Thursday, March 19, 2015

Recap of the first few days

Quick Update after the first few days:

I have only been a Peace Corps trainee for a few days, but things are moving very fast already. So far I have been through staging in DC, the flight to El Salvador, and TAE (Training Arrival Event), not to mention tomorrow I will be meeting my host family for training. Right now I have internet so it’s as good as time as any to write up a blog post, and try and catch everyone up on what’s going on in my life.

            Staging took place in Washington DC and was a long 5 hours full of ice breakers and activities about the Peace Corps Core Values, Safety and Security, and the logistics of getting to El Salvador. After barely sleeping the night before I was not ready to have so much information thrown at me in such a short period of time. It has only been a day since we left from the states and I honestly don’t remember much of anything from staging. For me the best part was meeting all of the other volunteers. It was refreshing to hear other people expressing the same concerns, and aspirations that I have myself.
            Easily the worst part of staging was the 2 am check out on Wednesday morning. The 30 of us must have looked like the walking dead with tons of luggage. We got to the airport about 5 hours ahead of our flight. We were so early no one was even working at the Delta terminal to check us in to the flight to Atlanta. Eventually we checked in, checked the bags, made our way through security, and were on our way to Atlanta. Once in the ATL we used the tram (aka the most reliable train system in Atlanta) to get from gate B to gate E. We waited about 15 minutes at the terminal before boarding the flight to El Salvador.

TAE in El Salvador:
            After landing in El Salvador we were immediately greeted by the PC Staff and ushered through immigration and costumes. Once everyone had made it threw we took a bus over to the retreat area that TAE has been held at. Training so far has been a more specific extension of staging. I’ve learned about acute diarrhea, how to make clean water, and what is expected out of PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). On top of training I had my language interview, and received my NIT card. Plus I have had time to meet most of the other volunteers here. Everyone is awesome and seems wicked stoked to finally be in El Salvador. The staff has thrown so much information at us I can’t even try to fit it all in this post.
            What has been the most helpful aspect of TAE are the current volunteers that have given us the legitimate scoop on what being a PCV in El Salvador is like. They all really seem to be in love with the country, their host families, and each other, which is great to see. The volunteers also said El Tunco is a great spot to go when we have a free weekend so I am excited to check it out in a few weeks.
            Tomorrow begins the next chapter of training. We are all going to our training communities and meeting our host families. I’m pumped to finally see whom I will be staying with and where I will be staying for the next 10 weeks.  I am also ready to begin language training because my Spanish has suffered over the last few months before leaving the states. All in all I just want to really get going with everything.

Also it looks like my training community will be internet-less so don’t expect a lot of posts. Most likely I will try and post once over the weekends with a long summary post. Other than that please leave some questions in the comments that you’d like to have me answer so I can have some direction with these posts.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sevilla vs Barcelona

The past two weekends I have visited to very different cities in Spain, Sevilla and Barcelona, and instead of giving some half assed re-telling of the trips I have decided to present them in comparison format. As a disclaimer I loved visiting both of the cities, but neither of them are on par with Madrid!

1. I'm traveling Europe and I want a traditional Spanish experience. Where should I go?

A: Sevilla. Hands down the more Spanish of the two cities. Whether your looking for a Flamenco show, some tapas and cruzcampo, the moorish influence on Spain, famous landmarks, or just a quintessential look into the relaxed lifestyle Sevilla is the city for you. Everything moves a little slower in Andalusia. You can make an entire day out of going to the AlcázarPlaza de Espana, and then heading to the river to relax and people watch.

2. You fucking idiot Barcelona is in Catalonia of course it doesn't feel Spanish. Haven't you learned anything over there?

A: Yes I realize all of that and I think Barcelona suffers because of it. Barcelona was really built up recently for the '92 olympic games that were held there. While it is an astonishing Modern European city with an awesome beach and waterfront, it lacks anything that signifies it as a true Spanish city. Even in the Basque Country, where the independence movement from Spain is popular as well, it is still easy to recognize the Spanish influence on the cities. Barcelona just feels brand new. It is a great place to see, but don't go there to see Spain.

3. Favorite Monument

A: La Sagrada Famalia. Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece is simply stunning. The man died well before this cathedral will be finished, but it is amazing to see his vision and completely unique style first hand. La Sagrada Famalia is hands down one of the most amazing things I have seen abroad.

