Friday, November 13, 2009

Day 4: Success! And a herd of awkward turtles: You can have the rest of this if this?

We now begin our day of tourism. After waking up a much more reasonable time, we proceed to breakfast like total hotel experts. They don’t even ask for our room number. Success! Having outed Google Maps as a lying liar who lies, we skipped that step this time around and proceeded straight to the concierge. We liked this one way better, since he did not assume we were lost, even though we had a map out. With some very useful bus instructions, like how to read the schedule (sorta), and all of the really cool stuff circled on our map, we proceeded in to Center City. Success!

We got off the bus in front of some pretty sweet gardens – easy to remember when we had to leave later that day. Also, the giant bridge would have helped, had we noticed it. Alas. We spotted some Roman art – India’s art history professor sent her on a most magical quest for it – and ran across the street to take pictures of it. Then we went to the Plaza de España, where some government buildings are, and it was awesome and totally put all American government buildings to shame. We took a million pictures, and some Spanish soul mate of India’s had scribbled an Oscar Wilde quote in one of the towers. A true literary love connection! Having explored, we moved on to the Plaza de las Americas, which was basically a porch and some palm trees. Pretty lame. We left. We resisted petting all of the dogs running around. It was hard.

We then wandered in to the center of the city, stopping along the way for some delicious (except for poor Jen, who doesn’t like tuna – we’ve never been served more tuna in our lives!) tapas. We also figured out that a bodilla is not a generic bottle of something. It is, in fact, a bottle of beer. Way to help us out staying hydrated, Spain.

This was good, though, because everywhere we go, including on buildings in giant neon lights, there are Cruzcampo advertisements. And of course, this means we have to try it – c’mon, guys, everyone is doing it! So we tried it. It wasn’t a very good beer.

We were accosted by some Gypsies, but managed to escape at the very last minute. India felt lame because everything the Gypsy forced her to listen to about her palm, she already knew. Lame? Lame.

Then, we got and awesome six euro discount on the Catedral de Seville tour – two euro! Sweet. Stirling Cambria (who we later found out was Italian…wtf) was pretty jealous. India had a total, total fangirl freak-out in this cathedral and took a million pictures and then made Jen take a million more pictures, interspersed with excited sputtering about medieval art and Shoaftor. It was very exciting. If she had gone to Rome instead, she probably would have passed out. We got to go up into the tower – it was a 37 ramp (maybe around 20 stories? More?) climb that was traditionally done via donkey. Alas, they were out of donkeys. But it was so worth it, because the view of Seville was unparalleled. We took another million pictures. And almost died because a bell (a real bell, unlike Ursinus’s mix cd!) rang right above our heads.

We dodged the Gypsies on the way out – look, we’re learning! The map said there were Roman columns! Awesome! Gotta see those. We proceeded to wander into one of the most labyrinthine areas of Seville that we’ve seen, and we mostly didn’t even get lost, although we did almost get hit by about eight cars. Whoops. When we finally, finally found these columns, approximately twenty minutes later, they were the lamest thing ever. Three undecorated columns shoved into someone’s backyard. Yeah, that was worth the walk. Not. We took a couple of pictures to justify the experience.

We also got more ice cream.

We spent a while just wandering around, and eventually found our way to a shop that sold t-shirts. With bulls on them! Obviously our black, touristy hearts could not resist this temptation. Perhaps more importantly, we conducted this entire shopping experience in Spanish (with a few gestures) – this included shirt sizes and trying them on. Success!

We happened upon the bull ring! Which we sort of snuck into? We’re not sure. But the tour guide yelled at this relatively innocent couple instead of us, so we snuck out again. Hopefully the picture turns out.

Since it was getting towards dinner time and we needed to shower before the banquet, we wandered back to the bus stop and proceeded to conquer the Spanish public transportation system for the third time. Take that!

