Monday, July 28, 2008

Summer with my Family

Last week and this week I have been privileged to have not only my boys stay with me but also my Mom and Step-Dad. Since I now live in a one-bedroom apartment, it has been challenging at times, but we have made it work and have had a great time.

Here are a few family photos from the last week or so...

I have been working on the next Ares Quarterly Progress Report for the last few weeks, so my NASA related blog posts have been's just not that exciting to talk about how the edit is going...or is it?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Party at the pool!

Tonight, the apartment complex where I live had a BBQ party at the pool. Me and the boys decided that we would go ahead and make an appearance. After some barbecue and karaoke (we didn't sing), there was a relay race...boys against the girls. Eric tried his best, but the girls were too fast!

That's ok, I was proud of him for having the courage to even try. He definitely is not shy...unlike Kevin, who is super-shy!

After the race we all sat down for some ice cream...

This was a great way to begin our 2 weeks of summer break together!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Birthday Thoughts...

First of all, much thanks to my buddy, Lee Erickson at Canyonware for snapping up the moment the other guy let the domain name expire and then surprising me by putting my blog up on it. There was no website there, the guy was just holding on to it, waiting for some sucker named James Bilbrey to buy it.

I feel a little more important now!

Well, it's been a week since I returned from Spain and I can't help and think back to "what was I doing exactly one week from RIGHT NOW" (actually 2 weeks now...). Is that normal?

I had such a great time! Spain is such a warm and inviting country, everyone was very helpful and I never felt threatened (although I didn't feel the need to be out by myself after dark...). I will always have fond memories of my first real visit to another country.

Some of my favorite moments were when I was just walking "that way" through regular old city streets. People were living their lives and I was able to just catch a glimpse of it as I meandered through. I didn't wear my MP3 player because I wanted to hear as well as see and smell everything that was around me...

I experienced so many new and exciting things that I know I have been changed forever. I won't be satisfied with just going to the beach for a vacation. I want to go to the beach in Sydney, Australia...I don't want float down the Mississippi, I want to float down the Nile.

I am going to make it a goal of mine to go to at least one new country a year. Maybe more as finances dictate...

Thanks Rich and Madelyn, you two are the best!

Today is my 38th birthday and I was able to have my boys over tonight. I cooked hamburgers on the stovetop, which is a favorite of all three of us.

After dinner we went out to the side parking lot and played demolition derby with the remote control cars...

The boys were so sweet to give me presents...things they found at their mothers house. Kevin gave me his copy of the movie Madagascar and Eric gave me a Speed Racer Happy Meal car and one of his stuffed animals named "claws" or "clause", I'm not sure...He said "claws" was "tired of him" (meaning tired of being Eric's stuffed animal). How cute!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My last day in Spain

Please click on the smaller photos to see the larger versions...

On my last full day in Spain, Rich and I decided to tour the Real Madrid Soccer Stadium. Real Madrid, or "Royal Madrid" Football club was voted the "best club of the 20th century". I asked Rich if Royad Madrid was a team like the New Orleans Saints, and he said, "no, more like the New England Patriots". Ouch, that hurt!

Last night, we attended the Rock in Rio - Madrid concert with many, many musical acts. I don't know how many people were there, but it seemed like there was more than 100,000 people! Click on the picture to see the larger version and try to count the people! The picture below was a shot behind us...

We went to the concert to see the Police in concert. They finally took the stage at 12:15 AM and rocked for the next 1.5 hours!

They played all the hits and sounded great! We were about 200 feet from the stage and could see everything just fine. It was over way too soon and we had to say goodbye to Sting, Andy and Stewart...

As I write this, I am sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for my flight to Huntsville. Tomorrow I will wrap up my trip to Spain with my final thoughts of traveling to a foreign country and anything else I forgot.

Friday, July 4, 2008

My day in Toledo, Spain

Click on the small photo to see the larger verion.

Today, I decided to take the train to Toledo, Spain, which is only a 30 minute ride from Madrid and cost 15 Euros round trip.

This is the train station in Toledo...

I took the local bus to the main square, called Plaza de Zocodover (below). The name comes from the Arabic name, "Souq al dawad" when the square was a Moorish livestock market at an earlier time. Bullfights and other festivals have taken place in this square as well as burnings at the stake by the Inquisition.

Toledo, Spain is known for it's production of iron and especially swords. Swords are for sale EVERYWHERE! But even if I wanted one, how would I get that thing home?

The thing that struck me was the narrow streets and Arabic influence.

Next, I came across the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, or just the Toledo Cathedral.

The Cathedral is one of the three 13th century High Gothic cathedrals in Spain and is considered to be the magnum opus.

Here are some pics from inside...

The rest of the day was spent literally wandering wherever the Spirit moved me...turn here, go this way. Here are a few pictures of the rest of the adventure...

Tomorrow we are going to tour the Real Madrid stadium and then we are going to Rock in Rio - Madrid concert to see the Police in concert. Should be a great last day in Spain!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Barcelona Day 3 - 5000 miles from home.

Please click on the pictures to see the larger version.

I have never been so far from my home in my life, but with the internet, I still feel like I have my family and friends with me.

