Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Final Chapter of Frank's European Adventure

After 5 months, it was hard leaving Europe and my friends but part of me was ready to come back home. And there were subtle signs that my family was ready for me to come home as well. Just a couple weeks ago, my little niece was talking with her dad (my brother) and she said,” Dad, do you remember Frank? You know… the guy who lived downstairs.” When you go from Uncle Frank to the guy downstairs, it’s time to get back.

We experienced a little turbulence on the plane, but all in all, my flight back wasn’t too bad. I think it was 9 hours to Philadelphia and 2 hours to Nashville, a piece of cake. In the airport, it was odd to hear people speaking English. I was used to hearing different accents and got in a habit of trying to determine where people were from. In the airport, I kept telling myself, “They are American, they are American.” It took a while to break the habit.

It feels good being home but when I look back, it was an absolutely incredible ride. It’s hard to put in words. I owe some many people, (more than I can list here) so much. For some, I don’t know if I can possibly repay them for everything they’ve done for me. But I hope that they will give me the opportunity to return the favor some day and visit the big US of A and maybe, just maybe, my old Kentucky home. It’s really nothing like you see in the movies. I promise.

I’m Ron Burgundy. You stay classy, San Diego.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Germany - Sven & Johannes

(Me & Sven, having a dark German beer.)

(Johannes, he's holding a beer but I'm not sure what he has in his other hand.)

With just about a week and a half left, I flew to see my friends, Johannes (from the Camino de Santiago) in Lubeck, Germany and then to Berlin to meet my friend, Sven. It was really good seeing them both. I had a great time. We sampled some Germany beers, the Christmas markets, hot wine (that's right, hot wine) and some bratwursts. Not bad at all.

This is me standing on both sides of the former Berlin Wall. I’m trying to replicate a picture that I took 5 years ago only to find out that I wasn’t standing in the same place. Either way, it’s still cool photo.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Gent, Belgium - Nele

Home sweet European home! After Berlin, I took an overnight 13 hour bus ride to Brussels and then a 1 hour train ride to Gent. (I think I set beside a girl who worshipped the devil but I can’t be certain.) Anyway, I stayed with my good friend, Nele. She’s all grown up now: married, running a successful clothing store and raising her beautiful daughter, Charlotte.

On a side, it was very interesting to see the language differences for children. I was very used to hearing different languages but to hear a mother tell her child, “Bravo”, “Pardon”, even Peek-a-boo is not Peek-a-boo. And animals sounds are different as well. I think they say a cow says “Boo”, not “Moo.” Just things you wouldn’t think about it.

Speaking of not thinking... Nele lives in Aalst, just outside of Gent. One morning, while she was at work, I borrowed their bike and rode into Gent to see the old stomping grounds. Well, I bundled up with 3 layers of shirts but I didn’t even think about my socks. I threw on a thin pair of running socks, slipped on my practically all mesh running shoes and set out on my 1 ½ hour bike ride in sub 30 degree weather. The first 20 minutes were fine, no problem. But after 30 minutes of riding through the brisk wind, my feet felt like they were going to fall off. Imagine the scene on Dumb & Dumber when they are riding to Vail on their motor scooter. When I got to Gent, I ran into the first modestly priced restaurant and ordered something just to warm my feet. (And, of course, I followed it up with a nice Belgian beer. I deserved it.)

I had a great time and I owe Nele & her husband, Dirk, many thanks for putting up with me for a couple of days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Barcelona, Spain

I almost didn’t go to Barcelona. But everytime I asked someone what they thought of the city, the first thing they would do is grin and then proceed to tell me how much they loved it. I didn’t understand how one place could be that great, but you just have to see it for yourself.

(The park in Barcelona.)

You have beautiful tropical weather, incredible architecture throughout the city including some of Gaudi’s masterpieces, beautiful parks and as if this wasn’t enough, you are on right on the beach, literally. Take all this and add it to the nightlife of Spain and you have a city like no other. A nightlife where they don't start going out until midnight or later and don't get home to 5 or 6:00am or later. (It’s no wonder they need to take a nap in the afternoon because they are partying most of the night.)

