Monday, July 13, 2009

Pamplona, Spain: Running of the Bulls, July 10th - 12th

This was probably the scariest/ most thrilling weekend of my life. Tom and I left Airbus Friday night around 5pm and drove to Pamplona. The GPS got messed up around Bayonne, France and we ended up taking a very curvy back road most of the remaining distance. We got to our campsite, Ezcaba, around 9:30pm. Originally, we had a hostel booked in Pamplona but a pipe broke and they condemned the building. So they arranged for us to stay at this campsite through a company called Stokes. It was ran but Australian Bohemians that were super drunk and terribly unorganized. We paid 50 euros each to sleep in a pup tent. They did have BBQ and booze for 5 euros. That made everything a little more tolerable, except the chicken wasn't exactly cooked.

We turned in pretty early so we could get up at 4:30am to be in town on time to Run with the Bulls. All the advice we could find said absolutely do not run without watching at least one Encierro (Running of the Bulls) first; we disobeyed. To make up for it we watched several videos on and printed off a course map. I like to say we were reviewing the "game film."

We finally managed to get to the course and find a spot with which we felt comfortable, after "dead man's corner" on the Estafeta straight-away. About 7:15 they closed the gate about 50 meters in front of us and kicked everyone of the course. We had to run like crazy to get close to the beginning and slip through the fence to get back on the course before 7:30. There were hundreds of people jam-packed on the course, and I was nervous we were going to start from there, entrenched in a sea of drunkards. I should note that the Running of the Bulls is the last event of the day's fiesta. The party starts at 11pm and continues all night long until the run at 8am.

Thankfully, about 5 minutes before they release the bulls they open the course back up and we were able to jog about a quarter mile to our selected starting point. The entire course is 840 meters (over 1/2 mile), the bulls can run it in sub 2:30 minutes. Then we heard the first rocket, signifying the bulls were released. I literally wet myself a little from the nerves, I felt my stomach drop, my muscles tighten, my vision focus, everyone switched into survival mode: it was go time!

Then the second rocket exploded: all the bulls were out of the pen. People were starting to jog to the Plaza de Toros (bull ring). Our plan was to run, get as close as possible, and duck out as soon as we got to a fence (where we started we were sandwiched between buildings, with nowhere to go but 8 inch deep doorways). Then we heard the cowbells, people were sprinting by, and my entire perspective slowed. Several bulls went by, we saw more in the distance, I jumped out and started to sprint, dodging and weaving in and out of people, being mindful not to stay in the middle for too long; that is where the bulls run. As I rounded the corner of Telefonica, I witnessed a man getting gored and thrown into the fence, the bull hesitated, the crowd froze... bewildered. Then as the bull headed toward the plaza and my goal changed. I decided the run would be for nothing unless I made it into the Plaza de Toros. The course bottlenecks down the ramp of stadium, people were falling, people were getting trampled, and people pushing their way to safety. Then as I ran into the stadium, I was standing in the middle of arena with thousands of people dressed in white pants and shirts with red scarves and sashes cheering as the bulls came into the ring.

The feeling of elation was almost too much to comprehend. The feeling one gets when they sit on their leg wrong for an hour and then stand up, "pins and needles," I had that rushing through my entire body. It was over. Or so I thought. I found Tom in the center of the Ring and we celebrated.

We quickly learned what happens after they close the doors to the ring. They let bulls back out into the crowd to chase people. The crowd tries to touch the bulls with out getting charged, people are tripping, screaming, running, fleeing... pandemonium. All in all they ran 6 bulls through the crowd before they opened the gates. On the way out, on the side of the fence, one section was covered in red bandannas, as a memorial for the gentlemen who had been gored to death only 24 hours prior.

I didn't come down from the run, and I still don't think I have. I was happy to have survived, and vowed to never do it again.

We checked into our new hotel. They messed up our reservation and gave us the corner suite with a wrap around balcony on the top floor to make up for it. We took naps, and then hit the streets for the party. I partied harder on Saturday afternoon then I may have any other time. It was so intense when we decided to take naps at 6pm to get ready for the party at 11pm, we woke up a 6am the next day. We were so disappointed we missed the nightly festivities we decided to suck it up and run again. We were tempting fate a second time; it was almost as though we had beat fate in a game of P-I-G and we had to "prove-it" before the game could end.

