City

¡Madrid!

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(Had this post sitting as a draft. Thought I should go ahead and post it. Written on Monday, March 10th, 2014).
So I have to write this from my iPhone since Internet isn’t as easily accessible in Madrid as it is throughout Ireland–free wifi that is. But oh well, I have time to kill while I wait for my flight.
There is something to be said about traveling alone. I think there’s a bit of a stigma from a young American’s perspective, or at least I get the vibe that there is one. I don’t think that’s the case for other backpackers from Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Flying into Madrid was kind of like passing through the Pearly Gates. I had my face glued against the window as we flew over mountains and circled back to the city. Once inside the airport, it felt like I was going to the beach. The way people dressed was certainly geared for warm weather but there was a kind of touristy air to everyone’s arrival. And yet again, another European country outdoes America in terms of security and passport lines!
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There’s a bit of a constant theme in my posts lately about wanting to get lost. Well I didn’t have to get physically lost in Madrid (though at one point I did circle around one area). The language barrier was enough of a challenge. Though to my surprise, I could understand this Spanish accent well compared to Mexican, or my Venezuelan room mates’s, accents. And un/fortunately, everyone speaks English to some degree. But with the beard and carefully planned outfit, I wouldn’t attract any attention to myself so that on several occasions, I was addressed in Spanish and was able to get away with simple “si” or “no” responses. But then there were other instances where my background in French and Latin actually hindered my pronunciation with generic Romantic rooted words like “chocolate;” I sounded like an idiot at la creperie, ironically, in Spain, with a French accent. Oh well! In many instances, people were understanding and just spoke back in English.
I got into the city by a crowded bus. I was assuming Madrid would be the same size like Dublin and Amsterdam. I don’t know the populations of any of the cities, but Madrid was noticeably larger with high rises and extended city limits. The spotty internet can only take you so far when you’re in a foreign country. In trying to figure out where my hostel was in this astetically pleasing city, I just kind of winged it. A good sense of direction is better than reliance on the internet. So I wandered the streets with a general direction in my mind and eventually found where I was staying.
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The hostel was pretty cool. It had this open roof atrium, a rooftop bar, and a neat lock system that was better than anything I’ve seen so far. (I was so much happier with this than my time in Belfast. And write as I typed this, some survey person was asking me about my trip here in Madrid. “Uh yea overall definitely a 9 or 10 out of 10,” I just told her).
Anyways, I was in a small but nice room. I met some awkward Aussie that came across as though there was a language barrier between us. We went for Indian food at his recommendation. Luckily I was able to find some other people that wanted to more Spanish-esque things later that night. Two guys from LA were backpacking throughout Europe and were spending their last night out in the Spanish fashion. We went for some delicious sandwiches with some sort of toasted cheese ball. The Spanish, regardless of age, go out no earlier than 22:30. So at midnight, this little sandwich place was packed full with 30 year olds. Throughout the weekend I noticed that the lighting in most establishments was quite bright compared to Irish pubs. I thought that related to the pace of nightlife: Irish go out earlier and the pubs close at 2 am. Spaniards start late and go out longer but consume alcohol at a slower rate. That first night, I didn’t drink because Saturday was going to be a busy day. Plus the hostel room mates were catching an early train the next morning.
Saturday was spent in Retiro Park and El Prado Museo. I saw a lot of famous artwork-I get carried away in some of those galleries, particularly the rooms with Romanticism and Naturalism. The prior seemed to be dominated by Spanish painters. I spent somewhere near four hours in there until my feet ached and I had seen ever room.
I was tired and feeling quite lonely while walking through the park. I had no idea Madrid was the new Paris: everyone was kissing, embracing, sitting on each other. All age groups too, which was just  a matter of culture rather than teenage hormones. Tapas was the cure! I wanted to find a good place to experience this cuisine. I parked it at some restaurant where the young bartender gave me some free plate of jamon y queso. I think the Irish came out in me as I drained another beer; the alcohol isn’t the main attraction at what would seem like an equivalent to America’s happy hour. It’s not like more beer meant more tapas as you might find with America and wings. But as I was sitting there, I was able to figure this all out. Europeans  definitely use their smartphones more reservedly than Americans. Like the Irish, Spanish people noticeably enjoy physical companionship in social settings. It’s no surprise that me as the American happen to be sitting alone ad writing this on my smartphone…The smartphone epidemic really doesn’t pervade into cultures that are rooted in such a way, much to my delight.
Saturday night, I had two new roommates who were teaching English in northern Spain. One was a Texan, the other an Irishman. We went for those crepes I mentioned earlier at around midnight. They proceeded to invite me to their friends apartment somewhere outside of the city center. It may sound really wild for me to go out with random people. But if you’re thinking that, you’re coming at it from your biased American perspective. People aren’t dangerous in Europe as they might be back in the States. Backpacking kids in the similar position as I was aren’t some how predisposed to my prejudice that they’re going to pose a threat. Plus, there were more Americans teaching English in Madrid who were at the apartment and locals who were getting degrees in higher education. So I had a blast meeting new faces aside from how crazy you might think I am 😛
The night somehow continued until the sun started to rise at 7:30. My day didn’t start until I was figuring out how to get to a Real Madrid futbol match with one of my new Japanese room mates. I’m glad I got to experience that. Again, probably against the American train of thought, I found it pretty cool to see a sport that is played throughout the world exhibited at the highest level. Cristiano Ronaldo-no idea how much he makes but the fans were about to murder the poor bum that tripped him-scored right in front of me. The fans were wild to no one’s surprise but the coordinate cheers and chants were really cool to listen to; there was only one or two that were repeated but for the most part, it was a symphony that went along with the match. The kid coordinating it all down near the goal was very much the maestro as he waved his hands around as he sang into the microphone. It was all in good taste until a lot of tripping occurred and no calls were made. I know there’s that American view of soccer players as a bunch of pretty boy actors, and there was a degree of that, but this particular game saw I think somewhere near 10 yellow cards and 1 red card, a fight almost break out after some slapped another player, and the security guards number double as a result of it all. It was definitely more entertaining than watching it on TV and though I’m no a huge fan of the sport in America, it was clear that there was a well executed style of play by Real Madrid as they won 3-0. One of those points was scored accidentally by one Levante’s players and good lord, the fans had to let him know he messed up!
(I don’t feel like typing any more since my flight is leaving. Sorry for only two panoramas. Looking to post some more normal photo-posts!)
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Easter Crowds in Prague

