Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

Blog Day & Sign Off

Today is Blog Day as I found out visiting my brother's blog the other day. You can click on the badge on the right side bar to find what is celebrated and how it should be celebrated. As announced in the first postings of this blog, I finally gave up and created this space to narrate or post my impressions on my summer trip to France and Belgium. I added some useful links (for my personal use) in the side bar and was able to create one post at the end of each part of my journey. Unexpected things occurred that lead me to take a trip to visit my family in Guatemala. Down there I made a couple of postings. And I had one of my first lessons in blogging: I created then deleted a posting. Probably nobody read it... I don't know. It was some ranting about the reaction of the people in Guatemala to the earthquake in Peru in comparison to what I thought it was the reaction in Canada. After a simple Google search and visiting a couple of local (read: Toronto) media websites I had the feeling I had underestimated the reaction of the community in Toronto to such a disaster. Thus, I deleted the post.

Blogging is not an easy thing when is done responsibly. One has to define to oneself (and sometimes as part of the blogging process) what is the purpose of having this window (or door) to one's life. In my blogroll I have a few blogs I visit regularly (read: almost daily) and in which I have made comments. They are blogs of some of my favourite people. I know them personally, and with one exception (which unfortunately I was not able to correct in my trip to Guatemala) I have physically met them. I believe they represent quite a nice sample of what I like about blogs. They let me keep up to date with what friends are doing and thinking. They provide me with ideas and comments about topics that interest me without being part of my profession or academic field. And finally they are visually appealing. With this last function in mind, I will start my list of blogs I recommend as part of Blog day with:
1. Daily dose of imagery <>
A photo blog that whenever I have time and a good connection (read: not the dial-up I have at home) I try to visit to check some awesome photos from the city I call home these days (and for the past four years).
2. La Antigua Guatemala Daily Photo <>
Another photo blog, this one part of the daily photo family of blogs. Not only Rudy takes incredible pictures of the beautiful colonial city beloved to many but he has an inquisitive mind and a global perspective in a diverse array of topics. A real global citizen and graphic designer.

3. Casa de Espantos <>
This is a blog I have not read as consistently but find is an interesting concept. It is the "third" spinoff of the romerogt family with contributions mainly by my sister-in-law. I like that it is a blog with a very defined purpose.

I have not checked out this blog in AGES and it is a really "radical" opinion blog. I might not share all of the positions they take, but it is a quite profound and sharp look at "Guatemalan issues".

5. Blog de Ronald Flores<>
THE source for critical literary reviews, mainly, but not limited to, Guatemalan literature.

I have not added to the list the blogs of my great friends Ale (Congo Days and Desde Kinshasa) and LD (Hello from here), first because they are listed on my blogroll and second because I believe they are my only two commenters in this blog(and probably my only two readers). Therefore I thought of this list thinking about them and to give them a list of "places I visit", besides their blogs. Thank you to you two and for letting me be part of your lives.

The second part of this posting is my wrapping up this travel journal. I am back in Toronto, in the threshold of a new academic year. I am about to upload the pictures from my two summer trips to my flickr page and I am about to begin new adventures in the statistical world next week. I will keep this blog "open" and will check for comments but I won't be posting anything else on it. I have a couple of ideas for other "single use" (as opposed to disposable) blogs using either pictures I have taken or digital designs I have created. So, check my blogger profile once in a while to see if I finally created another blog. For now, I will leave the serious blogging to others and will return to my role of commenting and being the self-confessed "voyeur" of other people's blogs.
From Toronto, this has been Manolo Romero Escobar.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

En Breve

So I arrived last Friday to Guatemala City, my hometown. As a friend put it, to return is strange, but it must be done. I guess it sounded better in Spanish. Anyway, it is great to be visiting family, and it is indeed surreal to be in this city. In less than a month general elections will be held to chose president, congressmen, and mayors. All the city is wallpapered with pictures of the candidates and logos of all the different parties. There are more than a dozen presidential candidates and I am getting the feeling from my family that there is really no front-runner. There are candidate debates and commercials on TV all the time. There are groups of sympatizers on popular roads waving flags to the jingle of their party of choice, although they are most likely being paid to do it and they don´t volunteer their time. The elections this time became closer to my family because my brother got a contract to develop some sort of software and data bases to integrate information coming from different sources to be delivered to national media, particulary TV. That means, though, that he is no longer able to comment on the race on his blog.

