miércoles, octubre 04, 2006

A new home

Funnily, "bethinspain" doesn't quite fit the bill anymore. This will have to be the final chapter of my Spain experience. For intermittent Australia/Thailand updates, check this page: http://andthewanderlustsetsin.blogspot.com/
Australia is amazing by the way. I'm in Sydney: picture a mixture of London and Chicago, but with the laid back Aussie attitude and a "wee" bit smaller. It's beautiful, but still a tad cold. But today was a wonderful day for hanging out at the harbor and snapping a few pics of the Opera House (it actually hit me at the moment I saw it that I was here and that I was really far away from, well..., anything). As I'm writing this, it's about 8PM (6 AM Atlanta time), so, I'm feeling pretty messed up. Thanks to my faithful blog readers. It's been a good run on this one. We'll see if I can keep it up with the new site.

miércoles, septiembre 06, 2006

So, is it weird being back home?

This is the number one question I've been asked. Yes, it's weird, but honestly, not as weird as I once pictured. The first week back was really difficult, and the second was worse. But, now I've settled into this groove of working, and I mean working all the time, that I haven't had much reflection time. I'm working toward the goal of traveling through Australia and Thailand, but the reality that I'm leaving in a few weeks hasn't hit me. And I haven't really had time to miss Madrid. I do miss Spain, but my thoughts are usually comprised of how cheap some people can be, and how much my feet and back hurt.
But, things are good. My birthday was yesterday. There was no big party, and strangely, no photos even. But it was a wonderful day. I slept in, knowing that everyone else was working (he he he), then I went to Donna Marie's for a dip in the pool/cookout/hang with Roger for the first time since last year. A couple of Margaritas later and everything was peachy. Later that night my whole family, including the bro, went to one of my fav restaurants in Atlanta.
I guess that I can't really post under the web address, bethinspain, so, a new blog will come about soon. And new pics with my new camera, oooohhh!

jueves, agosto 03, 2006

Home Again

I will give you the full run down of my travels through the north of Spain, France, and of course London. But for now, I don't feel like writing. I have photos on flickr though. Once I've had some time to think and adjust, I'll let you know.

lunes, julio 17, 2006

Rock the Kasbah

The Dunes in Zagora
It's not that I've been lazy; I've been traveling. Shannon and I hit Morocco for a week, and then I left Madrid for the north of Spain. I'm in San Sebastian at the mo, but more on that later.
Morocco was incredible. I don't know if it was just because it was so different, but I was in awe the entire time I was there. Yes, it smells like Africa (aka, poo everywhere on the street) but Muslim architecture really kicks the Catholics' butts. Sorry. We went into a couple of palaces that just blow your mind. The hand carved detail is similar to the Alhambra, and absolutely beautiful.

A young boy working on a "Ber-ber" lamp
Our trip was broken into parts. We had a few days in Marrakech, mostly spent shopping in the super-stressful medina. You really feel like a celebrity because everyone is trying to get your attention, and insisting that you come to their shop. "Just looking, just looking, looking is free..." Or, they say "fish and chips" to get you to look at them, because they think all the guiries are English, and bottom line, guiries have money. Definitely an experience I won't forget.

Terrace at the beach bar, in typical blue
We made our way to Essaouira, a beach town visited by hippies and, most famously, Jimi Hendrix. I think that this was my favorite place. The mood was much more relaxed, and the town was precious. Every house is white, with brightly painted blue doors. It brings luck in the Muslim culture.
After Essaouira, and a night in Marrakech, we joined a tour group for a trek into the Sahara. They put Shannon and I with 10 frogs, I mean French people, and only a couple of them spoke English. But amazingly, we had so many jokes and such a good time together. No, there was no mention of freedom fries and freedom toast. We had to take a van from Marrakech to Zagora, about 9 hours through the Atlas Mountains. The scenery is incredible. You go through the High Atlas, then into the Draa Valley, and finally you reach the edge of the Sahara. I learned some French along the way as well. "Pardon...si vous plais...les fotos... merci" We stopped at a famous Kasbah, Ait Benhaddou (a few movies were filmed there). It's funny, Morocco looks like Arizona, so a lot of westerns were also filmed there. The Kasbah is really interesting. There are loads of them in Morocco, and they all look similar and serve a similar function. The thermometer hit 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit), but as soon as you walk into the shade in the Kasbah, the temperature drops almost 30 degrees. It feels almost perfect inside. Morocco is a place where it's difficult to escape the heat, but they managed to figure it out all those years ago.

