Friday, September 24, 2010

belgium post numero uno

ok...another detour post.  In order to find another excuse to avoid having to fully get my blog up to date, I decided to go to Belgium this weekend.  Oh yeah...and I guess I also wanted to see my college baseball teammate Ethan and all the sites Flanders could offer me.  Ethan's playing professional baseball in Belgium until early October, at which point he will pack up and head to Perth, Australia to play in a winter pro league there.  Not a bad deal if you ask me.  You should definitely check out his blog ( since he has infinitely more interesting things to say than me. 

Back to Belgium by way of Spain: so even though Madrid is host to some of the rowdiest, latest nightlife in the world, for some lovely reason the metro stops running at 1:30am and doesn't open up again till 6.  This was REALLY convenient for me, since my flight was scheduled to leave at 6:30am.  I live just about as far southwest of the Madrid airport as you can possibly be while still living in the city, and a 50-ish euro taxi was not gonna cut it.  So what did I do?  I took the drunk bus.  Err...I mean the night bus.  Called "Buhos" (spanish for "Owls"), these special night buses run from 1:30am until 6, when the metro opens again.  Since I didn't get home from dinner until around midnight (thanks libby and kelsey!  that lomo was BALLIN) and still had to pack, I ended up taking a one hour nap instead of going to sleep.  I then caught the 3:45 buho, which after one transfer eventually got me to the airport.  Free sure beats 50 euros!  After tons of fun waiting in endless lines for my Ryanair flight, I finally boarded the plane...only to be informed that due to a strike by French air traffic controllers, we couldn't leave for at least an hour and a half.  woohoo transportation strikes.  didn't bother me too much though...merely some more time for shut-eye, right? 

After touching down in Belgica, I struggled through ordering a ham and cheese croissant in French, then waited in another lovely line for the hour long shuttle to Brussels.  Even though two of my roommates in Madrid our French, I still haven't a clue about that language.  Funnily enough, my final roommate moved in today, and she happened to be from Belgium.  Quite the coincidence...perhaps it's some sort of conspiracy.  Anyway, after leaving the bus station, I wandered around the nearby Islamic neighborhoods, scouting out plenty of clutch-looking Kebab places along the way.  Islamic-European and/or Mediterranean-Magrebi relations have always really interested me (Germany vs. Turkey or Spain vs. Mauritania, anyone?).  There are numerous parallels to the immigration issues about which people scream unintelligently at each other in the States.  I won't get into any of the particulars now so as not to set off a firestorm, but have you all noticed any other parallels or sharp contrasts between European social issues and those in the US of A?  I'd love to hear them.

Anyway, after that I made my way to the Grand Place (Plaza Mayor) of Brussels, which was truly a sight to behold.  I have pictures to put up I promise!  Essentially, the Plaza contained a truly breathtaking mix of Baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture, complete with gi-normous statues that appeared to be solid gold (I couldn't exactly climb up to have a look-see).  I made a point to "hitchhike" onto a tour being given in Spanish in the plaza just to feel like a cool Spaniard again.  After those shenanigans and a bunch of picture taking, I walked over to the Flanders tourist office to use their wifi and write this post while I waited for Ethan.  Since he'll be here in 15 minutes or so, I should probably go, but until next time: BEER, WAFFLES AND CHOCOLATE!!! i museums and culture, mom and dad!  hasta luego

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the first running nerd post

So...I´m going to take a break from my elaborate outline in favor of more recent events (the best laid plans, am i right?).  I thought I could wrap that stuff up when I actually had my camera with me.  Since I´m sitting camera-less in the teacher´s lounge of my high school right now, you´re just straight out of luck I´m afraid. 

Now where was I?  Oh yeah, I hadn´t told you fine readers anything interesting yet.  I´ll start off with the running club.  Last night I participated in a training session with Laister running club.  I went with a friend from the Fulbright program who had gone the other day and liked the group.  I really didn´t know what to expect...but it definitely wasn´t 15x200meter repeats following by a fartlek with 5 fast sessions of 30 seconds.  Hmm.  Against all odds and even against my stomach´s protests (since we ran at 7:15 pm), I had an AWESOME time.  The group was small since they don´t usually run on Wednesdays, but they were all SUPER nice.  In addition to us two Amurrrricans, there was a Master´s Student from Uruguay, a spanish physical trainer or physical therapist (i wasn´t paying enough attention and my spanish vocab isn´t that great) and two Spanish hombres in their mid-40s, both named José, one of whom was a flight attendant.  It was a motley crew, but we had a blast.  It felt so great to have some direction and purpose to my running.  Up to this point, I feel like I was still feeling out the territory; my runs had consisted of riding the metro to a random park, getting lost in said park, and riding the metro back home, all nice and sweaty.  I´ve only run 5 or 6 times here, and while the majority of those runs have been nice, with interesting scenery and the like, they´ve felt pretty haphazard.  Though in Spain an attitude of "go with the flow" is compulsory, I like having some structure and routine to my running.  That´s not to say that I want to be some rigid hardcore run-every-day type of hombre, but it´s nice to have some regularity.  My first few weeks in Madrid have been very structure-less and a bit all over the place, so it was great to participate in a scheduled activity, even if it was 200 meter repeats. 

