Wednesday, November 08, 2006


My flight took me through Mallorca, including a wide sweep around the southern end of the island before landing. This afforded me a beautiful view of the clear water, white-sand beaches, and scores of mansions. Unfortunately that view and layover proved to be the first of two sunny days I had in Spain... I was there for 6.

Yes, nearly every day I was traipsing through rain and colder than normal temperatures. However, it was very pleasant staying with Becky and her spanish roommate, Aida, who spoke an unusually large amount of English. [most Spaniards do not speak ANY english, a deficit which made things somewhat more difficult when my hosts were not around]. I was actually pleased to learn quite a bit about Spanish culture through living with and talking to her for a week, including a traditional Tapa recipe.

We spent quite a bit of time hanging out with Becky's peers in her evening Spanish class -- people coming from Latvia, Portugal, France, and Germany. It was interesting (if not a bit frustrating) to hear people from so many different backgrounds convening through a language once foreign to each of them. We mostly went out to bars for a drink after her class, including a so-called "Museum of Ham"... which actually did have some good ham. (Several times I actaully got a chance to speak some much needed Deutsch with a few Germans -- I was starting to miss it quite a bit, or at least the experience of struggling to use it).
I also got a chance to visit the school where Becky teaches (on the same program as me), but a couple of the days I ventured out on my own to explore the city in my raincoat. I saw some beautiful and elaborate parks erected by the royalty of the past, and some incledible period architecture lining the car-filled streets. Whereas Hamburg is mostly punctuated by canals and parks, Madrid loves large intersections with roundabouts encircling statues or obelisks. It also features several impressive parks, but there seem to be less pedestrain squares.

We spent one of the days (the second sunny one) in the royal city of Aranjuez, which sprung up around the summer "home" of the Spanish royality of the 18th Century. The palace and extensive gardens were impressive, and particularly enjoyable in the warm and dry. For lunch that day we ate at an odd sort of diner which served strange combinations of (seemingly) American dishes with Spanish names. What I ended up receiving was a vinnegrette salad with olives, egg, and tuna, and a broiled porkchop with french fries... I preferred the Croquettes we made with Aida.

Sunday night I took a series of 4 trains, with no more than an hour and a half between each one, from Madrid all the way back to Hamburg... that's 32hrs. While an interesting experience, that's the last time I will plan travel so poorly.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Becky and I arrived in Amsterdam Saturday afternoon (Oct. 14) and were met at the train station by our host for the weekend, Hans. We met Hans on an online traveler's network called -- it is simply a meeting place to connect travelers looking for modest, but free places to stay (anywhere in the world where there are members) and hosts who share a wanderlust and like meeting new and diverse people. Needless to say we were a bit nervous at first, and both of us knew we wouldn't be doing this for the first time without the other. However after only a short while with Hans and his roommate Cathy (from England) and her Dutch friend Maaike, we felt very comfortable and even at home in their small apartment near the center of the city.

We went out to a couple bars and a nightclub that evening with our hosts. The city at night, particularly where the nightlife is concentrated, has a very loose and relaxed feel... the Dutch were once described to me as more easy-going germans, which doesn't seem entirely off base; maybe it's the drugs. [incidentally, it is not a stereotype that biking is popular in the Netherlands]

The next morning we headed into the center to a photo museum, passing many of the beautiful canals for which the city is famous. The river incidentally, which we also saw, is the Amstel (thus the beer; Heineken is also Dutch, and based in Amsterdam in case anyone wondered). After stopping for a coffee and then some lunch we sought out a paddle boat for rent to satisfy Becky's nostalgia for having done so when she was last there at the age of ten. Aside from getting briefly lost on the canals and nearly capsized by the large and numerous tour boats that roam them, it was actually a very pleasant way to see the city.

While my travel companion departed for Spain Monday morning, I had an extra day in the city, and a single night in a hostel. I wandered more of the city, taking in one of the large public parks, a number of bustling public squares, and past several interesting buildings, including a few old museums. In the afternoon when I ran out of steam I bought a ticket to "An Inconvenient Truth":
The film alone is a powerful and poignant one (and one I should have seen much sooner), but to see it in Amsterdam made the experience more moving; seeing a film that is aimed first and foremost at US as the grossest polluters and spenders of natural resources from outside our country, was enough recontextualization to make the point more salient. In addition, to see it in a country, the Netherlands, which will be the most dramatically changed worldwide (totally submerged), heightened the effect further still.

Tuesday morning I woke early and headed to the airport for Madrid.