Me with the camel guides and a little "Ber-ber" music
We made it to Zagora for the sunset while on the camels. Our camel ride was about 2 hours long, and not the most comfortable (ask Shannon). But it was worth it to sleep on a sand dune and see all of the stars, the dust of the Milky Way, and then the sunrise at 5:30. One of the coolest things was talking to our guides. They have never left that village. Their entire lives have been spent in that one spot, taking tourists into the desert. But they seem content. The people are poor there, but they seem to live relatively happy lives. The kids get at you though. They kind of chase while you're on the camel asking you to buy little figurines they made out of palms. Most of them don't go to school; they work and help the family. But one girl broke my heart. She asked Shannon for a pen, and I found and extra one I had. She lit up when she got it. Who knows, maybe that's the only thing she has to write and draw with at home. My dad (The Disney Light-Up Pen King) would fare pretty well in Morocco.
All-in-all, a really nice trip. A bit sad in the end though. I left Madrid the day after we got back, so I had to say goodbye to my home, my city, and most importantly, my friends. I also received news that my mom's sister had died that week. So, it's been well timed that I am traveling alone. It gives me time for reflection and solitude. I'm so glad that I didn't plan this trip with other people. I don't think I would have been able to enjoy the company. I think I prefer traveling with friends, though. I really am such an extrovert, not meaning overly outgoing, but that I really need to be around people. But, being alone for a bit is good for me. But of course you guys know that I'm looking forward to being home and seeing you guys.
Enough typing/nerding it up, time to hit the beach!

domingo, junio 25, 2006


Patio de las Damas, La Alhambra

So, for one of my last jaunts, I went to the best city in Spain that I have seen so far (and looking back on it, I've seen a lot of places in a year.) I went to Granada, the stronghold of the Nazrid dynasty during the time of the Moors. That was about 1200 years ago, so it's amazing how much is still intact.
The trip consisted of pretty normal tourist things. I walked through the Albaicin, the old Muslim neighborhood, which is very stereotypical Spain. I reached the top of the hill (quite a hike!) and chilled at the Mirador. It boasts as having one of the best views of the Alhambra and the town below. It's beautiful, especially at sunset. Lots of people are relaxing, listening to the gypsies playing flamenco, and of course, taking photos. The feeling was different than other places. Your feet are dangling over a steep ledge, if you dare, and the air is so calm and peaceful.

The Albaicin, seen from La Alhambra
The next day I spent about 6 hours taking in the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra. There is a magnificent palace and adjoining gardens to match. I haven't seen anything in my life that rivals its beauty.
Later that night I caught some random flamenco at a Moroccan tea house. I feel even more excited now about my trip to Marrakech next week.

One of the cave houses, or 'cuevas'
For my last day, I walked through the Sacromonte. The gypsies were banned to this outer part of the town in the 15th century, and to beat the heat, they made their homes inside the mountain. Each cave house is a little door surrounded in white stucco. That's all that you see of most of them. Don't be fooled though, they're caves, but some of them are pretty posh. The hillside is covered in these homes, and the colors in the neighborhood are captivating. Bright blue tile here, a mosaic there, green trim in another place. I was entirely charmed the full three days I was there.
If you come to Spain ever, do not miss Granada. It would be disappointing to miss this little jewel. I feel like I barely had enough time to enjoy it myself.

sábado, junio 24, 2006

A por ellos

¡A por ellos, !
¡A por ellos, !
¡A por ellos, ,
A por ellos !

