Monday, March 31, 2008

El Chiki Chiki

Last weekend when I was in Vienna, Jorge, my travel mate, asked me if I had heard "el chiki chiki". Of course, I hadn't. He told me I had to listen to that song. It was the song which is going to represent Spain in the next Eurovision song contest.

El Chiki Chiki is sung by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, a character in a famous comedy show conducted by Andreu Buenafuente, maybe the best Spanish comedian in the last 5 years. The song is clearly a joke and some lyrics are hilarious! How could it be chosen for Eurovision then???

In Spain, in my opinion, nobody cares about that festival. It is seen as a contest in which politics and country friendship are more important than the actual song. Therefore, nobody takes it seriously any more. RTVE, the Spanish national television, decided to start a vote in the Internet to chose whatever song people proposed. Songs where uploaded in a website and people just voted. El chiki chiki must have been a prank at the beginning, but people started voting for it and there it is: it has become the Spanish song for Eurovision 2008!

The video with English subtitles is here.

This song going to an international contest representing Spain tells a lot of us as a country :) As that old motto said: Spain is different!

Egypt. Day 4: Luxor Temple and Karnak

After finishing our visits to Kom Ombo and Edfu, we arrived at Luxor and checked in in our hotel: Sherief Hostel, Bob Marley's House. For a double room with private bathroom, we paid less than 5 euros per night!! And it wasn't that bad... and it included a nice breakfast!

After check-in, we went for lunch and visited the temples on the East Bank: the Temple of Luxor and Karnak. Both temples are around 3-4 km away and in ancient times there was a festival during which the images of some gods were brought from one temple to the other. The way between the two temples was a castaway with sphinxes on both sides. The temple of Karnak was the most important sanctuary in ancient Egypt. Kings lived in Karnak and Luxor and were brought to the West Bank when dead.

In the next photo, you can see the sphinxes in the way to the entrance of the Luxor Temple:

At the entrance of the temple, there were two giant Ramses II and two obelisques. Now there is only one, the other one is at Place de la Concorde, in Paris (France).

The temple was covered by sand and a town was built on top. Afterwards, the temple was discovered and the town dismantled. However, the town mosque was not knocked down and we can see it there. It is amazing the amount of sand which covered the temple! The mosque was at ground level and that means a height of 4-5 meters now!

And this is within the temple:

When we left, the temple was beautifully illuminated.

Later, we took a local bus (a real experience ;-) and went to Karnak, for the Light and Sound evening show. This is the appearance of the whole temple of Karnak.

And this is a detail of some statues at one of the innermost pylons.

Next day, we went to the West Bank, to see some tombs... that will be tomorrow!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Egypt. Day 4: Kom Ombo and Edfu

On Day 4, we woke up in Aswan at 7am and took a minibus towards Luxor, via the temples of Kom Ombo and Edfu. Kom Ombo is a beautiful greco-roman temple and Edfu is a temple devoted to Horus, the falcon god. The trip from Aswan to Luxor was a bit more than 3 hours and we thought it would be nice to visit some of the best Egyptian temples in the way there. And it really paid off!

Kom Ombo is a temple devoted to two egyptian deities, one with the shape of an eagle and one with the shape of a crocodile. The temple is very special in the sense that it is symetrical, having two front entrances and symmetric halls as you advance in the temple (one for each deity).

This is the entrance to the temple in Kom Ombo:

And this is a typical column there; greek style with egyptian motifs carved in the stone...

Edfu temple is maybe the best preserved temple in Egypt, due to the fact that it was buried in sand until some centuries ago! Therefore, the influence of the weather or people is negligible. It is devoted to Horus as I said before.

This is the entrance to the temple in Edfu.

And a nice statue of Horus at the entrance of the main sanctuary:

The distribution of the temple was kind of weird, with many lateral corridors and even an outer wall surrounding the sanctuary. Between them, this corridor in which a nice mythological story is writing using hieroglyphs.

After those visits, we continued our trip to Luxor in our van. The driver was kind of crazy and I don't understand how we did not see any traffic accident in Egypt... there should be thousands a day because of the way they drive!!!

Finally, we arrived at Luxor at around 1.30 pm. That will be the topic for the next post!

