Camino de Santiago

Follow Becky Cottrell as she hikes across Spain (may-june 2006)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Jewish Museum in Prage

The Jewish museum in Prague is made up of several synagogues and the
cemetary. Most of the syagogues are now museums about jewish life and
history in Prague. One of the most touching exhibits was about the
Prague Jews that were killed in world war two. When Hitler first
invaded, he had them confined first to the old Jewish quarter, which
was too small for all of them, and then had them sent to a holding
camp outside of the city before they were sent to concentration camps.
One of the things that the museum houses is several rooms that have
walls covered with names of people who died in the camps.

The other touching exhibit was about the children. The Jews went to
great lengths to help the children who were suffering because of the
war. One of the things they did was to find very educated Jews to
teach them, including art classes. They had photos of the children
and pictures that they had drawn of their life in the camps. The
saddest one was of a picture before the camps of a group of children
dancing or playing in a forest. Then they had scribbled it out with a
black pencil. It was so sad. They had a lot of pictures of children
who were travelling back to Prague, and then it told us which of those
children died in the concentration camps, and never made it back to
Prague. I almost cried in that exhibit.

Prague is AMAZING!!!

Today is my last of three days in Prague before taking the night train
to Budapest. I love Prague! I'm not sure what it is about the city
that I like so much, but it is really cool. It feels like the kind of
place where people really might have been driven around in carriages.
It doesn't surprise you, like Florence does, at every turn, but it has
an understated feeling to it's beauty. The churches are magnificent,
but not so guady and over the top as the churches in Spain. There are
lots of tourists, but they are so spread out that it doesn't really
feel hugely touristy.

I saw the Jewish quarter on Wednesday, and wandered in the graveyard
which has many layers of graves, because they kept running out of
space, but they kept moving the tombstones up to the new layer, so it
is packed with tombstones. I also saw the synagogue where the Golum
is supposed to still be in the attic. They don't let you see the
Golum, so you never know how true this actually is.

Yesterday I went to see the Charles Bridge, and the St Nicholas church
(yes, this is the Jolly Old Saint Nick that we are so fond of. There
are Christmas shops all over Prague.) and the Prague Castle. The
castle is a very livable castle, and it was the official residence of
the royal family up until the early 1900's when communism took over.
The best part was the story of the prague castle where they had models
of it from all through the ages, and had exhibits about clothings
styles and the people who ruled from here during each time period.
They also had little side stories about burials, and saints, and
banquets, etc. It was a pretty cool part of the museum.

The weather has been perfect- just a bit overcast and cool enough for
a sweater, but no rain or really bad weather. The youth hostal is
sketchy, and is decorated in Lime Green, Navy Blue, and Orange (mom,
please promise not to paint the extention in those colors). Our room
looks out onto the intersection of two busy streets, so it is noisy at
night, but after three nights, it just sounds like noise. I think I'd
be used to it if I needed to stay longer. Breakfast is the best I've
had at a HI hostal- breads and pastries, with meats and cheeses, and
about 7 different things to spread on your bread (spreadable cheese,
jams, honey, butter, nutella). In general, though, it is clean, and I
can't complain too much. plus, the slow speed internet that won't
even load google in standard view is free. Life is pretty good.

