Posts Tagged With: geography


There were many times on this trip that I wished I was not on a package tour.  The tour was good for showing a plethora of amazing places in a short amount of time and for infecting our students with the travel bug, but there were numerous times I wanted to sit, appreciate and absorb where we were.  One such place was Park Guell designed by Antoni Guadi.  (BTW anyone  know how to add umlauts or accent marks to text with WordPress?)  I was stunned and amazed that #1 he had the visions for this park in his head and #2 he was able to translate those ideas into a tangible place, a place that ebbed and flowed though the structures themselves did not move.  I especially enjoyed the mosaics.  I’ve dabbled in mosaic and can appreciate the time and effort put into constructing the ones in the park.  I wish we had had more than an hour and a half…..

Categories: photography, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment


One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students embrace their ignorance.  Too many of them are afraid to participate in class discussions because they’re worried they’ll be wrong, or worse they feel they don’t know anything.  I try to emphasize that not knowing things is okay, it just means there is more stuff to learn!  To make them feel better about their own ignorance I teach them about the concept of schema.  A person’s schema is everything they have learned over their lifetime.  People use this accumulated knowledge, or schema, to make sense of and interpret new situations.  Since everyone’s life experiences are different we all have different schemas.  I know a LOT about geography and history but much less about science and math.  I encourage my students to think of their schema as a library they can reference when trying to understand new things.  I demonstrate this concept by having them interpret things like this:

One of the students saw this sign and observed, “Hey, they messed up that sign,  one leg is shorter than the other on the people.”

“Well, that’s to indicate they are walking.” I replied.

“No, I think they just  messed up the sign.”

“Ok, I’ll buy that, then that means they messed up all of the signs we’ve seen like this in each of the countries we visited.”


This next photo I took over 10 years ago in Spain and show it to my students every year.  I ask them to use their schema to tell me what they think it means:

“Illegals running across the border!” Is a typical response I get every year, I’m still not sure how they get that from this.  I point out the briefcase held by one of the figures and say it indicates a school crossing.


This year I’ll show them this one which is more clear:

I wonder what my students schema will tell me about this one:

Every year my students complain about our school dress code, so I’m looking forward to showing them this photo from the Pantheon

Travelling through France, Spain and Italy I was struck by the number of signs that had no text, just images or caricatures like the first photo I posted here.  I started to wonder why there were no words, then I realized, duh, there’s like a gazillion different languages spoken in Europe, pictures are easier than having every translation on a sign.  So if you’re travelling to the Museo de Prado with your dog you’ll know what this means:

Another teaching goal I have is to encourage my students to travel.  Many of them are hesitant because they don’t speak another language.  I tell them not to worry, with their schema they’ll be just fine.  Finding food for example:

A pleasant place to eat….

Or a bathroom…(a little fuzzy, I was in a hurry)

or a place to buy souvenirs…

I’m not sure how well myself or my students could have navigated medieval Carcassone though, even with our schemas.  Without a proper frame of reference, this makes no sense:

Here’s a close up, any ideas what this indicated?

Categories: France, Geography, Italy, photography, Spain, teaching, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lost in Translation

One of the things I enjoy most about travelling is reading, or attempting to read signs.  I like trying to figure out what the signs are indicating, other times the signs just make me smile either because they are clever, or because reading the signs literally is hillarious.   For example, on the way to dinner on our first night in Madrid I saw this restaraunt:

The restaruant is called “Fatigas del Querer”.  When I saw the sign I knew enough Spanish to realize the first word meant fatigue and the last word had something to do with desire.  So when I got home I went on Google Translator, began typing and had a good laugh.  I laughed because as I typed and Google instantly translated I got this:

typed: fatigas, Google: fatigue; I was right!

typed: fatigas del, Google: fatigue of; right again!

typed: fatigas del quer, Google: fatigue of poker; HA!

typed: fatigas del querer, Google: labors of love; Holy cow, conjugation does matter.

I was proud to figure out that this shop had something to do with renting bicycles; the graphic helped 🙂

This one is great because you don’t need to speak a language to know what the place offers:

The incorrect grammar and claim of street cred on this one got me, oh, and the dog bowls, very thoughtful as there were lots of people con perros in Spain:

On the way to the Churh of the Holy Family we passed this:

which made me crave carne asada tacos from Taqueria San Jose by my house.  Then I thought, “Wait, what? A taqueria in Spain?”

