Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Budapest

20 Dec

It really smells like shit. Rotten eggs, to be more precise. Sulfur, to be less poetic. I look around at the three small pools. Almost disgustingly fat guys chat and relax in quite a small space of Turkish style. It’s a bit noisy. I lie in the warm water of the main pool and look up. Blue comets are painted in the high dome and all of them seem to converge to its center. It’s nice when things lead to something, I reflect. I recall the routines in Prague until I bore myself with the same thoughts and the same warm water. I head to the cold pool for a change. Now the smell is not so strong and the steam doesn’t let me see the other people. I sink my head for a minute and the noises become just a dull background. Prague looks very far away now. Budapest is the break I needed and the cold water is its climatic point. As good as it feels, cold also gets boring and I switch to the sauna. The smell of eucalyptus and steam brings back memories of getting over colds as a kid. The stone sofas are too comfortable to think about anything. I repeat the tandem sauna-cold pool until I can’t be more calm. Tomorrow, in Prague, everything will be the same. But not me. I finish my time in the main pool. It still smells horrible and the people are the same, but I couldn’t care less. It’s quite dark in here and I begin to sleep a bit.

Advertisements

The Lycian coast and Cappadocia

5 Jun

For me, traveling solo is a good way to disconnect with the world at home, to break all the routines, to be completely free. It forces you to get more involved with the people and the places you encounter. You lose yourself and see things from a new perspective. Sometimes, you lose yourself a bit too much, things go wrong, you wonder what brought you to that moment and that place. Also, sometimes, traveling alone means traveling with many people, intimating and sharing experiences with them much more intensely than you do at home. In Turkey, after some days of mostly visiting and touring, I’ve had all this mixture of lonely, absurd, exciting, and above all enriching moments I call traveling.

The Lycian coast was a natural continuation to my visits of the Greek ruins in the Ionian coast. It is further south, scattered with somewhat less famous ruins, Lycian tombs and towns. Its pine forests and beaches look just as the ones I find in my beloved Costa Brava in Catalonia, but its cliffs and mountains are quite higher. This makes it more impressive, more exotic, less cute. I hiked part of the so called Lycian way during several days, starting in Fethiye, crossing a strange combination of touristy towns ruled by English people and abandoned villages and ruins. I had some good hiking boots and my reflex camera, I was happy. But when I arrived to Kabak, it was different. After a few hours of hiking I found myself in a town with two or three hotels hanging from a cliff and a dead end road. My hiking and my curiosity were already satisfied, I wanted people and I was in the middle of nowhere. To continue east I had to go back west, and I was exhausted. The situation got even more absurd when one of these political propaganda vans came in annoying with its loud speaker, shouting to no one but me. About a political party, in Turkish. They even got out of the van and gave me sweets. It was a while I had not stopped myself to open the guide and plan a bit. After more hours than expected I got myself to Kas, a cute town, good to do some snorkeling and photograph the sunset.

More buses and dolmuses brought me to the beaches and ruins of Olympos. The bungalows were I stayed brought me back to the world —friendly people, homemade food, and cozy rooms—. It was also cool to hike here, volunteers in the bungalows knew well the way around, and lower temperatures and dives in beautiful lagoons made it more fun. I began to eat proper traditional Turkish food, outside kebabs and touristy fast food places. It was about time. When you rush from one place to an other it can be hard to appreciate the country’s cuisine, specially in touristy areas. In Olympos and in the rest of my days in Turkey I traveled much slower, appreciating simpler and better quality soups (lentils, tomatoes), lamb casseroles and stuffed vegetables (aubergines, peppers) and many different mezes. This was important for me, it made me love this country a little more, and praise more justly the Mediterranean diet. One must never lose hope on that, even it’s the other side of the Mediterranean.