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Prague has been the complete opposite from Vienna. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up, we had just crossed into the Czech Republic. I immediately noticed the different alphabet and constant advertisements for strip clubs, which inevitably allude to prostitution in this country. I thought the latter would be an inescapable issue as it had been in Amsterdam (and in Madrid). But I still haven’t found myself in an area in downton Prague where there is that kind of smut. 
So in addition to the districting of Prague, I really liked the architecture and number of churches on almost every corner. Churches in Germany and Spain were beautiful and I always think that cathedrals and basilicas are extravagant to instill awe from the believer/visitor. But here in Prague, the churches are packed full of tourists who gape and take pictures of all the artwork. Even though America is plagued by technology and a subsequent need to be visually stimulated by a smartphone, I am very surprised and pleased to find that the visual beauty in churches, which were undoubtedly and initially intended to invoke certain emotions, still have that effect today! One of the churches, the Loreta, is thought to be a replica or some sort of mystical duplicate of the Santa Casa, the Virgin Mother’s birth place. (I didn’t go into this church because its staff was on its lunch break). But the folklore from the past still draws crowds which I think says something about a certain post modern view of religion. In this present age of science ad technology, which is almost inextricably (and erroneously, if I might add) associated to a condemnation of faith, believers or just simple tourists still marvel at the views. I think the same could be said about people in the past; they may have just wanted to look at the artwork, or even some relics, just simply because they existed in order that one might look at them. Churches aren’t made for salvation, but they certainly have the power to move believers and tourists alike to experience something extraordinary. Even though people were improperly using DSLRs and camera phones to get pictures of the artwork, which annoys me to no end, I thought that the new technology of today distinguishes more clearly now than before that human beings have always been drawn to visual beauty, despite what post modern thinking says.
The streets were packed in Prague. It was hard to get some shots without a huge crowd in the foreground. I did aim up above people a few times, so we will see how those shots come out on a bigger screen. A Brazilian from the hostel deduced from her travels that there are usually two cities, when situated closely to one another, juxtaposed and compared to each other. Sometimes it’s a capital city and the artsy city, other times it could be a variety of characteristics that distinguish a region’s culture. Madrid to Barcelona, Galway to Dublin, Interlaken to Bern/Zurich, and Prague to Vienna. Aside from Madrid, I prefer the non-capital cities. I know Prague and Vienna are from different countries, but most people are heading from one to the other if they’re touring Europe. Vienna falls into the category that I’ve preferred: not the huge party scene, quieter, less of a tourist trap. Yet I really liked Prague, despite a lot of chain companies and a constant debauchery in the streets outside my hostel. I got out of the touristy area and liked it there even more! But the tourist attractions at the palace were really enjoyable and I didn’t have to go very far to out walk the heavy crowds. I guess my only complaint was arriving right before Easter because the narrow, maze-like streets were fairly packed. Oh well! Had a great time there!
(I don’t have a lot of images in my iPhone, which is a good thing because it means I took a lot with my 5D! So I’ll post those at some point…)

