Monday, March 26, 2007

Seville & Malaga

Taking advantage of the opportunity to go back to Spain after last weeks wonderful trip to Barcelona I first traveled to Seville. I did not see the barber.

Seville is the artistic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain, irrigated by the river Guadalquivir. It is the capital of Andalusia and of the province of Sevilla. I was surprised to discover that the population of the city of Seville proper was roughly 704,154 the population of the urban area was over a million, ranking the city as the fourth-largest metropolitan area of Spain. With this said, you do not feel that you are in such a large city. Known as Hispalis under the Moors. The architecture of the older parts of the city still reflects the centuries of Moorish control of the city, beginning in 711. The city sits well inland, but a mere 6 meters above sea level. Seville was long an important sea port, prior to the silting up of the Guadalquivir. It was from Seville that Ferdinand Magellan obtained the ships for his circumnavigation. Much of the Spanish Empire’s silver from the New World came to Europe in the Spanish treasure fleet that landed in Seville. To those fellow history lover readers out there, Seville holds the most important archive of the Spanish administration in the Americas: the Archivo General de Indias. Also, the American silver had been rapidly transhipped to Antwerp or Genoa, seat of the bankers who had advanced steady funds to the Spanish Crown from Seville. To those chocolate lovers, the first commercial shipment of chocolate from Veracruz arrived in Seville in 1585. The city was the biggest of Spain in 16th and 17th centuries, with a population of 130,000 in 1649, the year of the Great Plague of Seville. This was the beginning of the city's fall from importance, but Seville was an important artistic centre of the baroque. A stronghold of the liberals during the First Spanish Civil War, 1820-1823, due to its proximity to Africa, during the Second Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, Seville fell to the insurgent army led by Francisco Franco.

I was able to see the city's cathedral which was built on the former site of the city's mosque. It is the largest of all medieval and Gothic cathedrals, in terms of both area and volume. The interior, with the longest nave in Spain, is lavishly decorated, with a large quantity of gold eident. Interestingly enough, the Cathedral reused some columns and elements from the mosque, and most famously the Giralda, originally a minaret, was converted into a bell tower. On the top of the cathedral is a statue, known locally as La Giraldilla, representing Faith and is the city's most famous symbol. I loved Seville and wished I could have stayed but it was one to Malaga.

Málaga is a port city in Andalusia, southern Spain, on the Costa del Sol coast of the Mediterranean. It is beautiful if a bit too tourist. The climate is mild and equable, the mean annual temperature being about 19 °C (66 °F). It has been compared to Naples for its broad sky and broad expanse of bay. The beaches where very nice and I received a nice tan.
The inner city of Málaga is just behind the harbour. And I walked the quarters of El Perchel, La Trinidad and Lagunillas. The Holy Week, Semana Santa, one of two well-known of Málaga's festivals took place while I visisted and I have attached a corresponding picture.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Part of my break or 'holiday' between terms allowed me to go to Spain. If you have never gone I strongly urge you to visit. Yes, what you might see on the travel channel is true; dinner is served no sooner than 8:00pm. Now, for many people in the U.S., Barcelona is best remembered for being the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics. However, well before this occasion, the city played an important role in Spain's history. Bacelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and is the capital of Catalonia. To be honest, I only knew of Catalonia through Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Mautrin naval series. So, to make the discovery that Barcelona is the regions capital was very exciting. If however, my dear reader you are still fuzzy where geographically Barcelona is I will save you the trouble of running for the Atlas. It is located on the Mediterranean coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs, limited to the west by the Serra de Collserola ridge (which my plane flew over and I must admit it is massive looking down). Then again, maybe you do need the Atlas.

Barcelona is a major economic centre, with one of Spain's principal Mediterranean ports. On Thursday walking along with beach I could almost see in the distance the ships that launched the Spanish Empire (Columbus's Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria). On Saturday I immersed myself in the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí with his house, and several buildings being on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For the political junkie in me I had to see the houses of the Catalan autonomous government, known as the Generalitat de Catalunya, notably its executive branch, the Parliament and the Supreme Court of Catalonia.

If you do wish to travel to Barcelona I highly suggest taking the Barcelona Bus Turistic. It was through this mode of travel that I saw literally the entire city, stepping off into the Placa de Catalunya, the city's nerve center; Casa Batlio; the Casa Mila known as La Pedrera; Sagrada Familia; Park Guell; Miramar-Jardins Costa i Llobera; Colom-Museu Maritim; Port Vell; and the medieval quarter that keeps itself young, the Pla de Palau. A few pictures of what I saw and the man whom all Barcelona loves:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

End of Term & Train trip

The university where I teach over here operates on a trimester system. So, after ten weeks of teaching I have allowed a brief respite before I begin the Spring term.

I have traveled to Brussels and in a few days I will leave for Barcelona. The advantage of living on the Continent. To get to Brussels I took a flight from Bratislava to Paris, then a train to Brussels. If you, my dear reader, am confused as to why I chose this particular route to get to my final destination I will soothe any frowns with this simple answer. It was faster. A flight from Bratislava to Brussels involves a stop over in Munich. I am sure that Munich is nice, but after spending five hours in its airport I wish not to experience it again. Since the whole trip should only take approximately three hours and my first trip to Brussels had leave in the morning and arrive in the evening I was looking for something else. So, an hour and half plane journey to Paris and then a hour and forty minute train journey to Brussels. Simple, concise and easy.

