Some of them turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

From the Musée d'Orsay, a painting I like by Monet:

The Eiffel Tower with a pretty sky:

I have tons more photos, and I'll put them up somehow soon. This is probably enough for now, though. Bonsoir!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Paris! (I've finally seen the Eiffel Tower!)

Hello everyone, sorry I missed a day! It's been quite busy since I've been in Paris, and there's a lot to tell. I don't have any pictures uploaded yet, since I'm using my friend's computer, but when I get back, I'll post a few. For now, you'll just have to use your imagination for what the Eiffel Tower looks like. Yes, I've finally seen it, after over a decade of regretting that lost opportunity! (My family went to Paris when I was 11, and for some reason we skipped the Eiffel Tower. Go figure.)

Anyway, the flight here was relatively uneventful, with the small exception that I sneaked a slightly-too-large-for-regulation suitcase onto the plane. It's the normal carry-on size for the US, but things are smaller in Europe I guess. My friend and I were on the same flight, and she worked in Paris last summer, so she led the way once we arrived, and we took the train into the city. Then we went our separate ways because I am staying with a friend from the swim team and she is staying with one of her friends from last summer.

My host and her roommates were planning to go out for the evening, so I put my stuff in her room and we headed for the center of the city. We wandered around for a while and stopped in a bar downtown, where I ran into a guy from my major at school! It was quite a surprise to see him, even though he said he had told me at graduation that he was going to be in Paris for the summer. We were sitting next to each other for the entire graduation ceremony...I guess I wasn't listening. Oops.

We didn't stay at that bar, though, because we were going to a dance club that had free admission. On the way there, though, we encountered an impromtu dance party on the sidewalk. We watched for a while, then decided to join in! At one point, they played "Cotton Eye Joe", and announced, "We have Americans! Americans, teach us the dance!" We sort of tried, but we all knew different versions, so it didn't really work. Eventually, we headed on to the dance club. After dancing for quite a while, we wandered around until we found a night bus that went back to my host's apartment and called it a night.

Today, shortly after waking up I went to try to meet our other friend at the Louvre to try to go to the Musée d'Orsay, but I couldn't find her, and after a while I just went to get some food because I was really hungry. We already had more specific plans to meet up that evening, so I wasn't too worried. I went to a tiny supermarket sort of thing and got cheese and crackers and cookies, so all in all, a healthy breakfast/lunch. I sat on the wall on the edge of the Seine and watched people go by while I ate, and then I met my host, her roommates, and my friend from Barcelona at the Musée d'Orsay, where we spent the next couple of hours, mostly on the Impressionism floor. I took a huge number of pictures, but I'm not sure exactly how many.

When the museum closed, we slowly made our way towards the Eiffel Tower, stopping on the way to pick up picnic supplies. Pretty much every time we could see the Tower from where we were, I took a picture, just in case. I took some more pictures when we were there for our picnic, and now I'm out of batteries. I have to buy some more tomorrow. Some of my friend's coworkers and friends from last summer joined us at the picnic, and we played some games, including multi-lingual "taboo", where you have to guess the word that the person's describing. Some of the words were in French, so I was in trouble. As the sun went down, the Eiffel Tower lit up, and every hour for the first ten minutes of the hour it sparkles.

After quite a long time of picnicking and hanging out, we finally headed back on the metro. Tomorrow I think we're going to Notre Dame, and then the Fête de la Musique. It should be another fun day! Then we fly back to Barcelona early on Monday morning.

It's been a long post! Whew!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Something I would rather not have learned about Spain

Today I learned what happens to a person when they die in Spain. Yesterday the mother of one of my coworkers died, so this afternoon we all went to the place where they keep the body for 24 hours before burial. I think it's called the tanitorio. My coworker is only a year or two older than I am, and her mom was very young, so this was really sad and I think unexpected. It seemed like she was glad to have us all there, so it was good that we went, but (luckily for me) I can't even imagine what she's going through. I feel so bad for her.