The following days I traveled with Ameer, a Palestinian guy I met in Olympos. The first stop together was Antalya, a hub city to visit the South coast with a pretty port and an old city center. We tried some foods and got into a boat, more for the fun of bargaining and the low price than the ride itself. At night we went to Goreme by bus, our base town to visit Cappadocia, a land of brown, red and white valleys. Hundreds of fairy chimneys —everyone calls them penises because of their shapes— have been eroded into this volcanic plateau by the rivers and the rains of the centuries. Houses and churches were carved into these pillars, just like the caves of the Flintstones, making up the different villages and monasteries of the area. Also whole cities full of traps were built completely underground, serving in part as shelter for the early christians. More recently, houses, hotels and restaurants are also built inside these chimneys, which makes the landscape even more surreal. We spent the days in Cappadocia hiking around the valleys, chilling out in the nice terraces and meeting new people everyday. I kept asking for one more night at the hotel until I had to go back to Istanbul.

This time I stayed in the neighborhood of Kadikoy, in the Asian part of the chaotic city. The atmosphere was much less touristy and the food quite better value. I did some shopping, watched the sunset behind Hagia Sophia, and said goodbye to the country.

IMG_9583 IMG_9710IMG_9746IMG_9998 IMG_0141 IMG_0369

Istanbul and the Ionian coast

30 May

It’s that time of the year again: bus rides, food disorders, and lots of random people. I’m in Turkey now, kicking the roads by public transport as always. The long bus rides are luxury for my standards: free snacks and drinks, quite spacious seats, and individual tv’s. If you are lucky, wifi. Times are a changing, nowadays buses are like what plains used to be —and plains are like what buses used to be—. The local transport are vans passing every now and then. The eating habits have indeed got totally messy, but also I have been a bit disappointed by the food itself. Let’s say that I have tried better kebabs in Barcelona. Maybe those weren’t really kebabs, or maybe I fell for too many tourist traps in the beginning. In any case, I ain’t lost hope just yet, I’ll keep ya posted on this! Ah and then the people, I am getting to meet many Syrian immigrants, and I can hear about all the bad shit happening in their country more directly. Yesterday a roommate read for us a whatsapp he just got: one of his colleagues was just shot dead by a sniper. He was walking down the street in a city in the north of Syria, he explained. The bad guys just wanted to get control of that street. It’s interesting to hear these stories outside the news. They get you more.

All this began in Istanbul. Super huge city with super incredible buildings in its heart. Not my type of city, I have to say. I like them cuter, smaller, smarter. But Sultanahmed, with its Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Tokpkapi Palace, Roman Cistern, is unique. It’s a must see. Specially if, like me, you have seen dozens of churches before seeing one single proper mosque. 

From the Arabic mosques in Istanbul I got southwest to the greek and roman theaters, agoras and temples. What is left of them of course, mere basements of the original buildings. But you get to imagine the “wealthy” and “civilized” life of the times. The theaters specially are quite well preserved. In Ephesus you get to really walk for a couple of hours among  the ruins. Didim is not a city, only the temple of Apollo, but two whole columns are still intact and are quite impressive. Pergamon, Priene and Miletus are much less crowded, and you get this sensation of discovering by yourself as you walk. As a scientist with a growing interest in history (of science) and philosophy (of science) I was specially interested to learn more about these greek cities. In these places the first (western) philosophers, scientists in a sense, were born. I admit this interest is quite new. When they explained me that Thales of Miletus teached that everything was made of water I thought, who cares, we’ve known about atoms for a while. Bad attitude I know. Also I was missing the point. It’s not that they got it right or wrong, clearly they got it wrong. It’s that they were the first to reflect about the nature of things without adjudicating everything to the gods. This they got it right, and as a scientist I appreciate this a bit more now. It was exciting to be there and to discover a bit more about  those places and times.