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Vienna, Not My Favorite Stop

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My time in Vienna seemed very transitional; arriving there awkwardly early in the morning from a night train, I had to wait to be checked into my hostel. The train ride was nice but I was still exhausted. There was a huge marathon in the city as well, so in addition to the bad weather, I wasn’t really getting the most out of the place. I quickly got the vibe that Austrians are not the friendliest of people, at least in comparison to the Irish, Germans, and Swiss. In Germany (and somewhat in Spain as well), the locals can quickly figure out you’re a traveller. Even if you’re trying to use some bits and phrases in their native tongue, they’re not very patient as you mispronounce everything. But they don’t really hold it against you that your accent sucks. They just switch to English and roll their eyes. Austrians, on the other hand, came across as disgusted or annoyed by my presence as a foreigner (probably because I scream “American”). I didn’t really say much to anyone while there, yet somehow I felt pretty unwelcome. Despite there being a marathon, I felt like I was the first foreigner they laid eyes on…or maybe the locals were just annoyed at the large crowds for the race. In any case, the best part of Austria was finding an Irishman in my hostel. I heard his accent, introduced myself as a student from Galway, and we then proceeded to go a bar and grab a few pints. I’d like to give Austria another chance because I had some high expectations before getting there. The true colors of a city are most evident when you are visiting between the touristic seasons. It’s the early part of spring in some places more so than others, but Vienna was definitely not beyond its winter.
I went for a hike outside the city in the hopes of getting some good shots of the skyline. The weather was overcast but I went ahead with no jacket (oops). I enjoyed the easy incline but the view was hazy, to no surprise, and the clouds were rolling in quickly overhead. I walked back down, past the numerous bus stops that take you up this hill for sight seeing. Then it poured. Still, it’s nice to be able to ride public transportation and get away with not paying. Dishonest yes, but no one else seemed to pay for the metro. 
I went to the Albertina Museum, and that made the city as a whole, worth I visiting. I really can’t stand Picasso’s work, especially when Monet is in the next gallery. A lot of the pieces on display had me reflecting on what it means to create art. The process, the studying, the critiquing–all of it seemed familiar to me even though my medium is different.
I’d just like to reflect what photography has unfortunately become, in contrast to these artistic legends I was reading about in the museum.
It cracks me up that people go into museums with hefty DSLRs to take pictures of pictures…what do they after they take them? Process a RAW file and do touch ups on a masterpiece? I can understand taking a photo of something that might catch your attention and you want to send it to someone or use it as a phone background or something. But you could easily just type in the photo’s name and most likely find the artist’s work online. It was just silly to have to wait in this procession of people focusing their lenses to get the perfect shot of a still image. (ie why do you have a DSLR in the first place?!)

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My Only Regret in Interlaken