¡Hasta cuartos, !
¡Hasta cuartos, !
¡Hasta cuartos, !
Y con suerte !

Let me put this video in context. I have been loving the world cup, and Spain is playing amazingly. But who are we kidding? Spain will advance past France in the next round, and then suffer a crushing defeat from the Brazilians. So, I found this video quite hilarious. "A por ellos" has been the national anthem of Spain lately. In this video, the first part is explained to be the "before shot", and the second is after the world cup. This is a publicity stunt put on by the Spanish team and coach. "A por ellos" translates roughly as "Get them!" In the second version, "Hasta cuartos" is "Until quarter finals, and only with luck"
Click here if you don't see it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eAQsIl5x0A
Spain has a few great chants. The other one that has endeared my heart is a hymn I learned in Cádiz. The people of Cádiz are famous in Spain for being the nicest in the whole country, and I completely agree with that stereotype. So, they created a hymn that basically means, "We don't care about the football score, we just came to get drunk and have a nice time"
Alcohol, alcohol,
Alcohol alcohol alcohol
Hemos venido
a emborracharnos,
y el resultado
nos da igual

jueves, junio 15, 2006

Road Trip to Sevilla

Windmills in Castilla-LaMancha (ok, and the magic of Adobe)

This past weekend was our trip to Sevilla. We decided to rent a car since it was Shannon, Leo, and I, and it worked out to be about the same price as the train.
Shannon and I got the car and had some time to kill before Leo got off of work. So, where could we possibly go in Madrid that cannot be accessed by the metro or cercanias? La Moraleja. This is the poshy posh area of Madrid, and where David and Victoria Beckham live. We swear we saw Victoria gassing up her car. She had the pout. So, we were cruising the neighborhood in a green turtle car, listening to some 80's, and searching for even a quick glance or glimmer at David and Vicky Beck's pad.
We finally got on the road and headed down to Sevilla. We were meeting Renee (see previous posts) and her roommate Samantha for drinks, and it was about a 5-6 hour drive. So, leaving at 6:30, that put us in Sevilla at about midnight. We rolled in and went on the tapas/drinks hunt. But not before a man greeted us as we came out of the parking garage "Bienvenidos a España! Welcome to Spain!" He couldn't be happier. Where was that guy 10 months ago?
I didn't expect Sevilla to be as beautiful as it was. The colors everywhere are so bright and vivid, you just want to swim in them or something. And of course, palm trees everywhere. Leo and I hung out so that Renee and Shannon could catch up. We took a stroll around the cathedral, saw Columbus' tomb, visited the Alcazar and adjoining gardens, took a spin on the big Ferris Wheel overlooking the city, hung out by the river, and of course, coffee, coca-cola, coffee, coca-cola... One of the best things though was the Arabian bath. They are really popular in the south due to the fact that it is Moorish tradition. We decided to go for the last session at midnight. It's pool after pool of warm, relaxing water, a little Arabic music in the background, and smells that are unique and soothing. You walk out feeling so relaxed, like they could just pour you out onto the street when you leave (can't wait for Morocco!), and your skin is actually a baby's bottom.
Sevilla was a nice weekend away. A little hot, but definitely a nice change of pace from busy busy Madrid. As always, photos are on Flickr.

miércoles, junio 14, 2006

A not so usual day at the office

Voy a escribir en español. No me rías.
Hoy, he ido a trabajo en Plaza Colón, y encontré un montón de gente como la gente en la izquierda. Estaba por la calle y al dentro de la fuente. Había tanto gente, los coches no pudieron pasar. Me encanta que estoy en Europa durante la Copa del Mundo. Y felicidades a España, 4-0. Pero, pobre Ucrania. Creo que son debiles;)
I went to work at Plaza Colón today, and was greeted by hundreds of people like these. They were covering the streets and jumping in the fountains at one of the busiest intersections in Madrid. I love that I'm in Europe during the world cup. And I love that Spain won 4-0. Poor Ukraine though, I guess they really are weak;)

lunes, junio 12, 2006

Video at last

It's finally here, the moment I'm sure you've all been waiting for. Click this link http://www.putfile.com/bethkalinski for a few choice videos I have selected for your viewing pleasure. Disfruta.

