Tuesday, March 28

Think Twice

The last couple of weeks have been more or less uneventful.

About the only thing that I've done is to take a trip to Madrid.

I only spent a few days there, but it was still a great way to collect myself, and to get a different perspective of Spain. Madrid is a great city. Perhaps most importantly of all, I learned that many of the things that annoy me here in Alicante are not found in the rest of the country.

For instance, mullets are definitely an Alicante thing.

As well, Alicante is extremely noisy. Motor scooters are very trendy, even if they're so old that they barely chug their way down the street. And if they're new, it's trendy to modify them to make as much racket as possible. Apparently some people think that they look good wobbling down the street on these, mullet flapping in the breeze as they go. They need everyone to notice them as they sputter on by. When one of these broken down pieces of crap drives by you, it's impossible to hear yourself think, let alone what the person next to you is saying. These sort of people aren't nearly so common in Madrid [and hopefully not in the rest of the country either].

Madrid's culture is vibrant, it's architecture beautiful, and it's tourist attractions interesting to boot. The Prado museum [the Spanish equivalent of the Louvre or Vatican] had a fantastic collection of works by Raphael, as well as a few by another of my favorite Renaissance artists, Luini. Although nowhere near the scale of Louvre, it was still too much for one day. In the end, I only saw about two thirds of it. To be able to get the most out of the visit, it's nice to spend at least a few minutes on each interesting piece. After the 200th or so, it starts to become so much effort that it's hard to enjoy them.

Although I was aware that the trains going back to Alicante on Sunday night were sold out [I'd tried to book one last Tuesday, but all of the tickets were sold out even then], I had assumed that the buses wouldn't be a problem. After all, most intelligent companies run a second bus if the first one is full.

Of course, the company servicing the route that I needed didn't operate this way. And it was of course sold out. The girl at the ticket window told me that they are always sold out on Sundays. This struck me as a bit strange. It seems rather clear that if you're sold out every week, you might just need to run more buses. But making this connection was completely beyond her.

Also, Marc-Olivier, my Quebecker roommate, moved out. He had a bit of a falling out with the landlady. I didn't understand exactly what happened. Something about massive tension due to his having taken three strawberries more than he was allowed one morning. Plus he took too many showers. It was very strange. But now she's being extra nice to me. I suspect that she's afraid of losing me as well.
But as long as she's treating me in a civil manner, I might as well stay quiet.


There have been a few stories in the news that are interesting [well, to me, anyway]. My two cents...

ITEM: The French are holding massive demonstrations, often turning into riots, to protest a change to the labor law concerning those under 26 years of age.

It seems that the French are being, well, French. As in, like what people expect of the people in France. This is the thing that I disliked most about France. It's a shame, really, because otherwise I would like to have stayed there much longer than I did. They're crippling the country over an issue that's really not worth the attention. It's true that the new law will reduce job security, but this may be the only way to kick start their economy. The unions are far too powerful, the result being that a person who cleans the train station makes twice as much as an associate professor with a PhD in one of their leading universities. Plus he only works 35 hours per week and gets six weeks paid vacation. Something has to give.

Another annoying part of this is that most of the people in the demonstration aren't even there for the cause. These sort of things are considered very hip by the French, and most people are just there to 'make the scene'. The media doesn't help matters, as even the most credible papers romanticize the hell out of it. The titles loosely translate to 'The Struggle of the People' or 'The Fight for Justice'.

ITEM: The pro-Russians win the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, reversing the momentum behind the pro-western 'Orange Revolution' two years ago.

The press has treated this as the death of pro-western sentiment in Ukraine. Apparently they can't add up two digit numbers. The problem is that Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, the co-leaders of said revolution, had a nasty falling out last year. This time around, Timoshenko ran in her own newly created party, thus dividing the vote from the pro-western supporters. If you add up their combined take, they did even better than last time. Unfortunately, the pro-Russians, led once again by Victor Yanukovych [why is his name so bloody similar to Yushchenko?] were much more united, and hence picked up a larger percentage of the seats. Although I'm sure that this is oversimplifying the results, why hasn't the media recognized this obvious factor?

ITEM: Belarussian president Aleksandr Lukashenko holds a fraudulent election, and brutally suppresses demonstrators that protest the result [although compared to old Soviet tactics, this is just a slap on the wrist].

It seems that Lukashenko is a complete retard [there's that word again...]. Belarussians would probably reelect him even in a fair election, although with a somewhat narrow margin. The majority of people in Belarus are all very much pro-Russian, as most of them can trace their ancestry back directly to Russia. And Lukashenko keeps the country very close to the motherland. The pro-Western opposition is this country is squarely in the minority. Apparently Lukashenko is insecure [putting it mildly], unsatisfied with any results that are less than 80%. Or maybe he just likes drama.