Ah, the banquet. Look at those awkward turtles rolling in. When the bus finally got there, because once again, they bus us there, but not back, it was an hour after dinner was supposed to start. But this is okay! Because we were ready for total abandonment this time. Mostly. This late thing is driving us crazy. It was a really nice restaurant, but the wine was terrible, and the champagne was not much better. Oh, well.

We sat at a table and kind of hoped that no one would sit with us, but of course, Stirling Cambria, now of Italy (which explained a lot of our sketch vibes), sat right down with us. The table of course filled with Spaniards, and it was so incredibly awkward. It was also a three hour long meal. Talk about a marathon of talking to ourselves and intermittently to Stirling who got progressively drunker and more awkward as the night wore on. However, the Other Awkward Spanish Guy Who Won an Award (for his paper) tried really hard to talk to us, too. But since he was an awkward person and we are, as we’ve so thoroughly established, also awkward, it met with limited success.

This was also the conversation we had about eighty times:

Spanish Person: “Where are you from?”

Jendia: “The United States. Around Philadelphia.”

Spanish Person: “You don’t speak Spanish? Why are you even here?”

Stirling seemed to enjoy this conversation, as it seemed that he kept introducing us to people just so he could hear it again and laugh. Jerkface.

We bailed early – at midnight.

Thankfully, just as Jen was saying, “This road looks deserted!”, two cabs whipped around the corner. This cab was a lot cheaper than the one from the airport. We are now suspicious…

Successful return to the hotel, sorta unsuccessful dinner?

The bar Rick-Rolled us, and the bar did not play David Bowie. India was not pleased. Neither was Jen.

But the day was still a success.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day 3: Bus? What bus? Wait, this is in Spanish? Eff.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to get up quite as early today. Now old hands (ha!) at finding breakfast, we saved a lot of time there, too. We walked over to the conference just in time to see Checkers Dude – his talk was, predictably, in English. Unfortunately, it was the only one. Aaaaaaall day. After the first round of completely confusing Spanish presentations with powerpoints in Spanish, too, we returned to the hotel for a nap. A pre-lunch a siesta seems like a great idea, right? Totally.

Except when you turn off your alarm and fail to get out of bed. Whoops. Conveniently, India’s mom butt-dialed her (perhaps the most expensive butt-dial in history – thanks, Mom!) just in time to run down to the luncheon which was once again, in our hotel. We sprinted down to the lobby, meal tickets flying, because we were half an hour late. When we arrive at the restaurant, we stop dead – the restaurant is completely empty. Lunch was supposed to start half an hour ago! Are we in the wrong place? Enter convenient conference (aka Red Lanyarded) person, who informs that indeed, lunch is here. People just late. Very late. Manana late. Oh well. Now we’re early! We look great. Or just really hungry.

We grabbed a table and hunkered down for yet another seriously awkward meal with people that we have little in common with. Today, there was cool Israeli Dude and Chatty Spanish Woman. The Spanish woman was great because she actually participated in small talk, at least until a pair of Spaniards sat down. And then it was just us and seriously awkward Israeli Dude. But! The food was delicious; still, though we’re wondering how big tuna is in this area, since we’ve seen it at nearly every meal. We are definite converts of pineapple and peach juice. Though not together. Well, maybe together. Also, let it be known, that this entire country drinks their coffee with more milk and sugar than coffee. Take that, Mom.

We even remembered to ask a Red Lanyard if there would be a bus taking everyone back to their hotels after our fieldtrip later that night. They confidently said yes, there would be. This will become important later. Oh, God.

After lunch, we wandered back to the conference to see a talk about parsing parts of speech and paraphrasing and stuff. Since this is super relevant to ChatCoder, we were pretty excited. Except that this talk was also in Spanish. Curses. The Powerpoint was in English, but since Powerpoints are meant to be elaborated upon, it made no sense. We were pissed. Also, the wireless just would. Not. Work. As a member of Tech Support and a Fearless Wireless Warrior in the face of any and all network problems, this made India a little bit furious. We did meet Stirling Cambria, a dude from Stirling, who has the dubious honor of being non-awkward contact number two, if we count Spanish Woman. Which is debatable. Let it be known, Stirling Cambria is not this man’s name – Stirling is his location and Cambria is his last name. We can remember everything on his name tag except the useful part – his first name. Damn.