4. Sevilla is way cheaper and the bar scene is out of control. Barcelona is full of night clubs if thats your scene.

5. A good amount of english can be heard in both cities. There are a ton of American students studying abroad in both cities. Also Barca is super touristy so be careful which tourist with a fanny pack you start making fun of...they'll probably understand you.

6. Better food

A: Toss up. Barca has great sea food which has a special place in my heart, whereas Sevilla has classic spanish dishes like gazpacho and salmorejo. Two cold tomato soups that are fantastic on hot and sunny days.

7. If you had to live in either city which would it be?

A: Sevilla. I just fell in love with the city and really wished I could have spent more time there.

A list of 7 seems pretty fair and in the average style of my blog. Also I can only put of the studying half of study abroad for so long. Time to start my powerpoint on the golden age of sports for Spain.

As always its getting better.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Semana Santa fotos


"We eat the poor to feed the west"

Canal Houses

Berlin Wall

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

Relationship Locks

Tag on a sign in the middle of a river

Made with a brush and a massive stick, seriously

Club we went to


Made with explosives
"Go Forth, Every step you take contains love"

Little Lucy, She's all over Berlin

Made by Spraying and letting it Drip

Amsterdam and Berlin

It has now been a week since Spring Break, and my trip to Amsterdam and Berlin. The week after was long, boring, and I had a final at the end of the week so I was not able to post directly following my trip. Although, not writing right after the trip gave me some good time to reflect (recover) on the trip.


Amsterdam is not an easy city to figure out. The street names are long, the canals all look the same, and it feels like every bike and tram is trying to kill you. It didn't help that a freezing wind was constantly coming off of the canals, which made any time spent outside miserable. With the help of my new homeless friend Erik, and the loss of a Euro, I was pointed in the right direction to find the hostel. The Stayok Hostel is right on the edge of the red light district, and a 10 minute walk from Central Station. It was a pretty standard hostel, but the cleaning lady who throws everyone out is a complete bitch. She had no concern for the other hostelers who were sleeping while she was verbally abusing those who had to leave.

After finding Stayok, or as the Brits we met there named it "Stay fine and get the fuck out",  it was time to grab a coffee. Everyone I had talked to about Amsterdam all raved about the excellent blends of coffee in the city, and all of their favorite shops to get some at. Its important to note that after spending some time in an Amsterdam coffee shop navigating the city becomes nearly impossible. You must accept that you are just another tourist, blazed as hell, wandering through the city.

During the trip we saw the Anne Frank house, Vondelpark, Heineken factory, the Red Light District, Van Gogh's paintings at the Hermitage, and the inside of many different coffee shops. 4 days was not nearly enough time to try and see everything, but just being on a trip in such a unique city with some great people was a highlight in itself.


Berlin was fucking freezing, although everything else about Berlin was incredible. Our hostel had been renovated a couple years before so everything was new and clean. The staff was friendly and shared some great info about the city. The Bar in the basement had a happy hour from 8-9 of buy .5L of beer get one free, so we were drinking liters of beer for 3 euro.

I wish I was in Berlin when it was warmer, because the cold made being outside unbearable and in a city as large as Berlin you are going to be outside a lot. Waiting in line for 3 hours to reserve tickets to the Reichstag was probably the lowest point of the trip. Luckily when we finally made it inside to the counter they told us the reservations were completely free. News that warmed our spirits.

Our hostel also had a Bartender that lead a walking tour of the cities massive amount of graffiti. Ever since I watched 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' I have been interested in street art. In Berlin pretty much everywhere you look your going to see some street art. The city is very grungy, young, and cheap. It attracts a lot of artist and young professionals, and the general feeling in the city is that everything goes.

Random tidbits about Berlin:

  • German Beer is great
  • You can feel the difference from West to East
  • Check Point Charlie and the Wall are a constant reminder of the cold war
  • Currywurst is amazing
  • I had the best Döner Kebab in the world
  • The nightlife there is insane. I normally hate clubs, but in Berlin anything goes
  • Don't forget to buy and validate your train tickets or the Police will take 40 euro from you in cash
  • Dress warm

Theres a ton more that happened on this trip that probably shouldn't be shared on an online blog. If your interested in hearing more message me.

It gets better,


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Catching up and Las Fallas

Before I begin this post let me address the obvious lack of posts coming out of my blog. I understand the amount of post has been, to say the least, below average. I didn't realize how tough it would be to step back and keep track of my stay here.