This morning I only had two places I wanted to go to. The first was Sagrada Familia and the second was the Estacio de Sants. When I got off the metro and turned around, this was what greeted me...

The Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, or just Sagrada Familia as it's better known. It was designed by Antoni Gaudi and construction was begun in 1882. As you can tell, it is still under construction and it is estimated to be complete by 2026. When people questioned Gaudi about why it was taking so long, even back in the 1920's, he would reply, "My Client is not in a hurry".

At first glance, it looks like a weird, trippy version of a church on drugs, but when you look closer you realize that it is a very intricate piece of art.

Construction continues using Gaudi's blueprints to continue his vision. He envisioned this church to be "the last great sanctuary of Christiandom"

This photo depicts the Passion facade on the west side and the figures were sculpted between 1978 and 2002. Look at the big picture to see the details...

These interior columns were made to resemble redwood trees, with nature a big theme in this church.

Also, the columns of the interior were made of different types of stone, depending on the amount of weight it was to hold. That's why they are different colors...

At the end of the tour, I had much more appreciation for Gaudi and his skill as an archetect and artist. With this church, he thought out every detail and everything, and I mean everything, has some sort of religious meaning.

As a side note, Gaudi is where the term Gaudy comes from, because his work is really "out there" sometimes, using wild colors.

After the tour of the church, It was time to head to the Estacio de Sants...also known as the Barcelona train station!

After 3 wonderfull days in Barcelona, it was time to take the high speed train back to Madrid for a few more days. It was so nice to be zooming along at 300 Km/h, sipping a glass or two of champagne and enjoying the views...

Riding on the train is so comfortable, with wide isles, lots of footroom and plenty of personal space.

The ride was uneventful and I look forward to a great day tomorrow!


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Barcelona Day 2

Please click on the small pictures to see the larger versions.

"Hola, parla angles?"

I say that constantly here in Barcelona..."Hi, do you speak English?"

Usually the response is..."A little..." and we go from there.

Today I decided to start my day at Montjuic. Montjuic means "Jewish Mountain" and it was named after an important Jewish cemetery that existed here in the Middle Ages.

My bus dropped me off at the Plaza de Espana, which is at the foot of Montjuic. The plaza was built in 1929 on a site that used to be used for public people seems to just use it to park their scooters.

There was some sort of convention going on...called Bread & Butter Barcelona, so I had to go around it so that I could get to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya or MNAC.

It was also built in 1929 and it houses one of the most important medieval art collections in the world, as well as many incredible paintings...this one is called "Santa Agnes". It was painted by Massimo Stanzione in 1635.

I toured the museum for a while and I felt bad just blowing through some of the galleries...I knew that I should give these paintings the proper respect because these are world-class paintings, painted by masters who spent sometimes years painting them...but on the other hand, I was dying to ride the funicular!

So after 2 hours went by, it was time to ride the funicular! But first I had to walk 45 minutes to get there...I will NOT be gaining weight on this vacation...cabs are conveinient but EXPENSIVE!

The funicular is basically just a cable car skyride sort of thing that took me to the top of Montjuic.

At the top is Castell de Montjuic, which is an 18th century castle. The original structure was built in 1640 during the War of Segadors to resist King Felipe IV's forces.

But now it is a place to get some spectacular views of the city and surrounding areas.

See me in the picture above? See that tall metal tower next to my head? My next stop was the beach exactly where the top of the tower hits the beach in this pic. Do you think I walked?

Hell no! I'd still be walking...I took a nice 15 Euro taxi ride. Best 15 Euro's I spent today because, when I got of the taxi, this is what greeted me...

That's right, the Mediterranean Sea! I was so excited to see the sea...ha that's funny. The Mediterranean has always seemed so exotic and so far away. Well, today I took off my shoes (and socks!) and walked in the surf. It was awesome but a little nerve-racking because these beaches were topless beaches...topless for men AND women. Don't get me wrong, I'm cool and all, but I was not in a bathing suit and I had a camera around my neck. I felt like I was being watched to see if I was watching, which I wasn't! at least not much...

I didn't take any close-up photos, I made sure to stay extra-wide to protect the know who you are...

After drying my feet off and noticing a blister on one of my toes, I decided to make the hour walk back to La Rambla, although today I was going to go from the southern entrance whereas yesterday I entered La Rambla from the northern side...La Rambla is the "main drag" of Barcelona. It is absolutely filled with folks shopping, eating and walking.

On the way I passed the Monument a Colom, which is a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing resolutely out to sea.

It was built in 1888 and it commemorates his return to Spain after discovering the Americas. He is at the very top of this 262 foot tall statue...

Well, that ends day 4 in Spain. The weather has been fantastic and the heat is no worse that Alabama this time of the year. I am drinking water and "Coke light" as they call Diet Coke.

So far I have maybe 45 pictures of my adventures, but as of tonight, I have taken over 800 photos so far. I am not sure I want to upload so many pics to my Flickr account...we'll see. What do you think?

Tomorrow I am going to visit the La Sagrada Familia, which is a church that was started by Antoni Gaudi in 1882 and construction continues today. Some say it should be completed by 2030. Here is a current photo...

After that, I will be taking the high-speed train back to Madrid.

Until tomorrow!