Thursday, August 28, 2008

Madrid 08-09-08

I think I actually got some of these photos a bit confused. On the first day we went to the Reina Sofia, which is where the photo with the tall thing (below this set) was taken. That was neat, but there's only so much modern art I can handle, so I was glad we didn't stay more than an hour or two. Across from the Reina Sofia is Madrid's central station, within which there's a greenhouse full of tropical plants! We had a Spanish break with two cokes (actually Cokes) and a water between the three of us. The last photo is the entrance to the subway. Oddly enough they kind of look the same everywhere...

The NEXT day, which is when this set is supposed to be from, we started off at the Prado, where the second two photos were taken. We had elevensies in the museum cafe, consisting of pastries and coffee. Yum!

After the Prado we walked across the street (I think) to a botanical garden with no flowers. I suppose that's what you get for looking for flowers in Madrid in August. Andy took photos of the few roses that weren't super wilted. I don't know who the statue is...

I'm fairly certain we must have gone to a dozen plazas while in Madrid, so I'm sure there were a few of those in between, but we "ended" the day with a tour of the royal palace. Apparently the king doesn't care for palaces, so he has a smaller (though I'm sure huge) residence elsewhere. The palace is only used for formal functions, but is ummm well, it's a palace, so mostly it's just overdone, but there are some pretty things in it...

Across from the palace you'll see Almudena Cathedral. This church was originally commissioned by one of the kings in the 19th century to house the body of his dearly beloved wife who died too soon to bear a child and so failed to meet the requirements for burial in the royal tomb as queen (I guess only queen mothers, not queen consorts get in). He seemed to have run into some financial difficulties as the cathedral wasn't finished until a few years ago - just in time for the prince to get married in it.

The story on the current king is actually pretty interesting too. Franco was the dictator who overthrew the Spanish monarchy (you know that, right?). Sometime in the '50s or maybe '60s or maybe, I think, it was even later (go check Wikipedia!), something more like the '70s or '80s, he made the former king's grandson heir to the dictatorship*. When he umm took office, he said, "Hey guys, I think that democracy thing is kind of cool, let's try that." So now Spain has a democratic monarchy. Or maybe it's a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. Anyways, he decided not to be a dictator, and now he's king anyways, and lives in a nice house and has a great income, and probably doesn't make any major decisions. The prince is a diplomat and there are two princesses, but I don't know what they do. The Spaniards like their king. I don't. He looked at me funny**.

*I checked everything in this paragraph in Wikipedia for accuracy, but deliberately refrained from checking this one, well, from correcting this one, because that's the way I am. =)

**I didn't actually see him, so this isn't true, but it sounds like a fun story!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Madrid's Plaza Mayor, etc. 08-08-08

Before leaving for Spain, Andy and I heard a story from one of the other graduate students at the university he's working at concerning lost luggage and KLM Airlines. Apparently he's lost luggage with that airline at least two out of three times he's flown with them. Unfortunately, we had already booked our flights with KLM. Yes, they "lost" our luggage. Actually, we arrived at the airport, waited longer than necessary for the luggage to arrive, watched for our luggage, then saw that the belt wasn't bringing out any new baggage. Half the flight was still standing around, so we hoped they would bring more out. And they did. So, we waited much longer than necessary for our luggage to arrive (reminded us of Midway in Chicago), only to find that we were among several passengers left at the belt when the luggage well again went dry. One of KLM's representatives had arrived on the scene at that point and was answering questions, so we approached to inquire about our own luggage. She informed us that they had over 100 pieces of luggage, so that the plane was unbalanced and they were therefore unable to load everyone's luggage. There would be another plane at 3:30 from Amsterdam, and two more after that, perhaps it would be loaded on one of those. !!! UNBALANCED? So after standing around for at least an hour waiting for our luggage, KLM finally decided it should tell us, but only because we asked, that THEY had decided not to rearrange the luggage and left ours behind!!! Why they couldn't have posted a sign or made an announcement is beyond me. Not only were we not able to bring a carry-on sized piece of luggage on the plane, they couldn't fit it in the cargo hold! Now that we knew our luggage wasn't coming, we proceeded to stand in line for another hour with the other customers whose luggage wasn't loaded in order to inform KLM of what they already knew - that our luggage wasn't on the plane. !!! Two hours after our arrival, and at least a euro or two in text messages with our host Borja (who was waiting for us all this time), and we finally left, hungry and grumpy. KLM is a Dutch airline.

Having finally escaped the airport, we hit the ground running. Borja intended to show us all of Madrid in two and a half days, and it was time to begin! We started by taking a taxi to his aunt and uncle's lovely house where we dropped off our bags and soon took a bus "downtown" so that we could make our way to the Plaza Mayor, which you see below. The entire plaza is surrounded by a single building, which is now principally shops on the lower level and apartments on the upper levels. The main section, seen in the second photo was once the town hall, which was recently moved (more on that later). The plaza was beautiful, even if in need of some repair (as a historical site, trying to get permission for painting your shutters is probably both expensive and ridiculous). We enjoyed a few tapas - the tortilla espanola that I had been craving (sort of a potato and onion omelet, but with far fewer eggs than you're thinking, so that's it's mostly potato), chorizo (tasty Spanish sausage) and lightly fried potatos. We finished the meal off with *drumroll* coffee! Based on my observations from this trip, I think the Madriano (people from Madrid) blood is 10% water (it's hot and dry!), 20% chorizo cholesterol, 30% coffee and %40 Rioja mixed with soda (red wine from the Rioja region of Spain). It was great. Why oh why couldn't we have gone to Spain?!

