Friday, June 10, 2011

Finished Video!!!!

Exciting news! Nate and Joris have finished editing the video they were filming while we were in Formentera and have posted it online. If you've looked at my pictures and wondered what the lizards look like in motion, here it is! I still can't get over how professional this movie is from the filming to the editing (and even music choice!); this is a quality video. Enough talk! Click here!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bull Fight

It is bull fighting season in Madrid. It only occurs for a couple weeks each year and spring is the season. I had apprehensions about going, because they do not only fight the bull, they slaughter it for sport. My love of animals made me nervous about being upset, uncomfortable, or disgusted, but over the last couple of months I have learned to enjoy things simply for the cultural experience. It's not always pleasant or easy to be away from home, eat weird foods, or walk around places(volcanoes, cities, lava fields, islands) for a long time, but it is often worth it just to get a different perspective on life. With this attitude, we headed off to the bull fight at Las Ventas.
Plaza de Toros
From the outside, this place is magnificent. As you come out of the metro, the area opens up into a swarm of people and vendors underneath a Colosseum-type structure. Of course, the Spanish flag flies high in the sky.
Inside is just as beautiful(minus the view of the pole). Most of the people appeared to be regulars, but there was also a share of tourists looking confused like us.
Las Ventas
The whole sport of bullfighting is surprisingly confusing. After all, it is a sport which involves skill and style, not just slaughtering. I was surprised that it took a couple rounds of bulls for us to figure out what was going on. Intuition plus influence from the noise of the crowd gave us a pretty good idea of how things work. This is how I understand it(may be completely wrong):
There are several guys in the ring. The matador is the main guy, but he has many assistants to help him out. When they first release the bull, all the men have large pink capes. The matador is the first one to start tiring the bull out by making it charge his cape repeatedly. Whenever the matador gets tired or has the bull make several repeated passes that are close to his body (the closer, the better), one of his helpers steps in and tires the bull for a little while.
The matador lost his cape...oh no!
When the trumpets sound, the next round starts and two armored horses are ridden into the ring. They have blinders on and a man with a sharp lance riding them. The bull is encouraged to charge the horses and the man jabs the back of the bulls neck with the lance. Another trumpet will sound and the horses will leave the ring.
...but he got it back
Next up is the banderillas. Banderillas are sticks with sharp ends that the helpers try to stick in the back of the bulls neck. The whole point of the stabbing is to weaken the bulls muscles in order to have it's head hang lower for the rest of the fight. There are 3 rounds of banderillas (6 total sticks) that stay in the neck for the rest of the fight(unless they fall out). To get the banderilas into the neck, the bull has to charge one of the helpers and at the last second, the man moves to the side and turns to the side of the bull and sticks them in. Sometimes they can only get one of the two in and the crowd is not happy.

Matador in the last stage with the red cape
The last stage is when the matador is alone in the ring with the bull and really puts on a show in order to gain points. He trades in the pink cape for a smaller red one and a weapon. Sometimes he will hold the cape behind him, do repeated passes, or even slap the bull as it runs by him. When the bull is extremely tired, the matador will draw his sword and have the bull charge at him. The matador then inserts the sword into the back of the neck, through the bulls body, often hitting his spinal cord, heart, and lungs. This is the most difficult and most crucial part of the bullfight. A correctly placed sword will kill the bull and the animal will only take a few more steps before falling to its knees and then its side. An incorrectly placed sword will make the bull gush from the mouth with blood. Sometimes, they aren't able to insert the sword all the way and it falls out. The first matador we saw that evening was not a good one and the bull bled from the mouth for a few minutes until they were able to approach it and then stab it in the back of the neck(spinal cord) with a smaller dagger, killing it instantly. To get to this point though, the matador has to get very close meaning the bull has to bleed for a while and become weak. The crowd HATES this. The entire stadium will be silent or make gasping sounds. When the bull dies, there is no clapping, but everyone stands up in honor of the bull.
There are 3 matadors per evening and they each fight 2 bulls. The first matador did a bad job with both of his bulls, especially the second one where he failed to insert the sword several times. That was a brutal and extended death. The second matador had an amazing first performance. All of the banderillas went in and stayed in the entire time, the matador did awesome tricks and put on a show, and the sword was entirely inserted on the first try and the bull immediately died. His second performance was just decent. The third matador had decent performances both times, but really put on a show for the last bull that the crowd loved. He was named the winner of the evening and given a sparkly jacket.
Visible banderillas
Overall, it was not as brutal as I thought it was going to be and with each bull I focused more on the sport and less on the injury of the bull. That sounds bad, doesn't it? Either way, it was a fun cultural experience and I'm glad that I gave it a chance. Not many people get to experience a bull fight and I feel fortunate that I got to watch.

Las Ventas at sunset

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

We Like Cathedrals, Castles, Forts, and Palaces

The past two days have been filled with explorations of two cities near Spain. On Monday we visited Toledo, which used to be the capital of Spain until it was moved to Madrid in 1561. It was about an hour away by bus. The city is surrounded by a decent sized wall and is surrounded by rural plains. Inside the city walls are several beautiful cathedrals and a giant defensive fort.
There are many scenic vistas around town that give views of the modern city or the fields and hillsides.
We visited the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo. From the majority of the outside, it doesn't look like much, but inside is beautiful. I haven't been to many cathedrals, but this one was by far my favorite. Inside(where pictures are not allowed) there were several chapels with beautiful altars and ceilings. There was also an incredible amount of stained glass, even on the high windows several stories up. Not bad for a cathedral finished in the 15th century.
We spent the afternoon walking around and looking in shops that sell pottery and swords (yes, real ones). We found many gorgeous overlooks including this one of the bridge:
Our last stop for the day was a smaller cathedral that claimed to have the best views and panoramas of the city. Inside the church was nice also, even though it didn't have as gaudy as an altar as the previous cathedral(which I think is better, how are you supposed to pay attention to the sermon with gold cherubs everywhere?).
The view from the top of the bell towers was definitely worth the 2 euros and title of best panoramas. From there you could get excellent views of both the cathedral and the defensive fort(which to our disappointment is closed on Mondays).