Other than that, it was more of the usual at work. Today I looked into what the Next Generation Air Traffic System (NextGen) will be like in the U.S. If everything goes as they're saying, flights in the future will be more reliable, more frequent, cheaper, etc. I hope it's true! I didn't have a chance to meet with my supervisor due to the unexpected afternoon, so I guess we'll meet tomorrow. At lunch I had Crema Catalana (Catalan Cream), which is the Catalan version of crème brûlée, but the picture didn't turn out well enough to post.

Lastly, I'm packing for Paris! My flight is tomorrow evening after work, and I'm really excited! I will bring my computer, but I'm not sure if I'll have internet, so if I don't post until Monday, that will be why. But hopefully I'll be able to post at least once or twice, and if not, get ready for a big one on Monday!

If you have any Paris tips, leave them in the comments or email me!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Paella day!

Today was a good day. Work was pretty much the usual, but I was pretty tired. I'm a little worried that my project isn't going in a useful direction, but I have a meeting with my supervisor tomorrow to discuss it, and hopefully we can figure something out. Basically, the problem is that I think what I'm trying to do has already been done, and done pretty well, by several very large, powerful, bureaucratic organizations, and I don't see how I could really have much input, even if it hadn't already been done. But hopefully tomorrow we'll resolve my concerns. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

More importantly, tonight I had paella! Vegetarian paella no less! Here's a picture of the veggie version:

Looks delicious, huh? It was. It was prepared by my friend's roommates as a special dinner for the six of us: my friend and me, plus her two roommates and their boyfriends. In case you want to see the non-veggie version, I took a picture of that too. It's got sea creatures in it:

And last but not least, some very tasty cake. It was made out of pineapple, banana, kiwi, and both vanilla and chocolate pudding, among other things. Mmmmm.

The other fun (well, fun for the first time) thing that I did today was laundry. The reason it's fun is that there are no dryers, so you have to hang your clothes out to dry. Here are my clothes drying (note the clippy octopus guy holding my socks and underwear):

Also, I went running today with my roommate again. We did the same route as last time, and even though I felt like we were going faster, we finished in about the same amount of time. I'm telling myself it was because we had to stop longer at the red lights.

I learned a couple of phrases today in Spanish, one which means fast or easy (pim-pam), as in "I'm going to the store and I'll be right back, pim-pam!" (I'm not sure if that's how to spell it.) The other means awesome (se sale). According to my coworkers who taught me, these words are advanced Spanish, so when I use them, people will be fooled into thinking I'm a native Spanish speaker. I'm not so sure ;)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

MATLAB and Simulink tutorial...in Spanish

This morning at work we had a MATLAB and Simulink tutorial. For those of you who don't know, they are basically mathematical analysis and simulation tools, and if you're really interested, here's the website: http://www.mathworks.com/. I had been planning to skip it, since I already know MATLAB pretty well, and to be honest I don't think the way to learn Simulink is to go to a presentation about it. But my supervisor encouraged me to go, and I figured it was probably best to go along with what he suggested. Turned out, no.

The whole presentation was in Spanish, at varying speeds. The woman who introduced everything spoke slowly and clearly enough that I could understand her, but the second guy, who did the vast majority of the presentation, spoke very quickly, using a lot of technical jargon (I think). It was pretty much hopeless. I struggled to stay awake, but it didn't really matter, because I probably would have understood about the same amount if I were asleep.

Then was the best part: a coffee break, or in my case, a juice and snacks break. Then we resumed the presentation with a third guy presenting, who spoke at an intermediate speed. I got some of what he was saying, but I probably would have learned more just messing around with Simulink for the same amount of time. Oh well.

After the presentation it was time for lunch, of course. No rain today, and some people from another company who had been there for the tutorial joined us. I'm not sure what company they were from, and they sat at the other end of the table from me, so I didn't get to talk to them. I guess that's not that interesting.