The month of March flew by and I hardly notice it. It started out with an awesome trip to Burgos, Logroño, San Sebastián, and Bilbao. I traveled with 4 friends and we ate some amazing food at the tapas bars, drank some great wine and beer, saw some cool shit like the Guggenheim, and generally froze our asses off.

Throughout March I have been finding my groove in Madrid. The initial shock and awe has completely worn off. Plus I have found my favorite parts of the city. Malasaña is my top spot for going out at night for sure. The bars all have their own unique swagger, but they play the best music, are priced well for the city, and Malasaña is where a ton of young Madrileños go at night. Also having late night pizza places of doner kebabs doesn't hurt its rankings in my book.

Now that your caught up a little bit on the average stuff its time to talk about an awesome fucking experience:  Las Fallas in Valencia. Las Fallas is a fire festival. Each barrio designs and builds a ninot that are displayed in the streets during Las Fallas. Each night of the festival fire works are set off and people are out partying until the next morning. The last night consists of all of the giant ninots being set a blaze and burning in the street. I wasn't there for this night (average I know)

I left for Valencia saturday at 9 am. My bus was full of typical Spanish jovenes. Loud and Obnoxious. The yelled and sang the entire way there. I was running on just about 4 hours of sleep. Needless to say I was fucking pissed at these kids for ruining what was supposed to be optimal siesta time.

After arriving around 1 my fellow USACers on the trip and I went straight to the beach. Actually straight to the Super Market for alcohol and snacks which was on the way to the beach. Sitting on the sand for the first time this year was great, the fact that it was the Mediterranean Sea made it better, and being drunk really put it over the top.

Afterwards we ate some dank paella, and then the fun started to begin.

We Botellóned in the center of the city along with everyone else. The atmosphere was like none other. Ever where you look there are groups of people getting fucked up in public just like you. I have never seen so much drinking in the streets. To describe easily to my South Carolina people: Imagine you took St. Patrick's day in Five Points, mixed it up with the State Fair (without the gang shootings),  add the fire works from the 4th of July, and put that crazy mess into a real city. For everyone else read that as a lot of drinking, live music, bars, fried food, and people all in one place.

A highlight for me was setting off my first fire work, a roman candle, during the festival. In my drunken stupor I felt like Harry Potter casting spells from a wand with the classic Gruber shit eating grin plastered on my face.

Our bus left Valencia at 6 am sunday. At this point sleep was on everyone's agenda except for the aforementioned spanish youth who continued to talk the entire ride home. That afternoon I passes out, then woke for San Patricio's at night.

Until next the next post, keep on having average times out there everyone.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mash Up Post

In my quest to keep this blog interesting for the reader I feel as though I have been over looking some of my experiences and have not given them a fair chance to be heard. Also it has been a while since the last post, so I am going to throw a bunch of different happenings from my life together and hope that a half decent post comes out.

Jenny and the Mexicats
Item 1: Back in January I went to see a small band play here in Madrid. Their name is Jenny and the Mexicats (before you ask I have no idea what a Mexicat is just go with it). Jenny is a gorgeous blond brit who sings in English and Spanish along with playing the trumpet. They Mexicats are your standard Guitar, Bass, and Drums. I thought that the drummer was especially impressive because he was playing Cajón and a drum kit with his bare hands. The venue held about 100 people who were all dancing through the entire show. The band had a fun and relaxed vibe which definitely comes through in their music. Here is a link to my favorite song from the show. Its an acoustic version but the music video captures the essence of the band well.
Got to meet Jenny after the show

Item 2: Holy Toledo

Through the program I am doing, USAC, there are different field trips offered to different parts of the country. We recently went an hour outside of Madrid to the ancient city of Toledo. Toledo's historical importance stems from being a city where Jews, Christians, and Muslims all lived 'peacefully' before the Reconquista. Seriously click the link I am not going to try and explain that to y'all. 