jueves, junio 08, 2006

La Gran(hack)

The lake in the Royal Gardens of San Ildefonso

Once again, I was able to see some of the amazing places that surround Madrid. This past weekend I was in La Granja de San Ildefonso. Spaniards always correct my pronunciation. You have to hack something up as you say it. La GRAN-ha (hack on the ha.) There is a large royal palace in conjunction with the royal gardens. This photo is from the lake. It was a peaceful and calm Saturday. I heard that the week before was a zoo, because only three times a year they turn the fountains on. There are hundreds of bronze sculptures that when on, display an amazing water show. We weren't there for it, but it was okay. Instead I have some hilarious photos of us climbing the fountains and being idiots. Someone please tell me that we have some cool stuff to see in Georgia. I'm going to miss my day trips. Did anyone recently build a 600 year old castle or palace near Marietta? What about an old city wall? Oh, it's near midtown?

martes, junio 06, 2006

I love the 80's

Mario Skit

This is actually hilarious. Stupid, yet, a great laugh if you grew up in the 80's. Click this link if you can't view it on my page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJdNxSnmgbw I swear I'm not being a total nerd in Spain. I saw this on one of my students' blogs. Thanks Jesús!

domingo, mayo 28, 2006

Madrid the region and Beth the reflector

Plaza Mayor in Alcalá de Henares

Most people don't know this, but Madrid is also a region. The city of Madrid is surrounded by the Community of Madrid. And I'm so lucky to be able to see a good bit of it. Toledo and Segovia are near Madrid, but actually in different regions. But El Escorial, Aranjuez, Alcalá de Henares, and Manzanares el Real are all a part of the actual Madrid region.
Last weekend I visited Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Cervantes. There is also a university that is about 600 years old. It is a very typical, small, Spanish village, the kind you imagine being in the Spanish countryside. Adorable, old buildings, a huge main square with a cathedral and terraces to have coffee. And on top of all of the buildings, storks have huge nests that they guard and perch themselves on while looking down on the plaza. I was lucky, because there was a festival going on and a huge wedding. So, the streets around the plaza were filled with families watching the street performers, little jewelry stands, and plenty of tables outside to sip coffee and people watch.

The mountain stream in Manzanares
Yesterday, Shannon, Leo, and I went to Manzanares el Real. It's a village in the mountains with less people, but a lot more nature. The mountains surrounding the city look as if they are painted. It was impossible to take a photo that looked real. But the highlight was the creek running from the mountains down to the lake. We went wading for a bit, and then just relaxed in the shade. The water is straight from the melting snow, so it was quite cold, yet refreshing. We were mostly trying to scope out a low key campsite because it's not exactly legal to camp there. But in all fairness, the only two campsites there were either closed forever or not taking campers without RVs. What kind of camping is that?
I'm really trying to take in all I can. I can't believe I have less than a month left in Madrid. And this month, I'm going out of town a lot. Sevilla and Granada are the next few weekends, and after that, it's basically over. The last few weeks have felt a bit surreal, and I am trying to reflect and appreciate the little things about Spain. It's easy to complain about things like service in a restaurant, or extreme lack there of. But where in the States can you sit at a four-person table, order only a coffee, and not get the evil eye when you sit there for over an hour?
It's also been a time of self reflection, trying to remember who I was when I came here, and trying to figure out who I am now. A lot has changed, but I say that not really knowing exactly what has changed. I kind of have a mullet (thank you Spanish hairdresser Miguel), obviously that's a big change. But don't worry, I'd die before I'd let any of you see it. I know that my fundamental self hasn't changed, and never will. But other things I see with different eyes and at a different perspective. It's been interesting to ponder all of this. Wait till the end of June, then I'll really make you sick with all of my sappy, sentimental thoughts and proverbs according to Beth. Haha.