The rest of the day went pretty much as usual, I went to the grocery store after work, and then I sat out on the balcony eating strawberries while I finished reading my second book. All in all, a lovely evening. I'm going to try to get to sleep early tonight so I can stock up on sleep before Paris!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shopping, a little rain, and a run

It rained for the first time since I've been here today during lunch, but it hardly lasted long enough to call it rain. We sat down at our (outside) table, which was already under some umbrellas for sun purposes, and then it started to rain a little. It was almost over as soon as it started, just as soon as we had positioned the umbrellas to keep the rain off. Still, it was nice!

As I've mentioned, only the tourists in Barcelona wear flip flops, and my other shoes can only work so hard, so after work today a coworker and I went shoe shopping. We got off the train at Passeig de Gràcia, which is a big street with lots of shops. Some of those shops sell ice cream. I got two flavors: one that's from Spain that I now can't remember the name of, and frambuesas (raspberry). As for the shoes, it took a lot of looking around, but I finally found some that I liked for a reasonable price. Here they are in (sort of) action:

They are from a store called Zara, which seems pretty similar to H&M, but more European. There are a lot of strange-looking shoes here, that's for sure. There are some that look like boots from behind, but have flip-floppy-looking fronts.

When I got home, I was all ready to be lazy, but my roommate was just about to go running, so of course I was inspired and went with her. We ran for 33 minutes! I have to get back into running shape I guess.

And that's about it! On Wednesday I'm going over to my friend's apartment to make paella with her roommates. Only some of them understand what it means to be a vegetarian, so I'll probably try to help cook.

Ok, that's all for tonight! Thanks for all the comments so far!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

La Sagrada Familia is unbelievable

Today my friend and I went to the Sagrada Familia, which is a huge church designed by Gaudí that has been under construction since the late 1800s, and probably won't be finished for another 50 years. It's huge, and hugely impressive. I brought Rick Steves Spain 2007 and Eyewitness Barcelona and Catalonia, which were really good to have.

It's possible...that I took over 200 pictures while we were there. In my defense, this is the first really touristy thing I've done all week, and I needed to take some pictures! Lucky for you all, I'll only post a few. We went all the way up in the tower, and there were some fantastic views of the city. None of my pictures will really do it justice, but I highly recommend going if you ever have the chance.

The nativity facade. There are three facades: nativity, passion, and glory, that represent parts of Jesus's life.

One of many pretty stained-glass windows.

The view from one of the towers. In the top left, you can see the mountain Montjuic, where the Olympics were held in 1992.

For some reason, there are a lot of towers with fruit things on top of them. Here is a sampling.

After the Sagrada Familia, we wandered back towards our apartments by way of exploring the city. We stopped in for a quick snack and to pick up dessert at a place on the way. I got gazpacho, which was perfect after a hot day. It was in a cool-shaped bowl:

When we got back to my apartment, we made some quick dinner of pasta and salad. Then we bought our tickets to Athens for two weekends from now! So exciting! I'd love to hear any tips on Greece if you've been there!

The beach!

For my first real weekend day, my hosts and my friend and her roommate and I went to the beach outside the city. The beach is gorgeous, and the water is warm, and I had my bathing suit this time, so we went in and it was so much fun. We also brought snacks, including this for my friend:

Yes, that's right, ham-flavored chips. Only in Spain. After a while the wind got the better of us and we decided to leave. Everyone else had the same idea, though, so the train was packed. The section we ended up on had a big group of kids, about girl-scout age, with some chaperones. I guessed that they were some sort of Spanish equivalent of girl scouts because they were singing the same sorts of songs as we used to when I was a girl scout. Of course, theirs were in Spanish, except when they sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" in English.

Then I made some dinner and showered and met up with my friend and another person from school to go out on the town. We wandered around for a while and stopped in a couple of places, including a place called Obama, but we couldn't find the type of dancing we were looking for, so eventually we just called it a night.

Friday, June 12, 2009

This summer is getting better and better!

