Thursday, May 31, 2007

First Communion

Well, as you have probably noticed, I have been off for almost a week now. The reason is I have been to Spain on holidays. Siento no haber llamado a nadie, pero es que me puse malo nada mas llegar... joer...

I arrived in Valencia and met my brother there. As you probably know, the prestigious sailing America's Cup is now being held in Valencia. That was quite obvious once in the city... The airport and the harbour have been linked by subway, all the shops are selling sailing articles or official garments, the teams driving nice cars in the streets (I saw people from Lunna Rossa) or a nice boat in the city hall square:

After one day there, I travelled to my home town, Almansa, 'coz my brother was receiving First Communion on Sunday. For me, it was the first time I was going to church after becoming agnostic... hehe...

Well, the celebration in the church was nice... for me, it was useful to ratify I don't like it... At least, my brother was happy and we could have some family pictures, which are always nice.

After that, we made for a restaurant to take the typical huge lunch after first communion. There, everything was so nice... I could meet many people in my family after several months and we were joking and laughing all the time. We could even manage to make my grandfather sing some old-fashioned traditional songs. Que crack! Fue la hostia cuando el tio se lio a cantar! De el se puede esperar cualquier cosa... Here you are some sample:

Finally, on Tuesday morning I flew back to Amsterdam and went to work at ESTEC... but to the daily routine. It was nice to go home. It always is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


And as a homage to this city and country I like so much... this video found in Menudo blog que tiene tu hermano, Aitor!

These videos are impressive! The choice of the images is good and so is the music... two masterpieces to show different parts of the city...

Photo Scavenger Hunt

Today, one year ago, I set foot on Japan for the first time. I had left Strasbourg after a very nice year and made for the country of the rising sun, where I was to stay for 3 months. Behind, I was leaving many good memories, parties and friends from ISU.

I was thinking about that and checking my photographs from last year when I came accross the pictures we took during the ISU photo scavenger hunt. Some of these photos are so cool! Basically, we received a list of crazy things to be done and we received points if we carried them out. Some of these things are:

1. Fighting karate with random people in the street.

2. To drink up a bottle of milk in a supermarket.

3. To take a beer with a baby and his brother. Check the baby's hand ;-)

4. To wrap up one of our team mates, Jie in this case...

5. To get a group of more than 20 people pointing at the sky

6. To get naked in the main square (Place Kleber) and walk around... I put this one in small size for obvious reasons... hehe...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sleeping in Tokyo

Many people think Japan is a very expensive country. As always, it depends. From my point of view, it is not. It is true that buying fruit, meat and fish in a supermarket can be more expensive than expected but, on the other hand, you can eat very very cheap in a restaurant. If you have a meal in Yoshinoya (famous restaurant chain) or in any ramen shop, it can be really really cheap (around 3 euros).

For staying over night, it is the same; it depends on your choice. I was living in Tsukuba, in Ibaraki prefecture, around 70 km North of Tokyo. When I wanted to sleep over in the city and stay the whole weekend there, there were many possibilities. Naoko told me most of them and I must acknowledge her expertise ;-)

I will present all possibilities (except normal hotels and youth hostels...) in order of decreasing price:

1. Ryokan. This is a traditional Japanese hotel and the nicest option. You can sleep on a futon, talk to the owner of the house or have a nice bath in a typical Japanese bath. It costs around 50 euros per night and many people can stay in the same bedroom for the same price.

2. Capsule hotel . This is quite interesting. It is like a 1x1x2 m3 space in which you can sleep. It has radio, TV, etc... Normally, there are several floors in the hotel and one is a typical Japanese bath. The price is around 25 euros and you will be asked to leave in the morning. Girls are not admitted in some capsule hotels.

3. Manga cafe (Manga kissa). This is my favourite option. It is basically a manga library in which there are isolated rooms (around 2x2 m2) with TV, computer, internet, Play Station... You can also read manga and have all the free drink you want. You can also order some food and in some cases there are showers and even washing machines and lockers. They were in the news because many young people are living in these places... actually, if you take the night pack (6 or 8 hours) you only pay around 7 euros. In some cases the sofas can be extended and a comfortable bed created.