domingo, mayo 21, 2006

And another one bites the dust

Niki at Campo de las Naciones, Madrid
Niki went back to the states on Friday, for good. NYC to be exact. Queens to be more exact. If you look through the archives of my blog or Flickr page, you can see that she has been around for most of my time in Spain. Aww, the memories. The first time I met Niki, we were both in the waiting room at American Language Academy. We had both been hired there, and were waiting for Catja to do our orientation. However, I was rolling my eyes, because Niki was stuck in a conversation talking about how she went to a-hem Brooown. 'Oh no, not another one' I was thinking to myself. However, I didn't realize it at the time, but she was talking to Carlos. There's no way you can have an interesting conversation with that man. I found out Niki was cool and that I liked her sometime during our meeting. So, Niki and I became mates not too long after that.
I could write a history, no, an anthology of our experiences together, but rather, I am posting some photos showing some of our best and worst times. Hope you enjoy! Especially you Niki, love you!

Killin' some time in the ALA staff room. Some of my first memories of Niki are from this place.

Punk rock Niki on Halloween

That's right, take it like a man. That was the best mullet ever.

Niki's Friday night face

Chewing some meat snacks at the ALA staff lunch

Niki's favorite activity, botellón at Parque del Oeste

Jeff and Niki

Niki, Stephen, and I being nerds at the park

"I'm just gonna lay down for a... ZZZZZZZZZZ"

Our first trip to Valencia

Aww, we look like babies in this picture. November seems like such a long time ago.

Botellón at the beach, Niki's second favorite thing to do

In the metro

Nice chapeaux

The bittersweet taste of a broken Mahou on the ground but the best laugh I had all week

Oooh, burning embers

I think the situation has been sufficiently analyzed

Chilling on the beach at a chiringuito during our girls weekend in Málaga

jueves, mayo 18, 2006

El Escorial and the Gallinas

Manuel holding the turkey egg
Juan, my intercambio, and I went to a monastery north of Madrid on Monday. It's an impressive structure that is said to have over 3000 windows. We had a nice day of speaking Spanish and English, having coffee, and taking photos.
But the highlight of the trip was on the return. Juan's boyfriend Manuel works at a plant nursery. And at this nursery, he has over 90 chickens. Well, there is a turkey and a cute doggy thrown in the mix also. Manuel had me go get the eggs from the coop, which I got to take home later to make Spanish tortilla. But the best, Manuel grabbed some leaves and threw them into the coops for the chickens to eat. He waited a moment in one coop, for the chickens to come towards him. Before you could blink, he had grabbed one of the chickens and was holding it as all the others were squawking. Then, he took the chicken and was almost waving it in the other chickens' faces. I have a video of it, and if I figure out how to post it to the server, you can watch it for yourself.

The monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial

Me collecting eggs at the vivero

jueves, mayo 11, 2006

Girls Weekend

Traveling singer during a rendition of La Macarena
Niki, Shannon, and I went to Málaga for a girls only weekend. Niki and I left on Thursday night and got there super early on Friday. We were sitting in the bus station cafe, drinking coffee, and listening to an argument between the waiter and a Spanish speaking Chinese guy. The Chinese guy kept saying that he got three lemons on the slot machine, but it didn't pay out, so the waiter owed him thirty euros. But the waiter didn't want to hear that, because it wasn't his machine. It was nice to observe this and actually understand what was being said.
We felt like the walking dead, but we managed to find the beach and veg out for a couple hours while we waited to check in to our hostel.
Shannon got there that night, and it was off to dinner. Pescaitos fritos, pescaitos fritos, pescaitos fritos. Fried fish basically. I couldn't eat a lot of what was on the menu, but I did have some amazing gambas, boquerones, and adobo (shrimp, sardines, and shark). Sounds gross, but the sardines were the best thing I've eaten in a long time.
The next day was beach day. I don't actually believe that there are any amazing beaches in Spain. Ibiza or the Canaries maybe, but, it was a beach and that made it amazing. The water was quite blue, but the sand was coarse and dark. Later we had lunch on the beach, which is where we saw this guy at the top. He made my day. Picture it: full mullet singing the Macarena, sweat pouring down his face, and three guiry girls laughing their heads off. That's what the girls weekend was all about. A bit of cheese: Costa del Sol and touristy entertainment.
On Sunday Niki and Shannon went to the beach, and I took in a bit of Picasso. He was born in Málaga and there is a large museum with works donated by his daughter and grandson. This painting to the right Mujer con los Brazos Levantados was my favorite from the museum. It is difficult to see, but the paint was mixed with sand to give it an entirely different look. The paint was grainy and looked like it was almost glowing. It seemed to float above the canvas and not be attached to it. I just stood there and stared at it forever. I think that's one of my favorite things about Europe; there is never a shortage of art to enjoy. I'm always inspired to create my own art, either through painting or photography. FYI, one of my photos was used on a travel website. http://www.europe-cities.com then click the Portugal link. Those are my boats! It's minor, but quite exciting for me. National Geographic here I come ;)

jueves, mayo 04, 2006

"Dos de Marta"

Niki and Marta at Cafe La Fe
Marta was here for the 'puente.' May 1 was Labor Day, and May 2 is Madrileño Independence. There is a plaza called Dos de Mayo, which had a big botellón to celebrate the fighting spirit. We had a 4-day weekend, so Marta came down from Vigo to hang out with Shannon and us. We went to her place in Galicia for Christmas. It was nice, because we weren't having to do touristy things. We chilled out on terraces and ate Asian food all weekend. On Tuesday we went to a play. I was lost for a good bit of it, but it did improve my Spanish somewhat. That's something I'm trying to really work on before I come home for the summer.
Niki is going back to the states in a couple of weeks, and of course I'm sad about it. But, she's moving to NYC, so I'm not too sad. And she's totally excited, so I'm really happy for her. She wants me to come to Queens to see her. No, it's not Manhattan, but she says that it's just as good and easier to get to places in Manhattan than actually being in Manhattan. To send her off, Shannon, Niki, and I are having a girls weekend in Málaga. I know, poor us. Lying on the beach, sipping mojitos, and 'taking sun.'

domingo, abril 23, 2006

The big trek across Europe

My parents and I with Juan. Juan es famoso.
I have broken my trip up into separate posts. It's really quite a lot of information, thoughts, and memories. It was great to see my parents. I started the trip by seeing Zurich, Switzerland for the day, and then met up with my parents in Prague. Zurich is nice, but I think it would be better if accompanied with skiing in the Alps. But it made for a nice day of shopping, coffee, and photography.
After the big trek, my parents came to Madrid. Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time. But, they did have some good food, met Shannon, saw flamenco, and had a caña in my favorite bar, "Juan's." This bar is like Cheers. It's downstairs in the building where my office is, so more often than not, I go down after work. Juan, the best camarero ever, says, "Hola Beth...que te pongo? Clara? Draft light?" Then he brings amazing tapas that we never pay for. I honestly think it was my parents' favorite part of Madrid. I can't blame them.
After, they went to London and Paris. How cute is this? In Paris, my dad re-proposed to mom at a restaurant and presented her with a huge new diamond ring. My mom cried of course, but who wouldn't?
They're back in the states now, and they went to pick up the dog from Athens today. She was staying with my brother for the last three weeks. My mom told me yesterday that today will me nothing but kisses on her nose. It was an amazing trip, and I have more photos on my Flickr page of course.

