World Cup Fever in Spain!

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Nicole and I cheering on "La Roja" in one of their early world cup games.

How lucky was I to have lived in Spain the one year they make it all the way to the finals and win the world cup? I suppose some would consider it unlucky, with all the swarms of loud fans, honking car horns, and traffic caused by the games, however as a foreigner from Canada, where nothing exciting like the world cup ever happens, I was thrilled to be a part of the action!

Even though I had never sat down and watched a soccer game from start to end (shocking, no?), I found myself watching every single Spanish world cup game and even dressed up and supported “la roja” like a true Spaniard. Alicante was a truly exciting place to watch the game, where everyone rushed to the bars an hour before the game started to secure seats in front of the many new HD big-screen TVs bought just in time for the games, and sat outside cheering, drinking beer, and having a good time.

For the final game, I wound up in Toledo. After a disappointing first period watching the game in an almost-empty bar, my family and I rushed to the “plaza de toros” (the bull-fighting ring) where the action was at. The plaza was completely filled with people, all sporting the colours of Spain. It was as if everyone in that arena was linked emotionally; we all cheered, boo-ed, shouted, and screamed at the same time as Spain fought their way to become world champions for the first time in the history of the world cup.

Here are some pictures and videos to give you a taste of what it means to be Spanish and support the national football team!

[zenphotopress album=17 sort=random number=12]

WordPress 3.0 Installed

WordPress 3.0 has finally been released, and is now installed on RaphSammut.ca. I’m not sure what happened, but the automatic update knocked out my website and I am now going through the painful process of restoring everything.

(Obvious) Lessons (re-)learned:

  • Always back-up your files!! It’s as easy as making a tar.gz archive of your wordpress directory and a simple backup of your MySQL database.
  • Remember to disable all your plug-ins first (this may have caused my crash).
  • Put your site into maintenance mode before updating.

I could not get anything to work properly, so I just ended up installing a fresh copy of wordpress and am now transferring all my files to the new installation.

Oh well, you live you learn..

The reason I updated WordPress was so that I can start attacking my back-log of unwritten posts! Here’s my checklist:

  • Trip to Florence, Pisa, Siena (May 28-30)
  • The Curious Incident of the Angry Algerian with Two Knives in the Night-Time (June 3)
  • Trip to Malta (June 11-12)
  • Trip to Rome¬† (June 18-20)
  • Las Hogueras de San Juan de Alicante (June 21-24)

What else is new?

  • A big welcome to the new Canadian interns, Lucy Yin and Kasper Woiceshyn who have started working at CYPE Ingenieros in Alicante, Spain and are sharing the flat with us.
  • I bid farewell to by far the nicest and most fun room mates I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a flat with: Conni & Sebastian! (You can check out their awesome blog here).
  • The amazing atmosphere we’ve had in Alicante these past few days due to the feast of St. John and the World Cup (Spain is still in the running!!)
  • My dear mother and brother are visiting a week from today. We’ll be two road-trips: Alicante-Granada/Motril/Trevelez-Toledo-Cuenca-Valencia AND Valencia-Barcelona-Madrid.
  • My Grandmother and cousin are visiting at the end of the month for a weekend.
  • I head to Malta for 10 days from August 7-17, followed by a visit to Finland from August 18-22 and Gothenburg City, Sweden from August 28-29.

Stay tuned for the promised posts! Now that I’m on half-day summer schedule I have time to catch up ūüėÄ

El Viaje Volc√°nico

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Cuando embarqué en el avión con destino a Altenburg, Alemania, el miércoles pasado para tomar unas vacaciones, nunca imaginé que el domingo siguiente, yo y otros miles no podríamos regresar a nuestras casas. En cuanto llegué a Alemania, empezó una de mis aventuras más curiosas en Europa.