Anyways, the same lamppost with Borja showing off his conversation piece - an Obama pin (some Europeans really hate the fact that they don't get to vote in our elections) - and us.

We walked down to another plaza type place where there was a statue of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda*. I'm not sure why I wanted Andy to take the picture... I think, though I'm not certain, that the lamppost bench thing was in the same area. It might have been in a long pretty section of grass and trees and benches that we walked through instead, though.

I promised above to tell you about Madrid's decision to move town hall. They decided an important governing body such as the city government needed a more elegant and illustrious building - they picked the building formerly occupied by the post office. Yes. The post office. This postal edifice, however, was not your usual drab affair, oh no, it was nothing other than that building portrayed in the middle photo below. Pretty swanky for a post office. You can also note that Congress and the Senate (which actually doesn't do anything apparently) have much, much prettier buildings. Or something.

*That is, of course, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. ;)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

And when do the bells toll?

A strange phenomenon here is that the bells in the belfries don't toll on the hour. It is now 12:15 and the bells are ringing*. They did NOT begin to ring at noon. Furthermore, I have noticed them ringing at other times of the day on other days, but I have no idea at what time or on what days. It's not every hour, and it's not every Thursday at 12:15, so what the heck is the pattern? And what the heck are they ringin' for?

*The bell rang for 10 minutes. Why 10 whole stinkin' minutes???

Britain Museum II 07-14-08

Doesn't he just LOOK like a Greek god of something?

Also, this photo is dreadful - I shake so bad that after three shots while avoiding the people walking back and forth, I gave up, and this was the best we got. This is also the reason any and all photos of knitting work will probably be somewhat blurry. Maybe I should spend the next 6 months learning muscle control like ballerinas have. I'll just stand here on one leg with my arms outstretched for a while...
Anyways... These are the honest to goodness last photos from our London trip! Just in time for photos from Spain!

At any rate, these are some of the artifacts the British stole from Greece. The Greeks want them back, but the British say no way. Of course, they do. What else would they do? Does anybody expect the Americans to give their stolen goods back either? No.

Anyhow, here's a bunch of Greek stuff... Have fun.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I Have Learned to Knit!

I've been wanting to learn how to knit for a while now (maybe a year or more) but haven't had the time that I wanted to devote to it. Since we've been in the Netherlands, I've had more time on my hands than I really know what to do with, so after giving it a month to stew, we went into Den Haag (the Hague) to pick up some yarn and needles. 30 euros later, I was the proud owner of 2 size 7 (4.5mm) plastic knitting needles, two balls (skeins) of light blue cotton yarn and four balls of light light cream cotton yarn.

I had in mind a very nice little cloth with Texas in the center of it since that's about as close to knitting a heart as I'll go. After starting over about 4 times, I was finally doing really well and things were looking good until Andy came over and wanted to see how things got done. At some point after that I realized I was off and would either have to start over or give up. I gave up, and this is what I got India (or Africa, depending on which side is facing up).

At that point, I was pretty tired of that pattern and decided I wanted to just make a little checked cloth and made up a pattern on my own. When I got lost in the middle of that, I decided I didn't really want to do that anyways, so I started looking for simple patterns using size 7 needles and came up with an "Awareness Ribbon Soap Sack" that seemed useless and useful all at the same time. I didn't realize it when I picked it, but the pattern requires decreases and yarn overs, but they weren't significantly harder than either the knits or purls. You can sort of make out the knitted ribbon in the middle of it, but overall it looks more like a baby shoe than anything.

*If I had wanted to make a baby shoe soap sack, I would have made the baby shoe soap sack that I found a pattern for earlier, but which I cannot now find to link to. *sigh* If you actually read the pattern, you'll notice that I was supposed to use a knitting hook that I don't have to tie everything up. I improvised by "knitting" some yarn through the edges to hold things together, and with any luck the soap won't fall out while we're using it!

So that's what I've been doing for the last 4 days. Very exciting, I know. I have discovered many many items I want to knit, but I'll have to wait for bigger needles and different yarn. Until then, I'll probably make another soap sack or some other equally useless item as well as dish cloths/towels out of these two patterns: Mistake Rib Dishcloth (I'm supposed to use bigger yarn, but oh well) and Sand Stitch Towel and Cloth (not in those awful colors).

I also wanted to toot some horns (not mine) for websites that were helpful. I mostly figured out how to cast on and make the knit stitch from Learn to Knit and the knitting page. The "turning the stitch" found on the site was especially helpful in figuring out how to get the stupid yarn to stay on the stupid stick while I was pulling it through the other stupid yarn. 0=) Worldknit had especially helpful images for the purl stitch. Finally, when k2tog in the soap sack pattern, the site's abbreviations page was also helpful.

*Yes, I have a nasty/lovely habit of arbitrarily breaking up paragraphs just to make them short. No, I don't intend to change that for blog writing. =)

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I'll be back when Texas is done.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Little Dutch Dog

Check out more funny dog photos/captions at Loldogs.