Prague, hype for a reason

St. Vitus Cathedral across the Vltava River
Prague is gorgeous. I wish I had had a week to see everything. It is one of the most touristy places in Europe right now, but for good reason. Everything there is old, and beautiful, and breathtaking, and I could go on and on.
We started the day by walking across the Charles Bridge and Vltava River. The bridge is covered with over 30 statues and a load of tourists.
We slowly made our way over to the castle stairs. My dad was obsessed with the "enemies." He kept saying things like, "And if your enemies made it this far, they'd look at that wall and just say, 'Ehhh, screw it'." But we did make it to the castle, just in time for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. They do a really nice job, complete with a band and everything.
After this, it was finally time to see the cathedral. It's simply amazing. Every inch of it is covered in stone detail, stained glass, green patterned roof tiles, and flying buttresses off to the side. I decided to walk up to the top of the bell tower, but my parents skipped it. It was almost 300 tiny stairs winding up a circular staircase barely wide enough for the two directions of traffic going through there. But the view made it worth it. You can see the river crossed by numerous bridges, and churches and monuments all in the distance.
Later, I walked around the New Town and Jewish Quarter. There is an old Jewish cemetery that is said to be 12 layers deep and filled with 100,000 graves. But it is contained in an area barely big enough for a block of flats. The tombstones are practically on top of each other.
I managed to find a cafe and had slivovice (plum brandy), as suggested by Roger. Amazingly I still have my taste buds and my sight. Good Lord, that is straight paint thinner in a shot glass.
My feet were killing me at the end of the day, but I was still on them after dinner trying to track down a Jazz cafe. I found one called Reduta Jazz Club. They played some awesome and curiously authentic Jazz, but it was weird to hear these guys break out into Czech in between songs. And of course occasionally, pronounce the lyrics perfectly until they had to sing "where." "Vayr I like to go..."
Oh Prague, I would go back in a heartbeat. I still feel like I barely saw the city, though. I can see why so many of my friends were happy to spend a couple of months there.

Poland, The Motherland

Inside the Wawel Hill Cathedral
On Sunday, we drove from Prague to Krakow. I had never heard my father speak a word of Polish, but for some reason in Poland he is fluent. He's been holding back on us for 50 years. In typical nerd fashion, he said "Polish by birth but first time on Polish soil!" Then proceeded to say our names Kalinski and Kalinska. Ah dad, you always provide free entertainment.
Krakow is a really nice town. It has a huge square in the old part of town, which is actually the biggest in all of Europe. We got together with my cousins, Bogusha and her daughter Kasha. They showed us around the town and took us to my grandmother's old house. Bogusha is so cute. Va-duh, vaa-duuh. That means water; she was teaching me a little.
We had a traditional lunch in this little restaurant where the Wawel Hill bell ringers hang out. Apparently it's a difficult organization to get into, and they only ring the bells at Wawel on certain special days. For example, when the pope died.
Speaking of Wawel, Kasha showed us around the beautiful and wowing Wawel Hill. There is a cathedral and fortress combo built on top of a hill overlooking the Vistula River. If your enemies wanted in, they had to deal with 50 feet of brick wall. But at the top, there is a cool cathedral with copper and gold cupolas.

My very extended Polish family
That night, after I walked around the whole city all day, we went out for dinner with Bogusha and her family. She had two vodka oranges and persuaded me to have piwo and vodka (beer and vodka). Strange combo, but better than expected. She wants me to come visit her for a week sometime. That would be interesting:
Me: Where is the bathroom?
Bogusha: (non-understood Polish)
Me: What?
Bogusha: (repeated non-understood Polish)
Me: Oh, ok, I guess I'll find it myself.
Haha, it could be fun.