El aeropuerto de Altenburg es peque√Ī√≠simo, tiene el tama√Īo aproximadamente de una estaci√≥n de autobuses en vez de un aeropuerto internacional. Mientras est√°bamos saliendo de la terminal, un oficial de aduana nos eligi√≥ para una inspecci√≥n de nuestras maletas, probablemente porque nosotros dos somos extranjeros. La habitaci√≥n para las inspecciones era como un armario, con nosotros y los dos oficiales, casi no cab√≠amos dentro.¬† Como ten√≠a unos paquetes de comprimidos vitam√≠nicos, tambi√©n comprobaron que no eran peque√Īas cantidades de narc√≥ticos. Poco despu√©s, salimos del aeropuerto y nos encontramos con nuestro amigo alem√°n Miguel.

El primer día de nuestro viaje, fuimos a la ciudad de Dresden, que al final de la segunda guerra mundial, fue completamente destruido. Ahora, es una ciudad muy bonita con grandes edificios y un río que cruza entre la mitad de la ciudad. Comimos comida típica de Alemania (Schnitzel, salchichas, y patatas) y bebimos mucha cerveza buena. Por la noche, salimos de fiesta con estudiantes de la universidad de Dresden.

Al d√≠a siguiente, condujimos a Praga (s√≥lo dos horas en coche desde Dresden), la capital antigua de la Rep√ļblica Checa. A pesar de un poco de mal tiempo, ¬°disfrutamos mucha de la ciudad! Ya que s√≥lo estar√≠amos medio d√≠a all√≠, contractamos una excursi√≥n guiada por los lugares de inter√©s. La catedral, el palacio, y el puente de Carlos fueron los sitios m√°s importantes. Estaba sorprendido porque mis esperanzas sobre Praga no eran muy altas, pero es una ciudad m√°gica y tiene muchas cosas para disfrutar.

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Nuestra siguiente parada fue Berl√≠n, la capital de Alemania. A diferencia de Praga, estaba un poco decepcionado porque ten√≠a mucha esperanza en ver la ciudad pero en realidad, no hay mucho para ver. Dado que mucho de la ciudad fue destruido en la guerra, es una ciudad muy moderna. Los edificios del gobierno y los edificios p√ļblicos eran impresionantes, pero el resto no fue muy especial. Como Alemania del Este fue comunista despu√©s de la guerra y antes de la ca√≠da del muro de Berl√≠n, la arquitectura es muy sencilla. Pero, s√≥lo por estar en un lugar donde hubo tantos eventos importantes en el siglo veinte, mereci√≥ la pena. Vimos los restos del muro de Berl√≠n y el monumento construido en honor de los jud√≠os que hab√≠an sido asesinados en la guerra, y sent√≠ mucho respecto por ver todo lo que antes s√≥lo hab√≠a le√≠do en libros.

La experiencia m√°s potente en todo el viaje fue nuestra visita a un campo de concentraci√≥n cerca de Weimar. No tengo palabras para explicar lo que sent√≠ cuando vi los horrores del Holocausto directamente. Ahora el campo es un monumento. Era muy tranquilo y verde, reluciente debajo del sol y el cielo azul, pero la memoria de lo que pas√≥ all√≠ 60 a√Īos antes nunca lo olvid√°remos.

Nos quedamos la noche en la peque√Īa ciudad de Weimar donde muchos m√ļsicos y poetas vivieron como Goethe, Schiller, y Bach. ¬°Es una ciudad muy pintoresca! Fue un buen cambio de medio ambiente despu√©s de las ciudades grandes. Adem√°s, fue en Weimar donde descubrimos que a causa de la ceniza volc√°nica flotando sobre todo Europa, todos los vuelos (incluyendo nuestro) eran cancelados.

Por suerte, encontramos a un hombre que iba a conducir a Alicante desde Frankfurt la ma√Īana siguiente en una p√°gina web para gente que quiere compartir sus coches con viajeros. El martes, al cabo de 28 horas en coche, llegamos a Alicante a las 7 de la ma√Īana, nos duchamos, y fuimos a trabajar. Todav√≠a hay muchos pasajeros que no pueden regresar a sus casas ya que los vuelos acaban de empezar, y todos los trenes y autobuses est√°n llenos y s√ļper-caros. ¬°Que el pr√≥ximo viaje sea m√°s f√°cil!