After the tons-o-fun speedwork session, those wily Spaniards suckered my friend and I into going out for a post-workout beer, their treat (since we didn´t have any money with us...NICE).  Unbeknownst to us, this bar-run involved a 40 minute walk to another district so we could check out a cycling shop and go to Jose Miguel´s favorite bar, Bar Urogallo.  Gallo means rooster, but I have no idea what an Urogallo is...Jose was trying to explain that it was a different type of rooster, but I didn´t really get it.  Oh well.  Along with our huge glasses of mediocre Spanish beer, we received a complementary plate of Paella to share, which was absolutely AMAZING, especially after a hard run.  For those who haven´t tried should.  It´s an amazing saffron-infused seafood and rice dish originating from Valencia, and in a nutshell, it is BOMB.  After talking to Jose 1, Jose 2, Sofia (the physical trainer or physical therapist), and my fulbright buddy for a long while (long enough to arrive 2 hours late to tapas with other fulbrighters later that night), we said adios.  Of course, getting home was half the fun.  Jose Miguel tried to explain how to get back to Argüelles, our hood, but his directions involved "oh yeah, you just walk up through those parks right there and you´ll eventually get there."  Since it was night, those parks proved much more difficult and sketchy to navigate.  Luckily, we ran into Jose Miguel again, and he showed us where to cross the train tracks to get to the final hill.  Finally on the "right side of the tracks" (sorry I couldn´t help myself), we rushed home, super late, a little tipsy, and hella hungry.  After a 5 minute shower and super quick tuna sandwich, I met my friend at the metro and we busted it to tapas with our fulbright amigos.  I´ll describe our tapas tradition in a bit; for now, I better go, since I have class soon.  Hasta luego!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

dios mio

Man, CRAAAAZY week.  Four runs down and I haven't even rambled on about any of them...something must be up.  Sorry for the lack of updates.  Madrid is slightly different from Granada in that everything seems to move a mile a minute; the super-chill "no pasa nada" approach doesn't always work here.  Anyway, so as not to bore you fine folk, I thought I'd start with an outline so you could pick and choose to your heart's delight:

1. Arrival/Orientation/Crazy Spanish hazing rituals

2. Fulbright's swanky send-off affair, complete with caviar and famous people

3. All the crap we had to get done and the hilarities/stresses that ensued, including but not limited to: bank acct, housing, metro pass, id card...etc
-awkward initial housing fun
-new amazing housing fun
-super fun scuffle outside of the bank when some dude wanted money

4. Visiting the Instituto Educativo Juan Gris, my workplace until July
-uber long cercanias ride
-everyone really excited to see us
-first day: introductions, wild kids, bull testicles

5. Withdrawal symptoms associated with not running for nearly a week...and a plan to feed the addiction
-description of runs
-casa de campo: aka HEAVEN
-possible running club, excitement for 10k next weekend
-reflections on running and how much better i feel when i do it

I promise I'll get to all this eventually!  Here goes, without further ado:

1. After an impressively cramped flight across the pond (thanks American, didn't know 767s could fit that many people that uncomfortably!), I shuffled off the plane in a daze, looking forward to jet lag and trying to understand Spanish again.  Luckily, I didn't feel too bad, and the weather was a far cry from Oklahoma summer heat.  My big challenge that day was navigating the metro to the Colegio Mayor (basically, a Spanish frathouse) where we were set to have our orientation.  This proved to be manageable, even with a white-knuckled death grip on my suitcases and my head on a swivel to deter would-be thieves.

Orientation itself passed like a blur, since we were thrown right in to countless lectures with themes ranging from history of the Fulbright program to how to open a bank account.  The most useful information we learned for sure was during the Q&A session with Fulbrighters from last year, who helped assuage our fears of never finding housing, living in a cardboard box, hitchhiking 4 hours to work, etc.  The thing I didn't like about orientation was the lack of opportunity to really get to know my fellow grantees.  In a nutshell it was 3 days of lectures, then see ya later!  It was great to meet everybody but I really wish there had been 1 or 2 more days of just hanging out, or even an orientation retreat or something.  Oh well, as a whole it was very informative, and the Director, Maria Jesus, is the funniest lady you'll ever meet.  Plus Paula, one of the coordinators, is the most helpful person on the face of the earth.  Thanks everyone!