This time, we decided to film it. When you see the crowd turn around and run the other way, and the camera violently shakes, a bull has just flung a man by his neck with his horn and is charging the opposite way of the stadium, back into the crowd. My heart still races and I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach watching this video; recounting the most exhilarating weekend of my life (thus far).

Untitled from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

Normandy: May 22nd - 24th

Gradman, Hartje, and I went to Normandy to tour the WWII sites.

Normandy from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

Amanda Comes to Toulouse II: May 7th - 11th

Amanda's second trip to Toulouse. Pretty busy weekend of doing nothing! We went to Le Trader in Toulouse, which is a bar that adjusts drink prices like the stock market, with live feeds and everything. Hung out at my flat. And went to Cordes sur Ciel.

She brought me cufflinks she had custom made from keys on a 1930s typewriter!!

Untitled from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

Switzerland: April 30th - May 3rd

Weekend in Switzerland. We went Canyoning, Hang Gliding, and White Water Rafting.

Untitled from AmandaPants on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Copenhagen, Demark: April 24th-26th

Weekend before last Tom, Ticknor, Slattery, London, Justin, Gradman, and I went to Copenhagen. Our flight was delayed coming out of Amsterdam, so we got in really late. Friday night we hit a bar called Barcelona, met up with some locals Klaus and Heidi, and rode bicycles until about 3am. There are bicycles everywhere in Copenhagen.

Saturday, Washington, Ticknor, London, Gradman, and I toured the city. Throughout the day we acquired bicycles to make getting around more easy. We mainly hit up the Inner City and checked out the Palace, the Round Tower, some parks, some old Navy Barracks, churches, and the famous Little Mermaid statue inspired by the book. We had lunch in the Nyhavn district along the River. I had a chicken club, fries, and a beer for $40... Denmark is expensive!

Saturday night we went to an ice bar where they gave us special coats and gloves to wear. We stayed for about two drinks: 1) because it was literally freezing, and 2) drinks were $18 a piece. We decided to go to a club after the Ice Bar. Unfortunately for me, Gradman put me in a full nelson, then tripped and fell on top of me. It popped my neck and back pretty badly, so I called it a night and went to bed with a headache.

Sunday, Slattery and I went to Christiania (aka Freetown). Where in the 70s Hippies took over a military barracks and started their own independent community. Now they sell drugs openly on the streets, market style and other hand crafted goods. No pictures are allowed in the city limits.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Egypt: April 8th - 13th

Wednesday, the 8th, I flew to Cairo, Egypt after work. I arrived Thursday morning at approximately 3am. It took a little while to make it through customs as I had to purchase and Egyptian visa. Once I made it out of the airport, I took at taxi to my hotel, City Stars Holiday Inn in Heliopolis. Thanks to may 5 month stay at a Holiday Inn Tulsa, I was upgraded to an executive suite. I finally had to force myself to try to go to sleep at about 4:30, after calling Amanda, which probably cost $900. As soon as I started to doze off I heard the Imam's call for prayer coming from a nearby Mosque. It felt awesome to be back in a Muslim country.

Thursday afternoon two of my favorite people in the world met me: David Brandorff, my best friend from college, and Sara Felt, his wonderful girlfriend. When we had the discussion about where to meet it went something like this: "Where should be meet?" "How about the Sphinx?" "Does noon work?" "Great, see you then!" I must admit, it felt like a super hip rendez-vous point.

After poking around the Pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza we hoped in a cab to head to the Egyptian Museum. We wanted some food, so the cabbie stopped and bought us some Koshari, it was like noodles, rice, vegetables, and grilled onions; reminded me of Hungarian Goulash meets American Ramen Noodles. The museum looked like it was from the 1940s, wooden cases with glass and brass locks. The highlight of the museum was the Tutankhamen exhibition.

We finished the night with dinner at the restaurant La Sangaria along the river Nile. We smoked hookah, had a few beers, and relaxed. After dinner we took a cab to the train station. We took an over night train to Luxor. Even though we had first class our cab was like the Darjeeling Limited. David and I slept on the floor, and may have gotten bedbugs.

We arrived in Luxor around 7am, and dropped our bags off at the Susanna Hotel. To kill time before check in we went to the Luxor Temple and the Souk (market). We found a great street vendor selling falafel for a snack. Afterward, we checked into our hotel, showered, and changed clothes. Once we got comfortable we went to Karnak Temple.

