Sunday, January 20, 2008

More of my quick trip...

The hotel had a waffle maker that makes Texas-shaped waffles. Not only had I not had a waffle in ages, but it was Texas shaped! Can a waffle get any better than that? And while it may not have tasted like the greatest waffle ever (nothing special..just plain 'ol waffle taste), it looked like Texas so therefore it WAS the greatest waffle ever.

My family and I (Toby, my brother in law, is taking the picture) went to the Houston Downtown Aquarium on Saturday. In case you didn't already know, zoos and aquariums are the key to my heart. If you're ever thinking about asking me out on a date, zoos and aquariums are the way to go.

While the Houston aquarium isn't quite as cool as some others I've been to (like Montery Bay in California, but really, that's one of the best in the world so that's holding the bar a bit high), it is still pretty awesome. One of my favorite parts was the octopus. They had it in a glass container so that it was climbing along the glass with it's suckers and you could see the underside really well. THAT was cool. It was also fun to look at and think, "I've eaten his friends!" Up until 3 months ago I wouldn't have been able to say that, but living in Europe changes things!
That night (and Sunday morning) I got to see a bunch of my friends. I didn't take as many photos as I should have, but here's a few of the girls:


The End!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Just a Quick Trip

Last weekend I went to Texas to pick up my visa.

Yes, that's right. I made a "weekend trip" halfway across the globe to walk into an office, pick something up, and walk right out. It took about an hour.

BUT the good part was that my sister and her family drove down to see me, as well as a few of my friends. We had a great, but brief, time.

One of the greatest things ever was practicing saying "banana" with Vivian, my niece. She is 21 months old and probably the cutest little girl that ever walked this planet, except for maybe me.

video

Watch her tongue when she says it.

Now watch it again and notice the the look on her face after she says it, like she's saying, "I know I did good."

Really - have you ever seen anything cuter than that? And if you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "well actually..." you had best watch that video again!

Considering that I'm still recovering from jet-lag (7 hour difference means 7 days of recovery...), I'm not mentally capable of expounding further on the weekend, but I assure you, there's more to come!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Pictures!

I thought I'd share some fun pictures that I hadn't yet had a chance to share.

This is me on Christmas day:

Notice that I'm wearing my Texas A&M sweatshirt. I don't wear clothes like that very often because then I look like a tourist. But for Christmas I gifted myself the right to look like a lazy American tourist. And I loved it.


This is the palace at night...it's pretty stinkin' beautiful. How did I get so lucky as to live here? I don't even know, but I'll take it!!



And this is where the big New Year's Eve celebration was held. I took this picture the night before as they were setting stuff up, because the night of, there was no way in the world I could even get close enough to take this picture.

Much love!

Laura

Friday, January 4, 2008

Apoya la Huelga!!

Apoya la Huelga!! (Support the Strike!!)

(Okay, the file of the photo was the right way, yet it still came out sideways. Somebody with a Mac who uses iPhoto needs to tell me how to fix this.)

This is a picture of one of our lovely metros here in the city. Normally, our metros are practically spotless. Unblemished. Beautiful. It really is quite amazing how a city so large can have metros so pristine.

But a few weeks ago, the cleaning services people went on strike. And now our beautiful metros are not so beautiful anymore.

At one metro I saw flyers strewn all over the floor that said "Support the strike! Dirty the metro!" And let me tell you, they have.

I don't have a photo of it, but the metro closest to my house now has some very impressive graffiti inside on the platform where you wait for the train.

In one station, somebody squirted ketchup all over the wall. It's been there for at least a week. Disgusting. I can't help but laugh about it, though. There's just something humorous about wading through newspaper to get to the train.

But I do I hope it ends soon, though. It is pretty dirty...



Okay. Enough about the strike. Something else.

For those of you who thought consumerism and materialism was a uniquely American thing, you were wrong.

There's a large department store that's similar to Macy's, except more massive. It's like a Macy's/Best Buy/Barnes and Noble/Brook Mays/Grocery store combined. Yeah - they've got everything. It's like a high-end Super Wal-Mart.

Well, for Christmas they had an ad out all over the city that broke my heart. It said "A little more of Christmas with every gift." Really? Is that what they really think? Because that's one of the saddest things I've ever heard.

Now there's another holiday this Sunday, Three Kings Day. The "Three Kings" are kind of like the equivalent to Santa Claus. There's a parade tomorrow evening, and then the whole family dines together and after the little ones go to bed, the "Three Kings" come and leave gifts for them. For most people here, it's a bigger event than Christmas day.

Well this same department store is running an add on the TV that shows little cartoon kids dressed up like the kings, carrying gifts, and the add starts out with child-like voices saying "Presents! Presents! Presents!" and then it sings a little song about getting gifts.

There are so many things going through my brain right now so I'll just leave it at that and let you think on it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A New Year's Eve to Remember...

Happy 2008!!!