Today I'm headed to Budapest on the night train, then in Budapest for
2 nights, then back to Spain for a couple of days and then home. I'm
not ready to leave europe yet, but I'm looking forward to not living
out of a suitcase, and not having to share a room with anyone other
than my family.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Well, I sold out.  I went to Egypt on a tour with a group of Spaniards, and I really liked it!  I´ve never travelled with a tour before, but it was quite nice not to have to deal with things.  I will mimic my dear sister and give you a list of things that I did in Egypt:
I visited the temples of Karnak, Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Philae
I went on a nile river cruise, and swam in the nile
I have a henna tattoo on my hand
I saw the pyramids and the Sphinx, and the valley of the kings, including Thutmose´s tomb that was robbed in Mara
I drank mango juice from some roadside stands (selected by our guide who knew they used bottled water)
and went shopping in lots of markets
And saw the alabaster mosque
and a place where supposedly the holy family stayed in Egypt (except that the place they stayed wasn´t constructed until 500 years after they left) and the place where moses was taken from the river (it is now a synagoge, and there is no river)
I attended an Egyptian folk dance performance
and layed down in the sarcophogus inside the medium pyramid
And didn´t get sick, at all
and only a few bug bites
Our group caused huge problems on the plane because no one was sitting in their assigned seats, so there wasn´t room for us to sit together, as we had been assigned.  So others in the group complained and everyone on the plane had to get up and move.  It was kind of funny, really.
My best bargaining experience was on the cruise.  When the boats are waiting to go through the locks on the nile these little row boat come up to you and shout at you, then throw things up in plastic bags for you to see, and if you don´t like them, you throw them back.  You shout back and forth to determine, sizes, colors, prices, etc. and then throw the money down to them (put in a bag with an unwanted product do it doesn´t sink).  I bought a tunic for about 5 dollars, but mostly it was worth the money just for the experiece, which was a really fun hour of bargaining and throwing things!
In short, it was a good time, I saw a lot, and made a lot of friends.  Now I´m off to Prague and Budapest before heading home. 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The end of Spain

Well, friends.  This is the end.  I´m leaving Spain on Sunday to go to Egypt, then to Prague and Budapest before heading home.  I will keep you posted as to my travel adventures, although my tour company assures me that there will be no adventures in Egypt- that is why I´m going with a tour.  I´d rather keep adventures to a minimum when I don´t speak the language.  It has been raining constantly here in Coruña making it difficult to do laundry (which I need to do before I leave) and making all of my shoes wet. 

I´ve also been eating all of my favorite Spanish foods since I won´t get the chance again, and have been enjoying Jamon serrano, my favorite yogurt, pizza, Spanish tortilla, raxo (a typical galician dish of garlic fried pork), cheese, and these pudding like things that I don´t know what they are called.  I´m also having churros and chocolate with some friends, pancakes (spanish style), spanish cheesecake, fish and shellfish, etc, etc.  I´ll miss the food here.  I´m not really looking forward to American food this time around. 

I also largely think in Spanglish.  It will make things harder when I return to the US, because sometimes, really, there just isn´t an adequate word for things in English.  I´m not really looking forward to speaking English again, either.

Culturally, I will miss a lot of things from spain.  I will miss the funny square tiled sidewalks, and the tiny cars.  I will miss walking down the street and seeing tons of people I know.  I will miss the daily grocery store runs, and the closeness of the shops.  I will miss hanging out clothes on a clothesline (I never thought I´d grow to like it, but I do) but not the inconvenience of having to wait days for my clothes to dry.  I will miss the ocean, and the city, and the mentality here.  I´m not looking forward to the culture shock I´m sure I will experience. 

What will I be happy about when I go home?  I´m excited to see my family and friends.  and to see the progress on the house extention.  I´m excited about the inherant convenience of things in America, and will consume gleefully with my fellow americans when I return.  I´m looking forward to having American efficiency back- I think sometimes Spaniards make things difficult just because they think it is funny, or just because they can.  For whatever reason, life will be easier that way in the US.  I will be glad to have long hot showers, and not have to fill up a gas tank with natural gas whenever it runs out, and to have central heating and cooling systems that actually work.  In some ways, I´m ready to go back, but a part of me wants to stay here forever. 

