En castellano: ig.nac.io/blog

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New blog: ig.nac.io/blog



Since a few weeks ago, I'm writing again my personal blog in Spanish. As I am trying to post there frequently (at least 2 or 3 times per week) and I also have a job and a life (:P) I'll post here very seldom from now on (well, that's what has already been happening for the past months anyway :)).

If you speak Spanish, don't hesitate and pay a visit to ig.nac.io/blog. By the way, the .io domain is the national TLD of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The fee is very expensive, but... doesn't 'ig.nac.io' look really cool?

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Friday, March 12, 2010

A tribute to Miguel Delibes

Miguel Delibes

"When you feel death so close, you turn your eyes into yourself and you find nothing but banality, because we the living, when comparing with the dead, are unbearably banal." - M. Delibes

Miguel Delibes died a few hours ago in Valladolid, where he was born in 1920 (as he said once, "I am like a tree, who grows where it was planted"). In case you don't know him, Delibes is one of the greatest contemporary Spanish writers, and would have deserved the Nobel price more than, let's say, Camilo J. Cela (the last Spanish writer who got it). In my humble opinion, no one has captured the soul of Castile as Delibes did in many of his books (such as "The Rats", "the Old Tales of Old Castile" and many others). If anybody is wondering what actually is Castile, he could get a good hint reading some of Delibes' books.

His first and last books (excluding the compilations and short essays published during his latter years) are two great -yet atypical, considering all his other books- novels: "the Long Shadow of the Cypress" and "the Heretic", magnificent historical novel about freedom and tolerance set in Valladolid, when the city was the capital of the Spanish Empire... and the Inquisition. For many of us, "The Way" (about children growing up and discovering the bitterness of life) was one of the first books that we had to read at school. And of course, it's impossible to forget "the Holy Innocents", a tale about the struggle of the poor where everything (even their lives) belong to the rich. One of his most celebrated books is not even a novel, but rather the monologue of a lady in front of his husband's dead body: "Five hours with Mario".

A proud Castilian like me, a fellow countryman from Valladolid, but besides everything else, one of the greatest Spanish writers of all times. Rest in peace.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Life can change a lot in half a year

It has been a long time since the last time I wrote here. Exactly five months, so almost half a year. And five months is the time remaining in my current job: trainee at the ICT Department of Cedefop, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. I applied for this traineeship in November, but I actually had forgotten about it. After all, we are talking of 8 positions and almost a thousand applicants!

But then by the end of January I got this mail inviting me to join Cedefop for the Spring traineeship period. And, regardless of whatever you are doing at the moment, how can you possibly say no to work in the European Union? and since Cedefop is located in Thessaloniki, here I am, living in Greece again.

Working environment is the best thing of Cedefop. A bunch of skilled and motivated international people working in a very wide range of topics. Of course, there is an ICT Department, and there's where I am working, so I am part of the IT crowd of the European Union.

About my life in Thessaloniki? well, I have been there just for a week, and besides working I haven't done much else. I am living alone in a cute apartment of Ano Poli, the old town, and I have a small balcony with views of the sea... that's something great, both in Barcelona and Athens I was living in rather dark places. It takes ages to reach Cedefop from there, but Cedefop is so far away from everything that even those of my colleagues who looked for a place located 'nearby' spend 45 minutes. I think it pays off to spend 15 minutes more every day and live downtown, instead of living in a boring suburb.

And what about the Master in Economics that I was doing in Valladolid? well, I passed the first semester quite successfully and I got to enjoy a lot both Micro and Macroeconomics (the great teachers of both courses are 'guilty' for that). I'll try to finish it doing my assignments from Greece, it would be a pity to waste all the job done in the first semester.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Back to the University

As it seems very difficult at the moment to find a motivating job (or even a job at all), I applied for a Master here at the University of Valladolid. The sign-up deadline is next Friday. The lessons already started and I am attending, so I'll actually go for it. The Master application was a last resource, in order not to waste more time. I was expecting a good job opportunity in the meanwhile, but it didn't come.

The Master degree is about Economy, 2 semesters. Companies are actually interested on engineers with knowledge about Economy, so I hope it will be a good investment. So far, it seems like I can handle it with a reasonable amount of work, and I can still look for a job in the meanwhile (since lessons are in the evenings).

Some other minor issues currently going on: I am working on some small design projects, including a website which I hope to finish soon (it will be a very simple, small thing). I also joined the ESN (Erasmus Student Network) so I can keep in touch with foreing students even if I am staying at my hometown. My sister is currently doing her Erasmus as well (in Coimbra, Portugal), and I am enjoying being a single child. Coexistence with my parents, however, is more difficult after 2 years living on my own. And after all, I am 24 already... time goes by so fast! :S

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Genciencia: yet another blog

Next week I will start my collaboration with Genciencia, a blog about science in Spanish, owned by WeblogsSL. I will also keep writing for Diario del Viajero, a blog about travelling owned by the same company.

This is quite a big challenge. Althugh Genciencia has a big growing potential, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to reach the same success as othr blogs of the company have (namely, Diario del Viajero). So, let's see what happens from next week on!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer in Valladolid

Again, such a long time without writing here, more than two months. What has been going on during all this time? I came back to Valladolid after almost two years abroad, but I didn't stay at home for long.

At the end of May I had the chance to join the European Week in Eindhoven (Netherlands), with a friend from Barcelona and 300 students more. Before the event we made a small tour in Belgium: Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels (with crazy nights in the two latter). While in the Netherlands we could also visit Delft, The Hague and Amsterdam.

I came back to Valladolid but just for a week. Then it was time for my Swedish adventure. After visiting the center of Copenhagen on my own and other crazy night in Lund, I enjoyed 12 memorable days with students and old friends from all around Europe in Gothemburg, participating on a BEST course. High level of awesomeness and great memories (including the weekend spent in the deserted island of Krokholmen).

Then I headed to Stockholm, where I delivered trainings on presentation skills and negotiation and was the referee in a negotiation competition. Again, I had there the chance to meet great people, not only Europeans but also Iranians, Azeris... even from Bangladesh.

The last stop was Tallinn, again my beloved Estonia. I was just chilling there for three weks, enjoying the climate (much better than last summer), swimming, eating šašlõkk, meeting old friends (with some Castle parties and international beer-tastings included) and of course, participating in the Laulupidu, the Estonian national singing festival held every 5 years.

It has been an interesting summer so far, and I have at least two more trips planned: Italy - Slovenia - Croatia - Hungary in early August and then Czech Republic in late August - early September. I feel like I deserve it, after graduating as a Telecommunication Engineer (yes, it finally happened!).

Right now I am on stand-by, trying to enjoy the summer at home, which is something that I haven't done for the last 3 years. But even here, interesting stuff happens: yesterday I got the chance to talk about travelling in the most listened Spanish radio station (Cadena SER). Who would have ever guessed that I would get to talk in the same radio station that I have listened (and whose journalists I have admired) since I was a kid...

By the way, even if I don't update this blog very often (:$) lately I am using quite a lot my twitter account, feel free to follow me.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Talking with the King

Last Monday I met the King of Spain (also the Queen and the Foreign Minister). Why? Well, it's a long story. Last summer I was working in Tallinn (Estonia), thus I registered in the Embassy. Unless you tell them otherwise, they keep you registered for a year. The King visited Estonia last week, and they organised a reception for the 'Spanish community' in Estonia. Since I still was officially registered, I was invited too.

Invitation
As usual, my name is misspelled ¬¬

So, as it's always nice to come back to Estonia (I have good reasons to do so besides the King :P) there I went, half an hour early (I think I was the first one). There weren't many of us, around 30 Spaniards (many young people doing their Erasmus program or working in Skype) and a few random people. After a not very strict security control, there we were in a small room, waiting for 'their Majesties'.

They told us to make a line and shake the King and Queen's hands without stopping: "they shake hands very fast" (they must be used to such a hard job). We did so (the King saying to everybody "Hi, how's going?") and afterwards we were in a bigger room, in which the King, the Queen and the Minister were talking with us for about half an hour.

Unfortunately I couldn't impress the Queen with my Greek language skills. But I had the chance to talk about this with the King. His answer: "Bah, no problem! You grab her and tell her HEY QUEEN! and then talk to her". I hesitated and finally I didn't follow his advice, but anyway we were laughing about this.

On the other hand, the Foreign Minister, Mr. Moratinos, suggested us to 'vote properly' on the next European Parliament Elections (damn! I didn't even remember about that). Besides that, I spent my time there chatting with some guys from Skype that I met last summer, and some Erasmus students.

I was actually expecting more 'glamour', fancier stuff. But everything was pretty simple and straightforward. We didn't even get much food, just some tiny portions pretending to be avant-garde, Spanish-inspired cuisine. We didn't even get wine, just some juice and tea. And after half an hour, everything was over and we went for a beer and then home.

On the following days I had the chance to meet some of these Spanish people. On Wednesday we went to see the football match, Chelsea-Barcelona, and in the end we went crazy with the last goal of Iniesta (beer rain and angry Chelsea supporters were included).

On Saturday we went to watch a free Spanish movie, 'La Soledad' (loneliness, a more appropriate name would have been boredom). Two hours of boring, unbearable crap. This movie was awarded with the prize to the best Spanish movie of the year, which shows how bad is our cinema... and they have the guts to say that the problems of Spanish cinmea are due to the Internet downloads! But anyway, this is a new topic...