Breakfast in Amsterdam, Lunch in France, Dinner in Switzerland

To enjoy a long weekend, I recently embarked on a trip to Amsterdam and Geneva from March 19-March 23. We flew Ryanair from Alicante to Madrid, and¬†connected to an easyJet flight from Madrid to Amsterdam. Recently, I’ve noticed that Ryanair has become VERY strict regarding carry-on baggage. They now thoroughly inspect everyone’s hand luggage to make sure it fits the required dimensions (comfortably) and is not too heavy. We never had problems before, but this time we had to fight to take our bags on-board with us (they fit the dimensions fine, we just had to squish them a bit, although even this caused us trouble!).

The mood in the plane bound for Amsterdam was very energetic. Everyone, it seems, was excited to arrive and continue to fly high. The food of choice in Amsterdam is Steak (bistek) served with fresh fries and beer; all the restaurants offer this as their menu. We couldn’t enter a Coffeeshop our first night because someone forget their ID (although we later discovered that there are some that don’t check). The weather was unfortunately a bit rainy, but we still enjoyed the better part of the next day exploring the city, its canals and the famous Red Light District, which is just as active during the day as it is at night. Amstedam is of course world-famous for legalizing soft drugs and prostitution… it’s quite a different world. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try some cake, from what I hear the one served at Goa is very strong, whereas many others are similar to what you’d find at your local bakery. We were lucky in seeing the tulips beginning to bloom, probably now, as I’m writing this, the city is much more colourful! Another curiosity about Amsterdam is that everyone gets around by bike or public transit. There was a three-storey structure near the central station stuffed with bikes belonging to commuters.

The next day, we woke up, ate breakfast, and left for the airport. A few hours later we landed in Geneva, rented a car, drove to France, and were skiing in the Jura Mountains by noon. After a satisfying day, we drove to Lausanne in Switzerland where I met up with a long-lost second cousin for dinner at his beautiful house. We later returned to Geneva where we were staying with a friend. The next morning we returned the car, only to receive a 280 CHF bill for a one-day rental! Apparently.. the antenna on our car was missing and since we didn’t think to check if the car came with an antenna when we picked it up, we were responsible to replace it. We also paid through the nose for insurance and a barrage of other fees. With gas considered, the one-day rental cost us 308 Swiss Francs (roughly equivalent to Canadian Dollars).

We spent the remainder of the day wondering around the city of Geneva. The downtown area was full of very professionally dressed people as it was a working day. We window-shopped at the many expensive boutiques there are, and had a very expensive, but filling, lunch.

The next morning, our flight back to Alicante was delayed one hour in departure due to the striking French Air Traffic Controllers, and¬†was delayed another hour in landing because of bad visibility in Alicante. In fact, we ended up landing in Valencia instead and had to spend another three hours to get back to Alicante. All things considered, it was an enjoyable trip. I’d like to return to both places to see more of the country-side outside of the cities, but for now my appetite for travelling to Switzerland and Holland has been satisfied.

Aventuras en Barcelona

English translation to follow below.

El fin de semana del 12-15 de febrero, viaj√© a Barcelona para explorar la ciudad y celebrar el Carnaval. Hab√≠a una oferta muy buena de Spanair para volar desde Alicante a Barcelona directo por solo 25‚ā¨ ida y vuelta. Ya que estaba muy acostumbrado a Ryanair (donde haces la facturaci√≥n en Internet y puedes llegar al aeropuerto media hora antes de la salida) m√≠ compa√Īera, Nicole, y yo llegamos al aeropuerto cuando el mostrador de facturaci√≥n se acababa de cerrar. Ya que Nicole no hab√≠a podido facturar en Internet, no pudo pasar por la puerta de seguridad ni embarcar en el avi√≥n. La mujer de la taquilla de Spanair dijo que no pod√≠amos hacer nada. Ya que solo 25 minutos quedaban, corr√≠ a la puerta de embarque y despu√©s habl√© con otra mujer de Spanair, Nicole pudo embarcar porque antes, yo hab√≠a llamado a Spanair para verificar la reserva, ellos hab√≠an realizado la facturaci√≥n. Por fin, llegamos a nuestro hotel en Barcelona a medianoche. Encontramos un bar que cocin√≥ una pizza preparado para nosotros (todos los restaurantes ya hab√≠an cerrado) y tomamos una cerveza para olvidar todo.