In other news, there is some sort of p#$$!ng contest between the mayor and the central government. The mayor, who was at the end of the nineties the president, and the president, who was the mayor at the same time the other guy was the president, used to be friends and from the same party when I left Guatemala over 7 years ago. However, now that their posts are reversed and after the party crummbled away, they seem to have a tug of war whose only prisoners are the citizens of the capital. City hall has some strict rules about a very limited amount of time that heavy trucks and trailers can come through the city. This angered the private transport sector who stopped their shipments towards the Guatemala City. The most impacting shipment stalled outside the political city walls was gasoline. Therefore, on Saturday I accompanied my mom to look for gas for my sister´s car which proved to be harder than it sounds. We succeeded, although gasoline supply was re-established by Sunday after the ministry of transportation and the ministry of the interior made a deal with the private sector. The mayor in the meantime has been in a tantrum, avoiding to meet with anyone and rejecting the agreement that the central government reached with the shipment companies.

As is usual around here, the mayor is looking re-election and he is the front-runner. This little show of political intransigence won´t take votes away from him. And the city will have the same feudal lord for another 4 years. So, this are some little news from the land of Eternal Spring, where rain is a constant and weather is cool, whereas temperaments sometimes aren´t. I guess my friend was right, coming back is strange.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Paris Part Deux

On Sunday, August 5th we took a train from Brussels Gare Midi to Paris Gare du Nord. From there we took the Metro to the 14eme Arrondisement (the Montparnasse area) where our hotel for the last leg of our trip was located. We had to switch trains in one of the main hubs of the Metro system which required several stairs and no escalators at all. It was then when we decided to take an Airport Shuttle on Wednesday as opposed to take the RER (Paris commuter trains) as we did when we arrived two weeks ago. Our hotel was in a very nice area, just outside a Metro station and very close to good restaurants and even shopping (although we didn´t realize this until Monday afternoon).

Pretty much there were two full days left of our journey and we really enjoyed them and squeezed them to the last drop. On the rainy Monday we climbed Montmartre to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur and then wonder around all the way up to the 19th Arrondisement through a lot of really urban streets with a Paris touch and all the way to tourist-free residential areas. Then we took the Metro back to St. Germain des Pres and walk our way back to the hotel. A long, yet productive walk (we got to find some goodies in the fnac at Montparnase). We even stop for a crepe and some coffee in a little stand run by Colombians. CMS thought I had chose the place because of that fact, but I honestly can say it was a coincidence as whenever I find Spanish speaking people all over the place.

The recommended (by guide books and friends alike) trip to the Pallais of Versailles was done on a glorious and sunny Tuesday. After lining up for tickets for over two hours, including some time where there was no tickets being sold due to a power faillure, we took a stroll on the gardens of the Palace. What a wonderful place for a walk, a pic-nic, or a day trip. The gardens, the trees, the fountains, the buildings are all impressive and worth the trip out of Paris. Once we decided to use our tickets to go into the palace the queue to get in was significantly shorter, around 15 minutes, as opposed to potentially another hour or lining up. The interior of the palace can only be described with one word: Decadent. Take it as you like it.

On Wednesday morning we were happy to have decided to take the Airport shuttle, because it was raining and it would have been dreadfull to drag our suitcases while getting drenched. The trip to the airport was eerie. I felt already in Toronto while we were driven in the highway sorrounded by industrial wasteland and big firm office buildings. The cars around were smaller and more cute, but a highway in and arround a city seems to be the same regardless of the country. After two delays, a blockade in one of the terminals which we were not sure if it was due to a strike action or a bomb threat, and a second one caused by an unattended suitcase being dilligently blown up by security in our departure terminal, we were bused into our plane with plenty of time before to browse the duty free shops.

I feel this journey ended with not only proper tourist things to do, but also with a second look into a real Paris, which happened to be as well a wet Paris. We tried to get together with a friend of a friend from York, but I was aware that our time in Paris was not only limited, but also at the beginning of the work week.

I will continue my blogging because my travelling didn´t ended going back to Toronto. That was actually pretty much another two-night stoppover before taking another couple of planes to get to my next destination. I left CMS behind and I hope she can rest from our adventure and from spending sooo much time with me :-)

