...constantly searching to find the best travel deals and places to visit. A never-ending quest for adventure!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

stumbled upon...

I stumbled on this last night, and thought I'd share - it's Eddie Murphy's first time on Johnny Carson, circa 1982. Carson was still the best...even after all this time...


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Way behind in pictures

I know I'm behind in getting pictures added to the trip posts, but I've started in - feel free to check them out.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

the final trip wrap

So...a sustained internet outage caused my posts to get delayed, so I apologize for this last one being tardy. After getting back, I was swamped with email and work-related items, so it's now time for me to get this all wrapped up from the trip. I will indeed add pictures soon to each post, so please check back.

After our amazing culinary experience at the Basque club, the bus drove us back to the hotel for our final night in Mondragon. What shall we do? Should we go somewhere? Who is up for some fun? A few of us met at the downstairs bar, and enjoyed some fun and spirits. I've been so glad to spend time with everyone and get to know people I normally don't see during the week because we're all in different programs...this was another opportunity for us to do that. We've grown some camaraderie over the week and it will be a little sad to have that gone. Before we knew it, a few of us were off on the town, and decided to make a stop before heading back for sleep and an early morning of packing and checking out. I had a great time...was 100% wiped out when I finally went to bed, and was not in a mood to get up in the morning.

The next morning we had a few final stops and meetings to attend. Fred Freundlich was kind to speak to us from the Mondragon Innovation and Knowledge Research Center (MIK), and talk about some of the projects that they have been working on. He also graciously picked up the tab for some breakfast in their cafeteria area, and so there were many happy coffee drinkers that were appreciative!

Our next and final official stop was the Company Incubation Center, and a quick talk with Isabel Uribe. This particular location focuses on company promotion, and she spoke about some current initiatives the group is working on (and has worked on in the past with companies that need assistance). The whole cooperative is so tightly wound together, and it was nice to see what ideas others have to promote new businesses and organizations. This is one area that I see lacking in my current work area - if we could do more to reach out to other campus partners and make ourselves more visible, we may have an easier time talking about our services and how we can help faculty and students with teaching and learning.

After one more lunch at Otalora we were back to town to wrap up, say goodbyes to those who were moving on to other locations, and talk about our experience. I am so thankful to have been a part of this entire experience - it's not one that can be seen in many places around the world. Jimmy and I decided that Bilbao would be our next experience, and so we were taking the bus there - an hour ride meant time for a nap.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


More clouds as we began our day today on the bus back to Otalora. This will be our longest day of the week, and we won't get back until almost midnight.

Our first session was with Juan Ignacio Aizpurua speaking about training and integration systems used in the cooperative. This is called 'ordezkari' in basque. I found his talk to be very engaging, and it covered a number of areas:

This groups works with new board members and aims for consistency across members for new four year terms. The additional workload on the board motivates people to take part in a new service area, and the process hopes that Social leaders are elected. Available jobs are a main motivation given the financial crisis/participation. Juan noted that "you're someone" in a cooperative job where you contribute directly. He also said that belonging to a company is a third motivation. I was mostly interested in his discussion on motivation, or what leads workers to want to work and participate. In particular, new board members form a team and work through a fear of being alone together. For them it may be hard to get into an unfamiliar role. The training team works to increase self-confidence and bring about a kind of personal transformation that will help them be successful. The listening skills of these individuals are not always developed and become an area of focus. Among these workers integrity and respect are most important for success...and they must put those into practice in everyday life.

After another fine lunch, we heard from Jose Ma Larranaga about culture and values in Mondragon. He used a number-based system to speak about the relationships between people what they feel about the cooperative. The two group activities we did I think will be a highlight of the week for many. For the first we were split into two groups and asked to work as groups to achieve one task: have someone touch the ceiling with their feet. My group was the first to accomplish that. :) (the picture shown is the other group). Later our other activity put us in teams of four working as 'mini' co-ops - we had to try to all be successful and raise money using a x-y voting system. My group took the devil's-advocate role and ended up making the most, but the point was to see how much more successful we can be if we work together. The discussion that we generated trickled over into our lunch and dinner, and I think will be a main reflection topic after the trip is over. Does it send a mixed message for a cooperative of this type to say it is primarily focused on creating jobs when it's obvious that it must generate significant income in order to survive? That would seem to be more of capitalistic slant...