More from other countries later!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A day of museums

In February, Gina and I found out that the three science museums in Coruña (including the really expensive acquarium) were going to be free on May 10th for the Coruña science day, so we put it on our calendar, and have been waiting anxiously for the event for months.  In honor of the occaision, Gina arranged to have the day off of work, and we invited Sylvia and Eduardo (two other friends from the branch) to go with us.   Thus, there were 4 adults and three children: Piero, who is 11, Aihnoa, who is 5 and a half, and Ruth who is about 20 months old.  We set off on foot to the first museum which is in the middle of a park, and was also the center of the day´s activities.  They had booths set up by about 100 schools in the area with all things to do with science.  Most of them were hands on, and you could do things like eat cookies frozen in dry ice, and play computer games on the really, really old Apple computers.  We managed to get tickets to the planetarium show, which was surprisingly interesting in Spanish.  i thought I´d have more trouble understanding, astronomy not being one of my big vocabulary strengths.  Did you know that visible to the naked eye are approximately 3000 stars in this hemisphere?

Afterwards, we continued on to a chinese restaurant that Gina wanted us to try.  I´m not sure why everyone thinks that I have never eaten Chinese food, but they do.  I don´t have the heart to tell them otherwise.  Chinese food in Spain is not eaten with rice.  Everyone looked at me strangely when I ordered some.  It is eaten with a substance called "chinese bread"  I didn´t try it, but given that the "chinese salad" was just salad, I wouldn´t be surprised if the bread was just bread.  Everything in Spain is eaten with bread.  Even Chinese food, apparently.  The food was actually much better than I would have thought, especially given that Gina believed that I knew nothing about chinese food and was therefore incapable of ordering for myself, so she just ordered for me.  Sometimes it isn´t worth having your own choice of food- it was important to her to share her favorites with me.

Moving on, we started to walk to the next museum, but we were dressed for Spring and all of a sudden it got windy and rainy.  After a quick determination that from that point in the city it would cost more to take the bus than a taxi, we took a taxi to the acquarium.  As we arrived, Eduardo realized that he had left his cell phone in the taxi, and went running off to get it.  The rest of us wandered in the acquarium, which was really cool, and Ruth, the littlest of the children was fascinated by the tanks full of huge fish.  We also go to see them feed the seals.  I took over taking pictures so there are some that actually turned out well (Gina has no concept of how to take photos, and insists on using her cell phone, even when she has a camera with her)  fortunately, I had my camera.  Maybe some day I´ll figure out how to post them.

Finally Eduardo came back with his cell phone, and we all moved on to the the third, and final museum of the day.  This is the Domus, or the mankind museum.  It was more or less as I described in a previous post, only with more people.  They did have a new exhibit where you put on a band that measures your brain waves and you compete with someone to move a ball.  You get more power for alpha waves, which are bigger if you are relaxed, and more power for theta waves which are bigger if you are concentrating, so you have to be focused, but not stressed out.  I won.  Ha.  Then we got kicked out of the museum because it closed.

Our last stop for the day was gina´s house, where we had pancakes.  I have made a mental note not to let her mix them.  She likes to stir forever with the electric hand mixer, and they turn out very rubbery.  I think that this comes from her belief that they should be mixed in the blender.  At least we´ve moved beyond that point...  We like them best with nutella and strawberries. 

It was a lovely day, but lots of science for one event!

Lest anyone should misunderstand...

I don´t hate Barcelona.  I was telling my fellow English Language Assistant here about my experiences there and he laughed and said "well, now you can join the club of one that hates Barcelona."  I don´t hate it.  I had some bad experiences there, like long lines and some disasters and two guys walking around naked in the Guell Park (which was lovely by the way, minus the naked guys, which kind of ruined it there at the end) but I didn´t hate it.  In fact, I would probably rank Barcelona as a 7.6 on a scale of 10.  The trouble was that I kept hearing how great, how wonderful, how interesting, how beautiful, etc. Barcelona was.  And it was nice, it just wasn´t all that amazing.  Definately not the best city in Spain, as many people have tried to tell me.  Santiago is prettier, Sevilla is more interesting, the metro in Madrid is much better, and the lines everywhere else are shorter.  Not to mention costing much less.  I would agree that Barcelona is the most expensive city in Spain.  So it wasn´t that Barcelona wasn´t a great place, it just wasn´t as great as everyone had led me to believe.  I´m sure that there at least half a dozen other people who share that opinion and can join my club...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In Which Becky does not go to Cuba