I messed up taking the train this morning. I accidentally got on one that skipped my stop, so I had to get off beyond where I was trying to go, wait for the next train back in the other direction, which of course didn't stop at my stop either but went all the way back to the station I started at, and then wait for the right train a while later. All in all, I got to work 2 hours late (only partly because of the train fiasco), but luckily it was not a problem. I ate lunch at my desk and kept working to make up for it, and I stayed a bit late as well. I see this as a good learning experience: make sure the train you get on stops at your stop. It sounds dumb, but when I explained it at work, a lot of people said that they'd done the same thing once or twice, so either the trains are confusing here or maybe this is just something that happens. Anyway, I'll be more careful from now on.

As for work, it turns out people leave early on Fridays, which is nice to know. Instead of staying until 6 pm (normal working hours, at least for June, are 9 am to 6 pm, with an hour to an hour and a half break for lunch in the middle), on Fridays people leave around 4 pm. I guess that is similar to the U.S., where people generally leave a little early on Fridays as well. Sometime in July, we start the "intensive" schedule, which to me sounds like exactly the opposite. Work hours change from 8 am to 3 pm, with no break for lunch, but then you are done for the day! Sounds like a good deal to me.

There is a chocolate factory near work, and so if the wind is right, it smells like brownies everywhere in our office. Some people don't like it, but I think it's nice. Except it makes me want brownies.

After work, my boss offered to take me to the beach outside the city, so I can see what the good beaches here look like. There are also beaches in the city, apparently constructed with fake sand for the Olympics in 1992, but those get too crowded according to the people I've talked to, and it's almost as easy to get to the ones outside the city, which are gorgeous. We took the train just a few stops beyond work, then walked back in the direction of the office along the beach. As we were walking to the bus, we came across an exceptional parking job:

At the very right side of the picture, you can see the bicycle cop writing a ticket for this car. I wonder, what was so urgent that they parked that way?

The bus that took us back to the city dropped us off in Placa de Espanya, which is a place I'll have to investigate in more detail. Here's a picture:

In the back you can see the palace where some count or other lived at one point. According to my boss, it's an art museum now, so I'll probably be back. I'm not sure what those towers are in the foreground.

I ended up being too tired to go out tonight, so that's all for today. This weekend is the science festival, so I'll go to that one or both days, and probably the beach if there's any other time. I'd also like to go to the Sagrada Familia, so maybe I can squeeze that in as well. It's easy to get to on the metro.

Buenas noches!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

There are vegetarian restaurants in Barcelona!

I made my presentation at work today, and though it was supposed to be half an hour, it turned into an hour-long discussion about the project and my school and satellites in general. It was fun to see people interested in my work. I wish everyone had to give a presentation like that to me, so that I could know what they had worked on and what they are currently working on. As it is, I guess I'll just have to ask them as time goes on.

After work, I went for an extremely short run so that I could shower before some coworkers and my friend and I went out to a vegetarian restaurant for dinner. We went to Veg World India and had a great time. The food was good, it was nice not to have to think about whether things were vegetarian, and we had some great conversation. Discussing cultural differences can be very funny. We all laughed a lot. For the food people, I took some pictures of appetizers and dessert (I was too busy eating to take pictures of the main course):

Appetizers (the red thing in the middle is an onion)

Mango ice cream!

Those things they give you at the end that taste like licorice.

Afterwards, half of the people went home, and the rest of us walked around and enjoyed the evening for a little while. Like Madrid, there are a lot of people out and about late into the night, just hanging out and talking. What I don't understand is how they can get up early in the morning! (Maybe they sleep in...)

When I got home, I found myself thinking in Spanish, which makes me very happy! Just think what two more months of this will do for me!

I hope people don't stay at work until 6 on Fridays...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There's a science festival this weekend!

