Friday, October 26, 2007


The only downside to living in Salamanca, I think, is that it's not really a transportation hub. For most destinations, your only option is to take a bus, unless you want to go to Madrid or some other big city first.

So, for instance, I went to Bilbao a couple of weekends ago, which required a 6-hour bus ride each way. It actually wasn't so bad: the buses in Spain are pretty nice, and the bus stopped for 30 minutes in Burgos, so I had a few minutes to check out the cathedral there.

I enjoyed Bilbao a lot. I went there to see the Museo Guggenheim, but Bilbao is actually a pretty lively city, and there are a number of things to see. I went to the beach one day, spent a day in the museums, and spent another day just wandering around the city's parks.

I stayed in a somewhat... interesting neighborhood in Bilbao. It's clearly an immigrant neighborhood—there are a number of halal butchers there, for instance. And it's a poor neighborhood, with people hanging out on street corners with nothing to do. I even saw someone have his wallet stolen while I was there. But the neighborhood is also filled with a number of hip restaurants, galleries, and stores, since it's right across the river from the city center.

I didn't realize this before, but Bilbao is located in a very beautiful section of Spain. The city center is pretty flat, but it's surrounded by hills, so you catch views like this as you walk around town:

And just one more photo of the museum (the Guggenheim is a lot of fun to photograph, but I won't bore you with all of my photos):

The Guggenheim building is pretty cool, and I enjoyed the permanent Richard Serra installation inside, but the art itself isn't particularly spectacular. The city has another museum, the Museo de Bellas Artes, which has an amazing collection of modern Spanish art. (I think that this museum is now one of my favorite museums, as is the Reina Sofia in Madrid.)

The Museo de Bellas Artes also has an outdoor sculpture collection, which includes two more pieces by Serra, as well as this strange sculpture:

While I was wandering around the city, I ran into a tourist office with a lot of graffiti. But it was the piece at the bottom that really caught my eye. SPQR? Does that mean something else in Spain, or is this really a reference to the Roman republic?

Bilbao also has another neat architectural landmark, a bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava. It looks cool from a distance, but when you get close to it, you realize that it's starting to fall apart, even though it's just 10 years old. I wonder if it's a design flaw, or if the city just isn't taking care of it?

There was actually an story about this in the news today: the city added an extension to the bridge recently, and Calatrava has sued them for violating his copyright. Meanwhile, the city claims that Calatrava's design was flawed, because of problems like those cracked glass tiles.

Then, while wandering around the parks in the city, I ran into this sculpture, which I though was pretty neat. If I remember correctly, it's actually a war memorial for the Spanish civil war.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Pictures from Spain

I'm a little more than a week into my classes here in Salamanca, and everything is going well. Spanish is hard, especially since we're learning things so quickly, but I'm dealing with it. I'm making lots of friends here, too, but the problem is that most of them aren't staying as long as I am, so they'll be leaving in the next few weeks. Oh well, I'll just have to meet some of the new students!

Anyway, time for some pictures from Spain. When I was in Barcelona, I visited many of Gaudí's works, of course, and they're a lot of fun to photograph. My favorite spot was the roof of La Pedrera, which has beautiful chimneys sprouting up everywhere. I was there pretty late in the day, when the sun was low, which meant that the light was perfect for photographs.

I also went to La Sagrada Família; I have to say that I actually liked some of the more recent additions to the building more than the parts that Gaudí designed. For instance, they have some amazing stained-glass windows now:

I took a day trip to Segovia and Ávila this weekend with a bunch of other foreign students. Segovia is really cool because it has an aqueduct that dates from Roman times which towers over part of the city:

And then finally, some pictures of Salamanca. These are all in the Plaza Mayor, which is a great plaza in the heart of the city, about a 5 minute walk from my apartment. When you want to meet up with someone in the city, you almost always agree to meet here, under a clock in the plaza:

At the moment, there's a giant inflatable structure in the middle of the plaza that looks like a pumpkin. It really doesn't fit in with the rest of the city, but it makes for some interesting contrasts in photographs:

Monday, October 1, 2007

Myanmar, Part V

Our last major stop in Myanmar was Inle Lake, which is quite large (about 45 square miles) but relatively shallow (5 feet on average). We spent half a day motoring around the lake, visiting monasteries, local craftsmen, and other sights around the lake.

The first thing you notice about the lake is the traditional boats that people use on them. The boats look ridiculously unstable, and the villagers tend to stand way out on one end while rowing them. There are many fisherman on the lake, but we also saw many boats loaded down, like these:

The villagers collect weeds from the bottom of the lake, then use them to form floating gardens where they grow crops (apparently tomatoes are a popular choice).

Many people on the lake, in houses on stilts above the water. This is one of the villages that we visited while we were there:

In this village, they weave cloth from silk and from the lotus plant. (I had no idea that you could do that!) Lotus cloth is even more expensive than silk, because it takes an extraordinary amount of time to make---but it doesn't seem as nice as silk to me. Here's one of the villagers boiling silk:

And another one weaving it:

In another village, they make cheroots, which look a lot like cigars. Apparently the villagers make 1 kyat for rolling a single cheroot. It takes about 30 seconds to roll a cheroot, and apparently they make about 1000 kyats per day, which is less than one dollar. It's amazing how little that is; but on the other hand, they seem to have all the basic necessities for life---food, shelter, water, etc. Their lives certainly aren't as easy as our lives in the western world, but I wouldn't say that the villagers are living in poverty.

There's also a very strange monastery on the lake where the monks have trained cats to jump through hoops. It's now a popular tourist attraction. They don't jump horizontally through hoops like you might expect---the trainer holds the hoop directly over a cat's head, and he jumps straight up through it:

And one more picture that I really liked: