Last post I described a lot of travels outside of Spain, and now I wish to touch on some that were close by. The first trip I took was the “Viaje de Prácticas” with the fourth year students of the Facultad de Ingenieria de Caminos Canales y Puertos. They offer the trip to just the fourth year students, bus as those who were going abroad next year would miss it, the Spanish students were invited along, and because the Spanish people are excellent hosts, the Americans got to tag along as well.
We were visiting five different construction sites around the northeastern part of Spain in five days. The university arranged everything, we got to stay in hotels, got free breakfast and lunch (although the lunch was provided by the companies of the sites we were visiting), and transportation via bus to all of the different places. We saw a highway being built in Bilbao, chock full of those tunnels the Spanish engineers are so fond of, a renovation of a museum in downtown of the city of Zaragoza, then off to another highway under construction outside of Zaragoza, then a desalination plant recently renovated in Girona (north of Barcelona), and finally, a dam that was going to be enlarged in Navarra. We got tours of each of the sites and we were put into groups of about eight or ten students which each had a specific work site to do a report on at the end of the trip. My group got the “presa de Yesa” which was the dam being renovated in Navarra.
During the evenings we had free time and took full advantage of this by visiting the nightlife of Zaragoza and Barcelona, which were the two cities we stayed the night in. It was overall a great bonding experience with the students in our class, as well as the other Spanish engineering students. Our Spanish guides of the work sites saw the Americans as somewhat as an anomaly and continually asked if we understood their Spanish. Everywhere everyone was extremely accommodating and helpful, and the lunches were full on three course meals with dessert and chupitos (shots) included. It was a real treat to get Spanish food from nice restaurants although I did have to ask at every single place for a special vegetarian meal. Most waitresses were very kind about my requests, albeit confused; one time they served me pasta, just pasta, nothing else, and I had to keep bothering them to get some tomato sauce. Although I have to say it did help me to save room for dessert (always vegetarian!), as I couldn’t eat most of the tapas (appetizers) that they brought out, and believe me, they brought out way too much. Each meal was decadence in itself, as the companies wish to impress the students in order to convince them to work for them when they graduate. The trip is mainly about making connections, as well as experiencing real construction sites and understanding the full process of a civil work.
My favorite site we visited was the renovation of the Museo Pablo Serrano in Zaragoza as this is the type of civil engineering I am most interested in. The architect himself took us on a guided tour of the project, explaining the concepts behind the design, the problems they ran into, and how and why he made the decisions about the materials, escalator placement, and ceiling treatment. The design was quite modern, and as a museum, had a lot of open space. There were high ceilings and drastic overhangs, as well as carefully placed natural lighting. The architect explained that he had to consider the protection of the artwork from sunlight in the design, which led to some of his choices about the layout of the rooms. It was extremely interesting to talk with him and he was very thorough in his descriptions, even taking a half hour or so drawing on the freshly constructed drywall to try to explain the concept of the design.
After this “viaje,” I planned for my Formula One trip to Barcelona. A friend and I took an overnight bus on Thursday night to arrive on Friday morning, threw our stuff in the hostel, then off to the circuit for Friday practice and qualifying (for the supporting series). I highly recommend going to Friday practice as there are few people that actually go. The stands were empty and there was practically no security. Technically we had the cheapest tickets, ones that only allowed us in the open areas around the track, not into any area with stands or seats. However, on Friday we were allowed everywhere. We found a particularly sweet spot that placed us right on the outside of a curve and very close to the track. There were also nice bleachers to sit in if we got tired of taking zillions of pictures.
I spent Friday mostly practicing, as trying to take a picture of a Formula One car while its whipping around a corner is quite difficult. Especially, if you have a cheap digital camera with only 3x zoom. Since we were so close to the track most of the time, my lack of zoom hardly mattered. Its also crucial to be seated where you can see a giant TV screen, as motorsports, while awesome to see in person, are really a television sport since you can’t be around the entire track all at once. The noise is what you really go for. I spent all of Friday without earplugs soaking up the deafening roar of the engines, but I wore them Saturday and Sunday lest my poor ears explode. Earplugs are a must, unless you don’t mind an ear ache. I lasted one day, and a lot of it was spent exploring far from the track. Also, if you go to a race, packed lunch and snacks are good to bring. I don’t know about other circuits, but the food was extremely expensive and unvaried. Since you’re allowed to bring whatever you like (you just have to open your bag at security and let them look, and of course no glass) most people showed up with coolers full of sandwich making materials and beer in plastic bottles. The first day we were caught unprepared and had to shove out 5 euro for a cheese sandwich, but the other days we packed lots of tasty food.
My experience at F1 was overall a complete success. Seeing and hearing those cars in person is an awesome experience…and one that is actually coming much closer to home in 2012. If you like F1, Austin, Tex. has just signed a 9 (or 10 I’m not sure) year deal with the FIA to host a US F1 race!
After another overnight bus on Sunday night and a very tired Monday, I was back in Santander. For our prehistoric art class (for just the Americans) we were going on two excursions this semester. One to Monte Hijedo and one to Peñu Tu and Santa Cruz to visit the rock art that can be found there. My favorite was most definitely Peña Tu in Asturias where we learned why the archaeology department at Universidad de Cantabria has a Land Rover. For Monte Hijedo, our trip consisted of lots of driving through the Cantabrian countryside and hiking over and through brush to see carved anthropomorphic images from around 3000-2000 BC. The Cantabrian countryside was very beautiful and I didn’t mind the drive at all, although I did get a little car sick from bouncing around the backseat of a Land Rover for 2 hours.
The most exciting though, of course, was the drive up to Peña Tu. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my camera, but I found photos of the site online, and will present them to you here (cited of course). The rock where the artwork can be found is on top of a hill near the coastline and the road to get there is a serious jagged rock, gravely, pitted, sandy path that winds up the hillside at an alarming slope considering the type of ground. When we were half-way up, our professor stopped the car, and said “ahh, now for the hard part,” and switched the Land Rover into low gear mode. We were so slanted at one point I thought we’d tip over for sure; although, that wouldn’t have been a terrible problem as we would have just rested the car against the rock face, which was inches from the windows.
After this exciting climb, you reach the top and hike a little bit to the rock outcropping where the poor carving has been shot at and “purified” with Christian crosses. It is a carving of a representation of a human, tombstone-shaped, with eyes in the semi-circle and zig-zags crossing the main body of the piece. There is also a carving of a weapon next to the human image.
Well, believe it or not, this is the end of my travels for the semester. I feel like I’ve seen many places, yet there’s still so much to see. I’ll have to save those trips (more of Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Greece, Portugal and eastern Spain) for another trip across the pond. Traveling and experiencing new cultures is one of the many advantages of this program, and I took full advantage of it while here. You can learn so much just by walking around, stopping at cafes, and visiting museums in all the different cities I got to travel to. I hope these descriptions and stories have piqued your interest if just a little bit, enough to check out some of these wonderful cities and events if you can.