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…was leaving. And not having a cool pair of sunglasses. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, had a wild pair of shades. But I loved it here, if that much wasn’t made obvious in the previous posts. It’s just so expensive. I met a kid for Hong Kong last night in my hostel room and he said that their dollar is roughly 1:1 with the Swiss franc; why is the USD hurting so bad?!
A few nights ago, I met some guys at the Three Tells Irish Pub. The only other places nearby were hotel restaurants or I could’ve walked to a Hooters in the downtown area. Of all the restaurants to have a chain in Interlaken, I’m surprised they have that…But I was later told that the main tourists that come to Switzerland are noticeably from more conservative, eastern countries. Not to make any assumptions, but I got the feelin that the ill-placed Hooters and it’s neighboring casino remained in business by attracting somebody. So it made sense to me to park it at the Irish pub, go figure.
The guy wearing shorts, flip flops, and a pink sports coat turned out to be the owner. As the night progressed with the beer seeming to flow freely, Shebby, the owner, started discussing business theories with me. In terms of capitalism, I could think of a few pros and cons on my own, but this native Kiwi had a really bizarre concept. I was complaining that the conversion rate from the USD to both EUR and CHF was absurdly high, despite the noticeable difference in the cost of living in Interlaken. Shebby suggested that products, particularly in the service industry-which I have a background in-are visibly more expensive to an American because the US doesn’t charge enough. It was a pretty broad slap in the face to the free market concept, but I wasn’t sure if he meant how they tax here or how there are government funded programs that are made more accessible via higher prices. Apparently, the waiters/bartenders have an insane amount of vacation time as well as a 13 month of salary paid. So it kind of equates to not paying taxes, according to Shebby.
However that system works out, it obviously draws a lot of foreign workers. I didn’t know that EU members can just travel between countries and work as long as they have their EU card. But somehow, Interlaken remains particularly Swiss; it didn’t lose it’s identity to migrant workers or from the impact of the tourist industry. Then again, I was there between the main tourist seasons, which I thoroughly enjoyed! So I didn’t run into as many tour groups as I could’ve, but there were quite a few people packed into several areas with their cameras. I liked that dichotomy between the viewers and the doers. It’s expensive here so why not actively do something rather than pay more to photograph it from a distance? Interlaken is dubbed the adventure capital of Europe (or something like that). So I will certainly hope to find myself here again at some point while I’m still young!
I was in such a poor state last night; limited wifi and expensive exits from this town was not convenient to say the least. I’m training back to Zurich because northern Italy’s train system is on strike. That made getting into France more expensive as well. Going directly east was over 100chf, and hearing that Vienna is also expensive, I thought that getting to a main travel hub might be the wisest idea. I’m going to look to bus into Germany or maybe into France. I don’t think I’m doing the train traveling correctly because there are different passes for different countries that have different restrictions in different currencies. That might be easier for someone that can speak Deutsch, French, or Suisse-Deutsch, or all the above plus English…But I’m not timing things correctly. I saw on some travel forum that in Switzerland, there’s some sort of saying that goes something like “the smart person travels by train.” So maybe I’m an idiot for not coordinating efficiently. But Ireland, Spain, and Holland allowed for more spontaneity in travel plans, specifically when going shorter distances. I’m almost half tempted to look at what renting a car is like if the bus system is deficient out of Zurich…Until then, I’m enjoying the views from the train!

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Munich, Munich Take Me In

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(I’m just waiting for my phone to charge before I go to Dachau so I apologize for the typos and misspellings, I’m on my iPhone). Yesterday the couch surfing guy never got back to me and I was literally on his door step but with no wifi I had no idea how to get in touch with him. So I had to train back into the city and ended up doing this maybe 4 mile loop trying to find a hostel. I didn’t have wifi so I used some instincts like locating the nearest Starbucks. But my phone was dying and I was about 2 miles outside of the city center at that point. I know hostels don’t book the day of, or it’s difficult to do that, so I wandered through the city center again. I found a large group of kids with an older leader of sorts, and again, using some instincts I’ve picked up from traveling, a group like that must be heading towards a hostel. I stalked the youth group 😛 about a half a block behind them as to not seem crazy. They lead me right to this hostel that looked really crowded but fortunately, they had a room for me! I met a French Canadian named Xavier and shortly thereafter we went out for some German food. I had Munich schnitzel and a liter of dark beer (putting the Irish pint to shame). It’s nice to see a city on a weekday just because most European cities have a crazy night life on the weekends.

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Pano’s and a Long Rant

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Well, I haven’t posted in awhile because I have been getting into the swing of things here. Since I have been gradually accepting Galway as my new home, I’ve decided that I would choose to live here, regardless of studying or not. I haven’t been to Seattle, but I am assuming that the rainy weather here is similar to that northwest climate. Ireland is more European than it is American, as obvious as that may seem due to its place in the EU. Maybe I was misled by the study abroad advisors or rather, my subconscious made generalizations. But I thought that the English language would bridge the cultural gap between countries. This isn’t the case. Galway is urban for the Irish, but it functions like a village. I write this as I look out into the docks. I’ve watched cargo ships unload and then take on new shipments; it makes me think of a small, fairytale port city. (Maybe ___ from recently watching the Hobbit?) America is too young to have any fairytale, archaic aspects to its culture. Well, it did. But Europeans killed that off (or confined them to reservations) and none of that is preserved mainstream. In any case, Irish culture has been historically practiced and is evident in the daily rituals of the locals. The same could be said (maybe) for the US, but Wal-mart doesn’t have a castle inside of it. (Apparently, inside a shopping mall, the structure of a castle wall is part of the building’s foundation).

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The Docks-This might be one of my favourite images I’ve taken so far. My apartment is behind the large, green boat. This was actually the first time I’ve been walking around this side of the Docks, just because there isn’t too much activity over here. Or so I thought. There might be more areas to explore, but it’s fairly “industrial.”