In our final session of the day we listened to Arantza Mongelos from Huhezi (at Mondragon University), the teaching school based on pedagogy and humanities. This school originally needed teachers who could teach in basque but now is has two main teaching areas: Education and AV Communication. They also grant post-secondary degrees in Education, innovation in Education, and multilingual/multicultural contexts. One stated goal is to double function in offering a program that educates as well as provides training. I asked about their field experience portion, and they are still working out details on instructor supervision and field placements. I think they have an opportunity to really set an example in the region for other universities looking to add a similar education program.

Our evening ended with a visit to Arantzazu, a monastery high up in the mountains and overlooking a lush green valley. We toured the buildings we could before wrapping up our final talk for the day.

Soon we were back on the bus and winding our way down the mountain toward our special dinner at Onati in a "txoko" or a basque club. The food was amazing, and our hosts were very generous to take care of us. Can't wait to go back and sample the food again in the future!

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Hello! We were out the door pretty early this morning and today was to be another long day. Seeing wet pavement meant we had our first real change in weather overnight, and it stayed cloudy and cool for most of the day.

Stop #1 for the morning was the student cooperative, Alecop. They are primarily focused on making industrial tools, along with providing students an intensive hands-on learning experience. The tour of the shop area revealed student work areas and practice tools used to reinforce concepts. There weren't too many students around as it is summer, but we did see a few clock in when we arrived.

The biggest takeaway for me from this location was their emphasis on student assessment - based on transversal competencies, all equaling professional competence.

- technical (know how)
- methodological (know how to do it)
- participative (know how to act)
- personal (know how to behave)

Some are also focused on social competencies - decision making, teamwork, vision, problem solving. Could this be applied successfully to groups or organizations outside of a cooperative environment? What would it take to have it be considered?

Leaving Alecop we returned to the Otalora (castle) for more seminar sessions, our first from Mudukide. This is a foundation focused on productive projects in developing countries (they are not a co-op), namely in Mozambique, South America, and Cuba. It's exciting to see Mondragon branching out to help others, despite the economic downturn. But it was sad to hear they have access issues for most developing countries that could really use the infrastructure assistance.

Lunch could not come soon enough - our meeting room was so warm that it was getting hard to make it through (yes, even for me). They opened a window for a time before our afternoon sessions started, but then promptly closed it as they started. For lunch I had a tasty vegetable soup with spinach, carrots, and peas in a broth. The main course was a broiled piece of haddock in a thin oil sauce. And bread. And wine. I'm getting used to the wine at every meal custom. :)

The afternoon session began with a talk from Belen Kortabarria, economist and one of two financial heads of the MCC. She came to speak with us about the inter-cooperation (solidarity) mechanism between each cooperative. There are many rules between the workers and the cooperatives, and she did a great job of explaining how all parts are connected.

Soon after we were back on the bus and on the way for a tour of the Ikerlan technology center, focused on research projects and collaboration between the Basque region and other worldwide partners. They link with places such as Cal-Berkeley and MIT on a variety of technology products and initiatives. I found the information interesting but lacking in depth...it would have been nice to tour and see some of the projects they were working on.

Following that we had individual meetings with David back at the hotel. I've got my paper topic pretty well framed and should be set to write. Post our meetings, Jimmy and I settled for some more tapas and spirits before heading back to see what our group might have planned for the evening. I think the day caught up to most though as everyone has crashed for the night. Guess I'll do the same.

Tomorrow will be our longest day yet.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011


This morning our first activity took us to the Mondragon corporate building. Our bus wound through the small streets and eventually up the hill to a large building overlooking the Mondragon valley. We met up with David's friend again, who was to serve as our gracious host for today.

The Mondragon model is based on people, not on profits. The cooperative spirit is part of every aspect in the company, from the line workers to the managers. With 120 cooperatives worldwide, its reach is far and influences many. They continue to evaluate businesses that could eventually be supported through this model, although we've noted how capitalistic the tendencies of the company are. Like other US companies, they outsource their production plants in other countries around the world, and use their money to acquire other companies. I'm beginning to wonder if this 'cooperative' model in Mondragon is really more of a mixed hybrid between co-op and western corporation. They focus on the positive aspects of the co-op structure and seem to rationalize their actions through that lens, when in fact some could see their actions as no different then some western companies.

Our next destination was one of the Fagor plants that make washers and dishwashers. This experience gave us insight into the working environment, and what kinds of products the cooperative is making. We weren't able to talk to any workers, but I'm curious about whether or not they are happy about their working condition and job placement. The description of the job structure made it sound like workers may not have a choice on what they want to do, despite an hourly rotation of duties.