El s√°bado, fuimos primero a la famosa Casa Batll√≥ de Gaud√≠. ¬°Era impresionante! Nunca hab√≠a visto un edificio tan creativo.¬† Todas las habitaciones se hab√≠an dise√Īado de forma completamente √ļnica y con mucho detalle. La casa se hab√≠a dise√Īado sin l√≠neas rectas, porque en realidad, no hay l√≠neas rectas en la naturaleza.¬† Adem√°s, cada habitaci√≥n ten√≠a luz natural. Luego, fuimos a mirar escaparates por la avenida principal de compras (Passeig de Gracia). Descubrimos una tienda muy interesante que se llamaba Nespresso que vend√≠a expreso de mucha calidad en c√°psulas de colores diferentes. Hab√≠a una mesa con caf√©s de degustaci√≥n donde tomamos un caf√© gratis (Ahora he descubierto que hay una tienda de Nespresso se acaba de abrir en Alicante cerca del Corte Ingl√©s). Poco despu√©s bajamos a la Plaza Catalunya y encontramos un restaurante japon√©s de buffet libre. La comida estaba muy rica, y s√≥lo vali√≥ 13‚ā¨. Para digerir la comida, dimos una vuelta por las Ramblas donde hab√≠a mucha gente y tiendas de mascotas, flores, y libros. Tambi√©n hab√≠a un mercado con muchas frutas y zumos ex√≥ticos, frescos, y llenos de colorido. Por la noche, fuimos a un desfile de Carnaval. A pesar de que estaba lloviendo, hab√≠a mucha gente y los participantes ten√≠an mucha energ√≠a y √°nimo.

En nuestro √ļltimo d√≠a en Barcelona, fuimos primero a la Catedral de la Sagrada Familia (otra obra maestra de Gaud√≠) para ir a misa. Despu√©s, no pudimos entrar por la parte principal porque hab√≠a una cola de horas. Entonces, desayunamos y fuimos al Tibidabo, un parque de atracciones encima de una monta√Īa donde pudimos mirar toda la ciudad. M√°s tarde, bajamos a la Plaza Catalunya otra vez para comer en una tasca y despu√©s, dimos otra vuelta por las Ramblas. Por la tarde, fuimos al puerto de Barcelona y fuimos de tiendas a un centro comercial all√≠.

El lunes, tuvimos que despertarnos a las 4 de la madrugada, y a las 8, llegamos en Alicante y fuimos a trabajar.

Barcelona es una ciudad muy antigua y muy impresionante. Me gusta mucho más que Madrid, y tengo que irme otra vez para ver más. La arquitectura, la cultura, la comida… ¡toda está muy bueno! ¡Qué suerte tuve que Nicole pudo ir después de todo!

In English:

On the weekend of February 12-15, I travelled to Barcelona to explore the city and celebrate Carnaval. There was an amazing offer from Spanair to fly directly from Alicante to Barcelona for just 25 euros (round trip). Since I was quite used to flying Ryanair where you check-in online and can arrive at the airport a half hour before the departure, Nicole and I arrived at the airport just as the check-in desk closed. Since Nicole wasn’t able to check-in online, she didn’t have a boarding card and couldn’t pass through security. The lady working at the Spanair ticket counter told us there was nothing we could do! Since only 25 minutes were left before departure I ran to the gate and after speaking with the staff there, Nicole was able to board since I had called a few hours before to confirm the reservation and Nicole was checked in over the phone. When we finally arrived at our hotel in Barcelona around midnight, we found a bar that cooked us a frozen pizza (since all the restaurants were already closed), and we drank a beer so as to forget what had happened earlier.