4. Yamanote line. This is the hardcore solution if you don't have money, you are drunk or something is wrong with you. Yamanote line is a train line in Tokyo which is a complete circle. To complete the circle it takes more than one hour. Therefore, you can stay there for as long as you want and get off in the same station where you took the train. In that case, it is just 120 yen or so. This is less than 1 euro...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Japanese TV shows

In Japan, it is quite nice to have a TV at home. You may not understand what they are talking about, but sometimes you don't need to understand to have fun. Do you remember Takeshi joo (Takeshi's Castle / Humor Amarillo)... many TV channels broadcast similar shows in the evening. Japanese like having fun... that's clear... and they like shows in which people are scared out or physically punished...

This video shows an example of some TV show in which comedians are in a library and the one that gets the X gets some kind of punishment. However funny, sometimes is too cruel...

This second sample is part of a series in which comedians can't laugh no matter what they are done or what they see. I was watching this show last New Year's Eve...

Finally, a prank in which a guy is told he has been contracted by one of the main TV companies in Japan and that a taxi is waiting for him to go immediately to that company. The guy buys it and the fun starts... For you to understand a bit more, after a few crazy turns, the taxi driver tells the guy to put on the seat belt because they are using a shortcut. After that, you can understand by yourselves. The final remark is also quite funny. When the car stops, the taxi driver asks the guy for 660 yens for the ride.

My only concern about all these funny shows is that some day somebody will get really hurt... sometimes is too extreme... many of those pranks and crazy stuff would not be allowed in Europe for moral issues...

El Roto

One of the things I first do when I wake up is checking up the website of the Spanish newspaper El Pais to check El Roto's daily cartoon. This guy is one of the best cartoonist I have ever read. He is always very critical and in some cases extreme... but his cartoons have something which is priceless: they make you think. He comments reality from his point of view and tries to point out the main problems of our society and our world with very sharp intelligence and humour. For the Spanish speakers, here you are some samples of his great work. For the rest, I try to translate what is written in the cartoon. Keep on like that, el Roto!!

I don't know if I see everything more clear or just I am confused at a higher level.

Call destruction "PROGRESS" and nobody will oppose you

Bad news for patriots: all flags are made in China

But why do you vaccinate us dogs if hatred and rage are spread by humans?

What a mess! I have relocated my company and now I don't know where I've put it!!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Finland (...and II)

Some time ago I wrote a post called Finland (I) talking about my trip to visit Seppo in Oulu and Helsinki. If that post was called Finland (I), it is about time to wrap it up with a second and final post ;-)

In the previous post, I mostly talked about tourism and places I visited. This one is more about what I did. The trip to Finland was more about practising some snow sports and other crazy things like swimming in a frozen river when outside it was just 1 degree centigrade.

The first cool thing I did was snowboarding on a frozen lake being pulled by a snowbike. Kind of water skiing but with a snowboard and on ice.

Second cool thing: sliding down mountains or any slope. When we visited the Ice Castle LumiLinna, there were some wheel-type sliders in which you could have a ride down a nice slope with curves and everything. The second time I could feel the nice feeling of sliding down a slope without real control was when we took Seppo's sledges and went to some nice hills to try them. A video showing what that was:

The final and craziest thing I did in Finland was swimming in a frozen river. Finnish like doing it in the winter when the water it is very cold. They claim that is really healthy... What I can tell is that you feel alive when you go out of the water... At that moment, it feels like needles under your skin and you suddenly feel very warm inside... It is a pitty the ice and snow around the river were not recorded in this video, but I can assure to you there were some ice chunks around.

That was cold!!

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Some weeks ago I finished reading a book about Japanese history... It was quite interesting and quite new for me, as I think the history taught in Europe, or concretely in Spain, is too much Europe oriented... We think our history is the only one out there... but chinese or japanese history and culture are even older than ours, especially chinese...

Well, I was thinking about the names Japanese and Chinese gave to each other when they met for the first time... Chinese called Japanese Wajin 和人, which literally means Small People... and when Spanish and Portuguese starting trading with Japan, we were called Nanban 南蛮, which means Southern Barbarians. These Asian people liked making friends abroad! hehe
The term Nanban was initially used for people in South East Asia, but became attached to European (Portuguese and Spanish) when we arrived to Japan in the 16th century. The first sailors arrived at the southern islands in Japan, such as Tanegashima, and their manners were very rude and unsophisticated for traditional Japanese standards.

When I lived in Japan, the first thing Japanese said when I said I was Spanish was: wow, like Xavier!! For them, one of the most famous foreigners coming from Europe was Saint Francisco Javier... They were very surprised when I told everybody I didn't know who that guy was...

Just another cultural difference... I will talk more about cultural differences in a future post.

