Sunday, September 30, 2012

Decoding hostel signs in Málaga

At my hostel in Málaga the other week, the following sign was on the wall in my room's bathroom:

My first thoughts when I saw this sign were:
1. The caps is signature Spanish 
2. "INT THE" -- that's a typo
3. "Thank you very much" is translated into Spanish, but the main message is not
4. So, there's a sign up to tell us that we should throw paper into the toilet?  Or did the word "not" accidentally get left off?

I took a closer look:

Oh I get it now.  They just decided to use yellow for the word "NOT" so that it would stand out, and the sign got wet so other yellow ink is splotched right near the word "NOT," making it even more difficult to read.  Yellow was a great color choice.

So I did what I had to do.  I fixed it with the only pen I had:

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Painting with Hannah

A few days after Hannah and I managed to get all of her belongings locked in the elevator (then freed) during her move, she decided to paint her new bedroom.  Well, one of the walls.

We went to a nearby paint shop to see what colors were available.  She was thinking maybe yellow at first, but when we left the paint shop and walked down the street, Hannah was inspired by a gorgeous green door.

She slept on it, and the next day green it was.  She bought green paint for the wall, plus some blue to paint her red shelves and desk (and some blue waves on the wall).
Notice the red desk holding our painting supplies.  It won't be red for long.

We then picked up some tinto de verano and snacks, then turned on the music.  Ready to paint!

Painting the Wall Green

Painting the Table and Hannah's Wave

The Finished Product

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Contest answers: European monuments

First of all, I'd like to thank all participants of my European monuments contest for giving it a shot.  

The winner, correctly identifying 9 of the 10 monuments is Hermann! Congratulations! cough you're European cough cough

The next contest will need to be less Europe-focused, agreed.  But for now, here are the answers to the contest, which was based on my visit to Parque Europa in Madrid a few weekends ago:

1. Part of the Berlin Wall

Berlin, Germany
The Berlin Wall was a wall built by the German Democratic Republic that separated West Berlin from East Berlin and the rest of Germany.  Construction of the wall began in August of 1961 and it stayed up until 1989.

2. Belém Tower

Lisbon, Portugal
I actually saw the real Belém Tower in person when I visited Lisbon in 2010. Built in the 16th century, the tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

3. Puerta de Alcalá

Madrid, Spain
I got my picture taken with the Puerta de Alcalá statue because it's a big landmark in Madrid, and I love Alcalá street.  I was only able to recognize and name this monument thanks to the fact that I've lived in Madrid for two years.  Otherwise, I think it's a lesser-known monument throughout Europe.

4. Manneken Pis

Brussels, Belgium
"Manneken pis" is Marols (a Dutch dialect) for "Little man pee".  On this fountain there is a young boy peeing into the water, though he's very tiny in my picture.  Here's a close-up of the real fountain:

Manneken Pis
Source:, user: Myrabella

5. Eiffel Tower

Paris, France
I got to visit the Eiffel Tower when I went to Paris this summer.  I think it's probably the most widely-known of these ten monuments.

6. David (Michelangelo)

Florence, Italy
The original statue of David now resides in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, while a replica is in the public square in Florence where the original once stood.

7. Atomium

Brussels, Belgium
I had never seen or heard of this monument before, but it was built for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair.  The Atomium is in the shape of an iron crystal unit cell, magnified 168 billion times.  In the real monument, you can go inside some of the spheres, which offer panoramic views of Brussels.

8. The Little Mermaid

Copenhagen, Denmark
This statue in Copenhagen was based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid".  It was finished in August of 1913, and has since become a major tourist attraction.

9. Tower Bridge

London, England
London's Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge) was built from 1886-1894 over the Thames River.  Its name comes from the Tower of London, which is very close to the Tower Bridge.

10. Brandenburg Gate

Berlin, Germany
Brandenburg Gate was once a city gate, through which one needed to pass in order to enter Berlin.  The monument was restored from 2000 - 2002 after having suffered much damage during WWII.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The ideal beach book

My only real experience "going to the beach" has been during the two years that I lived in Spain.  I mean honestly, you can't call the grassy shore of Bear Lake in Wisconsin a "beach".  And as gorgeously clear as the water is in Lake Wazee, it's not a real beach either.  Well, not in my book.

My first real beach trip was to Alicante in October of 2009.  I brought along my Spanish phonetics textbook to read that weekend (along with highlighters and colored pens for underlining).  Erm, yeah.  That is not a good beach book.

I got a little more beach-practice throughout that year, so fast forward to the end of June when I'm in Mutriku, a small town on Spain's northern shore.  Izzy had lent me The Glass Castle, which is what I was reading while we were catching rays. A much better beach book than at the beginning of the year.