Then it was lunchtime at an old castle that is now part of the corporation. All of us were hungary, and ready for some food. I ordered a pasta salad and got a greens and tuna concoction which was not at all pasta. :) My main course came as advertised - beef in tomato sauce. yummy.

Back to the classroom in the afternoon. I think most of us would have appreciated a 30 minute siesta before we started again, but no such luck. The info we're going through is long on numbers and stats...a summarized section might have been more effective. We've also been inside most of the day...doing a session outside might also help fight the food comas.

But the session went quickly and soon it was back to town and an evening of wine and tapas. Jimmy and i went and sampled a few different varieties and ended with some gelato before coming back to the hotel and meeting up with others from our group. I think most though are ready to crash...we'll see if that happens.

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Monday, July 4, 2011


I love the size of this town. It's not difficult to walk anywhere and see any part you'd like at anytime. And the people are very friendly and do their best to try and understand you.

After waking up I thought it might be good to find the grocery store and get a few things for the week. Off I went across the street and found it...at least, I found signs and windows looking in but no door. Walked halfway around each side...no door. Where is it? I saw a sign leading to some underground parking and so I followed that down and found an elevator going up to the store. This can't be the main entrance, but oh well. I take it up and soon I'm in the store! Except at that moment I see two doors still gated and quickly deduce that the store is not open yet, and I should probably not be there. Before the two ladies could see me I jumped back in the elevator...last thing I want is to cause a problem on the first day. And I saw a main entrance from the inside...come to find out it was in the opposite corner of where I had started. There was a line already formed for the open, and right at nine they all rushed in. The item of choice? Fresh baked bread just being put out. I got what I needed and went to check out...other than getting cut in line by a little old man, I had my breakfast for the morning. Soon we would start our meeting.

We met as a group in a room not far from our hotel. Our usual meeting room at the hotel was already booked, so the owners at the other place were kind to let us use it. A brief review of the 10 principles was good - it helps to have that foundation as we progress. The only other hitch of the morning was Crystal not feeling well...she ended up going back to the hotel for a bit while we went on.

After several hours it was time for lunch (still not used to lunch at 2pm) and we walked through most of the town to get to our intended place. So many old buildings...history everywhere. This town used to be a walled city and you can still see the gates and parts of the wall as you walk. The menu list wasn't too long, but I tried a vegetable lasagna dish and my second was an egg dish with mushrooms. Both were very good. After we were done we stopped at the university very briefly to see the statue of Arizzmendi and take some pictures.

Our evening was spent with several friends of David's, who walked us through town as we sampled various wines and beers (along with pinchos if you were interested). It's called Txikitea (good luck pronouncing that one). Unfortunately it was around that time that Crys got really sick as we were leaving - scared me a little. We in our cohort tend to stick together, so I felt bad for her...Jimmy and I saw her later and she seemed to be doing better which was good.

All in all an interesting day...more fun to come I'm sure.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

To Bilbao

I forgot to mention in my last post that at dinner last night it was someone's birthday and the staff did the birthday celebration song using Swiss cowbells. First time I had heard it done that way.

After crashing last night, I woke up this morning and discovered that I had muscles hurting that I never knew existed before this trip. I have no one to thank except Jimmy for that...the hiking in Murren was a great workout, and I'm glad we did it. Despite the blisters on both heels, I managed to hobble around ok today. Once breakfast was done, we had some time before our flight left Zurich so we went to the University and then headed down toward the Hauptbahnhoff. Couldn't have asked for better weather so far...clear and sunny again today. I hope that holds up for Mondragon.

After grabbing our luggage we were off down the hill to the train and airport. We ran into a guy on the walk that heard us talking about things to do in Zurich, and he mentioned that one thing of local interest in summer is swimming the river down a mile starting from city center. The water is clear and clean, and when you get down there you can shop or drink. First time I had heard that as an option. I think Jimmy is officially going to come back and try that on his next trip.

The first flight was fast...only an hour or so to Dusseldorf. Air Berlin is an efficient airline...I'd fly them again. The only hiccup was the landing...did one of those "land on one wheel then bounce another time" landings. I also thought it was interesting that we didn't have any sort of passport control leaving Zurich. Maybe it was because we were flying intra-Europe and not leaving the continent?

Flight #2 went just as quick to Bilbao - I sat next to a seat crowder, but otherwise it was good. The landing was much better this time, and then it was time to get luggage. The only drama per say were the two Asian girls that decided the best time to stand up and move seats was 200 feet from landing...the attendant was hollering at them to sit...what might possess someone to want to do that as the plane is landing? Ok back to luggage.