Taking some classes that focus on Irish history, politics, and culture, it’s becoming more apparent that the Irish are a fighting people. They’re hungry for some positive freedom in the new global age. I’ve come to that conclusion based on several observations at my university. First of all, basic liberties that Americans take for granted are still a novelty. (I guess Americans recently have been challenging their freedoms in the past decade, which is coincidentally the opposite direction Ireland is headed). By that, I mean America is redefining various interpretations of the Bill of Rights/Constitution whereas the Irish are just now experiencing some seemingly basic liberties for the first time. Regardless of anyone’s stance on these liberties, I personally think it’s quite fascinating to know that a developed country like Ireland has finally gotten around to legalizing divorce. I’m not blind to the historical, constitutional connection between the Church and State here, which recently (as many of y’all know) has been under the magnifying glass to say the least. And I don’t consider the implications of Ireland’s past as not relevant to why this country is so far behind America in terms of these liberties. But all of this made me recognize that the US truly was innovative in terms of rights and liberties given to its citizens. This brings me to my second point: because Ireland is just now experiencing something like the American Civil Rights era crossed with the Second Constitutional Congress in 1776, the citizens are hungrier than Americans.

Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It's the city centre (for the most part).
Eyre Square-This is about a three minute walk from my apartment. It’s the city centre (for the most part).

I used that term twice because it captures the extent to which the Irish folk get after it in this world. This competitive, global job market is no place for the American anymore. (I will  surely write a piece on that at some point as much of the structure of the education system here is on mind. So anyone that is offended by that, or would like to hear the extent of my position, anticipate a nice manifesto soon). In short, Ireland does not have much of a national job market. University students have a more globally conscious outlook on their futures. Consequently, they are more competitive in their academics. Or more simply, they are just brighter students. I’ve heard variations of this throughout all the levels of my American education: “I haven’t read a full textbook before.” Whether or not that is true in every student’s instance, American education is certainly becoming more about the “cutting edge”, or should I say “cutting corners” curriculum. In other words, we’re just lazy. Look at the combination of the current status of the US national job market, immigration reform, and obesity epidemic. (We’re toast!) Obviously, there are jobs availabe in the US for hungry immigrants that aren’t afraid of working hard. The Irish were never afraid of hard work; that is as historically true as it is now evident in today’s society.

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Again, part of my daily commute along the River Corrib.

I think that’s enough of a rant today. This is my photoblog! So I apologize for anyone that came here just to view the photos…If that is the case, you can follow my daily posts on Instagram/Twitter; both handles @jvierephoto.

I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.
I did some urban exploring (urbex) and found some grungy, abandoned area, slid through a chain-linked fence, jumped over some broken glass, scaled a gravel mountain all to get this shot.

Moved and Busy

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I guess my posts will be getting shorter now that I am back into the grind of being a student. It doesn’t mean I will be shooting less. I’ve watching various Youtube clips about different photographers and their styles; reading up while I have down time.

Still water reflections at sunset.
Still water reflections at sunset.

Now that initial shine of being in a foreign country has started to wear off, I am starting to get a little homesick. There are certainly some things that I took for granted back in the States: if you “have” internet access, that means you actually have it. Back home, food is processed (and probably more unhealthy) so that it lasts longer; buying groceries on a daily basis is nice because the produce and seafood is definitely fresh here. But I feel like I am spending more if I am spending at a more frequent rate, even though each payment isn’t as high as a bulk purchase like back at home.

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A man etches a chalk message on Shop Street as children watch. This is possibly one of my favourite street shots so far.

Another thing, which is a positive aspect, but it will still take me awhile to get use to; island culture. It’s true, Ireland is an island. I was moved to an apartment looking on the bay/docks. So now I find myself listening to Jack Johnson as I write this because when the sun shines, I feel like I’m at the beach. But with the island lifestyle comes this off-putting mentality of nonchalance and its subsequent disorganization. For someone that has lived in Philadelphia, certain things annoy me. (There, I said it). Cross walks, in the rare instance there are painted lines at a street intersection, don’t mean anything for a pedestrian. Galway City doesn’t have very straight roads either, or so it seems to me when I am trying to get from point A to point B. The “grid” on Mapquest is deceiving; there aren’t a lot of direct lines, which undoubtedly represents Irish life. But the upside of all this is no road rage. I don’t know how but there quite simply is nothing of the sort you see in the States. The long, snaking routes I take to my destinations are along the River Corrib and different canals. It’s quite a lovely commute. So I feel as if I need to detox from fuming Philadelphia and not only say that I like these differences, but actually embrace them as a part of daily life. I hope to internalize the daily grind not in some disgruntled (Philadelphian) mindset in which I have to do this. But I sincerely want to enjoy them. Once I get my iPhone up and running, those small things will be posted more frequently.

I like the small seat contraption that this guy has set up. These street sign holders and cashiers are both seated; different than America I thought, ironically.
I like the small seat contraption that this guy has set up. These street sign holders and cashiers are both seated; different than America I thought, ironically.