All these ruins are spread in the west coast of Turkey, the Ionian coast. When leaving it I stop in the famous terraces of Pamukkale, made  of calcite deposits of running water. One gets to walk in muddy white waters, sunbathe, and drink water full of minerals. It’s all very natural and my mom would love it, but it’s not going to be my highlight. The bus to my next stop, the south of Turkey and the Lycian way, is not a bus, is a van and is overcrowded. I don’t really care, I put my headphones and finish “The Martian”,  fastest audiobook I’ve ever listened to. The book is super addictive and you get to learn a lot about space travel. This is Rover rides, Martian food, and lots of very smart people.

  

       

   

Senegal 2014

26 Oct

I never wrote this. And I should have, Senegal inspired me. At the moment I had no time and later the inspirations and excitements were gone. But lately I have been triplining my trips (check them out: http://www.tripline.net/axelperezobiol/ ). And when reviewing the pictures and places some mixed feelings came back. So let’s give it a try.

First the context: it was the end of February 2014, I had just defended my PhD thesis, and I had not been traveling for a while. I was more than ready to get going again. So why Senegal? It was warm, exotic, and without Jet Lag. And, since we are talking about Africa, safe.

I really roughed it the first days. I was traveling  with a young Senegalese, the brother of the boyfriend of the mother of a friend with whom I shared a flat once and whom I never met before. But let’s call him Sadio, because that’s his name. After spending a couple of nights in the suburbs of Dakar we hit the road to Dianah Ba. This is a lost village in the southeast of the country, were part of the family of Sadio lived. To get there in one day was a challenge itself. Think of 15 hours of taxis, buses, motorbikes, boats, and walks in bumpy roads. All this with a continuous bargaining and a non-stop eating of peanuts. The days in the village were quite interesting. Everyone comes to say hi to the white guy that Sadio had brought. And we went to see monkeys. Because I looove monkeys! Also, there weren’t many more distractions. At least there aren’t any that require electricity — there was none in the village—. After a few days we got back to the roads in direction to Ziguinchor.

I had only been five days in the country. But they were five days without electricity nor current water (except the first day in Dakar). And this is why I completely forgot about Ziguinchor until I was looking at the pictures. The city is ugly and does not have much. But my experience was that of finding an oasis in a desert. It happened that some relatives of Sadio lived in one of the prettiest colonial houses in the city, with its porches and plants, kitchens and bathrooms and well, almost all the first world things. We got there by night and left in the morning, but during those hours we got tea and food that tasted glory. We talked to the parents and the kids, who were the nicest people, and whom I just almost forgot. And this is what hit me and made me write. Traveling has these moments were some people show you their nicest side, who intimate with you faster than many people in your place, and then you never see them again and you almost forget about them. It gets me.

The trip continued to the beaches and islands in the west, to Serekunda in Gambia (more monkeys!) and back to the suburbs of Dakar. Always trying to find the relatives of Sadio and always succeeding. This was very surprising to me since in the suburbs there were no such things as street names and numbers and doors. We just asked people and walked. The end of the trip I did it alone up to St Louis and to the natural reserve of Djoujd’ in the north. Djoujd’ is an incredible natural park. I get very excited when I see animals in the wild and in this case it was special. They were the animals from The Lion King! No lions of course. It’s one of the first places with water after the Sahara, so thousands of emigrating birds stop here before following south. One can also see crocodriles, large iguanas, and Pumbas.

Looking back, this trip was probably the most intense, exotic, and harsh that I have ever made. I got to see a little part of the real Africa and I am happy for this.

 
  


  
  

Last day in Jülich!

23 May

Since the first day, seven weeks ago, my life has changed quite a bit: from the busy and lively Barcelona to a german town with nothing but cropping fields and an excellent research center: the forschungszentrum!

My social life, which I usually have in high esteem, has been pretty much zero. My daily sports routines (fencing, rollerskating and padeling) have been reduced to a forth and back bike ride to work. But work and learning have their on value, and I have had plenty of those, which have compensated well the amusing activities back home. My new collaborator made it possible! Moreover the spring here is pretty enjoyable, with so many birds and such yellowish and greenish fields! And a pretty bad weather too, we must say everything.