Now, I usually will try my best not to check luggage unless I have to, but since my bag was 6kg over weight I had no choice. Just my luck would be that the luggage wouldn't make it, right? We stood waiting for our bags and eventually everyone got their luggage and the belt stopped...we had no bags. (sigh). Not again. No worries though...we come to find out that international passengers pick up their luggage on a separate line. Ahhhh. Good to know. (aren't all of us coming from Dusseldorf to Spain international? Nevermind...). Our bags did make it...whew. We also found it odd there was no passport control leaving the terminal - no one to stamp or stop us for any reason. Are all places in Spain this way?

Next it was time to find a taxi. The first six told us 'no' to go to Mondragon, but the 7th agreed. Small language barrier with the guy driving (no English) but off we went. He had a cool GPS he used once we figured out what the hotel address was. After a quick 45 minutes we were here!

I didn't eat much today, so after dropping my stuff in the room i needed to find something. Crys from my cohort came walking down the hall and was kind to come along and show me where some options were. We ended up coming back to the hotel for food since it was so late, and I had an egg sandwich and some wine. It was good, but now I'm pretty beat. We'll start up with a class meeting tomorrow morning as a group.

Here we go...

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Day 3 - Murren

Our evening wrapped last night with some time talking to other hostel goers, and sharing some stories with a group from Canada and a guy who works for Microsoft. The main meeting area was full of backpackers, spirits, and good stories which made for a good end to the day. Then it was time to hit the bunks.

The room we were in was not large, but had five bunk bed sets. Jimmy and I had two bottom beds that weren't terrible. That is, until the snoring started around 2am. Now, I had earplugs and an eye shade on so I didnt hear any of this, but apparently one of the guys in the room had an issue and ended up waking everyone else. And they couldn't get the guy to stop. I woke up around six, showered, and got myself together - well rested. The hostel is very much a self-service place, so we had to take care of our sheets and linens before we left. No clouds on the peaks meant some great morning mountain pictures (more to come). Each part of the day seems to give a different viewing perspective.

After much debate we decided not to hike the Schilthorn. It was cloudy and would have been a 4.5 hr hike one way, and if it's not clear up there, why go. So we decided on the Northface Trail instead...winding toward Murren by way of a cog train from Allmendhubel. We stopped and tried to get a morning order of pommes frites from the restaurant before we started but they wouldn't serve us - they said they only had a day old egg quiche so we moved on. The trail left Allmendhubel and wound it's way up and over the side of the mountain, through cow pastures and rock placements, finally ending itself back on the other side of Murren. I'd like to think that we solved all of our remaining issues in our PhD programs as we walked...consulted a few cows and sheep along the way too. Three hours later we were back to Gimmelwald and on our way back down the mountain to Stechelberg.

The trains were right on time as usual to get us to Zurich, and after trucking it up the hills and checking in at the Hotel Sunnehus, we left for downtown and food. It was at that time that my feet told me they weren't doing so hot. All of the mountain hiking did a number on my heels especially...what's a few blisters, right?

We managed to find a place for some gelato and apfelstrudel, and now will crash - we leave tomorrow mid-afternoon.

Schlafen gut!

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Day 2 - Gimmelwald

I'm not sure where to begin to describe how amazing the mountains are in this part of Switzerland. If anyone has the chance to get here and visit Gimmelwald or Murren you should definitely take advantage of it. I will post pictures later to share - they may not do justice. (and now here they are!)

Jimmy and I successfully made the trek here from Zurich, and after the crazy five minute cable car ride up the mountain we were in Gimmelwald. Along the way we stopped in Interlaken and met up with one of my good friends, Beth, who is a staff member for Backroads. We found a place to have some lunch (schnitzel and pommes frites, yum) and catch up, which was nice. I enjoy being able to make these connections overseas while I travel, and was thankful Beth had the day free to meet us.

After checking in at the hostel we decided that we might as well hike up to Murren...normally a one hour hike one-way but we took our time. The paths wind and turn, and around each bend another mountain stream seems to jump out and surprise you. Hayfields, gardens, cows with huge bells, sheep...so many things to see. But along with all of them a silence that doesn't feel like it can be duplicated...as you stand along the path you are able to hear nothing but the rushing of melted water flowing from the largest of the snow-covered mountain peaks. So peaceful...makes me almost want to consider renting a chalet here to write my dissertation. What a perspective!

We'll sleep soon...been up for almost 42 of the last 48 hours. And we're trying to decide whether to hike the Schilthorn tomorrow...if we do that it might just do me in.

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