In Avignon I appreciated the directness of the signage

Not exactly sure what the cow is advertising; does the place cater to, or serve cow?  Maybe I should clarify. Does it cater to cows as patrons or serve them as food?

These next two I found clever:

Must be a town with lots of mathemeticians.

Wholly unoccupied.

Interpreting the sign for this place in English rather than Spanish could steer people away from tasty treats.


Categories: France, Geography, Italy, photography, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 69 Comments

Plaza Mayor – Madrid

One of my favorite places in Madrid that I wish we had had more time to hang out in is Plaza Mayor.  Surrouned by restaraunts, cafes, and street performers it captures what plazas in Spain are all about.


I enjoyed the entrances being a little askew.

According to our guide there is a new trend in Europe which involves putting padlocks on public features to mark significant events like a first date, proposal, whaterver.  Several of the light posts in Plaza Mayor had several locks.

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Day 3

Hmm, just a quick note, apparently I forgot to upload this….

Today we’re traveling from Madrid to Barcelona. Along the way we’re stopping in Zaragoza for lunch. A couple of things I noticed about Zaragoza right away, besides the beauty of the basilica, is that it’s very bicycle friendly and there appear to be more people of African descent here than in Madrid. I was also pleases to see a giant stone globe in the square, being a geographer and all. The landscape along the highway is dotted with castle ruins and the occasional giant black bull billboard. They look like huge cardboard cutouts of bulls and used to be advertisements for a company that made sherry. At some point Spain banned advertising along the highway, not a bad idea, but the bulls were saved after a national outcry. The landscape is also very similar of most of California; dry, beige, and barren, about the only thing missing are the oaks that dot the California countryside. Along the way it was also unite exciting when we crossed the Prime Meridian! It’s marked by an arch that crosses the highway. Unfortunately we didn’t stop so I was unable to hop back and forth between the eastern and western hemispheres. Have I mentioned yet that our tour guide who was born and raised in Madrid speaks with an English accent? It’s a little confusing at first. She also uses a lot of England English idioms like “brilliant” and “right”.

Haven’t uploaded today’s pics yet, here are a few more from yesterday:

Prado entrance:


Goya statue:


Oldest operating restaurant in the world: (or maybe just Europe)


Categories: France, Geography, Italy, photography, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Day 5

Today was another brutal travel day from Barcelona to Avignon. We were lucky enough to stop at Carcassone and Pont du Gard.

Both places were amazing though would have been better sans touristicas. Actually, carcassone was a little too touristy; but we do the same thing to awesome historical sites and they’re still awesome. I did think it was odd that some hipster goths walking around until I saw the flier for the Marilynn Manson show.

Having trouble with the WiFi at this new hotel again so hopefully some pictures tomorrow on the way to Nice.

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Day 2

Intro: finally able to access reliable WiFi; it’s been a challenge travelling with a tour group. Anyway….

I can’t believe how excited I am to be in Spain. Yesterday we went to the Prado and I made a B-line for “Las Meninas”. The last time I was in Spain over s decade ago I saw that painting fir the first time and was absolutely stunned so I was more than excited to see it again. So excited in fact I was on the verge of tears. Seeing it again was as awesome as I remember.
Exiting the Prado we were greeted by guitar music on the square. The combination of leaving the museum after seeing classic works of art and emerging into Spanish culture with the ambient music had an immediate serene effect, and again I was on the verge of tears; so grateful and appreciative to be here. The Spanish, and I’m sure other European cultures have such a better grasp of community and public space than I feel Americans do. For example our tour guide was sharing that the mayor of Madrid decided to reroute the highway through town underground so they could reclaim the banks of the rover through town. Now there is a 14km park with playgrounds, cafes, and of course plenty of trails and open space for the people to enjoy. A project of that size and scope I think would face stiff obstacles in the U.S. Granted we have a lot of well established public spaces but the creation of new spaces seems lacking. But I digress.
We also managed to squeeze in the Reina Sofia, saw some Dali and Picasso, had some free time in Sol, and Plaza Mayor, then finished the day with a Flamenco show. Not to denigrate the dance, but I has always wondered why so many cultures seem to have stomping dances. Flamenco, traditional Irish dancing, clogging, tap; I just don’t get it though an am fascinated that seemingly different cultures have traditions of stomping rhythmically to music.
Almost forgot, we also visited the Palicio Real. When I visit places of this vintage I am reminded if how young my country is. Not only that but I am also struck by the attention to detail. I I think about the time it took to construct these palaces, castles and cathedrals and wonder if structures of this type could be constructed today. The answer I think is no because of cost, but I also wonder if the answer would be no because we have a short attention span.