Dark matter

Today, checking the space news as usual (I am kinda a space geek... for those of you who doesnt know ;-), I found nice news in Concretely, the Hubble space telescope has found the first evidence of the existence of dark matter. As many of you know, visible matter in the universe accounts for only around 10% of the whole universe mass. The rest is just matter that doesn't glow... dark matter is just that... it is not some kind of exotic concept like dark energy... that is a completely different story.

Astronomers are still trying to find the missing mass (90% of the universe) and many possible sources of dark matter have been shortlisted: interestellar dust, neutrinos, MACHOs (massive compact halo object), WIMPs (weakly interactive massive particles)... Many are the theories and a lot of effort has been put in the topic. However, nothing has been unvealed yet. Nothing? Well, today the NASA/ESA Hubble space telescope surprised us with this nice shot:

As you can read in the citation, the dark ring around the galaxy cluster is dark matter, something which doesn't shine and which blocks the light coming from the galaxies. As a consequence, this is the first time ever dark matter has been visualized.

This piece of news is quite important in the science community but I don't expect to watch it on the news tonight...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Rafa Nadal

Yesterday, the great Spanish tennis player Rafa Nadal got his 76th consecutive win in a clay court and is very near the victory in Rome Master Series once more. With this number of victories he gets the record of the highest number of consecutive wins on the same kind of surface. This record was held by McEnroe until yesterday. McEnroe got it on synthetic court. Well, congratulations to Rafa! Now is time for Alonso to win in Formula 1!

Saturday, May 12, 2007


This morning I was listening to one of the great BIO Split Series albums, concretely vol.4 Bouncing Souls Anti-Flag, and I felt like talking about my favourite bands in here.

If I were asked which are my all time favourites bands, I would reply Rancid or NOFX. But, there are so many cool bands that it is difficult to make a decision. It's been a while since I started being into punk. Many shows, many bands, many albums... My preferences have been progressively changing from fast punk to more ska based punk and to fusion of styles.

Without being exhaustive, here you have a list of nice bands you can check out if you like punk:

Classic punk: Ramones, The Clash, Sex Pistols...
American punk: Rancid, NOFX, Bad Religion, Time Again, Anti-flag, Dropkick Murphies, Against Me!, Rise Against...
Spanish punk: La Polla, Eskorbuto, Piperrak, Kaotiko, Reincidentes...
Japanese Punk: Hi-Standard
Ska and all derived genres: Operation Ivy, Kortatu, Streetlight Manifesto, Less than Jake, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Ska-p...

My all time favourite band is possibly Rancid. Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman started together in the legendary ska band Operation Ivy. Then, they started Rancid up and created the most important band in the 90s. Some of their albums (And Out Come the Wolves, Life Won't Wait, Undestructible...) are so good you never get tired of listening to them... It is amazing how they can play a hardcore song and then a ska one in just a few seconds and with such a coherence. I really like them. A nice song here, Old Friend in the album And Out Come the Wolves (dedicated to Hatty):

NOFX is another band that needs to be mentioned... They have always been irreverent and politically incorrect. To me, they are truly california punks... There songs, very fast and with a lot of ska, are sometimes so angry... Songs like Bob, Don't call me white, Reeko or Linoleum are so good I will never get tired of listening to them once and again. And what about The Decline... an 18 minutes punk shot with amazing lyrics... Here I will post Bob:

And now, La Polla Records from Spain... so good...

And a nice ska from Kortatu, also from Spain:

One thing I like most about punk is going to shows... They become so crazy with all the trashing, body surfing and dancing that you have real fun... This video shows what a punk show can turn up to be! Do you remember Mic when we went to the Festival in Strasbourg when Dropkick Murphies played this song? That was so much fun... with all the crazy German skinheads around...

And to finish a nice Japanese band, Hi-standard. It is better you check them out in the video below and make an idea by yourselves of how they sound like. Their outfit in this show in FujiRock is so nice... playing punk and wearing yukata... hahaha... interesting...

And to wrap this up, an old school punk Joe Strummer from The Clash making a cover of Bob Marley's Redemption Song. It is a posthumous video and therefore a homage to Joe. Rest in Peace and thanx for all.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bikes in the Netherlands

For the firstcomers to the Netherlands, the large amount of bikes everywhere is one of the things that surprises you quite a lot. Actually, everybody has at least one bike and you really use it. The country is so much comfortable with one! In every street, there is a bike lane and sometimes two, one for each riding sense. There are even bike roads which connect cities! The are parallel to the normal road or highway and sometimes they are really really wide.