Guatemala City, 12 August 2007

Thursday, August 9, 2007


I didn't know what to expect from Brussels. Probably I expected a larger version of Leuven. I knew that (1) The headquarters of the EU are in Brussels and (2) Is the only really bilingual area in Belgium. The lack of a proper map and all the bilingual signs everywhere made me get disoriented in our incursion into downtown. After walking for a few blocks among empty office buildings it was obvious we were walking the wrong way, so we "jump" into the metro and I still manage to get confused by the similar names of the stations (De Brouckère vs. Bourse/Beurs) which for a while made me upset. That and the kid that approached us as we get out into the street to ask for money, first in Spanish and then in English.
The realization of poverty in the "capital" of the EU, specially around tourist areas was somewhat eerie. There are homeless and beggars in Canada, and growing up in Guatemala City you end up desensitized to the hardships of the less fortunate. But hearing more than once a woman or a child, obviously immigrants and sometimes well dressed, telling you that they need money for food is heartbreaking.
There wasn't all that overbearing, but it was something that I was not prepared for. I was able to be amazed by the architecture, by the Grand Place and the tourists flocking to see the Mannekin Piss. The wonderful gardens and the little cobblestoned streets were also a delight to experience.
The highlight of our stop-over in Brussels was, I believe, the outdoors market around the Gare du Midi (the main international train station) on Sunday morning. It made me think of one of a modern day version of an Old Testament market in a city where people from all corners of the world converge and converse in different languages, or in a common language that usually is not the native tongue of either of the interlocutors. It was huge. You could get everything from fresh produce to clothing to rotisserie chickens to watches to orchids to rugs and the list goes on.
In summary, BXL was a one day trip around the globe, where I was able to sit in a restaurant listening to music in Spanish (El Metekko) and then sip some "Lago Azul Guatemala" coffee in a nearby café. Where everyone tries to understand the other and you can find something for you. A sort of "anti-Babel", but possibly a Babylon.

Friday, August 3, 2007

3000 Leuven

One of the goals of this trip was to get to know this city in the Flemmish side of Belgium, just 15 min. by train from Brussels National Airport. We were lucky again to have great hosts that let us stay in their place for our stay here. Jorge and Fanny are a couple from Chile who have been studying here for the last three years. They kindly welcomed us in their appartment in one of the many residences for students of the KUL. They not only gave us a place to stay, but the opportunity to share with them and get to know them better. We tried some great Belgian beer with them and even found one that CMS liked.
Because our time was limited in Leuven, the help of our hosts was invaluable in pointing us out and showing us some of the main attractions of the city and of the university that is one of the reasons of being of this bastion of Flemmish Catholicism (according to Lonely Planet). Their ultra adorned City Hall, the impressive Reference Library of KUL, the streets that connect to the Grotte Mart (the Grand Plaza in front of City Hall), and their innumerable restaurants, cafés and beer halls. The weather has been great for the time we've been here and we cannot say we missed Toronto's smog alerts when we have a balmy mid-twenties temperature all day long as we promenade ourselves surrounded by brick buildings over cobblestone streets and sidewalks.
This was my very first experience in a place where I could not make sense of any of the written signs. Some of you might have already had this experience, but for me I have been always in places where whatever sign around is either in Spanish, English, or French, and thus, I've been able to at least make sense of some of the words. So, even though English is extensively understood in Leuven, there are only a few exceptions where there are any explanations in any other language that is not Flemmish (Dutch). It seems I have found another language to start exploring with its fascinating double vowels and bizarre syntax.
For now I am sure we will be back to Leuven, and tomorrow we leave towards our 24 hr. stay in Brussels. I might be writting my next posting back in Toronto and then will leave to visit my family in Guatemala, therefore I may seem to have abandoned my blog, but be sure that I will come back to give you other impressions of this adventure.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Mountains...

Last Saturday (28/07/07) we arrived to Grenoble using the TGV from Paris. Here, we were welcomed by James (friend of CMS from Waterloo) and Delphine, his girlfriend. I wouldn't be able to describe these wonderful days in just one posting, however I wanted to report on our journey before we move to the third part of our trip. After setting ourselves in their studio room/ guestroom we went out for dinner and a nice walk of this beautiful city surrounded by mountains and full of life, as we were able to see as we took a Summer night stroll through its streets. We spent the next two nights and three days in the chalet of Delphine's parents. Their hospitality was without pair and lots of great memories from this trip are thanks to the incredible treatment we received. We did some hiking and CMS went with J, D, her father and brother and a friend of her brother, to do some rock climbing she is still excited about. They call it Via Ferrata.
Today, 1 of August, J and D took us to visit Lyon, the second largest city in France and a real architectonic marvel, crossed by rivers Rhone and Saone. Sorry guys, but pictures might have to wait until we get back to Canada. Once again, thanks to our hosts we had a great time. We are gratefull for the amability of James and Delphin, and that of her family.
Tomorrow Thursday 2 of August we take a plane from the Lyon-St. Exupery Airport to Brussels and then a train to Leuven where we will be staying for a couple of nights with Jorge (a friend of mine from the Psychometric Society) and Fanny (his wife). I am looking forward to see him again and meeting Fanny.