La sonrisa de la contentacion

La vida juega contigo cuando parece que todo esta bajo control. En contadas ocasiones, ganamos conciencia de lo que en realidad somos: cascarones de nuez al antojo del viento de un destino que no podemos comprender. Las razones actuales solo se pueden comprender al ganar perspectiva y eso solo se puede hacer cuando las decisiones han sido tomadas y ya nada se puede hacer. El presente es como un chiste sin gracia, que cuando al final lo entendemos, ya es demasiado tarde para sonreir. La sonrisa que se nos queda es la que llevamos puesta todos los días, la sonrisa de la contentacion, no se puede aspirar a mucho mas. Es la triste naturaleza del ser humano y de su tiempo. Quien pudiese entenderlo...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Update on my read books

My hardcore travelling period has arrived to its end and now it is time to check how well headed I am for my 50-books/year challenge. My reading pace has been greatly affected, but I have managed to read 4 books in 5-6 these weeks. The books I read are:

- Sputnik Sweetheart, by Haruki Murakami

- In the Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami

- Egypt, an approach to Egyptian history and culture; very useful for my visit to that country

- A Wild Sheep Chase, by Haruki Murakami

That makes 10 books so far this year (12 weeks)!

Egypt. Day 2-3: Aswan and around

After visiting Cairo and Gizah, we took a train to travel as far south as possible, this is to Aswan. We bought two second class tickets for only 55 egyptian pounds each (something like 7 euros) and the trip took around 14 hours!!

Once in Aswan, we checked in our hostel and booked the tour to Abu Simbel for the next day. Afterwards, we just walked downtown and visited the Nubian Museum. Here I was trying to understand some hieroglyphics.

Next day, we woke up at 3 in the morning and joined the tour going to Abu Simbel. Due to security problems in the area, all tourists have to go together and escorted by a military convoy. The distance from Aswan to Abu Simbel is 270 km and took a bit less than 3 hours. During the trip, the Sun rose in the desert, offering breathtaking images! This photo could well have been taken in Mars!

After that, we were given 2 free hours to visit the temples. This is the Major Temple:

And this is the Minor Temple:

Back to Aswan, we stopped by Aswan High Dam, the unfinished obelisque and Philae Temple. Philae Temple was the coolest of the three. It is a Greco-roman temple in the middle of an island. We had to take a boat to get there. Pretty cool!

This is what it looked like from the boat:

And this is the entrance to the main temple:

In the afternoon, back in Aswan, we visited Elephantine Island, the biggest of the islands next to Aswan in the Nile river. The island has a Nubian town there and some museums and archeological remainings. The town was real Africa! The views from the edge of the island were incredible:

This is what the island looked like from Aswan.

At night, we walked the Souq (the bazaar) and packed. This is the Souq:

Next day we were going to Luxor, stopping in Kom Ombo and Edfu.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

First day in Egypt: The Pyramids

After some days back in the Netherlands, it is time to talk about Egypt. Naoko and me went there backpacking from 7th to 16th March and visited Cairo, Gizah, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Luxor and Thebes and Hurghada. It was really intense and we did tons of walking. We went by ourselves, without using any kind of packaged tour and that probed to be the right decision!

The first day we arrived in Egypt, it was at night and we could only see around our hotel in Cairo, near Ramses train station. From the airport, instead of taking a taxi and paying 10 euros, we sticked to our principles and experienced the real egyptian way: a 20 euro cent bus. Much cheaper! ;-) It was our first contact with local people and we could notice something which would repeat elsewhere; tourist don't like mixing with local people and the consequence is very little tourists use public transportation. The result is people are very surprised with tourists in their buses and find it funny. Besides, they try to be helpful and make your stay as pleasant as possible. One guy even paid for our tickets in a bus in Luxor! By the way, getting into a bus is quite a challenging experience, since many are just minivans going where the driver wants to... you have to stop the van and ask the driver if he is going to the place you are heading for.

For the second day (first full day), we hired a car with driver (25 euros) and went to Gizah, Saqqara and Memphis to see pyramids.

Below you can see the typical images of the Sphynx and the Great Pyramids!

There were also plenty of camels around!

After a few hours, we went to Saqqara, the place where the first pyramids were built. There we visited some tombs, temples and pyramids. The most outstanding element of the complex, the stepped pyramid.

To wrap up the day, we visited Memphis, the traditional capital city of Egypt. Now, there is nothing there appart from a museum. Inside, there was a fantastic statue of Ramses II and other sculptures and statues.

At night, we had dinner by the Nile river and took a night train to Aswan, the southernmost city in Egypt.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My PhD studies

After waiting for some months, I finally got positive replies from the US and Japan.