Visits to Köln and Aachen are a bit out of the trend of the whole stay: lively cities and with Cris, so nothing new really. But the Jülich moving holes were something quite new to me. An electric company makes them, each about the size of the town, with the purpose of extracting coal and turn it to electricity. With the piece of earth they extracted from the first hole they made the world’s largest artificial hill made by mining. And then they just have a whole system of belts that bring the coal to the factory and the extracted soil to the back of the hole. So once the holes are done, they actually move! And you can see this from the sky:

http://earthengine.google.org/#intro/v=50.9224226,6.363911899999948,10.593754124416598

The villages that are on The Path of the Hole must be moved away: the houses are destroyed and new ones are built somewhere near. The huge house in which I live pertained to one of these unlucky families from one of these dammed villages that happened to be interfering with the hole back in the 70’s or 80’s

Oporto

13 Apr

A Oporto hem seguit al peu de la lletra les tres normes que apareixien a la nostra guia:

  1. Qualsevol hora és bona per entrar a un cafè i picar alguna pasteta dolça o salada
  2. Menjar-ne almenys dues en cada local
  3. S’han de provar totes!

Com us podeu imaginar, les nostres 80 hores a Portugal han consistit en una llarga successió de pastissets. No és una activitat gastronòmica tan alegre com les tapes o els pintxos, i els portuguesos tampoc són l’alegria de la península, però els menjars nous sempre són divertits, i les sopetes calentes i les pastes salades i dolçes s’adapten bé al fred i les pujades que hi ha fora dels bars.

En concret, el pastisset nº10, més o menys clar, però que correspondria al sopar del segon dia, vam decidir que fós una mica més glamurós. En aquesta ciutat de turonets, pots creuar tres illes i canviar sis vegades de pendent, així que optimitzem la nostra recerca sentant-nos tranquilament a l’hotel i mirant a tripadvisor.com el resaurant més proper i amb més bones crítiques. Resulta ser un lloc amb bastant de caràcter: és un espai ampli i de sostre alt, on tota la decoració es concentra en les parets, repletes d’objectes antics, incloent un sis-cents i una taça de vater. Tota la llum ve de només unes quantes espelmes, però es suficient per envejar, només arribar, la quantitat de platets que té la taula del costat. Entre la cambrera i que no hi ha gaires més opcions entenem que aquests deu plats són el que anomenen “couvert” al principi de la carta. Val només 4 euros així que ho demanem com a entrant.

Ja ens havia soprès la quantitat de plats que tenien els comensals veïns, però ara que ens estan omplint la nostra taula, encara ens quedem més bocabadats. I més encara quan veiem que té cada plat: un, per exemple, només té ceba amb vinagre. A mi, que la ceba a l’amanida ja em trenca tota l’harmonia que puguin formar els altres ingredients, em posen un plat només de ceba. I un altre que té taquets de sindria. Un altre amb fesolets. Un altre amb formatge. Un amb 100 olives. Un amb pebrot. Anem menjant, aviam si la cosa s’arregla, però és que els aperitius no s’aguanten per enlloc. Com es poden combinar les 100 olives amb la sindria? O amb xoriço cuit?

Per sort, el fet de posar “couvert” en francès i cursiva a la carta no és l’únic “glamour” que té el lloc. El segon plat està bé i hi ha un guitarrista i un cantant que fan un ambient molt agradable.

Un altre d’aquests “pastissets” va ser una visita a unes bodegues a Vila Nova de gaia, on abans de provar el vi d’Oporto ens explicaven com es feia. I és que jo no sabia perquè és tan dolç i a la vegada té una graduació tan alta. Un pot sospitar: el deixen fermentar només quatre dies, perquè no gaire sucre es converteixi en alcohol. A canvi, el barrejen amb aiguardent per augmentar-li la graduació, i així també parar la fermentació.

I acabo amb una gran cita que ha Oporto ha agafat una connotació una mica més literal,

“La vida es como una caja de bombones, nunca sabes lo que te puede tocar”.

