Friday, April 25, 2008

Post #200!!

Yes, it is right, this is the post number 200 since I started writing seriously in this blog. If you have noticed, the map with my visits in the last year has been reset. Fortunately, I took a snapshot not to lose that information! And here it is, this is the map with the visits in the first year of this blog:

Let's keep up with this pace ;-)

By the way, I leave this evening for London where I will be until next Tuesday. After that, I will go to my hometown, Almansa, until next Sunday. There I will enjoy "Moros y Cristianos". The reason is next week there are several national holidays in the Netherlands and I felt like coming back home! I will try to tell you how I am doing from time to time! See you around!

By the way, the ticket for Bad Religion is no longer available.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nara 奈良

It has been a long time since I talked about one of the countries I like most in the world: Japan.

This time I will talk about Nara, which was one of my most enjoyable visits when I was living in Japan in 2006. Nara is located in Kansai, near Kyoto and Osaka, and was one of the first Japanese capital cities. Nara was the capital city of Japan from 710 to 784 and most of the monuments are from that period!

When walking in Nara, you can really field the spirit of ancient Japan!

One thing which surprised me a lot was that the city was full of deers!! It was really interesting to feed them or to watch people interact with them.

All the historical city of Nara has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO. Even the stone telling that is cool! Look at the green and the deers behind... Nice!

Nara has many temples and interesting places, but the coolest is Todaiji temple without any doubt! It was once the tallest wooden building in the world. The upper parts burnt and when reconstructed it was lower but still the highest in the world. The entrance is impressive, with some buddist deities protecting the temple on the sides of the outer gates:

And this is finally the temple. It is huge!

Inside, there is a 15-m Budda which is one of the biggest wooden Buddas in the world:

To finish, a nice picture taken in another shrine or temple in Nara:

Some times I feel I love Japan so much that I should go there for my PhD studies instead of California! Professionally, I can't say no to Caltech; but, personally, I can't say no to Japan!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sinter Klaas

This post comes really late... I admit I should have written it like some months ago. But later is better than never :) Besides, some Dutch tradition is not bad from time to time!

In the Netherlands, there is no Santa Claus or Three Wise men tradition. Instead they have Sinter Klaas. Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas) looks pretty much like Santa Claus but it is completely different. He comes on 5th December, for example.

The story tells that Sinter Klaas comes by boat from Spain a few days/weeks before 5th Dec (Sinter Klaas' day). The day he arrives in the Netherlands, TV broadcasts his arrival in the country. Some weeks before 5th Dec, kids leave their shoes next to the fireplace and sing some Sinter Klaas songs. The day after, they will get some chocolate or cookies. That goes on for some days/weeks depending on how good kids have been or family economy! Since he arrives in the country, he travels from South to North. Every day, he is in a different city or region. For example, last December, I found a crowd composed mostly by children waiting in Leiden's main square, next to the small boats'harbour. The explanation I got from a Dutch college was that they were waiting for Sinter Klaas to arrive at Leiden.

Additionally, Sinter Klaas has an assistant called Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). He is not black, just he is dirty with chimney soot he gets when he comes into houses using the chimney! This Zwarte Piet (or Zwarte Piets, as they usually come in packs of 2 or 3) give cookies or chocolates to kids. Those days, it is actually normal to find cinnamon cookies everywhere! In every shop or every restaurant!

We also had one guy disguised as Sinter Klaas and some Zwarte Piets in ESTEC! They were asking some people what they wanted for the coming year at lunch in the main restaurant!

Ahh, by the way, if kids behave badly during the year, Sinter Klaas takes you with him to Spain!! Just another proof that the wars between the Netherlands and Spain for religion are still well rooted in Dutch tradition!

Paseo por Leiden

The weather in Leiden has been really nice since last Sunday. Temperatures have risen and the sun shines... days like these make you feel the Netherlands is a nice place to live in!! The problem is the harsh winter and the lack of a proper summer... If only it'd be spring all year round!!

Last Sunday, I went for a walk in Leiden (first possibility for a walk since maybe july last year!) and took some pictures. Here, there are some of them:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bad Religion

Boring day at work... too many optimizations...

Bad Religion, one of the most important punk rock bands in history, will be coming to Amsterdam at the beginning of June. They represent what could be called "fast punk rock" and they are great!! They have been playing for more than 20 years now.