(Taking a Boyscout shot.)

If you are going out in Barcelona, I would recommend you stop off at a bar called “Chupiteria” which means “Shot Bar.” Guess what they specialized in. You got it. Shots! The menu consisted of about 400 different shots including one named “Kentucky.” I usually don’t take shots because I don’t find hard liquor necessarily “tasty” but what could I do? I’m in Spain, 4000 miles away from home and they named a shot after my good old Kentucky home. In case you’re wondering, it’s a real creative shot. One shot of whiskey and one shot of beer, that’s all. It made for a good picture anyway. But there was another shot that I thought was worthy of a try if nothing else, for a good story. They call this shot, “A Boyscout.” Essentially, they pour a shot (not sure what kind of liquor), set it on fire and give you a skewer and a miniature marshmallow (see the picture above.) You then roast the marshmallow over the shot’s flame, blow out the fire, dip the marshmallow in the shot, eat it and take the shot. I thought it was pretty creative and it turned out to be pretty tasty too.

(Casa Batlló)

This is just one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces called Casa Batlló. Of all the architecture I’ve seen in Europe, his work is by far, my favorite. He was a creative and playful architect; using curved lines, bright colors and shapes/images you would see in nature (the balconies above remind you of fish heads.) One of his most famed projects, which is still in progress today (Gaudi has passed away but they continue with his designs) is “La Sagrada Familia.” Take a Gothic cathedral and mix it with Disneyland and a touch of Gaudi’s own personal touch and you have it. It’s something you just have to see to believe.

If you get a chance or if you are anywhere near Spain, get yourself to Barcelona. It’s pricey like all major cities but its well worth it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Granada, Spain

(The city of Granada, the cathedral is in the center.)

I love to travel but I also wanted to continue studying Spanish so I went to Granada, Spain for 3 weeks to get a little of both. Granada is only 1 hour away from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and 1.5 hours from the beach. In spring, they say you can go skiing in the morning and can be lying on the beach in the afternoon. I skipped the beach and opted just to go skiing, twice!!! We went on the opening day. In the afternoon, it was so warm you could almost ski without a jacket. (I was wondering why it never got cloudy until I looked out and saw that we were above the clouds...) But most importantly, I didn't go flying into the woods, head first like I did in Vail, Colorado last year. I have to thank my English instructor, Jo, for that. Thanks Jo!

Like Salamanca, Granada is a beautiful city with a plethora of history, architecture and night life. (I love Kebabs!) But if you go to Granada, you have to see the Alhambra. It’s a huge Arabic castle (actually, a series of palaces and gardens; it takes about 3 hours just to walk through it all) filled with beautiful gardens, fountains, art & architecture. Check out some of the photos.

Our class went to a restaurant one morning for hot chocolate and churros. And notice I didn't say chocolate milk; I'm talking about a bar of hot chocolate melted down and poured into a cup. Thick enough to lay your spoon on without it sinking. Not that is hot chocolate!

(My Spanish class sitting down for a typical Spanish breakfast.)

¡Viva España!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Lengua de Cerdo - Salamanca, Spain

(Lengua de cerdo)

After the Camino, I was anxious to start studying Spanish again. I enrolled in Colegio Delibes, an intensive immersion program in Salamanca and signed up to stay with a host family with full board (three meals a day included.) Spaniards eats a lot of pork and seafood. And nothing goes to waste; they eat it all: ears, face, feet, etc. My host mom had prepared pork chops for me several times before so it should have been a clue that something suspicious was going on when she asked me if I wanted to try "this pork." Another student from Germany was also staying with the host family and she had decided not to eat the "pork." I asked her why she didn't want the pork today because I had seen her eat pork before. She said that she didn't like pork in sauce. (Another, "wait, this isn't right" moment.) In reality, she had already spoken to my host mom and decided not to eat this "pork."