Yes, that title is relevant to the story I am about to tell.  My last day in Barcelona was disasterous.  Barcelona in general wasn´t that great of an experience.  Between the excessive number of people and the fact that my hotel room was right next to the 24 hour reception desk, therefore I was constantly woken up by people ringing the doorbell to get in, it wasn´t the most amazing trip.  There were a few things that I really loved, like the park Guell, and the history museum, but everything else was just sort of so-so. 
Now for my last day.  I packed up in time to have 2.5 hours to go to see the Sagrada Familia before I had to leave for the airport, and had to make a quick stop at the ATM in order to get some money.  Strangely, the ATM said that I didn´t have enough money in my account for the withdrawl, when I knew I had a lot more than that amount available, so I went inside to ask about it.  The teller was very nice, and then indicated that there was a block on my account.  They were holding the amount I needed to pay for my plane tickets because I´d purchased them online.  I understand this concept, but the frustrating part was that they had already charged me for that amount (as in, they had withdrawn the money for those tickets already) and there was still a hold.  After making her call my bank three times and crying in the bank office, and 1hour later, I finally got my money, and got to go see the sagrada familia.  Between the trip there and back, and the line to wait in to get there, I spent 25 min inside.  It was very impressive, and I´m glad that I got to visit, but it was sad to have so little time.
Next, I got to the airport without any problems.  I checked in with the self check in machine and started walking to my gate.  Strangely, however, my flight didn´t appear on the screens that list the flights, but I kept walking anyway.  As I got closer, I looked again, and it still wasn´t there, so I looked based on my flight number.  It listed my flight as going to Havana.  Strange, but OK.  I figured that there was a mistake, and I would just get to the gate and all would be well.  I kept walking.  My gate was the last one of all of the modules in the airport.  To get there, you have to pass passport control.  I do not travel with my passport for Spain trips.  I have a national ID card that works great.  After talking for awhile with the passport guy, I convinced him that he should let me pass since I wasn´t going to Havana, I was going to Madrid. 
At this point I was highly apprehensive.  My flight was indeed going to Havana.  I checked with the Iberia people, who chewed me out for not having my passport (even though this wasn´t my fault.  People kept looking at me like I was stupid and saying things like "when you go on an international flight, you need your passport."  No one seemed to understand why I didn´t believe I was on an international flight) and decided to let me on the plane.  The announcements were all "welcome aboard this flight to Havana" and I´m thinking, I hope that I don´t leave the country, even though I would really like to visit Havana again, but I didn´t have any money (due to the block on my account) and so I wouldn´t be able to enjoy it. 
Finally, the flight leaves.  we arrived an hour later in Madrid.  Everyone got off the plane.  (why was this flight listed as international, again?) and I had to go through passport control again, once again having to explain why I was on an international flight without a passport.  The passport police guy was nice (and very attractive) and from coruña so he let me through, after advising me to always take my passport when I purchase international flight tickets.  But I checked on a map when I got to Madrid, and Barcelona appears to be part of the same country... I´m still perplexed about this.
The sad part is that if I had had my passport, I could have gotten two more stamps, but then I wouldn´t have this great story to tell.
I´m now in Madrid at the temple, having a great time.  I went on the smallest session ever this morning (4 people, one of them was a worker that they enlisted to go on the session because they need at least 4 to hold the session) I head back to coruña tomorrow afternoon.  Let´s hope that Coruña and Madrid are still the same country...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

So, Barcelona?

I´m not sure if I like Barcelona.  This is largely due to the enormously huge crowds of people EVERYWHERE!  This is a holiday weekend, so there are tons of people.  Things should thin out today and tomorrow, and Monday should be much better.  I´m saving the Sagrada Familia for then, because I know it will be crowded. 