That evening we met 3 Egyptian guys at a bar, who invited us out after Sara and I beat them at billiards. Not getting into to much detail, the night involved 6 of us riding 2 motorcycles (3 to a bike) racing down a road that ran directly between the Nile and Luxor Tempor, and Underground Egyptian belly dancing club, and all of us taking turns dancing with the belly dancer. There was a live band and everything. It was obvious we were out of place and it couldn't have been more fun. One of the most memorable nights of my life.

Saturday consisted of waking up late and then traveling around the area. We went to the Valley of the Kings and saw 4 tombs. They were much more amazing then I ever imagined. Not only were they large, but they were immaculately painted. No pictures allowed, sorry. We paid an extra $10 (should have been $20) to see Tutankhamen's tomb, which was not nearly as cool as I expected. It was small, not super decorated, and kinda bland. Granted the body is still there, but it is in a glass case on display. We also saw the Colossi of Memnon and the Temple of Hatshepsut which was built into the side of a mountain. For dinner, we went to a place called Nubian Village, which was set up outside like a small town and served traditional Nubian cuisine. At least they played Hip-Hop (WTF?).

Sunday we got up at about 4am to head to the Luxor Airport. We flew to the Sinai Peninsula to Sharm el-Sheik. We sent the entire day lounging on the beach and swimming in the Red Sea. I took the opportunity to finish reading David Copperfield. I snuck away to make an important phone call and relax. When I met back up with David and Sara we had some beers, went to a hookah pit, and I fell asleep on cushy pillows on the beach. That evening I bought T-Shirts and Pins from HardRock for co-workers, which I subsequently left at our dinner restaurant (bye bye 90 bucks!! Idiot!!). We had dinner at a fancy Middle Eastern restaurant called Abou El-Sid. If you go, get the appetizer tray, in fact get two. The vine leaves are too die for. Around 10pm we headed back to the airport and flew back to Cairo. We grabbed a cab and drove through downtown Cairo at around 1am. We stayed at the Julianna Hotel near the Egyptian museum, slept for about 5 hours, got up and head home.

Go to Egypt. It's worth it. One piece of advice, take pens with you. Apparently, they don't have good writing utensils, this will help you when people ask for money. Which is every 5 seconds.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Schlosophy #2: Cutters (not the secret kind)

I can think of nothing the French love to do more than cut in line. Anytime there is a queue, the French feel obliged to walk immediately to the front and pretend as though they are oblivious to the crime they have committed. When I was still new to France, I used to just let it go and not say anything. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my argument would have no impact as I did not speak any French. Then as I progressed, I started a new tactic. Anytime someone would cut I’d say, “WHAT THE F#%K!!” which seemed to be a little startling. Even if the perpetrator did not speak English, they knew what you were saying.

Alas, I have discovered an even more perfect line of defense against this blatant disregard for social norms. It involves fighting back with another social taboo. The next time someone cuts in front of you. Start a coughing fit. The kicker, do NOT cover your mouth. Cough all over them, and in their general direction!! How gross is that? The beauty is they cannot do anything about it without indicting themselves. So they, a) have to take it and miserably regret they ever cut you, b) say something to you thereby acknowledging their fault, at which point you can rightfully call them on it, or c) they leave the line (nobody wants what you pretend to have).

Tunisia and Wichita

The past two weeks have seen a lot of miles. Two weeks ago, David Doherty, Tim Slattery, and I went to Tunisia in Northern Africa. We departed Toulouse with our African maiden heads and returned in the matured state that can only be accurately defined as (wo)manhood.

Everything was extremely cheap in Tunisia. Our first night in town we went to a café had 3 coffees and a bowl of shisha for about 3€. On the way home we purchased schwarmas, fries, and cokes for about $1.50. On Saturday we sent to the Tunis Souq (bizarre) and bought various trinkets and items. Slattery and I each purchased hookahs to add to our

collection and I also purchased from princess-esq mirrors for my twin 3 year old nieces: Indiana and Savannah.

After we left the market we went back to our hotel and booked a taxi to take us to the western city of Dougga. Dougaa is a world heritage site, so named because it is one of the largest and well preserved Roman ruins outside of Rome still in existence. We hired a taxi for about 5 hours, the driver served as our chauffeur, translator, and guide. Total cost, about $50 a piece. We could get a 10 minute taxi ride in downtown Tunis for about $0.30.

Sunday, we went to the famous city of Carthage, the city where Hannibal became famous. We again, hired the same taxi to drive us around to the various sites. Slattery put on a great show of Cher’s “Walking in Memphis” at the amphitheatre. Dave and I were entertained; I cannot speak for the rest of the audience.

Over all Tunisia was a very fun experience. It was surreal being exposed to a Muslim country without a guide and having to try to figure our Arabic on our own. Luckily, they also speak French. On a side note we arrived in Tunisia on their independence day (from France). One annoying thing about the city is that everybody wants to be your “friend.” Basically they just want to sell you crap.

On Tuesday, I had a visitor. Remember Amanda from Portugal? We went out to eat at Tex-Mex near my flat, drank some beers and hung out pretty much all night. I took half a personal day from work s

o I could do my best to entertain my guest on her one night in Toulouse. You can consider her officially added unofficial musical distribution list. Thanks to her, I now know about and Concerts To-Go.

I dropped her of at the airport at about 8pm on Wednesday, went back to my flat, packed, slept for about 2 hours, then headed back to Blagnac to catch my flight to Wichita.

Wichita was a great time to recharge and spend some time with my two favorite people. The week consisted of sledding, a road trip to Hamilton when it had no electricity so we had to build fort in my room with blankets to stay warm for drinking games, listening to Bon Iver on the drive home through the snow coated flint hills with the sun shining brightly through the deep blue contrasting sky, BBQ at the bossman’s, a champagne party, the Pumphouse, work, a new addition to the A-team (Megan Hill), SigEps 50th Anniversary celebration (I had an awesome date), breakfast with SigEp’s Grand National President, Steve Shanklin, a nostalgic game of Presidents and Assholes at the SigEp house, girls in bunny costumes, finally purchasing a webcam to facilitate internet dates, and sleeping in spurts whenever I had the opportunity.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fun Random Videos

Goat Boy - Tim wearing ski boots

Tom teasing Jeff on U-Bahn in Berlin (sorry for the sideways shot)

Tag on the Beach!! Brian, Tom, Alex, Amanda, and I

Monday, March 16, 2009

Diversity: An old, old, wooden ship. (Sweden 3/12-3/15, 2009)

Thursday night David Doherty and I flew from Toulouse-Blagnac to Arlanda in Stockholm, via Schiphol, Amsterdam. On the flight, I handed him the worst defeat in hang-man in the history of the game. He used every single letter in the English alphabet except for "w." The word: cacophony.

We made it to my friend Andreas' house in Spågna at around midnight, had some sandwiches, and went to bed. Andreas and I met in Dr. Cheng's International Economics 672 class at WSU a few years ago.

Friday we traversed the archipelago exploring the wonderful city that is Stockholm. Our adventure started at central station. The first order of business was to have an early lunch at Taco Bar. If there is one thing France is lacking, it is fast Tex-Mex food.

We left the restaurant and walked down the shopping street, Drottninggatan, to Sergels Torg, a 30m glass tower. From there we headed to Kungsträdgården, which is a centrally located park, near the Sweden House. Continuing down the island Helgeandsholmen we walked through the courtyard of the Swedish Parliament in route to the island of Gamla Stan, where Old City is located. On Gamla Stan we checked out the Royal Palace, Riddarholmskyrkan church, which was built in the 13th century, some other churches, and the magnificent Stortorget Square whose perimeter is surround by very colorful buildings.

Pressing southward we went to the Södermalm district to see the Katarina Kyrka from the 1600s. Dave bet me 25 euros I wouldn't start a snowball fight with 3 girls who looked like they were twelve. Let's just say, I made 25 euros, but did not make any new friends ;) Our retreat, lead us to Söder Mälarstrand which is a high point that over looks a panoramic view of Stockholm. The contrast of shimmering, melting ice in the harbor, the colorful buildings, and blue sky shining through the dark overcast sky, can most accurately be described as splendor.

Finally, we walked around the small island of Skeppsholmen to see some outdoor art, and boats in the harbor. We walked back to Central station to meet Andreas, his friend Daniel, and another old friend from WSU, Mikael. The night was rather intense. It included beers near the station, Max Burgers, a private Karaoke booth with some very terrible singing, a bar near Oderplan, an exclusive night club in Stureplan, and losing David. Toward the end of the night David and I decided we wanted to stay out and somehow we met a French guy and a Canadian guy. Turned out the French guy knew the owner of a club in Stureplan (the elitist clubbing district), he invited us along, so we skipped the line, avoided the cover, and had a great time dancing with Scandinavian girls that were about 5 inches taller than both of us.