On Saturday, we first visited Gaud√≠’s Casa Batll√≥. It was incredible! Never before have I visited a building so creative! Every single room was uniquely designed and with great attention to even the smallest of details. The¬†entire house was built without the presence of straight lines, since there are¬†no straight lines in nature. Moreover, every room¬†was designed to allow natural light to enter. Afterwards, we went window-shopping along the principal shopping avenue (Passeig de Gracia). We discovered an interesting store called Nespresso that sells their coffee in small, colourful capsules. There was a tasting station were we enjoyed a free¬†shot of espresso (a Nespresso store recently opened up in Alicante and I now have my own machine :P). Next,¬†stopped by Plaza Catalunya and found an all-you-can-eat Japenese buffet. The food was very good, and only cost 13‚ā¨. To digest the food, we took a stroll down the Ramblas of Barcelona were there where many people selling pets, flowers, and books. There is also a colourful¬†market¬†were you can find fresh, exotic fruits and juices. At night we went to the Carnaval parade. Despite the fact that it was pouring rain, there were lots of spectators, and the participants had a lot of energy and spirit.

On our final day in the city, we visited Gaud√≠ unfinished masterpiece, the Sagarada Familia Cathedral and heard mass in the newly renovated crypt. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the main part of the Cathedral since there was an hour-long line-up to get in! So instead, we had breakfast and went to Tibidabo, an amusment park located on top of one of Barcelona’s mountains from where you have an excellent view of the whole city. Afterwards, we returned to Plaza Catalunya for lunch in a tasca (tapas bar) and went for another walk along the Ramblas and waterfront.

On Monday, we had to wake up at 4 in the morning, and by 8, we had already arrived in Alicante and went to work.

Barcelona is a very old and impressive European city. I, in fact, enjoyed it more than Madrid and will have to return to see more! The architecture, the culture, and the food… everything is amazing! How luck we were that we were able to board the plane in Alicante!

Winter in Spain

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Raphael skiing in Sierra Nevada, Europe's southernmost ski resort, at an altitude of 3000 metres above sea level.

It’s sure been a while! Here’s what I’ve been busy doing over the past few weeks:

  • Spent Christmas and New Year’s with my family in Malta
  • Continuing to study Spanish (stay tuned for original Spanish content)
  • Weekend trip to Barcelona for Carnaval
  • Weekend trip to Granada to check out the city, eat tapas, and ski in Europe’s southernmost ski resort
  • More skiing fun in the Aragonese mountains near Teruel
  • Learned how to drive a manual car

The last item involved me getting stuck in a small town and having to reverse up a one-lane cobbled-stone street with a 15 degree pitch in front of an audience of smirking residents, touring my neighbourhood multiple times to find parking and eventually racing another car to a parking spot by reversing down a one-way street, and driving up a snowy mountain road in a car without snow tires or chains.

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Raphael on Mount Tibidabo, with the city of Barcelona spread out below.

This weekend I’m heading off to nearby mountains to do a biking-mountain climbing race, and next week I’ll be heading off to Amsterdam and Geneva (including a skiing stopover in the Swiss Alps, of course).

That’s my quick update, as usual, stay tuned for more details! Don’t forget to check out photos.raphsammut.ca for new pictures!