For the USA, I had a position in UCLA or CalTech and a Fulbright scholarship offered. For Japan, the same in Tokyo Institute of Technology with a Monbukagakusho scholarship (Japanese Government scholarship for foreign students).

Just after arriving from Egypt, when I came back to ESA, I had these two confirmations waiting for me in my mailbox... and a very strong deadline: for the Japanese scholarship, I had to reply before 4 pm today!! That left me with only one day to take such an important decision.

I have been thinking without rest for the last 24 hours and I have finally decided to go to Japan. It has been an extremely hard decision, but I think this posibility can bring me the personal stability I need to work towards the PhD degree and it is very good from a professional point of view.

What can I say about Japan? After my first experience there (3 months in 2006) and two visits to my girlfriend, I really like the country and that is very good to help me go faster towards the completion of the PhD program.

Time will tell if this was the right decision. At least I know one thing, this looks to me the best current possibility under the current circumstances!

Therefore, there I go back Japan!!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From Aswan

Hey there! It has already been 3 days and a half in Egypt and everything is going smoothly. We arrived in Cairo, visited some pyramids on Saturday (Gizah, Saqqara, Memphis), walked for some hours in Cairo, have dinner in a boat in the Nile river, took a 15 hours train to Aswan (in the south of the country), visited some museums and islands there, and the temples of Abu Simbel and Philae.

Said like that it looks even short! wow, if you knew how tired I am by now! hahaha... but it is being well worth it! lots of fun and many awesome places... Abu Simbel this morning or the pyramids in Gizah are breathtaking sites!!!

Tomorrow, we will visit the temples in Kom Ombo and Edfu and arrive at Luxor, where we will stay for some days.

See you soon!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Egypt, there I go!

I am about to leave ESTEC to go to the airport. Next destination, the coolest possible: Egypt. I will visit together with Naoko the cities of Cairo, Aswan and Luxor, including all the cool places: pyramids, temples, Abu Simbel, Aswan high dam...

It may be one of the coolest trips in my life, so I will try to enjoy as much as possible. For the moment, I am traveling light, just one backpack and with just a draft of what we will do, no tight schedules or tourist packages. Ahh, and with my camera and 4 GB memory! That's about 1700 photos!!

Well, I will try to post my experiences daily! Just a few highlights, I guess the photos will come later!

Anyway, see you and have fun!

Cómo votar desde Holanda

Pues eso, voy a intentar responder a una pregunta que muchos me han preguntado: Si vives en Holanda, ¿puedes votar desde allí o tienes que volver a España?

La respuesta es que se puede hacer desde aquí si cumples un par de condiciones. La primera de ellas es estar inscrito como ciudadano español residente en Holanda en el consulado de Amsterdam. Despues, te envían un sobre con tus datos para que tú les confirmes si tu dirección en Holanda sigue siendo la que ellos tienen.

Tras eso, el pasado día 20 de Febrero me llego un paquete con todas las instrucciones para votar: instrucciones, sobres de voto, todas las papeletas de todos los partidos políticos y un justificante diciendo que resido oficialmente en Holanda.

Con eso, decidí mi voto, metí los sobres en sus papeletas, estos junto al justificante en otro sobre oficial y me fui a correos. Tenía dos posibilidades, ir a votar al consulado antes del 2 de marzo o votar por correo hasta el sábado. Mi decisión: ir a correos y enviarla cómodamente. La condición para el voto por correo es que se envíe certificado, pero también adjuntan un papel para reclamar el coste del envío. Así que nada, llegué allí, pagué mis 7,50 euros, cumplimenté el papel para reclamarlos y a trabajar. Deberes constitucionales cumplidos ;-)

Pues esa es la historia. Estoy lejos pero ¡aún puedo decidir quién gobierna en España! Al fin y al cabo, ¡ellos son los que me pagan!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Back from Ireland

Yesterday, Naoko and I arrived in the netherlands from our 4-day weekend in Ireland. There we visited Belfast, Derry, the Giant's Causeway (the only world heritage site in Ireland) and Dublin. The schedule was tight, but we could enjoy these places and have fun at night at Irish pubs, drinking Guiness and listening to Celtic music live!

Maybe that was one of the best things in Ireland, the atmosphere in pubs and live music. The scenery in the countryside was also cool: cliffs, incredibly green meadows...