PS: of course, we weren't allowed to take pictures of our meeting with the King. There was an official photographer instead. I don't know when (and how) will I get my picture, so until then, there's no offocial proof :P

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Athens vs. Barcelona

I left Athens last Monday. I spent last days in Barcelona (my former 'hometown' before moving to Greece) visiting old friends and enjoying a city which I love. There are many contrasts between Athens and Barcelona, which of course are easier to notice if you have been living in both, like me.

I just found a very interesting article in Life in Capital A, a bilingual (en/gr) magazine about Athens that you can even download online, where they compare both cities.

First and foremost, cleanliness. The central parts of the city look well-taken-care-of. As if by magic, when everybody's asleep, all the cigarette ends and empty beer bottles are collected, the pavements washed and the public spaces tidied up. The same thing happens in the parks. Every day, thousands of tourists visit these places, but every trace of them disappears overnight and in the
morning all is sparkling clean.


Well, they should have seen other Spanish cities (for instance, Girona, one hour away from Barcelona), comparing to which Barcelona looks like a dumping site. Anyway, the lack of street weepers and cleaners is surprising for a Spaniard used to it. Athenians make it up being respectful with their streets and cleaning the pavement in front of their own doors.

Policing is done correctly [in Barcelona]. I need to explain what I mean by that. When you walk down the main streets, you sense the discreet presence of the police, who patrol either by walking the beat, on bikes or in cars. If somebody is determined to break the law, even if this just means making a lot of noise during quiet periods, then the police take over.

Although I don't like the policemen of Barcelona, being too strict in small matters such as drinking a can of beer on the street, they seem the best professionals comparing with Greeks. Greek policemen are either scary (walking around in big groups with heavy guns and bulletproof vests around the city center) or inexistent (I didn't see a single policeman in my neighbourhood for seven months).

And of course, facts as the murder of a 15-year-old boy by policemen don't improve the public image of Greek police. Rather the opposite.

There are many pickpockets [in Barcelona] - taxi drivers always tell foreign visitors to be careful- and petty crime is quite common.

Street crime is not common in Athens, and even in crowded touristic areas you can walk without being constantly afraid of being stolen. This is something that I really appreciate. Although Barcelona is not as unsafe as this paragraph suggests, in Spanish touristic areas (and especially in Madrid and Barcelona), you'd better watch your step!

It is out of the question, however, for a tourist visiting Barcelona to witness 30 hooded thugs breaking shop windows - as happened recently in Kolonaki, one of the best policed areas of Athens - without a police officer intervening.

Indeed, in Spain they would have been badly beaten by policemen (even in peaceful demonstrations happens!), arrested and sentenced to several years of prison because of 'urban terrorism' or something like that. Which is not a good solution, either.

Things aren't overpriced, compared to Athens, where you sometimes have to pay a bit more for food. In Barcelona, good quality food is often reasonably priced.

The insane prices of terraces and 'posh' places in Athens are only due to the typical Athenian behaviour: "I go to have a coffee and I don't mind paying 4.50 € for it because I need to show off. And of course, I leave the 50 remaining cents as a tip, because I'm worth it". Tourists and visitors should note, however, that in Greece, 'having a coffee' often implies to stay three or four hours chatting with your friends.

About the food prices, we can discuss... the quality and quantity of an average Greek 'taverna' usually deserves the prices charged (not to talk about the live music in many of them!). About fast food, Greece is just unbeatable. A Greek 'pita gyros' is healthier and tastes better than any 'döner kebab' in Barcelona, whereas its price is less than half.

Luckily, both in Athens and Barcelona you can find quite many bars and eateries which are traditional and not tourist-oriented. However, you need advice from the locals (or a vast experience on drinking/eating out) to get to know the best ones!

Everybody enjoys an enviable standard of living. The inhabitants look relaxed and happy as they rub shoulders with the tourists, knowing full well the many advantages brought to their city by 7,000,000 visitors a year. Before the 1992 Olympic Games, inflation and unemployment were extremely high. Nowadays, the city is the pride of Catalonia and Spain.

Neither the living standards in Barcelona are so good, nor those in Athens so bad. It's very expensive to live in Barcelona. Many of my friends have part-time jobs and study hard for their Engineer diplomas, whereas my Athenian colleagues drive the cars bought by their parents, enjoy a less demanding University life and of course are 'too busy' to think about a job. Of course, the average living standard is higher in Barcelona than in Athens, as it is higher in the whole Spain than in Greece, but there's not such a big difference.

Out of the question, tourism and infrastructures of Barcelona boosted incredibly thanks to the Olympic Games... which were held 17 years ago. In Athens, they happened just five years ago. The pace of the changes has slowed afterwards, but Athens keeps changing.

I really like both cities, but in my humble opinion there is still a way to go for Athens, before reaching Barcelona. The Catalan city should be the mirror for the Greek capital. Both of them held the Olympic games in recent times. Barcelona did it 12 years earlier than Athens, let's see if the ongoing changes are fruitful and in the next 12 years Athens is able to catch up with Barcelona.