Upon arriving at Paris Orly airport I followed the signs to the train, bought my ticket and proceeded to take the Metro (blue line) to Gard de Nord. Once there I collected my pre-ordered ticket and made my way to the track. However, two things happened that I found particularly intriguing. The first was that I was asked by a gypsy for money. I fell into the trap quite quickly, since I had had my back turned and only heard 'do you speak English?' Maybe it was my luggage. But then maybe it was how I was dressed that gave off the impression that I was a local, but educated enough to speak one of the universal languages. This seemed to be the case on the train not ten minutes earlier as I had helped a couple on vacation navigate the crowds and their map. So with this memory still fresh in my mind I assumed it was another lost tourist. I was mistaken. When I told her truthfully that I did not have any euros she empathically stressed she wanted dollars (quite the shred businesswoman). Unfortunately for her I did not have any dollars only Slovak crowns and a 1 euro coin, which as I was telling her that I had no American money fell out of my wallet rolling on the ground. I was soon forgotten as she scrambled for the coin and I promptly left.

My other intriguing observation was the rolling countryside of northeastern France. Whether it was the chateau sheltered by trees that I saw for the briefest moments as the train ran by or the fields of flowers and wheat. I was overcome with the sense of history (the professor and nerd inside me crying out for the train to stop) imagining the very same rail track taking blue coated soldiers to the jagged scars across the landscape in 1915 or the herd of refugees roaming across the fields one step ahead of the advancing German Wehrmacht in 1940. This was not too hard to do since stone pill boxes can still be seen, if you know what you are looking at.

I will write on Spain soon.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Whose Is The Bigot?

Three of the leading Republican presidential candidates on Saturday denounced one of their party's best-known conservative commentators for using an antigay epithet when discussing a Democratic presidential contender at a gathering of conservatives. It should not be any surprise that Ann Coulter is controversial; her speech and her writings are primarily for conservatives and those unfamiliar with her, though this is hard to believe, it does not take long to deduce her extreme right-wing sentiments. Her comments will not repeated in this blog, but I would like to know why she choose John Edwards? He is not homosexual and more to the point there has never been any suggestion that he might be.

Such comments made possibly for shock-effect or considering Ms. Coulter’s audience amusement may be understood within that context though it still is not acceptable. I am reminded of a Slovak politician who is habitually in the media spotlight for unfavorable remarks and actions. The gentleman’s name is Ján Slota and for those readers who have not heard of him let me give you a brief bio: he is the co-founder and President of the Slovak National Party (SNS), and former mayor of the town of Žilina between 1990-2006. In the 2006 parliamentary election, Slota became an MP and his SNS joined the ruling coalition with Robert Fico’s Direction - Social Democracy party and Vladimír Mečiar’s People's Party - Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. As a part of the coalition agreement, Slota didn't obtain any government position.

Slota is frequently criticized for his arrogance and nationalism. In his defence, Slota says he is protecting Slovaks, especially those living in southern Slovakia. However when he has repeatedly made and makes xenophobic, nationalist, abusing statements about the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (the party of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia), and Hungarians in general and strongly abuses in his speeches the Roma (Romanians) and homosexuals, it is difficult to discover how he is protecting Slovaks. His most recent comments regarding Albanians had his coalition parter and former prime minister, Vladimír Mečiar cringe.

Comments by Slota and Coulter touch upon a deeper problem in the world. Ignorance. Both of the individuals mentioned in this post have a particular following of supporters. They both have a set of beliefs that they consider inseperable from their personality, in part, the reason for their celebrity, but the number of accolodes, books, or press clippings still do not change the fundamental inaccuracy of such beliefs. Moreover, such beliefs should embolden advocates, parents, and teachers to do the only responsible action. Educate. The reaction from Republican presidential contenders and public outcry towards Slota’s comments show that both are not in the mainstream of opinion. This is good and it is not only electioneering. Let us hope that the time soon comes when their opinions are not mentioned at all.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Out of Practice

As my students prepare for their final exams and I prepare their exams while reading and grading their papers this weekend I thought it would be interesting to note what I have learned regarding european college social life. Simply stated, I am out of practice.

What I mean is that while I remember with a smile my own university days of staying up past 1:00am partying with my friends I still managed to get at least six hours of sleep and function the next day. This sleep schedule was accomplished by the fact that bars closed at 1:30 or 2:00am. In Europe this is generally when the second wave of party-goers arrive!

Most bars and clubs don't shut their doors until 4:00am! This I discovered three weeks ago and the reality of my unfitness to the 'old' lifestyle sunk in the following morning when I had to lecture through the occasional yawn and catch up on sleep for three days.

Last night was the last school party of the term. I left at 11:30pm, but many of my fellow colleagues were still there and though I asked my students, who had a review for their final exam in my classes today, not to stay out too late, this was translated as 2:30 at the latest.

The review went fine though I noticed the occassional yawn. As for myself though anything past midnight has become a struggle I am comforted to know that I have exactly six weeks before the next party.

Until next time...