Spanish Christmas

Every country has their own Christmas traditions, but Spain is quite unique! Here’s a rundown of how Christmas and New Year’s Eve are celebrated here:

On December 22, the fun starts with the “Sorteo de Loteria Nacional de Navidad”. It is a day of anticipation when everyone in Spain tunes into a local radio or television station to watch the selection of prizes for Spain’s National Christmas Lottery. For three hours, children from an old private school in Madrid call out the winning lottery numbers and prizes. Everyone in Spain buys at least one ticket in the hopes of a big payout. The grand prize is 300,000 euros, but there are many, many prizes of smaller denominations as well. Each ticket is quite expensive, priced at 2o euros. It contains 5 numbers and there are at least ten tickets sold with the same number. If your ticket has the same last number as the ticket of the grand prize, you get your money back (20 euro prize). I don’t usually gamble, but I split three tickets with a friend of mine and have my fingers crossed. Here’s a video of last year’s Sorteo:

December 23 is the day of health, because when asked if someone won the lottery they most often reply “No, but at least I have my health”.

December 24 is “Noche Bueno”, Christmas Eve. It usually includes a big dinner. December 25 is Christmas Day and usually spent with family. A very typical Christmas treat in Spain is Turron. It comes in many different forms but usually always contains almonds.

Most interesting is the tradition of New Year’s Eve. People typically gather in the main square of their town and await the toll of the clock. When the moment arrives, everyone pops a grape into their mouth at the sound of each gong. Eating twelve grapes in rapid succession is a celebration of the twelve past months and provides good luck for the coming year. In the southern-most pueblo (town) in the Alicante province where I live, there are grapes very late in maturing, and it is from this region that everyone has their grapes for New Year’s Eve.

This year, on January 6, Spain celebrates Epiphany (the coming of the three kings bearing gifts for Jesus Christ). It is on this day that all the children in Spain receive their Christmas gifts and spend the day playing with them. The next day, similar to Boxing Day, marks the official start of the sale season.

That’s all for now. Two posts in one day to make up for my 10-week absence!

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my friends and family all over the world!

Home for a Rest

It’s been sixteen weeks since my arrival in Spain, and ten weeks since my last post! My primary excuse is that I’ve been travelling far too much! Since my last post, I’ve been to Paris, Valencia, Madrid, London, Barcelona, Venice, Milan, as well as the major cities in Northern Spain (Santiago de Compostela, A Coru√Īa, L√©on, Burgos, Bilbao, and Santander). In fact, every weekend for the past month I’ve been out of town. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m a little tired of all the travelling and am thoroughly enjoying sitting on a sofa in my apartment and writing a post for my neglected blog.

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Raphael by the Seine River in Paris, France.

Let’s start with Paris. An absolutely beautiful city! Just walking by the Seine River, touching the Eiffel Tower, and gasping at the enormity of Notre Dame was more than fulfilling. It’s been my dream for many years to travel to Paris and finally I can say I’ve been there. To save some money, we opted to stay in an Etap hotel (a low-cast, just-the-essentials hotel chain) which was located just outside the “inner city” (the major part of the city enclosed by a circular freeway). Probably not the best choice! You might remember that Paris was in the news quite a bit in recent years because of the violence in the suburbs of the city. The root cause of the problem is that the French people are very proud and do not want to see their most beautiful city taken over by immigrants. Therefore, anyone not of French, or at least European descent, is discriminated against to the point where they cannot find work or make a living. The frustration of these people combined with a cultural mentality of violence has lead to a lot of tension between the French Parisians and the immigrants living in Paris’ suburbs. This violence, however, has not made the situation any better, but has pushed the groups farther from peace. As my high school French teacher used to say, “Violence begets Violence”. Should you go visit Beautiful Paris, do not stray far from the centre or you will encounter a cruel reality that may ruin your stay. When walking outside of the centre at night, it’s a little frightening. You have to walk very fast, and never stop for any reason. It’s easy for the locals to tell if you’re foreign and they will take advantage of you.