Well, the view of a bycicle parking lot near a train station is one of the coolest things of the country. Check this one some weekends ago in Delft:

The problem is that there are so many bikes that yours can get stolen easily in the huge mess a parking lot is. Besides, they have to put up with the "nice" Dutch weather and the "nice" drunk people. If you are unlucky, you can easily get your wheels bent or removed... In the worst case, if your bike is near a canal, it can end up at the canal's bottom.

The other day waiting for the bus to go to ESTEC I saw this funny boat removing all the bikes from the bottom of one of the central canals in Leiden. If you check carefully you will see there is a small crane to pick bikes out of the water!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Backpacking in Japan

Well, two days ago I promised I would talk about my backpacking experience in Japan with Havard. After our three months working in Japan, most of the ISU students in Japan, this is, Paolo and Mic in Sagamihara (ISAS/JAXA), Havard in Sendai (Tohoku University) and me in Tsukuba (JAXA) [Filipo could not make it this time], decided to meet up in Tokyo and from there, start a backpacking adventure to go as far south as possible.

The meeting point was in Shibuya, Tokyo, in the picture below. Once there, we went for dinner and then party at a club in Roppongi. Mic's brother and two Mic's coworkers came with us for that party.

Without sleeping, we moved to Shinjuku to buy the tickets to go to Mt. Fuji by bus. At that point, many of us stepped out and only Havard and I decided to continue with the adventure. This is Shinjuku's bus station, just before we followed different ways:

We slept a few our in my favourite manga cafe in Shinjuku and then went for the bus which was taken us to Kawaguchiko, station 5 in Fujisan. From there, we climbed the vulcano overnight and saw the sunrise at the summit. Here a photo of what the inside of the vulcano cone looked like from the top
After more than 18 hours climbing and coming back to station 5, we finally headed down to the South. Havard had bought a special promotion consisting in 5 tickets with which you can travel all over Japan using local trains for 24 h.
Our intention was reaching Hiroshima by that night. However, we didn't really know how to go there. We had a book with the schedule of all trains in Japan, which I get from my boss, Takata san. With that and some train workers help, we could get the plan displayed below:

Finally, we couldn't reach Hiroshima and we decided to sleep over in Himeji. In the morning, we
went to visit Himeji castle, world heritage and one of the nicest castle all over Japan (I posted some pictures in a post talking about castles last month). After that, we continued our journey and decided to go to another of the main 5 islands, Shikoku. We just went there and came back. The most interesting things were the very long bridge (several km. ---> one of the longest in the world) and the fact that we had been in another island in Japan.
Finally, at night, we reached Hiroshima and decided to rent a hotel room for a change. All the previous 4 nights, we had been partying, sleeping in manga cafes or in the train and climbing Fujisan. Then, some nice rest was very very helpful. Next morning we visited downtown Hiroshima. As you can possibly imagine, the landscape there is greatly impacted by the A-bomb bombing in 1945. All the center of the city is covert with parks and the Peace Memorial. The Peace Memorial is a big museum showin what happened the days before and after the bombing. That museum is a yell against war and all atrocities committed during wars. They are also trying to end up with all nuclear bombs in the world.
The most breathtaking sight of the ground zero is the famous A-bomb dome. It is a theater which was just underneath the A-bomb when it exploded. The explosion entered the dome from the top and applied the same pressure in and out of the walls. The result is that the dome was only of the only buildings resisting the explossion.
We continued walking around and visited Hiroshima castle. Actually, it was a replica of the original one, which got destroyed by the atomic bomb. We also passed by the stadium where the Spanish national basketball team started the way to become world champions some weeks later. Spain's first match was the last day we were in Hiroshima.
Near Hiroshima, there is an island called Miyajima which is full of temples and a nice world heritage: the torii in the sea. This torii (Japanese typical red gate) is in the middle of the sea and depending on the tides, it is either on the beach or floating in the middle of the sea. It was so cool! and there were deers in the island! I noticed these deers were smaller than the ones in Nara.
Finally, Havard and I splitted ways in the last manga cafe I visited in Japan. He went to Kyoto and I came back to Tokyo. The last thing I did was visiting Ueno park for the last time and go to my supervisor's house in Ibaraki. Next day I flew back to Spain.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


Last summer, after a nice 3 months in Japan, we ISUers met in Tokyo with the intention of visiting as much of Japan as possible... I will talk more about the plan tomorrow... Today I will talk about a huge achievement got by Havard and me ;-) We climbed mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, during the night so we could see the sunrise from the summit.