In any case, I strongly recommend paying a visit to Athens and Barcelona to get two wonderful (yet different) samples of the European side of the Mediterranean.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

New projects, new challenges

During the last weeks I have been quite busy. After some months of 'quasi-holidays' I had to finish my Final Project (or 'Master Thesis', or whatever you want to call it) in Greece. So now I am an expert on 'Noise Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radars'. Or at least, I should be...

Since February I am also cooperating with a new project. The most visited and well-known blog about travelling in Spanish language offered me a position as a freelance editor. This means that most of my 'blogging energy' and spare time goes to Diario del Viajero.

Right now I am writing from Estonia, but I will go back to Athens tomorrow. My apartment is rented also for April so I have to take advantage of it ;). I decided not to stress anymore about my future, let's see what happens when I go back to Spain in May.



By the way, the local newspaper of Valladolid awarded me with the prize to the best information sent to their website (thanks to my blogs about Estonia and Greece). Unfortunately I wasn't there in Spain and I couldn't eat and drink for free in the gala dinner. I sent my family instead, I hope that they enjoyed :)

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Public transport shouldn't be a luxury

On Friday I got my monthly ticket for the public transport in Athens. It costs 18 € for students (and other people eligible for reduction) whereas the normal pass costs 35 €. These prices are quite affordable, since they include metropolitan train (green line), subway (red and blue lines), suburban train within the Greater Athens ('Proastiakos'), trams, trolleybuses and buses. The prices are in fact cheaper than those in 2007! (this is the best way to encourage the use of public transport).

For people who don't use very often the public transport, the prices are affordable too. A normal single ticket costs 1 € (it was 80 cents until December) and the reduced one costs 50 cents. Both of them are valid for 90 minutes (which can be extended if the last of the trips starts before reaching the 90 minutes limit), also for all the means of transport. But there is even more: some municipalities (such as Kesariani, where I live) have their own public buses, which are totally free. In the case of Kesariani, connects the main avenue (which crosses the whole suburb) with the closest metro station, located near the National Gardens (quite in the center).

In short, the traffic in Athens may be chaotic during the rush hours, but there are affordable solutions for those who don't want (or can't) take the car. It is a pity that there are only 3 metro lines at the moment, which means that many suburbs don't have direct access to the network, and it's true that some bus frequencies and connections between suburbs could be improved (I think it happens in every big city), but otherwise, the public transportation of Athens offers an acceptable and inexpensive service.

On the other hand, the situation in my hometown, Valladolid, is quite different. There is only one mean of public transportation: bus. Yes, the city is not very big, there is no point on building a metro line, but the size and population would make the tram a perfect solution. The bus ticket costs 1.10 €, this is 10% more than last year. It is also 10% more expensive than in Athens.

Let's compare the services offered by both. In Valladolid, the ticket is valid for a single trip in a single bus line. If you do a 15 min. bus trip, spend another 15 min., let's say, buying something, and then go back in another 15 min. bus trip, you need to spend 2.20 €. In Athens, you would have spent 1 € and you still would have the right to use the public transport for 45 extra minutes (what about taking the metro and going to the center for a coffee?).

And of course, we can't compare the actual distances covered by both networks. With a single ticket it is possible to travel, for instance, from the port of Piraeus to Kifisia by train (26 km) and then you would have about half an hour left to catch another bus and get further away. The longest distance covered by the urban bus lines of Valladolid is about 12 km, but most of the lines are much shorter. It's true that the buses that you can find in Athens are usually a bit older than in Valladolid, but the trolleybuses, trams, and metro wagons are really new (it's a pity that we cannot compare with their non-existent counterparts in Valladolid).

About the prices, I know, probably you think that the salaries in Greece are lower than in Spain, so it's a normal thing that the prices are also lower. Well, it's not exactly like that. Athens is the capital, and the salaries are higher than in the rest of the country, whereas Valladolid is not a place with very high salaries comparing with bigger Spanish cities. According to the disposable income statistics made by Eurostat in 2005, the disposable income in Attiki (the region of Athens) was 14352 € per inhabitant and year. In Castilla y León (the region of Valladolid) was 12499 €. The figures have changed since 2005, but the salary level is still higher in Athens than in Valladolid, for sure.

For me it's difficult to understand. How is it possible that a 4-million city can offer much better and much cheaper public transportation than a 400-thousand one? Why the public transport can be promoted in Athens and not in Valladolid? Why do some people talk of the 'profit' of public services? Aren't traffic-jam-free, non-polluted cities profitable by themselves? Isn't it worth to pay a cleaner air with our taxes?

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New blog: ig.nac.io/blog
A tribute to Miguel Delibes
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