In stark contrast to Paris, and only a 2-3 hour train ride away, is the capital of the British Empire, London. What a difference it was to be in London! Whereas walking in Paris at night was so tense you’d jump at the sound of rustling leaves, London felt much better. Certainly London has had its fair share of problems, like most major European cities, but there is little racial or social tension there. London, as it stands, is the most multi-cultural city in the world, and anyone or everyone in London can find a job and earn a living. It makes me quite proud to live in Toronto, another great multi-cultural capital, because I have learned to see every human being equally. I never developed a mindset whereby I would classify a person’s personality based on their origin, and I feel that London is very similar in this regard.

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Raphael in front of Big Ben in London, England.

Alas, I only stayed in London for one night, and I will surely have to return! After a whirlwind tour of all the major sights in London, I met up with two EngSci friends of mine for dinner (Toad-in-the-hole served with London Porter). I also ended up meeting a cousin of mine who’s living in London and ended up attending an all-Maltese house party (good times). My only beef with London is the long distance between its airports and the city centre (save Heathrow).¬† The average door-to-plane time in Alicante is about 1 hour, but in London, it’s about three hours or more if you’re flying from Gatwick, Stansted, or Luton.

Now, how about Spain’s capital Madrid? To be honest, it’s very difficult to compare Madrid to Paris and London. While Madrid is a big city, it’s not nearly as big as other major European cities. In fact, after about two days (including visits to all the famous museums and galleries), it’s hard to find more things to do. I was in Madrid twice. The first was a day-trip with my grandmother (we took the first Ryanair flight out of Alicante at 6:30am and the last one back at 9:30pm). The royal palace and cathedral are certainly worth seeing, as well as the famous Plaza Mayor. An afternoon rest in one of Madrid’s parks (El Retiro or Casa del Campo) and then tasca-hopping (bars that sell little tid-bits of food called Tapas) and beer as it gets dark finishes off the day nicely.

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Raphael outside of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain.

Barcelona, the other big city in Spain, I enjoyed more than Madrid (even though I was there for only one day in between flights). Barcelona is famous for it’s old, Gothic neighbourhoods (barrios) where you can find some of the most interesting architecture in all of Spain. Gaudi’s famous structures here include Sagrada Familia, a large cathedral design that still, to this day, is under construction. I’m planning to re-visit Barcelona in February and will speak more of it after I’ve had a longer stay.

Venice was everything I’ve ever dreamed it would be, gondolas and all. My favourites of Venice included getting lost in a maze of bridges, thin streets, and plazas, taking a gondola tour, riding the water-bus, and dancing in Venice’s only nightclub. It was really cool to arrive in Venice and find water-buses and water-taxis. It was also a nice break from the other European cities which are quite crowded with cars. Milan was nothing too special, but it’s cathedral was certainly worth seeing. It’s also the headquarters of Prada, and the resting place for Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”.

Last, but certainly not least, was my road trip in Northern Spain! We started off in the old city of Santiago de Compostela and worked our way eastward through the Spanish countryside to Santander. The northern towns are distinctly different than Alicante. Northern Spain is very green and mountainous, while Alicante is quite yellow. The northern cuisine is very rustic and wholesome, and the seafood is extremely good and fresh. If I had to live in Spain it would most probably be in a small town outside of Santander.

Pictures for all these trips can be found in my blog’s gallery (http://photos.raphsammut.ca/).

Buenos Días

Wow! Time flies. On Tuesday I will pass the three-week mark here in Spain. I just woke up not too long ago as last night was Fiesta Night! Wondering what a Fiesta is? It usually starts with a big dinner at around 10pm, followed by some drinks. At around 1 or 2 in the morning, you head to a few nightclubs and dance until around 6 or 7 in the morning. Afterwards, it is common for people to go for breakfast near the beach. Last night I only made it till 4 in the morning, but I still have plenty of time to build up my endurance.

A week ago, I had a dream that I left Spain still not speaking much Spanish. I made it my priority to find a way to take Spanish Lessons, and next week I’ll start with my first Spanish Lesson at a language school in downtown Alicante. It should work well as my current schedule at work allows for a 2-hour lunch break, and from now on, one of those hours will be a Spanish class. I hope to learn quickly since I’m always immersed in Spanish. All my co-workers speak Spanish, I have to occasionally read and translate Spanish documents, and the documents I produce are in Spanish as well.