I'm really tired today, so this is going to be a short post, but I've seen signs for a science festival this weekend! Check it out: http://www.bcn.cat/cultura/festaciencia/2009/index.htm. Note: it's all in Catalan, and there's no option to switch languages, but if you scroll to the second item (Programació), you can click on a pdf and see how many activities they have, and over two days! It seems like it's aimed at kids, but it's free, and it's in a park, and it's science, so it should be hard to go wrong. My friend from school is going to go with me, and my boss and his wife might join us. Yay science!

Tomorrow afternoon I'm going to give a presentation of what sorts of things I've worked on in the past, so I'm borrowing the 30 minute presentation we made for space class.

Oh, and I bought my tickets to Paris! I'm going to be there the weekend of June 19-22, and apparently there's some sort of city-wide music festival that weekend, so it should be fun!

Sorry, Eitan, no food pictures today. I'll try to remember to take some tomorrow if I eat anything interesting. I'll show you a picture of the jail for mentally challenged criminals that I walk past on my way to the train instead:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What if there were no weather delays at airports?

The second day of work was similar to the second half of day one, which means that I continued reading up on the current state of augmented reality displays and their respective technology. It's really interesting, but it's hard to read technical papers all day. One of the goals of the bigger picture of this project (i.e. this is not my responsibility, and maybe not even my company's) is to develop technology that will allow airports to function as efficiently in low visibility situations as they do in high visibility situations. Imagine: no more weather delays! How great would that be?

I'm starting to learn the names of people at work, and we're all working on me practicing Spanish. I've decided that when we're at lunch or just talking, I'll try to speak in Spanish, and (at least for now) when we're talking about work, I'll stick to English to make sure I understand. So far, all of my research is in English. Here's a picture of something you see as you walk into our building, that was a project that they were working on before I got there. It's a chair that is somehow related to microgravity:

By the way, alarm clock in Spanish is "despertador". As best as I can tell, it's the same in Catalan, too.

I have a cell phone now, thanks to my boss, and I even put some credit on it, so I'm all set to call someone. I just don't really have anyone to call :)

This evening was my first venture into city exploration. My friend from school who also has an internship here arrived yesterday, so I went to see her tonight. I got lost walking to her apartment (big surprise), but I eventually made it, and now I know a few more streets around here. We walked around for a while, halfheartedly trying to buy some shoes, but we didn't find anything we liked. People in Barcelona don't wear flip flops, apparently, so I need to buy some more sandals that I can wear here. Unfortunately, the cheap ones are ugly and uncomfortable, and so far I haven't found any more expensive ones that seemed worth the money. Luckily, there are so many stores that it's easy to keep looking. That's one thing about Barcelona that's different from Boston: the stores of every type are much smaller, but there are many more of them.

Finally we found a place for dinner, which is more like lunch (the big meal of the day here is lunch, and dinner is small). We got tapas (cheese, bread with tomatoes, potatoes with garlic stuff, and my friend got ham but I didn't eat that) and as we were finishing eating, the guys at the table next to us struck up some conversation. Well, one of them did, and the other was pretty quiet. The one that talked seemed to want to practice his English, and he was very chatty. He was probably hitting on us, but in a friendly sort of way. We talked for a while, then paid our bill and went on our way, but not before he could give us his phone number and offer to take us on a tour of the Sagrada Familia. I'm sure he knows we won't call him (he's nearly twice our age), but I got to practice my Spanish and he taught me how to say goodbye in Catalan. All in all, a fun experience.

I'll leave you with a nice picture of something I walk past on the way to and from the train at work:
Nice, huh?

Monday, June 8, 2009

First day of work!

It was my first day of work today, and it went really well. I met my one of my coworkers near the train station so that he could show me how the train works for the first day, and it was a good thing he did, because the station was pretty big! The walk there, plus the ride, plus the walk to the office once we got off the train, was only about 45 minutes including waiting for the train. The office looks like this from the outside (it's the white one in the middle):It doesn't really have windows, but it doesn't feel dark or closed-in on the inside. First thing when I got there, we gathered up a bunch of people to go have "breakfast" since I hadn't had any yet. Everyone else pretty much just had coffee, though.