Monday, March 13


It's been brought to my attention, albeit in an inoffensive way [Hi, David {Clark}] that most of the entries I've done lately have been a bit negative.

It's really not how I meant it to sound at all. In fact, I've been having the time of my life ever since I started travelling, almost two years ago. After all, if I wasn't enjoying myself, I wouldn't have kept going for so long.

Looking back, the main reason that most of the stories I've told here are on a lower note is that the good times don't make for stories that are as interesting. For instance, for the last couple of weeks my afternoons here in Spain were mostly spent on the beach.

Still, I'm going to use this entry as a recap of some of the good times that I've had in the last several months.

One of the first things to come to mind is the Balkans. Perhaps it was the contrast of how war torn the countries were, and yet how hospitable the people are. Staying with Berengere [From France, but she's teaching French in Bosnia] for nearly a week in Banja Luka, before travelling with her to Sarajevo was one of the nicest parts of the trip. The problem is that I'd have a hard time explaining why. Even though she was working in the day [she works at the French cultural center], we would usually meet for lunch, and then go to a bar with some of her friends in the evening, as well as others that I met through the Couchsurfing service, such as Ivana and Alex.

The hospitality that I was shown by Zlatan in Beograd was second to none. I mentioned this before, but I wasn't alone at any point for the whole time I was there. For five days straight, one person would drop me off with another of their friends when they had to go to school or work, who would then continue showing me around. Novi Sad was much the same way, where I stayed with Slobodan. We also hung out with Dragana, [another] Ivana, and Sonja. Then there was Ivan in Podgoriza, and Tim in Prestina, both of whom showed me the best parts of the their cities, places that I never would have known about on my own.

While in Sofia, I stayed with a girl named Milena, who also showed me a great time. We spent most nights sitting around discussing everything from American politics to cat psychology. Plus, Ivo, a friend from Montreal, gave me the phone number of his cousin Rali. She and another cousin, Dodo, showed me a great time, giving me a tour of Sofia and some of the surrounding areas as well.

While in Moldova, staying with Irena was wonderful in more ways than one. For starters, she showed me some great areas of Chisinau, the capital. But most importantly, she gave me advice on how to stay out of trouble, as the country can be very dangerous for tourists.

While in Istanbul, Aylin gave me a very nice tour as well. She was very nice, and helped to make me feel more relaxed in an absolutely massive city. It's by far the most hectic place that I've seen. At the same time, the culture was the most diverse that I've ever seen.

I should also mention Mirta in Zagreb, Luba in Bratislava, Mirechka in L'viv, and, well, I could go on for ages. I think that you're starting to see where I'm going with this. By far, the best part of travelling is the people that you meet. And I've been lucky enough to meet some that are absolutely amazing. Yet as I said, it's hard to capture it in a forum such as this. It's one of those things that you have to enjoy for what it is. It's very hard for me to communicate the feeling or the memories to other people. Even pictures don't help that much. It's enough to have pictures of the people that I met, but to show them to other people can't communicate what those in the picture meant to me.

As for what's been going on since the last entry, it's been mostly spent at the beach with friends, three of which are named Sara, all from Sweden. Most of my friends here seem to be from Sweden. The reason that so many of the students come from there is that the Swedish government is one of the only ones in the world that offers low interest loans to it's youth, so that they can learn languages in other countries. When I was taking French classes in France several years ago, most of the students were also Swedish.

Something that struck me as a bit odd was that my roommate, Mark Olivier, who moved in last week, turned out to be from Laval [only a few kilometers from Montreal]. I'd been told that he would be Dutch, and he was told that I would be American. It's funny how things work out. Though I doubt that he'll be staying long. He's not getting along with the landlady at all. She's a bit... well, touched. So I make it a point to stay out as much as possible. He's been a bit more confrontational. Usually, I would be as well, but there really isn't much point. Neither of us is fluent enough in Spanish to be able to get our points across, and even if we could, I don't think that logic enters her head very often. He's also getting very annoyed at the parrot, which is usually squawking at full volume by 8am. Some sick bastard even taught it a bizarre, diabolical laugh. It's along the lines of a kooky mad scientist from one of those cult science fiction movies. I'm not sure how much longer he'll last. Still, many of our class mates seem to have even worse living conditions, so as long as things don't go even farther down hill, I should be able to last until it's time to leave Spain.

On a bit of a side note, the landlady's name is Dolores De Los Rios. Translating it word for word, this means 'Pain of The Rivers'. Maybe her mother didn't like her...

This weekend I took a trip to Valencia, a city a few hours north of here. It turned out to be a great vacation from my, er, vacation. I stayed in a hostel, where I met a very nice German girl named Wiebka [pronounced like Vipka]. We walked around the city all weekend, and had some very nice conversations, which were all over the place. Everything from German politics and demographics to the meaning of life and our lack of any long term life plans.