With more conference-related fail, we stood in the lobby and talked to Stirling Cambria for a while, who was also confused that all of the talks were in Spanish. Thank goodness, it’s not just us. We also didn’t know that the conference was so well known or well ranked, which is pretty cool. Yay for us! With an hour or so before our fieldtrip, we stopped back at our room to fight with the map. This battle is ongoing.

Even though India forgot her Blue Lanyard, yet again, we managed to get on the tour bus in time. This is also when we realized that we are about an hour’s walk from center city, where all the cool touristy stuff is. This explains our confusion over why everything has such weird hours where we are – something no one else we spoke to had experienced.

We got to the Alcazar (not Alcatraz), the royal palace in Seville, and were immediately pointed to the English tour. Sweet. A million, billion pictures forthcoming. We were then taken to some plaza for cocktails and a flamenco demonstration. It was pretty awesome. We wish we had rhythm so we could learn to flamenco. Also, the male dancer looked just like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing, which we now absolutely need to watch and can’t. Oh, well.

We also bumped into a couple from Philadelphia at the cocktail party. Tiny, tiny world! They were really nice, and though they said they were from the conference, we’re pretty sure they were just scoring some free drinks. Can’t blame them – we totally would have, too. Just like during every coffee break at the conference, some students casually wander in, converse about the possibility of stealing food, and then go and do so. Just like Ursinus. College student = unrivaled sixth sense for free food detection.

Stirling Cambria found us again, significantly drunker, and chatted our ear off about hostels vs. hotels and how it was that two confused undergraduates even got to this conference in the first place. We were like, uh, our mentors are awesome and a little bit crazy?

We noticed, however, that a lot of people had left. Concerned about catching the bus back in time, we found a Red Lanyard and asked him where it was. He said, “What bus? You just go back to your hotel on your own.”

Cue meltdown.

He must have seen the imminent meltdown on both of our faces as we sputtered and tried not to gut Red Lanyard Lady Who Lied about the Bus. By the grace of God, or perhaps his red lanyard, he spoke fluent English, and very kindly walked us to the nearest bus station with detailed instructions on how to get back to our hotel. And then he left.

Cue meltdown number two, complete with debate about giving up and hailing a cab.

But we stuck it out, and got on the bus, and despite our firm belief that we would die, we made it kinda back to our hotel. Which is to say, India made us get off at the first stop we recognized, which was way far away from the hotel. But we knew where we were, so it was okay. Abroad trial by fire? Passed! Silver star. We lost points for getting off so early. And the meltdowns.

The bar probably played David Bowie. India would have been happy.

- Jendia

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jendia's Travel Log Day 2

The alarm went off at the obscenely early hour of 7:45am. Having conquered bathing and dressing ourselves, we went out in search of the rumored “free breakfast.” Fail. From the lobby, we saw lots of people enjoying breakfast at restaurant #1…. For 14 Euro. Nope. Moving along, we asked the cashier at restaurant #1, in severely broken Spanish, where breakfast was. He told us the coffee shop. We wandered in and saw a lovely buffet table with everything covered in very pretty napkins. Success, right? No. When we tried to poke our hands under the napkins, we got the stink eye and a very enthusiastic “hola,” with a side of “what the hell are you doing?” from the waitress. We didn’t actually know, so we wandered out. Perhaps the concierge could help, except that this one did not speak English. After many charades and some abuse of the Spanish language, it became clear that the “free breakfast” was in restaurant #2, the only place we had not looked. Typical. But lo! Free breakfast was not a myth, it was included with our room, and it was delicious.