The thing is I have bought two tickets, one for me and the other one for whoever wants to come. The show is on 9th June. If you are interested, just tell me!! Tickets will be sold out in no time... for NOFX it took less than a couple days for everything to be sold out in the same place!

Some samples of what they are capable of:

Or something from the 80s:

Los Angeles (II)

For my second day in LA, I decided to take it easier and not to walk so much... Actually, I spent around 5 hours in public transportation! I started the day going to West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

I walked along the most famous shopping and night life districts in Southern California, passing famous streets such as Melrose Avenue, Beverly Avenue... And the most luxurious street in all the city: Rodeo Drive (in the picture below)

Next, I went to the beach, to Santa Monica. It was really hot and the sea breeze could be nice at that time! Here is where "Bay Watch" was shot.

There was an area where people were showing off their muscles and doing some gumnastics... look at these guys... that's pretty hard, isn't it?!

After that, I came back downtown LA and went to the Staples Center, LA Lakers stadium. There is where Pau Gasol is teaching them how to play basketball ;-) Kidding...

Finally, I went to Long Beach, a traditionally workers' neighbourhood turned into a nice area. The sunset there was really nice.

LA had palm trees all around, that was so nice!

And after that, it took around 2.5 hours to get back to Pasadena! Next day I visited JPL and met Peter Siegel (my future advisor). That was on Monday. On Tuesday at 8am, I flew back to Amsterdam, where I arrived on Wednesday... quite a tight schedule!!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Los Angeles (I)

I was 4 full days in Southern California: from Friday to Monday. On Friday, I visited many professors at Caltech and went for dinner with some students. On Saturday, I decided to go visit the city on my own.

When I woke up in the morning on Saturday, I took a metro towards Los Angeles Downtown and got off at Union Station, Los Angeles main train station. Just outside, I found "El Pueblo de los Angeles", the original settlement from which the city was built. It looks very much like Mexican yet.

Then, I went to the financial area, with a lot of skyscraper. In this picture, the funny building is the Walt Disney theater.

My walk in LA downtown finished in Little Tokyo. It was just a square and a couple streets, but it was funny to find that in the middle of the city!

From there, I got on the metro again to go to Hollywood boulevard. From there, I could see the Hollywood sign in the nearby mountains.

And the place where Oscars are awarded, the Kodak Theater.

And of course, the boulevard with the stars on the ground. I found some famous "stars", but I did not know most of the people! There are several thousand stars!

After buying some punk/ska records, I went back to Pasadena. Pasadena turned up to be a nice city with a lively main street. And the most beautiful thing there was the City Hall.

That night, I went to have dinner to Yoshinoya (Havard, you heard it right! There is Yoshinoya in the States!) and went to bed. Next day, I was going to the beach to Santa Monica.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Modern Art in the Streets of Prague

As promised, these are some photos of nice modern art pieces you can find just walking around the streets of Prague. Most of the statues have been built by David Cerny, a famous radical czech sculptor.

The first statue I wanna show to you is "The Piss" by Cerny. It is two guys pissing on a pool with the shape of the Czech republic... and the guys are moving so with the piss they write famous sentences in literature... and if you send an sms to them, they will say whatever you wrote in the sms... It is located at the entrance of Kafka's museum.

The second one is the Monument to the Victims of Communism. It represents a human being being destroyed little by little.

For the third one, also by Cerny, I had to sneek into a back alley and check the back courtyard of the German embassy. It is suppossed to be a homage to victims of nazism.

And this is the only cubist lamp post in the world.

This one is Cerny's again and it is mocking the famous Wenceslas statue located in the nearby square. Wenceslas is here sitting on a dead horse upside-down...

And this is Franz Kafka's monument:

And finally, the "hang-out" statue. Imagine you are walking along narrow streets turning all the time and suddenly you look upwards and see this... I can tell you you would surely laugh. By the way, it is Cerny's again.

To all these, you can add the babies crawling up the TV tower I posted yesterday and the Dancing Building. Quite a lot of modern art stuff you can see for free in this nice city!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today this blog becomes 1 year old! In the last year I have tried to tell you what I have been doing: work, trips, hobbies, culture... I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. For the moment, I still feel like keeping on writing, so let's see if it can turn two years old next April!!

In this year, I have written 192 posts and I have received more than 8200 visits, which is more than what I expected!

The only complaint I have is you readers do not comment much!! If there were more comments, it could be more interesting and participative ;-)


Prague (I) Geolocalized

I had some time this evening... and i decided to play around with Google maps and paint brush and show you how much I walked the first day I was in Prague...