The electrified barbed wire surrounding the camp
On our way back through Poland, we stopped at Auschwitz. It was a really heavy day. I totally recommend going to one of the concentration camps, just to pay respect to the people who suffered there. The atrocities committed there were vile and disgusting. One thing that struck me was the sheer size of the place. Auschwitz itself is fairly small, but Birkenau, or Auschwitz 2, is so enormous that we couldn't even see half of it. Even from the observation tower, it's impossible to see the entire camp.
After visiting Auschwitz, I feel the need to somehow be involved in preventing further genocide. It's ridiculous how the world counts on the UN to stop genocide, but the UN is completely useless. "Oh, you won't give us permission to enter your dictatorship regime to stop the mass murder of innocent individuals? Okay, I guess you've got us there." Something has to be done. However, if the US did anything, people would criticize the government for "meddling in affairs that have nothing to do with the US." What's the solution?

Ukraine is weak...

The sign written in Cyrillic at the Ukraine Border

This was the line my parents and I repeated all week, in reference to the Seinfeld episode when Kramer and Newman are playing Risk on the subway. Ukraine is a very different place, even more different than I expected.
We tried to enter Ukraine on Tuesday. We waited in a long line, then had our passports scrutinized, followed by a search of car and a run of the license plates and VIN. As we were celebrating entering Ukraine so quickly, we realized that we had only just left Poland. Now we had to go through the same ordeal at the Ukraine border checkpoint. After about 20 minutes, my dad came back to the car and told us that we had been denied because of a paperwork error in our rental car registration. So, we turned around and re-entered Poland. It was extremely disappointing because my father was bringing gifts for people in Terembovla and I was hoping to meet up with a friend of my mate Jeff, who lived in Ternopil' for a couple of years.
We ended up going to a small village named Jaroslaw (pronounced Yur-uh-swuv). A little too light on cafes, as in ZERO, but the market in the morning made the trip. My dad was beaming when he ordered Krakowska, speaking in Polish in a real Polish market.
My dad called the rental car company, and we discovered that there was no error. The woman at the border didn't know what she was dealing with. Apparently there aren't a lot of Americans entering Ukraine in a Czech rental car. This was great news, because it meant we could try entering again. So, on we went. This time, no problem. The woman at the desk was so nice and helpful.
However, getting into Ukraine is only half the battle. Once we were in Ukraine, we had to drive through Ukraine. This is a country with harsh winters, no interstates, and certainly no organization like the Georgia DOT. The road was completely covered in potholes. 120 miles took 4 hours of driving, swerving the entire way.
We had a quick drive through L'viv and at last we made it to Ternopil' Wednesday night. Things there are incredibly cheap and eerily Soviet. I felt like I was in Russia, which, I know it's not the same, but it was all connected for a long time. A full dinner for two people costs $7. It's quite different to Madrid prices. And we stayed in this huge 12-story hotel called the Halychyna, which used to be a conference center for the Soviets. All very surreal.
The next day I walked around Ternopil' like a normal tourist. People were staring at me, because tourists do not go to this town. And for once, I didn't hear a word of English while I was exploring the city. It was cool, but intimidating at the same time. However, it's amazing how much you can do not speaking or reading the language. Meanwhile, my parents were in a small village called Terembovla. This is where my grandpa grew up, and my dad wanted to visit and possibly find his old house. They didn't find the house, but they visited a farm and had an amazing lunch, followed by a full history lesson on the area.
Later on, I met up with Sergiy, Jeff's friend. We had a lot of wodka. You always say "bud-mah!" right before you drink. And then of course "Doooo-bruuuuh" which is like "really good." We had a traditional Ukrainian dinner, and then we went to a Russian billiard hall. Russian billiards are similar to American billiards, except the holes are smaller and the balls are bigger. It makes it much more difficult. Some of Sergiy's friends from work came and busted into our game, and one of them, using his three words of English, kept saying "TERNOPIL'...TOURIST...AMERICA!"
Overall, an interesting experience, but definitely not a piece of cake. I recommend it though. It's nice to visit and explore places that most other people simply disregard.