Sunday, November 14, 2010

Europe Trip, Part 1: What We Did

At the end of September, Belu and I flew to Europe for three weeks of racing around. We hit seven cities with side trips to a couple others. Here are the photos of the places we saw. Click on any of them to see in larger format.

Belu in front of the Templo de Debob in Madrid

Fuente de Cibeles in Madrid

Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid

Belu in the park. Madrid had only so much to offer. It's a big city and the country's capital, but two days is probably plenty, especially compared to what you have in the rest of Spain. So we took some side trips.

We spent a day in the old city of Toledo. It's like walking into a time machine. Here's Belu risking her life on one of the tiny streets. I say risking her life because if a car would have come, there would be no place to run for cover. The other city we visited was Segovia which we'll see in part 2...

Belu up in La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Me doing same. The Sagrada Familia will be done in 2030. We hope to come back then to see the finished product!

Belu in Park Güell

I took us on a ridiculous hike all around Park Güell. Unfortunately, it got more ridiculous when we found ourselves outside the park and nowhere near the entrance. Eventually, we finally found a way back in. Here we are resting for just a bit.

Belu with the famous salamander guy statue thingy.

We took a topless tour bus, which I figured wouldn't be a great idea. But Barcelona is the perfect city for this kind of thing. It's not so big, and there isn't too much traffic. Plus, you get cranky old ladies to give you dirty looks from across the aisle.

On a hill overlooking Plaza España

I got a kick out of the outdoor escalator.

Careful not to fall on your head.

I said careful!

That's more like it.

The ol' self-photo from Montjuic.

Belu at that other Arco de Triunfo (in Barcelona)

Eiffel Tower

La Torre Eiffel

Atop said tower

Notre Dame

Belu gettin' saucy with it.

We hiked up to the Sacre Coeur church which reveals a fantastic view of the city (more on that in Part 2).

Outside the Louvre. Because we didn't check things well, we had some bad luck with the museums in Paris. Like some other places in Paris, we came to the Louvre on the day it was closed.

On a mountaintop in Geneva, Switzerland, Belu makes another feline friend. This was one of about a dozen we met along the trip, but easily the most cariñoso.

There's not a ton of tourist stuff to do in Geneva, and we didn't have the best weather, either. But we took a ride on a little train, and this guy tagged along for a bit.

Leaving Geneva for Venice was an utter mess. We were supposed to have first class seats on a train that would get us there in one shot. Instead, we were shuttled in and out of four trains. On one of the longest trips, we had to stand, wedged in with suitcases against the bathroom door. People kept coming to use the bathroom and we had to tell them it was impossible to get the door open. You can imagine how crazy-haired Italian ladies reacted to this information. Fortunately, the others crammed in this tiny space with us happened to be an extremely easygoing and friendly Indian family on vacation. If we had been with a bunch of Italian or French tourists, surely the "mala onda" would have only exacerbated the disaster. But these people made the time pass quickly and kept our spirits high.

On the Ponte di Rialto in Venice

Belu on the same bridge. Venice was kind of crazy. We only spent one day there, and I think that was surely enough. It's totally overrun with tourists, with a new horde delivered by cruise ships daily. Everyone here is continually lost on the ancient streets, but at least we got our first tastes of authentic pizza and gelato. Valio la pena.

Took this photo at night without flash and a long exposure. This is alongside the Piazza San Marco in Venice.

Our gondoleer ducks his head as we cruise under the lowest bridge in town.

Speaking of pizza, this one was far from the best we had, yet still delicious. Plus, you have to appreciate the pizza eaten while walking around Venice.

At the Piazza di Santa Croce in Florence

Palazzo Lenzi in front of Chiesa di Ognissanti in Florence. It really shocked us how loud Florence was for being such a small city. Everywhere we went there was construction, motorcycles, and general hollering. On the last day, we just wanted to sit in a park and relax. We found a somewhat quiet spot, plopped down on a park bench, and decided it would do. 20 seconds later, two guys showed up with a lawn mower. It was like something out of a sitcom.

Belu at the Mirador in Piazza Michealangelo.

Me doing same. Many more Florence pictures in Part 2. We took in more famous museums and churches than we can possibly recall in Florence. The entire place is like one big museum. Perhaps foolishly (for the time we chose), we had to wait in line over two hours to see Michaelangelo's David. But the wait was well worth it. It has to be the most amazing piece of artwork I've laid eyes on. Unfortunately, no picture here because taking photos was banned.

Belu at the most crowded place in the world - aka the Vatican Museum.

In front of Fontana di Trevi

I'm the goofy guy up front.

In the park overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. By the time we reached Rome, we were pretty exhausted. Our goal was just to take it easy and relax. But of course there was so much to see, we just kept on walking all over the city.

The Roman Colosseum. Belu hands down the death sentence. Or is she sparing a life? Nobody seems to be able to answer this question definitively.

It became clear to use during our time in Italy that it is clearly the spiritual fatherland of Argentina. Many of Argentina's character traits, both good and bad, were born here. People talking loudly, crazy traffic, excellent coffee, nobody forming a proper line, arguing until long after the sun goes down, beautiful women, and many more... We owe a lot to Italy here, both credit and blame.