On the walk home we got separated. I ended up taking a taxi back to
Spågna for about 400 Kronas. Dave never made it! He eventually got to the apartment around 7am, but wasn't 100% sure which room it was, so he tried to sleep on a bench during Scandinavian snowfall. He gave up and got a hostel downtown on a boat.

This is a good time to introduce a personal traveling philosophy of mine, I'll call these little tidbits Schlosophies from now.

When traveling in a group, people should be able to break off and do whatever they want. In fact sometimes it is great to just get away by yourself for a while. However, under no circumstances is it okay for you to make the group wait or be caused any inconvenience because of your decisions. If for some reason you stay up all night drinking, and do not meet up with the group at the airport the next morning, you get left. Plain and simple. We're all adults here. You should be able to find your own way home. There is no sense in everyone missing their flight and having to buy new tickets because of one person. Same goes for late night clubbing excursions, if you want to make some new "friends," great, but don't expect people to stay out late because of you. I remember telling Tom, Brian, and Jeff to leave me at Fritz club in East Berlin at about 5am in January, it took a little bit to convince them that I would be okay, but eventually I was successful. I took a taxi to meet them a few hours later, just in time to leave for the airport and sleep on the plane.

Dave and I didn't' meet up until about 5pm on Saturday. So I spent Friday at the Vasa Museum. The Vasa was a viking ship that sank in 1628, and was salvaged in 1961 in very good condition. I walked around Skansen and checked out the amusement park that was shut down. Saturday night we went to a house party with Andreas. Dave bet me 150 euros that I wouldn't fake a fall and pretend to be knocked out for 5 minutes; I couldn't move or laugh. It took a lot of concentration but I pulled it off. Gustav tried to check my pulse after the 5 minutes was up, so I started at him and almost sent him into Cardiac Arrest. It was HILARIOUS. We left the party and I got a room at Dave's hostel, then we went to a bar called Snaps. On the way home we got some food that was basically a wrap with lettuce, hot dogs, and mashed potatoes.

Stockholm has now been elevated to my top 5 cities in the world!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Blogging. The Key to Experiential Preservation?

My passion is traveling. However, one of the most annoying things is telling people the details of my trips. Don't get me wrong, I love telling stories, but after explaining how awesome a place is 10 or 20 times, it actually starts to lose it's glamor. I have kept a personal journal now for about 5 years; I am considering this a small extension with photographs!

Up until now I have been to 21 different countries: Mexico, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, England, France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Turkey, Italy, Andorra, Vatican City, Mallorca (Spain), Monaco, Luxembourg, and Portugal. I have confirmed plane tickets to Sweden (tomorrow), Tunisia (next week), Egypt (next month), and Switzerland (in May). There are a few other places on the list, but we'll get to those later.

I have lived in a town with only 300 people and a metropolis of 5,000,000 people. I grew up in a small town called Hamilton, KS, then moved to Wichita, KS for university. I have also lived in Washington DC (Silver Spring, MD technically) for an internship, Berlin, Germany for a study abroad, Tulsa, OK, for work, and I am currently living in Toulouse, France for work, supporting the Airbus A350 program.

Meeting new people, learning new things, and eating exotic foods are a few of my favorite activities. I can get along with anyone from anywhere. I consider myself very open-minded and not judgmental. I have a very John Stuart Mill-esque philosophy on life, and am a card carrying member of the Libertarian Party. My mantra is "If you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly." I have that tattooed on all my online forums, and I even had it inscribed on the back of my iPod. Half-assing anything is not an option. If you are going to do it, do it.

I hate when people say, "I wish I could travel as much as you!" Everybody can travel. It is VERY easy. People just have to suck it up and do it. It's all about prioritization. For me, I don't care what cable package I have, I don't care if I have leather couches, and I don't care if my laptop is 3 years old; I would much rather spend my money on plane tickets and hostels. If you are timid about leaving the country, feel free to come with me on one of my adventures, I love company. Traveling with a buddy is more fun. I am a firm believer that experiences should be shared.

To close out my first post, I have created a slideshow of most of the places I have been so far. I realized after I started that I could not insert text, so if you want to know where something is, just ask and I'll tell you.