Before moving on to the send-off soiree, I should mention 2 things: colegio hazing and the google MyMaps project.  The Colegio Mayor Mendel, like any American frathouse, had some sort of pledge program in which the new kids were subject to...well, basically whatever devious bidding their elders had in mind.  This resulted in some weird and sometimes downright hilarious tasks, such as forcing hapless freshmen to stand up in the cafeteria and recite grace in English, perform guard duty at night in the Colegio by walking around on watch with a toy halloweent battleaxe, or suggestively ask girls on our program for "english lessons" in a very sketchy manner.  It got really annoying after awhile, but that may be due to my die-hard GDI nature.

As for the google mymaps project, we heard a presentation from a post-doc fulbrighter, Barren Orr, about his research on the intersection between language and place.  In addition to being extremely interesting, it also seemed quite applicable to our work as teaching assistants.  Basically, he advocated having virtual cultural exchange by means of tours, specifically tours of one's home university and/or town.  You can do this by using the MyMaps feature of google maps, which lets you create custom routes around your town, university, favorite landmark, whatever.  Where this fits in with language learning is with the descriptions.  In MyMaps, you can add pins that function as landmarks on your "tour."  Each pin has space for descriptions, which of course Professor Orr suggested students write in the target language.  In an example, American university students mapped their university with descriptions in Japanese, which they then shared with virtual pen-pals at the University of Tokyo, who corrected any grammar/vocab problems and then offerred their own tour, in English, of some of Tokyo's sites.  Essentially, Professor Orr argued that these mapping projects could become whole essays, while at the same time offering real opportunities for cultural exchange, experience, and reflection.  I was very excited by the prospects of this technique, and my co-TA and I immediately began brainstorming ideas to use at our school, IES Juan Gris in Mostoles.  Since my mom teaches 7th grade, roughly the grade/age of my students, I thought there could be some pretty exciting possibilities for virtual exchange.  Predictably though, the idea I became most excited about involved mapping my running routes throughout Europe.  This way, I could turn my blogging/journaling about running into a full-blown map tour of running in Europe!  Assuming I would have enough foresight to bring a camera, I could document interesting sights along the way.  I'm sure this sounds like the ultimate indulgence of a running nerd, but I thought it could be a pretty cool side project during my work experience abroad.  And, since I've found a running club here that meets 3 times a week, I should be able to expand at least a cool map of Madrid routes!  So far Casa de Campo has been heaven on earth...more on that later.  For now, I should conclude this mammoth post.  Hope all is well wherever you are!  I promise once I get reliable internet I'll update this more regularly.  Until then, happy trails! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Oh hi there

Howdy there neighbors!

Well, I'm well into my final week in the US, Madrid-bound on Saturday.  Just returned from a fabulous week in Minneapolis with the lady friend (thanks Jen!) and the Minny-homies.  Minneapolis really isn't that bad...for the few months of the year it isn't covered in snow at least.  Just kidding!  Wuv you Minnesota <3  Anyway, this week is shaping up to be a crazy one.  Took the GRE on tuesday morning, then went straight to work with the old man (  After work and a delicious meal at India Palace, I was pretty beat.  I'm starting to wonder how the heck I'm going to muster the true grit necessary to pack my life in a bag by Friday night...

I guess I should take a moment to explain this blog.  So...I'm going to be an English Teaching Assistant in Madrid with the Fulbright program.  Besides updating the bros and bras on my exploits in Espana, I want to use this forum to somehow try to explain my fascination with running and running culture.  My goal is this: besides training to run the Barcelona marathon in late March (yikes), I want to run at least 5 miles in every city I visit.  Maybe I should revise that to 8km to truly attain cultural immersion nirvana...

Whatever the eventual distance turns out to be, I want to see how running in Spain and around Europe compares to running in the States.  I know from my stay in Granada that it's quite a bit different, but training and racing across the pond will hopefully give me a more in-depth look at the Spanish scene.  At this point, I'm planning to race a 10k in Madrid at the end of September, but we'll see if I'm in any kind of shape after a couple weeks of vino, jamon, and tortilla de patata.  yum.  Well I should probably get back to work, but I'll try to keep this thing reasonably updated.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll find a way to make it not boring!  Bringing a camera on my runs, perhaps?  We'll see.  Until next time!