In Memoriam

Before I write the next posting about our trip to Europe I wanted to post about some bad news I received while in Paris. Last Friday, 27 of July, my uncle Mario, my mother's older brother passed away in Guatemala. It wasn't fully unexpected since I had been told of his condition before leaving Canada. However it is a sad time for my family and myself. I am certain that my family in Guatemala understands my not being able to attend the funeral, which following local tradition took place the day after. I will be travelling to Guatemala as soon as I get back to Canada and hope to see most of my relatives down there.
For now, my thoughts go to the sweet and brilliant man whom we lost, knowing that he is now resting in peace. Descanse en paz, Mario Alberto Vega Arrivillaga 1950-2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

First Impressions...

Finally I am posting something from a little Internet-café just a few doors besides our first hotel. I hope I get used to this keyboard before going crazy. Since I don't want to go over my time limit I will just tell you that we arrived safe and sound in Paris last Wednesday morning. I still can't believe that immigration didn't care to even check our passports, just stamp them and in we go; very much different than in other places... like the US.

We are having a wonderful time, already having done all the touristy things and taken tons of pictures, but mostly just trying to get all the new sensations in. I can nozw say that I love Paris... I think it is in a way closer to the city that I grew up than any North American city I've known. Among the milllion things I want to share here I'll chose two: 1. How incredible the Musée d'Orsay is, with all its beautiful paintings and sculptures and the old train station that became a wonderful museum. I will eventually dedicate a post to this jewell, probably overshadowed by the Louvre, just on the other side of the river Seine. And 2. How little the world is... walking in Champs Elysées today I came across two people I knew in Guatemala... that I haven't seen or heard of in seven years. Toni and Cari Peyré are part of the board of directors of the school I used to work for between 98 and 2000. And they were just sitting there, taking a coffee when I come to them and say hi. They were excited to see me here of all places. And no, I didn't take a picture of them, which just goes to see how amateur I am in all this blogging thing, as CMS is continually reminding me.

Tomorrow he head to Grenoble, hope to be able to talk to you fro, there! Wishing you the best from Paris.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Itenerary and links

As mentioned before here is our itinerary: We leave next Tuesday in the afternoon, 6:40pm local time. It is quite convenient that we'll be flying "overnight" and therefore arriving around 9:30 am in Paris. CMS tells me that should minimize jetlag if one is able to sleep through the flight. The first leg of our trip is four days in Paris, our specific schedule of activities is still to be determined.

On the 28th we take a train to Grenoble where we'll be staying with an old friend of CMS who has been kind enough to take us in an offered to show us around. He also helped us get the train tickets to his current city of residence at an incredible prize. Grenoble is in the South-East of France, close to the borders with Switzerland and Italy. It is a region I am looking forward to visit. Hopefully we'll be doing some hiking.

On the 2nd of August we take a plane from Lyon (France) to Brussels (Belgium). It is the cheapest way to travel, unlike the $19 "seat sales" for flights within Canada that end up being a hundred dollars or more we really got a deal. For both of us it will be cheaper than one person going from Toronto to Montreal.

In Brussels we take a regional train to a university city called Leuven, about 30 min. east of the Belgian (and EU) capital. Leuven is the home of the oldest Catholic university in the world, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL). There we will be hosted by a friend of mine and his wife (thanks Jorge!) whom I met in Montreal last Summer at the International Meeting of the Psychometric Society. After a couple of days and a couple of nights we return to Brussels for an overnight visit previous to taking a train back to Paris (another bargain thanks to a 48hr sale). I would've loved to have more time to visit both Leuven and Brussels, but it would have to be for a future trip. In Paris we stay a few days more before taking our plane back to Toronto on 08/08/07.

I have added some links on the right-hand sidebar, which I think will be useful for our trip. I discovered a neat feature of Google Maps called My Maps where I was able to enter several important addresses for our trip; I'll report if and how was useful. I added some other potential useful links. Under "Keeping connected" the links e-mail portals (ah, and of course Facebook). I hope having them on one page will save us time entering full urls when using Internet cafés and what-not. If you can think of any link or site that might be useful while abroad, just post it as a comment.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Counting the days...

Well... CMS is coming back today from SK and that will officially start the last part of preparations for this Summer's main attraction for me: My first trip to Europe. I couldn't have asked for a better compañera de viaje than CMS. The funny thing is that even though she has been to Europe before all the places we'll be visiting will be new for her as well.

I am starting to get freaked out by the proximity in time of the trip, but I am certain it will be a fun adventure. We have quite a hectic schedule that I'll describe in my next posting, but in a nutshell we'll be visiting four cities in 15 days and using trains, planes and probably automobiles. It is going to be fun and I hope to at least have a couple of instances in which I can enter something in this journal I am starting.