Beach Book Standards

With even more beach experience this year, I've come to realize the importance of a good beach book, and have since then created standards for myself.  A good beach book must be:

1. A paperback - The beach book must be a softcover, since I often hold it up to cover the sun while lying on my back.  The arms can only take so much.  And even now that I own a kindle which would be much lighter to hold, I still never bring it to the beach.  Two words: Sand and sunscreen.  Which leads me to my next requirement:

2. Able to get dirty - While reading on the beach, sand will get in all the pages.  If you protect your skin like me (and Hermann! SPF 50 for life!), your hands will be covered in sun screen, thus by the transitive property the pages will also get sunscreen on them.  If you're even more like me, then you will fall asleep with the book on your face,  You will sweat under the hot sun while sleeping, and wake up to wrinkled, wet, sweat-soaked pages stuck to your face.  Yes, that happened multiple times this past weekend (Don't worry Hannah, that was with the hostel's books, not the ones you lent me).  So the book can't be a prized possession or in pristine condition when you borrow it from a friend.

3. Easy to get in to - If you're going to spend over seven hours out in the sun each day, you need to be reading something captivating.  Something that will keep your attention from the very beginning to the very end.  Something light and easy.

And that's really all you need for the perfect beach book.

This Summer's Beach Books

I really lucked out this past June in Alicante when I found a paperback copy of Da Vinci Code at our hostel.

Then this past weekend in Málaga, I came prepared with two books lent to me by Hannah: Stephen King's Different Seasons and Tucker Max's  I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

When I arrived on Friday evening I walked to the beach in my jeans, bringing a towel and I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell with me.  I read a few of the short chapters, which were quite entertaining.   But of course the next day I still had to take a peek at the hostel's bookshelf.  There were many German books, but then something caught my eye: Paulo Coelho's Aleph.

This summer I had read Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, followed by Coelho's The Zahier, followed by the biography of Paulo Coelho.  His biography made me want to read even more of his books, so naturally when I saw an English copy of Aleph next to all of these other German books in the hostel, I had to grab it.

I read most of the book on Saturday and finished it Sunday morning.  I knew I would finish it in no time on Sunday, so I double checked the bookshelf again on Saturday evening, just to make sure there weren't any new books.  There were!  Right away I spotted Susan Lewis's A French Affair, which kept my eyes busy all day Sunday and Monday.  It was a page-turner, but the plot was as believable as a Lifetime movie.  However, this is the type of book that ranks high on the beach book scale.

On my bus ride home today I finished I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, laughing out loud to myself throughout the whole read, while simultaneously wondering what is wrong with some people in this world (and never falling asleep with the book on my face).

My days of reading Spanish phonetics books on the beach are long gone.
• • •

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Château de Chinon

That first day of the France road trip, we stayed at a hotel not too far from the Dune du Pilat (2 beds for only 36 euros!).  

On the second day, much of the driving looked like this:

I quickly learned that roads lined with trees on both sides is also very French:
The first château we saw was Château de Chinon.

Here is a picture of the castle from the town down below:

And here are some views from the castle of the town/river below:

Chinon is the castle that Joan of Arc went to in 1429 to ask Charles for an army, so there were a few Joan of Arc displays in the royal lodgings.

I really liked the guide books at this castle, firstly because they were color-coded.  Each tower or building had a colored page in the booklet that corresponded to a thin colored pole outside of the building's entrance.

Secondly, each guide book had some sort of electronic chip inside, so that when you wave it over the interactive screens it picks up on your language and makes the computers work.

The last room in the castle had six interactive screens inside, looking like back-to-school time for the adults:
Little did I know, Chinon was the first of many castles we would visit in the next few days.
• • •

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Contest: European Monuments

Yesterday I went to Parque Europa, a park with numerous European monuments.  Some of them I could easily identify from having seen them in pictures or movies, a few I had visited in real life, but others I had never seen before.

So I thought it would make for a fun contest.  Below are pictures of ten monuments from Parque Europa.  Label as many as you can and leave your answer in the comments.  The person who correctly identifies the most monuments by September 18 will receive a postcard from me!

For those who know me it goes without saying, but just to be clear -- no cheating!

Hint: This is actually part of something that used to be, not a smaller version of a monument like the rest are











Contest #1: European Monuments
Deadline: September 18
Rules: Correctly identify the European monuments represented in each of the ten photos.  The photos are of models of these monuments (not the real thing!) and are located in Madrid's Parque Europa.
• • •

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dune du Pilat

On the first day of my France road trip a month ago, we drove from Madrid straight across the France/Spain border.

The drive through Spain was fairly uneventful, the most exciting sight being a wildfire on the side of the road a few hours into the trip:

Soon after entering France, we arrived at our first sight-seeing stop: Dune du Pilat.

Dune du pilat
Dune du Pilat is the tallest sand dune in Europe, with heights of up to 107 meters.  It is located 60km from Bordeaux, and receives over a million tourists every year.

I had no idea what it was - or that we'd be visiting - until we got there, which was a pleasant surprise.

We took off our shoes and climbed up one side of the dune to the top.

I was a giddy child, anxious to reach the top for the view.

One side faced the forest,

And the other side faced the shore.

According to Dune du Pilat's website, wind and tides constantly push the dune back towards the forest.  In fact, the dune moves several meters every year, slowly covering up the pine forest.

That evening, many people sat at the top of the dune to watch the sun set.  Once the sun had dropped below the waterline, everyone applauded.

Despite all of the people, there wasn't a single piece of litter to be found in the soft, fine sand.

Dune du Pilat is such a unique natural site; I recommend it to anyone who has the chance to go.  More information about the dune can be found here and here.
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