Now, off to the conference. As we walked confidently out of the hotel, the concierge gave chase, shouting something in Spanish. It may have been “hey you!” We stop and turned around, and he asked, “are you lost? Do you have a hotel room here?” This was incidentally the only time we were not actually lost. Apparently we look permanently lost and confused, since we since get asked if we’re lost every time we walk by. We reached the conference without incident, and early to boot, and even managed to find our room all by ourselves. So proud. But wait, one little detail – everyone around us has these lanyards and schedules. Crap, we never registered. The German in front of us, who we would later find out was named “Janos,” informed us that registration was at the front of the building. How did we miss this? Oh, right, we can’t read. There were signs that said registration everywhere. So we registered, got out lanyards and schedules, and even managed to find our room again. Sweet.

So we presented, and it was good. They did look a little frightened. Oh, well. Jen tripped over the approach slide (wtf she knew what she was talking about), but it went pretty well otherwise, nothing out of the ordinary really happened. It was in a classroom, for maybe 30 people, and everyone else's talks were in English (bonus). We were the only two to present in a pair. Two hours of talks later, it was lunchtime! Just as we were lamenting the fact that we had no one to chat with, the organizer practically threw this dude at us. His company was working on a similar project, so we had someone to actually talk shop with, though still insanely awkward. Insanely. As it turns out, lunch was in our hotel, too. Maybe they’ll finally stop asking us if we’re lost. I mean, look, we have lanyards now!

Incidentally, India kind of threw her back out coughing. But some random Spaniard offered her mints, and she thinks he apologized for not having throat lozenges, but maybe her breath was just bad.

Lunch was pretty delicious, thank God we’re not vegetarians. We chatted with Edinborough Dude (technically, Joshua, from California), Keynote Dude (from Carnegie Melon), and Germans #1 and #2 (Janos and Igno – ps – what kind of name is Igno?). We learned a lot from our lunch discussion, namely, that we know nothing about computer science. Edinborough Dude thoughtfully spent a lot of time telling us all of the cool ways that we could cange our rules to utilize all sorts of things that we had never heard of, such as decision trees, that we had never heard of and mostly resulted in our eyes glazing over. But we returned to the afternoon talks anyway. The last talk was giving by a woman form UPenn. Small world! The industry panel was boring as all hell, but Germans #1 and #2 were kind of adorable and totally sold us on Xing. Down with LinkD In! We also got some contact information for ChatCoder stuff. Yay!

We then took the scenic route home and took lots of creeper pictures of people’s houses. Success. India actually wrote her criminal law paper, so now the rest of her class will look like lazy bastards if they don’t turn it in. It’s like a silent curve killer, but better because it’s from Spain.

Now, after googling some choice phrases, we ventured out into the world of “eating out.” Our pre-departure course, taught by Jon Brink, informed us that Spaniards ate dinner around 9pm. In Sevilla, this is a lie. But we found a café that had subs for about 3 Euro. They were full of potato-y goodness (or chicken). We also managed to order completely in Spanish. Gold star! Then we scoped out ice cream, had a really confusing conversation with a guy at a restaurant about his butt (that was supposed to be about ice cream), and then looked pathetic enough that a woman at another bar let us order ice cream before they closed. Can we just say, why is ice cream in a bar? It was pretty much the most delicious ice cream ever. The concierge did not ask us if we were lost on the way back in. Win!

And the bar played David Bowie. India was so happy. Again.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seville Travel Log: Day One

Jendia’s Epic Seville Travel Log

Day 1: The airport, the plane, the other airport, the other plane, the other other airport, the cab, the hotel, the failed Google, the awkward waiter, the David Bowie.