When we got back to the office, they got my computer all set up and introduced me to too many people for me to remember all at once. Then I had a meeting with my two supervisors to discuss my project because one of them was leaving in the afternoon to go to France for a UAV conference. Rough life, huh?

Most of the rest of the day I spent reading up on some background information for my project, which will be investigating the current state of augmented reality for low visibility conditions in air traffic control and taxiing and so on. Basically, when it's rainy or dark, what information can you show pilots or air traffic controllers to help them do their jobs better? And how should you show it?

Lunch was at a Chinese/Japanese all-you-can-eat buffet, which was chosen to accommodate my vegetarianism. I had strawberry sushi! Among other things, of course. It's going to be very difficult to be a vegetarian, and I'm trying to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable time when I'm going to realize I screwed up. If you've seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know what kind of people I'm dealing with. "Oh, you don't eat meat? Ok, have some fish."

When I got home, I had my first grocery store adventure. It's hard to go to a grocery store that's completely unfamiliar and in a language you can't understand (there was only Catalan on the signs, and a lot of the food labels as well). I got what I thought was a lot of food, but it only came out to just over 15 euros!

On the way home from the grocery store, I got an alarm clock from a store run by two Indian guys. I was trying to figure out how to say alarm clock, and the closest I could think of was alarm watch, when one of them told me I could just speak English. Of course, I had an easier time buying an alarm clock, but I didn't really use my Spanish. That's one problem, if you could call it that, that I've been having: almost everyone around me speaks English! I'm going to need to make a special effort to work on my Spanish if I want to come home at the end of the summer able to say I speak it!

When I got home, I went for a short run with my host to Placa de Francesc Macia (add your own accents, etc., because I don't have them on my computer). And that's about it for today! They won't all be this long, I promise, it was just the first day of work, and my first grocery shopping, etc. Please keep reading, and leave me comments!

Buenas noches!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I'm here!

After an uneventful flight to London, a longer-than-expected layover there, and another uneventful flight to Barcelona, I'm finally here! I took a very clean taxi to my hotel and took a much-needed nap and shower. Lucky for me, they also gave me a great map. Then my host came to pick me up and helped me drag my suitcases to her apartment, where I'll be living for the summer. The place is really nice and clean and pretty, if a bit small, but I guess that's just Spain. Here's a picture of my room: I unpacked and we went on a walk to see where I'll be meeting some of my coworkers tomorrow to take the train to work. My host also showed me some supermarkets and produce stores, but nothing is open on Sundays, so we just looked at the outsides. Then we had dinner and sat around and talked a little, and now I'm about to go to bed. Tomorrow is my first day of work, so I need to get some sleep. All in all, it's been a great first day in Spain!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Graduation and Preparation

Today was graduation, so now I'm an alumna!  It's such a strange feeling to be done with my undergrad career, but there's a lot to look forward to, including this summer in Barcelona, and grad school and a new apartment when I get back in the fall.  

We spent today making some final preparations for travel, plus a little thing called commencement.  We went to the bank and got some euros and travelers checks, and I've got copies of my passport and insurance.  My big suitcase is packed (still need to pack the little one), and I'm getting really excited!  My flight leaves for Barcelona tomorrow evening, with a layover in London thanks to flying on British Air.  I hope the airplane food is vegetarian and not too bad.  My next post will be from Barcelona once I get the internet there figured out!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Welcome to my blog!

Hi everyone!

I'm going to be spending the summer in Barcelona working on an internship at a small company just outside the city.  Hopefully I'll also be making friends, working on my Spanish (and Catalan!), and taking some weekend trips to other cities in western Europe.  I'm hoping to post somewhat regularly to keep track of all the things I'm doing, and I'll put up pictures of my travels.  I'm leaving Boston on Saturday (6 June), arriving in Barcelona on Sunday (7 June), and if all goes according to plan, I'll be there till the 15th of August.