In the last two days I have:

Eaten churros and chocolate (not as good as bonilla´s chocolate, but the churros were amazing!)

Gone to the History of Catalunya museum.  It was fantastic!  My new favorite museum.  It has a great balance between good information and displays and interactive exhibits.  They have one where you get to try on a helmet and armor, and another where you get to use a rope/pulley combination to lift up all of the weapons and gear a soldier would have had to carry.  Another display lets you grind wheat with various kinds of flour mills from different times in history.  It was great!  There was lots of good information, too :)

Visited the cathedral, which was 1. free, 2. crowded, and 3. disappointing.  This would be mostly due to number 2.  There were just too many people to actually get to see anything, and it was under construction, so you couldn´t even see the outside very well.

Gone to the Guell Palace.  It was moderately interesting, given that it is under reconstruction, and you can only see the basement, which was the servent´s quarters and the stables, thus, not particularly thrilling.  They did have a video going of the rest of the house, and it was free since you couldn´t visit more than a few things.  Despite having to wait in a long line, it wasn´t crowded, as they controlled the number of people who could visit.

Eaten chocolate at the chocolate museum.  The chocolate museum was kind of a dud.  They had lots of chocolate sculptures, but many of them looked like comics, and some of the exhibit was taken over (randomly) by an exhibit about the soccer team in Barcelona.  Wierd.  The chocolate sampling was also highly limited.

Climbed up the Montjuic.  It was pretty cool.  I enjoyed lunch and an hour or so of reading in the park at the top with amazing views of the city, and just watched the tourists for awhile.  There were a surprising number wearing really high heels to walk around the city in.  The mountain really isn´t by Colorado standards, but it was a nice walk, and a lovely view.  The weather has been perfect the last few days so even the climb didn´t feel too hot.

Wandered around the city.  Because of visiting things today that are a bit further away from the center of the city, I´ve enjoyed fewer people, and have gotten a more positive taste of the city.  My hotel is centrally located, but generally quiet from the noise of the street (my room´s window looks out into a courtyard, so no street noise) however, it is RIGHT next to the reception, as in, you walk out the door of my room and run into the receptionist.  This is sometimes a problem when people are talking to the receptionist, which happens all night because you have to get buzzed into the main front door, and pick up your room key at reception.  Fortunately, after the first night, my brain tuned it all out, and I slept soundly yesterday.

Tomorrow is church, and I´ll wander some of the Gaudi parks and other walks in the city.  Monday is the Sagrada Familia, the casa mila and the end of Barcelona!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Barcelona, day 1

So I´ve arrived in Barcelona.  I´m staying at a little hotel just off of las ramblas, and it is a crowded weekend!  It is a national holiday with a puente (bridge day) because the holiday is Thursday, so everyone takes Friday off as well.  Today is just a wander around and get acquainted day, and so I walked up and down las ramblas.  It seems much like Pearl Street in Boulder, only much larger and longer, and without the ecclectic shops.  There are also far more street entertainers.  My favorite was this guy with a really cook frog marianette playing the piano.  The fingers were actually jointed, and it looked real!  He did an excellent job.  It also reminds me of somewhere else I have been- perhaps Havana?  I´m not recalling, but I have definately been somewhere that looks just like las ramblas before, only with fewer people.  I´m not sure why it was so fun just to go wander around, but it was. 

I also broke my no american fast food rule today.  I normally don´t eat anything that I can find in the United States like chain restaurant places, but there was a KFC, and I have been craving fried chicken for weeks.  Normally, attempting to satisfy these cravings turns out poorly but today I enjoyed every greasy bite.  yum.  The funny thing is that I don´t really like fried chicken, even when I´m at home.  It was a strange thing to be craving, but it worked out well.

More tomorrow when I go do something else!