This is it! I put the itinerary in two chunks so it is not tiny! The numbers in the pictures correspond to the photos in the previous post. Like that you can know where each place is.

Prague (...and II)

Let us continue with Prague!

The next day, I wanted to focus on the New and Old Town (Nove Mesto and Stare Mesto). The previous night, I had been partying with my dorm mates in Stare Mesto and it looked quite promising. We had passed by the main square and this is what it looked like at night.

In the morning, I decided to move to Wenceslas Square. This square is huge, but does not look too nice. The main attraction is Wencelas Statue at one end of the square, together with the museum behind it.

After that, I checked out one of Cerny's most famous statues (tomorrow i will show it to you) and went to see the City Hall, which turned out to be a beautiful Art Nouveau building.

From there, I followed an itinerary in which Kafka's life and places where he lived were indicated. That brought me to the main square I showed to you in the first photo. And to the astronomical clock! One of the main tourist sights in town. Every hour, the 12 apostles come out of the clock and the death rings a bell, and some trumpets are blown... it takes around 1 minutes for all this to happen and actually, it is not as cool as it may sound...

After that, I went to see some synagogues and the Jewish Cemetery. I could see the inside without paying from a back window in a nearby museum. Actually, the view was just fine and I could have a glimpse of it just for free!

After that, I felt really tired and came back for some rest at the hostel after lunch. In the afternoon, with the Bruneian guy in my bedroom, Nazim, I moved well into town to visit two other places. The first one, a modern church which was proposed to be UNESCO World Heritage in 2007. Finally, it was not approved. It is called "Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord" and looks like this:

Next to it, Zizkov Tower stood high in the sky, with some babies trying to go upwards along it! This was the n-th crazy sculpture I found in Prague. Quite a nice city for that!!

And back downtown to have dinner and sleep... I was taking a flight back to the Netherlands at 6.30 next morning!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Prague (I)

Last week, I was describing my trips to Central/Eastern Europe when I had to leave to LA out of a sudden... Now it is time to come back to that topic! This time, after Vienna and Budapest, it is the turn for Prague, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. This visit was two weekends ago.

I went just for the weekend and alone. I wanted to see as much of the city as possible and that meant I had to go at my own pace (meaning walking all the city like crazy, until I can't walk any more... hehe). As usual, people did not like my conditions and I decided to go alone. I booked a bed in a hostel downtown and there went I.

I arrived at night and went directly to bed. Next day, I woke up early and went directly to the most famous of Prague sights: Prague's Castle. On my way there, I crossed Charles bridge, the most beautiful bridge in town, with ornated statues on both sides of the walking way.

Once in the castle's neighbourhood, I passed by several churches and nice buildings (I do not want to bore you with one thousand photos... so I won't post any...). Finally, I got into the castle and there, the cathedral was the most interesting place. Have a look at the most gorgeous part of it:

After visiting the castle, I came back next to the river and followed a Lonely Planet walking tour to see the gardens in that part of the city. Like that I went into the Czech Parliament (amazing gardens...) and visited Kampa Island. A cool place I also passed by was Lenon's wall, where communist disidents drew and wrote antisystem murals and freedom cries. Nowadays, it looks just like a cool graffitti.

In the afternoon, I climbed the hill next to the castle. I thought the views would be amazing up there, but there were so many trees that it was impossible to see the city clearly. So, I visited a monastery up there and some night churches like this one:

and came back to the other side of the river.

I wanted to go to Vysehrad, which is Prague's second castle. To arrive there, I had to walk for around 50 minutes... shit, I was exhausted by the time I arrived there... :P

At least, I could sit back and chill out a bit once there! It was quite nice, but not as much as the real Prague's castle.

Before dusk, I came back to the hostel. Prague has a lot of modern art spread in its streets, here and there... Some day (maybe during the weekend) I will talk about modern art in Prague and Cavid Cerny's sculptures. For the moment, check this building out. It is called the Dancing Building and was next to my hostel.

I relaxed and tried to recover some energy lying in the hostel afterwards. I planned to go for dinner and sleep early so I could visit the rest of the city next day. However, I met some nice Indonesian (well, also a Mexican and a Bruneian) guys and girls and went for dinner and party with them! It was a great evening and we had a lot of fun! Perfect time to enjoy 12% Czech "pivo"... These are my Indonesian friends:

Meeting these guys was very nice and one of the good points of sleeping in a dorm!