Tuesday was marked by a trip to Segovia, a town an hour south of Madrid by train. Instead of going around or over the mountains that seperate the two cities, the train cuts a tunnel right through the mountain. It also reached a speed of 232 km/hr! The main attraction(well, one of them) is the 1st century Roman Aqueduct. The construction of this piece is so amazing. After all this time it is still standing without any cement or mortar holding it together.

Segovia, like Toledo, had a beautiful cathedral. The Santa Iglesia Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y de San Frutos was slightly smaller than the Catedral Primada Santa María, but I personally thought it was better because pictures were allowed inside. It was built from the period of 1525 to 1768 after the previous was destroyed in 1521.

This organ was made in the 18th century by Chavarria organmakers.
The next highlight was the Alcazar de Segovia. It is a 12th century castle and apparently Sleeping Beauty's castle was based off of it's design. We paid to go on a walk through on the first floor and it had beautiful carpets, tapestries, ceilings, and furniture.
This is Queen Isabella when she was proclaimed Queen of Castile in the Main Square of Segovia.

The ceiling of this room shows all of the monarchs of Asturias, Castile, and Leon.

We also took the extra tower tour and got to climb to a lookout and see the top of the castle and the surrounding city.

It was a little cloudy and cold, but it didn't stop us from going on a nature hike down a pathway by the river and around the city.
It was a long hike to the top of a cliff, but the view of the fairytale castle was worth it...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday Funday

Sunday was a day full of museums. I personally am not a huge fan of art museums, but I can tolerate them for small periods of time, especially when it is modern art. We planned it out so we hit the free entrance times of the museums. First up was the Reina Sofia. It had some weird and beautiful temporary exhibits,
but also really interesting collection pieces by Picasso including the giant Guernica (of which pictures are not allowed) and this...
some by Dalí...
We stopped by the Madrid Puerta de Atocha, the Atocha Train Station, as recommended by our tour guide the previous day to see the turtles. More importantly, I  bought 2 scarves.
Terrapins at Atocha Station
Next was the Museo del Prado. It had the kind of art that I am not good at appreciating. Pictures were not allowed inside, but you can check out the website if you want to get a feel for it.
Museo del Prado
We had some time to kill and the weather was beautiful so we went back to Parque Retiro. So many families were out on this Sunday afternoon spending time together. There were lots of street performers singing, dancing, and juggling.
Parque Retiro
That evening we went to Chocolatería San Ginés. The only thing they sell is chocolate con churros, which is the most delicious combination of food ever! The chocolate is supposed to be hot chocolate that you can drink, but it is so thick and rich that you could easily make yourself sick.

Yum Yum Yum
Ryan was complaining that no pictures of him made it into the blog recently. So here it is...

Just 1 Minute Walk Away Behind You. How could you resist?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Exploring the Solar System...Oh, and Madrid

Our second day in Madrid started out with a guided city tour provided by our hostel...for free! There were only 5 of us and we had a really great guide. She showed us the major highlights of the city and the stories behind it without giving boring information. I am slowly getting my bearings and learning to find the way from one plaza to another without looking at the map.
This is Plaza Mayor. Originally it was made of wood and housed bakeries, but it burned down a total of 3 times and was finally reconstructed with stone.
Plaza Mayor
This is the old wall that used to surround Madrid. Once it became the capital and started expanding, the wall was either torn down in places or turned into buildings. On the left the architecture is pretty plain, but later architecture (on the right side of the street) is more ornate.
We also saw Restaurante Botin, which is the oldest restaurant in the world. I'm not exactly sure how one would go about determining that, but they have a certificate, so it must be true. 

Restaurante Botin certificate

The Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena was only recently finished. It was under construction from 1879 until 1993. Apparently a lot of people are not very happy with the construction because many architects were cycled through and there is no one style of architecture. I have to say this is true and it is not a very impressive building.
This is the Royal Palace. The royalty don't actually live there, but there is a museum and a garden that are open to the public.
This statue of Philip IV is located in the Plaza de Oriente.
Isabella II became the first queen of Spain in 1833. Previously, women had married the kings, but she inherited the throne by succession. Supposedly she was a pretty crazy lady and accused her husband of affairs so she could have her own.
At the corner of Calle Gran Via and Calle de Alcala is a large gold dome adorned with an angel and the word "metropolis". It rests high above a major intersection and is the place two of the main streets come together.

Overall, I am impressed with the beauty of Madrid. All of the buildings are nice to look at and there are so many plazas, outdoor cafes, and parks. It seems like people enjoy being outside here so much more than other cities I have been to. There are so many museums and with that comes a lot of TOURISTS! I am so surprised at how much English I can hear just walking down the street. The majority of shop and restaurants also speak English. I'm kind of disappointed in the people of Spain. I heard that they were so friendly and helpful, but every experience I have has been the opposite. Oh well, traveling here is still a lot of fun and yesterday afternoon I found the most amazing place in the world: The National Geographic Store and Cafe! We spent a while there looking through the photo books, movies, clothes, and magazines. The have a huge TV room with movies playing, pillows all over the floor, and books lying around. I educated myself about our solar system....did you know that it has 11 planets? Whoa...