Well, the truth finally came out after and only after I cleaned my plate. As I'm chewing the last bite, my host mom asked me if I liked the pork. I said I did and asked her if she had any more. It really was good and I really could have eaten more. Then she asked me if I knew which part of the pig the meat was from. My mind started to race and to be honest, I was expecting a lot worse, (mountain oysters for example) when she uttered the word, "lengua." "Lengua de cerdo" is pig's tongue. Not exactly what I had thought but like I said, it was good. I had seconds.

While in Europe, I tried a lot of interesting food. Horsemeat in Holland, goat cheeses in France, and pig tongue, a part of the pig face, and a dish that looked like a black rice cake made of rice that has been soaked in pig's blood and barbequed. Mmm!

(Salamanca at night.)

Here is the city of Salamanca at night (from the bridge where you can see the cathedral). It is an incredibly beautiful city with so much medieval architecture: the cobblestone roads, 2 cathedrals, the main plaza, gardens and the University of Salamanca (one of the oldest universities in Europe.) And a lot of wild university students. Students didn't even go out until 1:00am and didn't finish until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. One club didn't even get started until 5:00am. Quite an experience...

I just loved this sign. I saw on a local shop door while walking down one of the main shopping streets. It reads "Cerrado por vacaciones hasta el dia 19 de noviembre. Disculpen las molestais." Essentially, "Closed for vacation until November 19th, sorry about the inconvenience." And I took this picture on November 4th! It's great! We are going on vacation for a couple weeks, see you later. It's a great to live. It's a different mentality from the commercial world we are used to here in the States. A majority of shops in Spain are locally owned and run in Spain. The owners open the shop in the morning and they close it at night. Except for "siesta" where they close from about 3:00pm to 5:00 or 6:00pm for lunch, they are there all day. Most of the shops are also closed all day on Sunday to give the owners at least one day of rest. It can be an "inconvenience" when we are used to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week but you have to give it to them. Viva la Espana!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Holland (one last time) - And my modeling career.

(Me, after the Camino de Santiago)

Too funny! I went back to Groningen, Holland one last time. (I couldn´t get enough.) I had an incredible time as I did the month prior. And I had a lot of great moments but one in particular sticks out. And due to the artwork and raw unrestrained genius of my brother (Rights reserved, thanks Den!) I feel compelled to share it with you.

As you can see from the picture, I´ve trimmed up a little bit on the Camino de Santiago. And as I was walking through a clothing store (exploring the European fashion), someone approached me and asked if I had done any modeling before. I said that I hadn´t and he asked me if I would be interested. I didn´t say a word, just gave an expression of curiousity/contemplation and he said, "Come with me."

To cut a long story short, William is a very talented artist (nothing commercial) and he asked me to model for 2 hours or so. After some debate over a cup of tea, I finally agreed and we met the next day. Regardless of what you might think, it can be quite challenging.

Try doing this and really try it, "Smile, tense your stomach and arm muscles, turn your face slightly to the left, stand up straight, keep your arms to your side, don´t clench your fists, hold this for 1 or 2 minutes and now turn your head more to the right, look confident and after all of this, looked relaxed." Relaxed! How can someone possible look relaxed after all of that? That´s tough stuff for 2 hours.

And you have a wide range of "looks" or facial expressions. Look mad or angry, confident and my personal favorite, "sexy." I just laughed because I had no idea what a "sexy" look was. (but now I do so watch out.) I haven´t seen the pictures yet but it should be interesting.

Do this though. Get to a mirror right now and show yourself your "sexy" look. No, better yet, take a picture of it and send it to me. No, just look at a billboard or a magazine and everyone will have this look. It just seems funny at first but its very normal.

I joke, but William was very talented. He knew how to get the right lighting, the background, and even had me try on different clothes. We were walking down the street in Groningen and he just saw something he liked. We stopped right there and started taking pictures in the street as people passed by.

But the proof for me was when I had him take one picture of me with my digital camera. Just one. I was really surprised. Of all the pictures I´ve taken in my life, I think about 2 or 3 have been decent ("Good" would be a stretch). But the single photo he took in 5 seconds, seemingly without effort, I could imagine seeing it hanging on the wall at JCPenney´s. (at least Wal-mart) I couldn´t believe it. He was very good.

It was a great experience. Thanks William!