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II

One of our last moments on the trip after our last ridiculously long trek. The Coliseum on the right, the Roman Forum in the background, and Vittorio Emanuele II behind it. We saw as much as we could in those three weeks, and there remains a ton left to see. Come back soon for Part 2 where you'll see my attempts at artistic documentation of the physical world. Uhhh, yeah, fancy fotos...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Catching Up: June/July/August

If I don't start catching up faster, I will never actually you know, catch up. So let's see if we can make up some ground here via a triple-play.

June was the month that Belu and I immediately began in earnest task of wedding-planning (something that of course still continues). But meanwhile I still found for the Buenos Aires Ultimate Frisbee playoffs. After going an entire year unscathed, Big Red's dominance had not continued throughout the regular season. Fortunately, we played well enough to end up in 3rd place and faced Discosur in the semis. But we had really played our worst in the weeks leading up to the tourney. Confidence was not high. But after a stirring call to action from Dani just moments before the game started, we began playing with a fire that we hadn't seen since the "old days." After scoring the first six points of the match, there was little Discosur could do to come back. It was the confidence boost we needed and suddenly there was esperanza for the championship game on Sunday morning.
Big Red - Solidaridad, Herman@s!

In the finals, we were set to play Aqua, the top seed who had just finished up a very strong regular season. We also knew that one of our strongest players wouldn't arrive until well into the game. But nonetheless, Big Red picked up from where we left off the day before, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. Los Tiburones from Aqua gradually clawed their way back into it, and tore off their own run of four straight points to start the second half. Big Red fought back, and took the lead again. Aqua scored two straight and was up by one when the clock ran out. But Big Red notched the equalizer, tying the game with one, winner-take-all point remaining. It wasn't the stuff of greatness from either team, but eventually (and perhaps fittingly), Chapy, captain of Aqua, ended up snatching the disc in the endzone for the season's final point.
This throw, ugly though it was, did connect with Roxi.

Aqua celebrates wresting the title from our hands. Felicitaciones, Tiburones!

We finished with mixed emotions, knowing that our errors left a lot of points on the field and with them, the game. At the same time, we played our strongest when the games mattered the most. Aqua had spent all season building a champion, and they deserved the victory. It was easily the most intense Ultimate game on record in Argentina. Many onlookers passing through Palermo Woods stayed to watch the end. We can only hope that the league continues to grow. With exciting games like this, it's likely.
Once again, a beautiful day and a fine-lookin' league

July featured, well, a lot of work for work. So not so much fun stuff. We celebrated Belu's birthday (this time without surprises). We filled our apartment building's party room with friends, catered food, and a whole lotta karaoke. Singing went until the early morning. These were good times!

Really getting into it. I don't even think the champagne had much to do with it.

In the local ultimate scene we started our first "hat" league with eight teams, and a great opportunity for beginners to give the sport a try. Very much like Chicago's Summer League. I was a Vaquita de San Antonio (Ladybug). Unfortunately, I missed a number of the games, but the idea was great and we will surely follow up with more of these.
Just a reminder of our gorgeous view. The photos' from July, so it qualifies here.

August followed July as one of the busiest months I've ever had at work. At times I was doing three jobs at once (four if you count wedding planning). It left little time for enjoying life in Buenos Aires. So there is unfortunately very little to tell of local adventures.

I did go back to Baroda, India for work again, this time for two and a half weeks. I'm working closely with a smaller team there, and on this trip I got to become much more connected to the local culture than on the last one (and luckily there were no visa shenanigans this time). I ate a ton of Indian food, something I never get to do here in Argentina. It was a nice throwback to my vegetarian days as I only ate meat on one occasion throughout the trip. Yet I went home stuffed every night.

All that overeating can really take its toll, but my compañeros turned me on to a local remedy called paan. Paan is betel leaf wrapped around, well, I don't even really know what was in there. It reminded me of yerba, but you would never actually eat yerba directly. They come with various varieties - chocolate, frozen fruit, and who knows what else. You throw the whole thing in your mouth like a tobacco chaw, and then slowly let it disintegrate without chewing. I don't know if it actually helps with the digestion or not, but it definitely tasted good. After one or two of these, I was craving them every night. And fortunately, every night I was able to have one.

The name of this joint is Rich Pan. I don't know if this guy's name is Rich, but we should, for now, just call him the Pan Man.

I was so stuffed after a vegetarian buffet, my biggest concern was how I was going to fit anything else in my stomach...

...but it doesn't really go in your stomach since the idea is to let it dissolve in your mouth. Still, this is pretty darn big. I was nearly drooling.

The other highlight was a trip to a local palace which I had heretofore not known about in Baroda. So I leave you this time with various photos of the Laxmi Vilas Palace originally built by the Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III. (The photos don't really do it justice. It was a rainy day and they would not let me take pictures inside. Trust me, though, this is a gorgeous place, if a bit antiquated).
It was so humid, it took about 20 minutes for my camera to stop fogging over once we left the air-conditioned car. This was the first "good" picture.


The palace is surrounded by a nice golf course. Perhaps something to try on the next visit.

Other writing from J/J/A:
Top 50 Albums - Don Caballero: World Class Listening Problem
Top 50 Albums - Mission of Burma: The Obliterati
Fishbone @ Teatro Colegiales
Top 50 Albums - Amy Winehouse: Back to Black
Top 50 Albums - The Lawrence Arms: Oh! Calcutta!

Crazy for the Copa
The Well Worn Practice of Self-Delusion

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