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy:

Plaza Mayor


All roads in Spain begin here:


Apparently this is a new trend in Europe (at least a new to me trend):


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Day 1

Arrived yesterday after a total of a out 13 hours plane time, 10 from SF to Fankfurt, the. About 3 from there to Madrid. Needles to say the trip was exhausting, I was only able to sleep for about two hours total.

Though I was beat by the time we got to the hotel I had to go for a walk. On said walk I discovered this:


I had no idea.

The whole group took a short walking tour then went to dinner. Madrid is absolutely beautiful. The WiFi situation is a bit spotty so my posts may not be as frequent. But I’ll have lots of great photos to share. Today is the palace tour, the Prado Museum, the Museo de Reina Sofia, and a flamenco show after dinner. Gonna be a good day!

Categories: Geography, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

T- Minus 1 and Some Change

As with anything else, the anticipation of my upcoming journey has been excruciating.  I’m pretty sure that this has been one of the longest weeks in history.  I’ve spent a good portion of the week, and a few days more, dithering over what clothes to pack, what things to bring on the plane, and making sure I had a power converter, the proper chargers, etc., etc.  All of it was really wasted dithering though, because all I really need to do is just throw some crap in a suitcase and just fuckin’ go!

I’m ready!

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T- Minus 7

In six days I depart for Europe with 3 other teachers and 22 students.  We’ll be venturing to Spain, France and Italy.  Upon arriving in Spain we’ll hook up with several other schools from around the US bringing our group to a total of 54.  Having lots of experience taking large groups of students on field trips I know that coralling a pack of teenagers away from home is both challenging, entertaining, and awesome. Our group is full of great kids and I don’t expect too many surprises beyond the one I had at our last meeting on Friday.  We were signing kids up for a bicycle tour of Barcelona and one student did not want to go, or rather could not, because they didn’t know how  to ride a bike.  Totally unexpected.  Doesn’t everyone at one time or another learn how to ride a bike?  Anyway, knock on wood, as long as the suprises are of that ilk we’ll have a great time.

Here is a map of our trip:

And here are some of the things we’ll be doing.  I’m not trying to create any jealousy here or anything 😉

Day 1: Fly overnight to Spain

Day 2: Madrid

o Arrive in Madrid

o Take a walking tour of Madrid

o Visit the Prado

Day 3

oTake a guided tour of Madrid
Puerto del Sol

oPlaza Mayor

oPlaza de Oriente

oVisit the Royal Palace

oMadrid Flamenco Evening

Day 4: Zaragoza • Barcelona

o Travel via Zaragoza to Barcelona

Day 5: Barcelona

o Take a guided tour of Barcelona

o Bike tour of Barcelona

Day 6: Carcassonne • Provence

o Take a tour of Carcassonne

o Travel to Provence

Day 7: Avignon • French Riviera

o Take a tour of Avignon

o Visit the Palais des Papes

o Visit the Pont du Gard

o Travel to the French Riviera

o Take a walking tour of Nice:

o Vieille Ville

o Promenade des Anglais

Day 8: Pisa • Florence

o Travel to Pisa

o See the Leaning Tower of Pisa

o Visit the Pisa Baptistery

o Visit Pisa Cathedral

o Continue on to the French Riviera

Day 9: Florence

o Take a guided tour of Florence

o Piazza della Signoria

o Ponte Vecchio

o Chiesa di Santa Croce

o Gates of Paradise

o Visit the Duomo

o See a leather-making demonstration

Day 10: Assisi • Rome

o Travel via Assisi to Rome

o Visit the Basilica of St. Francis

o Continue on to Rome

Day 11: Rome

o Take a guided tour of Vatican City

o Visit the Sistine Chapel

o Visit St. Peter’s Basilica

o Take a guided tour of Rome

o Visit the Colosseum

o Visit the Roman Forum

o Take a self-guided walking tour of Rome

o Trevi Fountain

o Pantheon

o Piazza Navona

o Spanish Steps

Day 12: Depart for home

Categories: France, Geography, Italy, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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