We leave Ursinus campus an hour late…because it’s us. Jon, the one who wanted to hide in the suitcase, drove and thoughtfully sang along to Panic at the Disco with India….for the whole ride. Katie and Jen were not pleased. When we ran out of Panic at the Disco, we found a Carpenter’s cover band cd in the glove compartment in the glove compartment. They were singing in Cantonese. It was epic. Upon arrival at the airport, it became clear that we can’t read, as we tried to get boarding passes in business class. We turned to the nearest security guard to ask for directions, but he stopped a clearly freaking out India with the complete non-sequitor “Do I look like the kind of man who could own a Pomeranian?” This man was a total beefcake, but did end up giving us directions. Good to know that we were getting lost in the airport where we could still speak the language, right?

India’s decision to wear her Obama shirt as a “Please be nice to me, I voted for Obama” gesture was successful, as she was enthusiastically greeted throughout security and told that her shirt was awesome. We then totally freaked out and called our moms, changed our currency, and boarded the plane, after freaking out about not being in the correct line (even though we were).

They showed Harry Potter on the plane. We were so happy, but we didn’t sleep at all. Bad decision. Seven hours later, we landed in Madrid, and the airport was really cool. We fought the urge to take too many pictures, but we did get ice cream. At 10:30 in the morning. But it’s ok, because it was still Day 1. We were saddened by the fact that it was less confusing to find a connecting flight in a foreign airport where we don’t speak the language than it was in New York. What the hell. Then our flight was delayed, and as soon as India started writing her paper, we began boarding. Following Jen’s umpteenth freak out about taking off/landing/turbulence/big clouds, we collapsed into our seats and immediately lost consciousness.

Somehow we managed to make it off the plane with our carry-ons and through baggage claim, though we don’t remember the journey. Also, it became clear that India should do the talking, as Jen stared bug-eyed at the customs official, who eventually gave up and waved us through. The cab was relatively painless, since apparently standing in the middle of the road, staring at the cab line with a confused expression gets you one. Apparently we should have practiced hailing them in English first. Whoops.

But we survived the cab ride and didn’t get into a situation with terrorists and Uzbekistan, a la “Taken.” People were concerned. We arrived at the totally awesome hotel, and completely failed to find reception. Until we remembered that we could read. Funny, that. So we checked in, stashed our bags, and thoughtfully googled directions to the conference location. Fail. We left the hotel, directions in hand, and successfully walked a block around our hotel. Upon returning to the front desk, we gave Google the finger and asked the concierge. The concierge wins. Also, he had maps. Life was good. We wandered around down town, finding abandoned alcohol bottles in trees and under benches, which Jen tried to sleep on – the bench, not the bottle, though both are equally hobo-esque. India almost fell asleep standing up. Classy.

We found the Spanish Gaming Store, nerd central. India was proud. Jen walked away. It was a good decision.

We finally got to the University of Seville, but alas, this was not where the conference was. Well, at least not in the part that we found first. But it was there, eventually!

After the hobo-ing and the classiness, we decided that it would be prudent to take a quick nap before dinner. The getting up part sucked. All of the restaurants that we had noticed when out searching for the conference were a ways away, and alas, laziness prevailed once more. We settled on eating in the hotel, but all of the restaurants were closed except for the Italian one. How appropriate.

What transpired next was one of the most horrifically awkward dinners of our lives. From two sorority girls, that’s saying something. Communicating in monosyllabic phrases, even though the waiter was capable of communicating in English and India was capable of communicating in Spanish, orders were taken at great social expense. How did this even happen. After getting our admittedly delicious food, the waiter asked us if we would like desert. We said no, thanks. He then proceeded to ignore us for fifteen minutes. Inexplicable. After two harrowing rounds of “nose-goes,” Jen lost and asked the waiter for the check. He gave us the stink eye. What. But! He did get the check. And we fled, a herd of awkward turtles leading the way back to our room.

We affirmed that we had no idea how to properly enjoy a city like Seville through Wikipedia and google maps, which continued to fail by not having any of the correct street names. And then we practiced our presentation a million and a half times, greatly reducing the number of “ums.”

We have been awake for nearly 36 hours. The bar played David Bowie and some kid epically face-planted, the sound of him hitting the floor echoed throughout the lobby.

It was a great day.