Work at CYPE is really enjoyable so far! The working environment is great: everyone dresses casual, other engineers are always more than happy to help out when you run into problems, and the work is very self-driven. I am really surprised at how much responsibility and freedom I have after just two weeks here. I spent two days getting trained on how to use the software, was shown my desk, and was told to go through the American Steel Code (used to determine if steel structures in the USA are safe to build). CYPE’s software uses these codes to analyze CAD models of structures and report any problems to the user. In my first week, I found a few small errors in the code and began working with a programmer right away to fix them. In my second week, I was asked to train a new intern to use the same tools I was using to get his job done.

In other news, I’ve booked my first two trips!

From October 2-7, I’ll be travelling to Bologna, Pisa, and Florence with some co-workers. The round-trip flight from Alicante cost me 40 euros (although my friends got the fare for 20 euros), and we’ll be renting a car when we’re there so we can drive around and explore. Look for a post upon my return!

From November 21-24, I’ll be travelling to London and meeting up with some friends who are working in Switzerland. I managed to get this flight for only 20 euros with Ryanair ūüėČ

While I haven’t booked it yet, I’m also planning to travel to Malta to spend Christmas with my family and friends for the first time in 18 years.

That’s all for now. Check back soon for more updates!

One Week in Alicante, Spain

It’s been just over a week since I first arrived in Spain and I think I am finally settled in. With the help of Nicole, another EngSci student here on PEY, I was able to find a large room with a newly installed hardwood floor, TV, desk, and private ensuite bathroom for just 280 euros a month. Not only is the room nice, but it’s located right in downtown Alicante, just minutes away from the beach and nightlife, and it’s across the street from work! Here are some pictures:

A typical day in Spain goes something like this:

7:45am – Wake up after my cell phone alarm has gone off for the third time.

8:00am – Check my e-mail.

8:20am – Eat a quick breakfast.

8:28am – Leave home.

8:31am – Arrive at my desk at work. The mornings are usually not the most productive since I’m still tired, but I usually figure out what it is that I need to accomplish for the day.

11:30am – 2nd breakfast! In our office at CYPE, everyone works in “boxes” or clusters of 6 people. Every box tends to hang out together, except for my box which splits up and goes with people from other boxes. Since I’m new, everyone wants me to join them, so I tend to rotate which groups I eat with. 2nd Breakfast consists of walking to a nearby cafe and ordering a “tostada media con tomate y un cafe con leche” which is a toasted panini-like bun topped with olive oil and crushed tomatoes, usually seasoned with garlic, salt, and pepper. “Cafe con leche” is basically the Spanish equivalent of a cappucino. 2nd Breakfast costs anywhere in the range of 1.90 to 2.20 euros depending on where you go.

12:00pm – Back to work. I usually get the most work done in this period of time since I would have just had a coffee.

2:30pm – Lunch break! I typically go home for lunch since it’s just 2 minutes away. Sometimes people from work go out to eat at a nearby restaurant, and sometimes I’ll go to the supermarket to buy fresh bread with which to make a “bocadillo”.

3:30pm – Return to work. Sometimes I’ll take another hour for lunch and return to work at 4:30, but then I have to stay an extra hour at the end of the day.

6:30PM – Home time, unless I took a 2-hour lunch. Also, on Fridays, we skip lunch and leave at 3:00pm. During the summer months, we get out of work at 3:00pm every day.

7:00PM – Go for a run by the beach. There’s a nice 6K route along the water.

8:30PM – Start cooking dinner (unless Nicole is cooking for me… we tend to take turns cooking for each other).

10:00PM – Do stuff on my computer (like upload pictures, respond to e-mails, and update my blog).

12:00AM – Bed time.

As it’s now midnight, it’s time for me to go to bed.

Adios! Here are some pictures (I’m now experimenting with Flickr):