Okay, so I'm a little late as it's already the 3rd (depending on what time zone you're in...), but I know you're all dying to hear about my New Year's Eve. And if you're not, get excited, because you're in for a treat. Well, maybe that depends on what you consider "a treat." But it was interesting, that's for sure. I'll divide this into three parts: The Grapes, The Drunken Crowd (and a 70 year old), and The Kiss. You can read them all or just one or two.

Part 1: The Grapes

The tradition here is that when the new year comes, the large clock in the city center strikes 12 bells, and you eat one grape for each bell. If you finish all 12 (it really is quite difficult if the grapes have seeds) you're supposed to have good luck. I don't believe in luck, but it is fun to try to down 12 grapes as fast as you can.

Well I forgot to buy grapes ahead of time, so on New Year's Eve I went to the grocery store to buy some. Apparently everybody else, their mothers, brother, sisters, and dogs all had the same idea because the lines at the store wrapped through all of the aisles (did I spell it right, Lissy?). So I gave up. But LUCKILY one of the little shop-n-go type stores had some grapes and I didn't even have to wait in line!
Okay, so maybe that part wasn't SO interesting, but it's about to get better...

Part 2: The Drunken Crowd (and a 70 year old)

So there's a big clock in the middle of town which is kind of like the equivalent of Times Square in NYC. The whole country watches the countdown on TV, and thousands of people are in the plaza, all waiting to celebrate together. So Katie and I thought, "this is our first New Year's Eve here - we should go! It'll be fun!"

I don't mind crowds. Not even large crowds.

I don't mind drunk people either. They're kind of annoying and they made some poor choices, but I can tolerate their presence.

But what I do mind - THOUSANDS of drunk people. Yes. THOUSANDS. All in one tiny space. We got to the plaza a little early but it was already so full we could barely reach a place to see the clock. Next thing we know, we're being pushed into a sea of drunkards, all yelling, pushing, drinking...we thought maybe we could get up against a building or something so that they could just go past us, but no. We couldn't do anything but go with the flow. No matter how many times we tried to turn around, we couldn't. It wasn't long before I thought "maybe this was a bad idea."

Somehow the crowd pushed us up to a guard rail, so we were able to stop there and let the crowd move past us. A security guard was standing there and I told him "I don't want to be here - is there anyway I can get past?" He looked at me and smiled so sweetly and said, "nope." So we just stood there. People kept pushing us into the guardrail and we had to hang on to keep from getting pushed back into the flow of people.

Finally some big strong sober guys had the same thought we did: "I don't want to be here" and started pushing their way back out of the crowd. The security guard pointed and told me, "follow them." So we did. We hopped in the middle of the guys and let them be our body guards. Finally we reached the back of the crowd, with about 15 minutes before midnight. It wasn't so crowded there so we thought, "let's just stand here." But it wasn't long before more throngs of drunken party goers arrived and once again we were being crowded and pushed. So before it could reach the point of terror like before, we moved back. And more people came. And there was shouting and angry drunkards and crazy people with their toddlers on their shoulders. So we left. With 10 minutes to go, we left.

This is Katie and I while we were pushed up against the guardrail. The security guard thought it was funny that we were taking a picture in our moment of terror:

We walked up the street and saw a little café where they were watching the event on TV and decided to go in there. There only about 10 people inside, most of whom were getting ready to celebrate a birthday as the clock struck midnight. This old man was very concerned as to whether or not we had grapes and was so relieved when he saw our cans of "12 Grapes of Luck." They were already peeled and pitted! So the clock struck 12, we ate our grapes, and next thing we know all these strangers are giving us kisses (on the cheek - that's the way you greet people here) and drinks and food and this little old lady comes over and tells us in broken English, "I am 70 years old today."

And then we watched Juanes on TV. Anybody who knows me knows that I'm in love with him.



That was a great way to start the night. I say "start" because...

Part 3: The Kiss

The church down the street from our house was having a New Year's Eve party...that started at 1 am. That's right. STARTING at 1 am. So we left and went to the church ready to celebrate with some friends all night long. I'll skip the details and get right to the good stuff.

I've already told you that we greet people here with two kisses, one on each cheek. Sometimes we joke about "what if you miss?" With so many people from different cultures (the French, Spanish, Italians, South Americans all have some sort of "kissing" greeting) sometimes people forget which side to kiss first. It makes for some interesting encounters.

So we're getting ready to start and people are coming in greeting each other, and this one guy comes in and we say hi and go in for the two kisses. Everything seemed normal at first, but on the second kiss, somehow he didn't quite make it all the way to my cheek...it was more sort of a "half-mouth half-cheek" kiss. I must admit - I've never been kissed before so it was quite a strange sensation! We kind of looked at each other like "do I say anything? Naahh" and went on greeting other people. I'm still not even sure if he realized that he got part of my mouth.

I don't have any pictures to go with this one. Sorry.

Can we say "awkward??" Yes. That is exactly how I felt. Awkward. I'd been saving that one for someone special! But I guess it's okay since it was technically only about 1/3rd of my mouth. But the other 2/3rds...I'm saving those for a really good one. =)

And then I went home and went to sleep at 6:30am.

And I'll leave you with that. Congratulations for making it this far, to all who may have read this ridiculously long post in it's entirety.