The previous night, we had been partying in Roppongi (Tokyo) with Mic and his brother, Paolo and Sousuke and we had only had a nap in a manga cafe (my favourite manga kissa in Shinjuku, it is called Mambo and it is next to Don Quijote... just in case you read this from Japan). We started from the 5th station at around 2000 meters high. I will show all the photos in the rest of stations, to proof we climbed it ;-)

That night, several hundred people or even thousands climbed Fujiyama. That was incredible, kids and old people trying really hard to climb a mountain which is not so easy to climb... There was a moment many people was vomiting and many needed air bottles to breathe... kinda scary... Besides, as we climbed it in Summer, the temperature in Tokyo was around 30 deg and it was below zero in the top of the vulcano. Havard and me were not prepare for that temperature change!! I used all the T-shirts I was carrying for the 1-week adventure to try to survive... There were parts of the mountain, mainly near the top, where several climbing ways merged, in which people had to queue!! Unbelievable!! Only possible in Japan... :) At the end of the night, we started thinking we could not make it to the summit before the sunrise and so did many young japanese... The results was everybody rushing uphill to try to arrive. This was kind of scary coz everybody started pushing everybody and some people started climbing out of the climbing path! Finally we got through and watched the most beautiful sunrise in our lifes, in the country of the rising sun.

The worse part was coming all the way back to station five... not so easy after so many hours without sleeping...

There is a Japanese saying which states that you have to climb Fujisan once in your life. If you dont climb it, you are a fool... but if you climb it twice or more times you are fooler... I completely agree...

Monday, May 7, 2007


In March 2006, while I was at ISU, the students organized a trip to Moscow for one week with the help of Prof. Nikolai Tolaryenko. I had lost most of my pictures of the trip so I felt a bit frustrated. Today, I came accross Seppo's photos and as we happened to be together most of the time, I appear in quite a lot of photos!! As I got new photos, i was checking them this afternoon and decided to post some together with mine.

As the trip was organized by ISU people, we tried to visit as many cool places as possible and I think we succeded! Our first professional visit was to Energia, the company which manufactures Soyuz... and which made possible that Yuri Gagarin and Tereshkova flew into space, Sputnik orbitted the Earth in 1957. They also built the famous space station MIR. During that visit we could feel that we were in one of those places where history of mankind had been written. I was really really cool. I could enter in a Soyuz with Naoko and Ramon Nogueron, dress a soviet space suit and see the mockups of MIR and some of the most famous Russian rockets. However, the coolest thing was without any doubt, the possibility of being next to Yuri Gagarin's capsule. In the picture below you can see it! It is the real one, not a cheap fake ;-) You can notice how destroyed it was... The guide told us some stories about that flight that have to remain confidential if i don't want my blog to get shut down by somebody or something out there XD.

Next day, we visited the Moscow Aviation Institute, university in which Prof Tolyarenko was a lecturer before coming to ISU. There, we could check many soviet rockets, probes, lunar landers... Below a picture of all of us with a nice lunar lander.

The third visit was to Star City, the place where astronauts carry out their basic training to become real astronauts. There we visited many mockups for astronauts to get familiar with the environment they are going to work in when they are in space, the big swimming pool were astronauts are trained to work in microgravity and for EVAs, and a centrifuge arm, used to simulate high gravity loads. This machine is shown below, together with Fred Bard. The astronauts are sat at the edge of the arm and it starts turning. The centripetal accelerations does the rest... They could create more than 20g, but obviously, more than 10g already makes you pass out, so they had never tried that on human beings. At least that is what they said.

Our last visit was going to be to another rocket manufacturer, the one that manufactures Proton, but our visit was call off due to security reasons... Anyway, that gave us more time to visit this nice city called Moscow.We could go to the Red Square several times, visit St Basil's Cathedral and Kremlin, and other churches and cathedrals in the city:

Naoko-chan and Estefania at St Basil's cathedral main entrance.

Nice church or cathedral we found by chance but happened to be very famous

We even had time to go to the opera! We paid 50 rubbles for a ticket with the students discount (less than 1 euro for an opera!!) and enjoyed a 3 hours opera in the coolest opera theater in Moscow! Everybody was wearing expensive clothes and we were kind of scruffy after a very intense week. Anyway, it was interesting and funny (although I slept most of the time... hehe...)

Ahh, and of course we had some time to go partying in clubs downtown or in our hotel ;-) Long life MSS06!!