De la Tierra al Plato

29 Feb

En mis dos últimos fines de semana he probado un poco mas de Castilla, en gran parte de una manera procesada: primero los animales han saboreado la tierra, y luego yo los he saboreado a ellos.

El pasado viernes Jorge me llevo a Ávila a pasar dos días con su encantadora familia. Nos paseamos sobre las blancas e intactas murallas y nos tomamos unas patatas revolconas (puré con pimenóon) en frente de ellas. Luego, una infusión en el cálido y acogedor Parador de Ávila.

Las murallas se quedan cortas frente al recuerdo del jamoncito, lomos y longanizas que cortaba el padre de Jorge en los aperitivos.  Frente al cocido castellano que nos preparó su madre. A mi, que nunca lo había probado, me impresiono. Se cuecen lentamente chorizo, longaniza, ternera, morcilla y tocino y con ello se hace un caldo de fideos. Acabada la sopa se comen los garbanzos, y luego, las carnes cocidas con el relleno (tortilla con migas de pan seco). Ahí también sigue habiendo el tocino, un buen bloque de grasa de cerdo que se unta con pan. Se dice que el cocido se hace con las sobras del cerdo, pero cuando uno acaba se siente como si se hubiera comido uno entero. Para variar un poco de animal, el día siguiente probé el chuletón de Ávila.

Una dieta potente, esta de Castilla.

En mi último sábado me he ido a ver una matanza típica en Guijuelo. Bien se podría llamar “el cocido: los orígenes”. Es una fiesta dónde la gente, orgullosa de su pueblo, viene vestida con capas de colores y sombreros emplumados. Han asistido las cofradías gastronómicas de toda España, cada una también con su disfraz. Tanto se parecían a una orden de Jedis como al Papa de Roma y su séquito.

Cuatro o cinco famosillos que no conocía alaban, durante, para mi gusto, demasiado tiempo, el pueblo de Guijuelo. Mientras, el puerco va comiendo su último pienso entre cuatro vallas metálicas, y yo, aburrido de tantos honores y reconocimientos, entablo conversación con un castellano de tan pura cepa como el cerdo. Al módico precio de hablarle de Barcelona, que siempre le trae algún que otro buen recuerdo a la gente, me dice una buena tienda donde comprar paletillas y chorizos.

La matanza ha sido rápida. Se moja al cerdo y se le aplica una descarga eléctrica (que apenas le hace nada). Mientras el puerco gruñe con la lengua colgando y sujetado patas arriba, se le apuñala en la yugular y se le deja sangrar. A partir de aquí, se aprovecha todo. Mientras la sangre cae en el cubo se remueve para que no coagule. De ahí saldrá la morcilla. Luego se parte por la mitad y se destripa y se le saca la grasa. De ahí saldrán alimentos del calibre de los callos, que también probé en casa de Jorge, o de los chicharrones, que pruebo al final de la matanza. Luego las costillas, el lomo, la cruceta, las paletas y jamones. Etcétera. En un momento, cada órgano y músculo del animal ha quedado expuesto y colgado de algún palo o alguna mesa.

En mis momentos de reflexión he llegado a pensar si al que le toca matar dos mil cerdos al día en un matadero se le remueve la conciencia al final de la jornada. El otro día en el club de esgrima, un carnicero, que en sus años de mozo también fue matarife, me comentó que si fuera solo uno, igual le cogía cariño, pero que cuando hay tantos que matar no da tiempo para eso. La verdad es que, cuando se mata solo uno, al menos en Guijuelo, poco cariño hay. Cuando el cerdo se esta desangrando y gruñendo afónicamente, y los niños le pegan en el lomo y se ríen, no me parece muy diferente de cuando estos mismos niños en la edad media iban a ver los ahorcamientos en las plazas. Pero entre el tamborileo, los bailes y los disfraces, y pensando en las paletillas que vendrán al cabo del tiempo, uno no va  a criticar este acto de sádico.