For any of my fellow Jews who have gone on Birthright Toledo feels a lot like Tzfat. Small alleys, cobble stone paths, a ton of amazing views, and that ever present feeling that your in an ancient place. While we were in Toledo we saw a really old synagog, it was tiny but very ornate. Apparently the Catholics made their Muslim slaves build it for the Jews. (Don't quote me on that I could barely understand the tour guide and stopped listening to her after she called Passover the Jewish Easter...Spaniards right)

The main sights in Toledo are El Greco's masterpiece, which is hands down the most detailed and impressive painting I have seen in person, and the Cathedral of Toledo. The Cathedral is absolutely massive and has the most gold in its prize room I have ever seen. It also house 4 gigantic organs and some fantastic paintings. Under the main chapel or where ever the father sits is a crypt which is totally awesome and the part I found most interesting about this monstrosity of religion. 
I am not an atheists nor the most religious person, but I could not help felling resentment towards this Cathedral that was full of South America's gold and built with slave labour. It goes against what the Church stands for and I can see its historical importance but it is honestly a standing contradiction.

Anyways I should end that before I start a rant on organized religion and no one wants to hear that. As a reward for all of you who have read this far I'm putting all of the Toledo pictures down here. Enjoy.


1st shot of the city

Panorama of the City

City's coat of arms from the Hapsburg family

These tiles are scattered throughout the Jewish Quarter
Ancient Rabbi's pipe (Your not fooling anyone)

Ark of the Torah
Something Hebrew

Bible that is written in gold
A fuck ton of gold, don't really know what it is

The Cathedral

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


With a long weekend and the city life of Madrid starting to take its toll (mostly on my wallet) it was time to get out of the city, and head up to the coast. I spent this past weekend in the beautiful city of Santander, located on the Northern Coast of Spain, 6 hours away from Madrid by bus.

I left for Santander on friday morning. Due to ALSA, the Spanish bus company, having technical problems on their website I had to buy a ticket at the station. The bus I wanted was leaving at 12:30, so being conservative I left my apartment at 11 and took a 20 minute metro ride to the wrong stop. Unknowingly I got off and proceded to look around a random area of Madrid for 45 minutes for a bus station that didn't exist there. Luckily I found a lady who spoke english and she pointed me in the right direction. I arrived at the bus station with 10 minutes to spare, bought a ticket, and was on my way to Santander.

My first night in the city was hampered by rain. I met an old friend and went to a few bars but the city was dead, and left me hoping that the next day would be better for exploring the area.

When I woke up the next morning the sun was shining and the view of the bay with the snow covered mountains in the back was absolutely breath taking. I had no clue what I was in for the rest of the day.

These two shots were taken from outside of the city golf course. The picture on the left is an inlet created by 2 cliffs on either side. If you can imagine the beach in the bottom right corner stretching back another 100 yards, then add a stage at the head of the beach. My friend Pablo was telling me about the parties they would throw here with upwards of 300 people coming out (the picture I took on my Iphone sucked and was not worth showing in public). The photo on the right isn't really of anything special, I thought it looked cool, deal with it.

This next trio of snap shots all have to do with my favorite piece of history about Santander. There is a famous casino in the city called Casino Sardinero (bottom right). I am told that back in the early 20th century many a Spaniard would go there to gamble. Some would even be as brave to gamble their entire savings, daughters, and wives. Once they had sufficiently lost everything they had, the gambler would feel pretty depressed some would even say suicidal. The suicidal gamblers would drive up to El Faro (spanish for lighthouse) and proceed to drive off of the cliff. Because so many people participated in this messed up semi-tradition the city put a cross at the location of el faro (center below). Normally the crucifix is not one of my favorite images, but I could not help falling in love with this statue of a man holding on for dear life at the base of the cross. The imagery mixed with the location was hysterical to me.

Sadly though the tradition of suiciding in this area continues. A man as recently as 5 days ago drove off the cliff at el faro after his wife left him, took all of his money and the kids. The area he drove off from was blocked off by police barriers (bottom left)

I ended my day in the park located on the land of the King's old vacation castle. The park had one of the most depressing zoos I have ever seen. The lions cage was empty and the polar bears had also died off. On top of that the sea lions were kept in barley enough water to survive. They looked depressed and I didn't have the heart to take pictures. 

The last shot of the day comes from the cliffs of the park. The waves crashed onto the rocks as the sunset over the city. Racing Santander was playing a night game in the second division. Everything was peaceful. At the end of my stay in Santander I felt ready to head back to take on the hustle and bustle of Madrid.

I must also give a huge thank you to Carmen Zamanillo Peral, and Pablo and Rafa Chico for their hospitality. They really made this weekend special.

And as Always, I swear it gets better.