Thursday, June 27, 2013

Saying Goodbye

I almost don't have the heart to write this blog...or maybe I just don't have energy as I wind down from the stress of test taking, packing, and a long adventure overseas.

I know everybody is going to ask me the same question: Did it feel like it went by fast?
That's not really an easy question to answer. Yes and no. Each day felt slow, and looking back on when I got here, it feels like I've been here forever. Much longer than 30 days. But at the same time, it doesn't feel like it should be time to leave yet.

I think one of the main things this study abroad program has shown me is the power of immersion. I am confident that I have grown in many ways by participating in this, whether it be through my Spanish-speaking skills, adaptation abilities, or interest in other cultures. In just a month, I have adapted to a previously practically unknown culture, and (I should hope) successfully lived and learned in it. 1 month might not sound like a lot of time, but each day has been packed full of adventures and  learning.

Throughout this month, I have also made close friendships, ones that I hope will be long-lasting. After spending almost all day, everyday with these people, it's actually going to be very hard to not talk to them, shop, or hang out with them in person. Although one of the best parts of this study abroad experience was that I was able to meet students from all over the US, it's a little frustrating now that we have to go our separate ways, back to our own areas in America.

Today our program had goodbye drinks, where we went to a restaurant, sat at a long table, and just spent one last time with us all together. It was really bittersweet. It showed me how close I have gotten to my fellow students, and reminded me of how many memories we've made together in just 30 days. I feel so blessed to have been able to take part in this wonderful opportunity. I know for a fact that I won't forget this for the rest of my life.

Interesting side note: we found out via a casual remark that two of our directors, Cristina and Fausto, are married, and have been for about ten years. Talk about a mind twister. They've never appeared more than casual work buddies (which I guess is good- workplace professionalism) but I'm still having trouble adjusting to this new-found information. Just so you all know.

Anyway, on our way out of the restaurant, everyone started doing that hugging, I'll-message-you-on-Facebook thing. Aka: goodbye.

I'm not good at goodbyes. I don't like them. At all. They're just too gut-wrenching and upsetting. So when I was unsuccessfully trying to run out of the restaurant, trying to avoid everyone's teary-eyed faces but being pulled into hugs and pictures, I happily exclaimed: Hasta luego! See you later.

That doesn't always make it better. I probably won't see a lot of them later. But at least it's delaying the obvious. And it makes me feel better since I don't have to say that G-word.

To escape from the misery, two of my friends and I ended up going for tapas one last time, followed by walking through Calle Mayor. We even went into the Cervantes House, which we never seemed to have time for before now. I was a bit disappointed because I figured it would actually BE Miguel de Cervantes' house. Turns out it was only a replica, but we still had fun. We often stopped to comment on the architecture of the building or of the paintings inside, because we were all in the painting class together and are nerds like that. Nevertheless, it seemed fitting that we spent our last night in Alcala de Henares, birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, walking through his fake house.

And now...packing. Unfortunately my dad isn't here to stuff all this stuff in my suitcase and magically keep it under 50 pounds, so I have to do my best. It just feels so weird to think that at this time tomorrow, I will be back home, after completing the study abroad program that I had been waiting to do ever since I started learning Spanish. I have seen, done, and visited so much here, that it has been worth all those years of awful grammar classes, AP tests, and essays.

As I reminisce on the past four weeks, I can't help but hope I can come here again someday. There's still so much more to be seen, and I really have fallen in love with Spain. Although in the future I might not have the same friends here, and I definitely won't have the same school experience, I know that this country will never disappoint.

So, hasta luego.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wrapping Things Up

As weird as it is to say this, my study abroad experience is about to come to an end. I won't stop blogging until I get back to the US, though, so you guys will still have a bit more material to read in your moments of boredom! ;)

Unfortunately, I don't have too much to say right now (yeah, that's a first). But I want to at least say something today (and procrastinate a little bit more).

Starting with a recount of the past few days!

Honestly, there's not much to tell, though. Yesterday, we had yet ANOTHER field trip! Can you believe that? I think that makes...five? In just a few weeks? Anyway, we went to El Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza. It's another art museum that basically is anything not in Reina Sofia or Museo del Prado. While it was interesting, I would have preferred being able to explore it myself. We were given a tour guide who only showed us 5 paintings! Granted, we were only there an hour. But it took us an hour to get there and go back, so it seemed really rushed.

And then that was pretty much it. I guess some days here have actually become "normal" and rather uneventful. Which is crazy since I'm in SPAIN! I take that as a sign I've adjusted to regular life here haha.

Today we filled out our course evaluations. There were a million and a half of them so they took 45 minutes to fill out! I also turned in my three essays (why didn't any of you take me up on the offer to write them for me?! So disappointed now)! But it's still not time to relax...

Tomorrow--final exams! Hopefully I'll do well! During our study sesh at the cafe today, I couldn't resist grabbing one of them frappelattes- mmmmm. Cause everyone needs a great study drink!

Be jealous.

And then I had to take a study break to shop. Because, you know, you have to get up and move or release endorphins or something like that to be able to concentrate more. So, behold my new Universidad de Alcala apparel! Now my student status is so official.


After school tomorrow, we will have a going away party for our program and then a bunch of us are going to explore one last time. I. Will. Not. Cry.

In the meantime, studying takes priority. I've already procrastinated too much this afternoon with shopping and cafes. Now I have to power through!

Wish me luck! :)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Calle Mayor takes all my money

Imagine this: you're in a foreign country. You live barely a ten minute walk from the biggest shopping area in the city. It's all exotic (in a Spanish way). And you have afternoons free to do whatever you want.

What do you do?

If you answered anything other than "go shopping!" then you're wrong.

I mean, all things considered, I'm surprised I'm not broke yet. Though I have to give myself credit for restraining myself a few times. I just keep justifying my shopping sprees as the following:
1) They're presents for other people! (Not really, so don't get your hopes up, peeps.)
2) I never do this in America, so it's okay for me to do it here!
3) I work three jobs at school and one at home! I've been working my butt off for this spending money!
4) I really need this!
5) It's food- necessary for survival!
6) It's SO cheap!

I think there's more on the list, but those are the basics. Nevertheless, I am enjoying fitting the stereotype of rich American tourist.

Today I stopped by one of my favorite stores to pick up a present (YES FOR ONE OF YOU! I think. Depending on if that person in question is reading this.) Anyway, I've been in there many times because it has the best souvenirs and I am actually...dare I say it? Friends with the owner. He's a really old man named Vicente, or Vincent, since he likes to learn the English versions of names and objects. The store is right in the middle of the street, but it's very small so I think many people pass by it without noticing it. It's even smaller than my dorm room at school, and even if you guys haven't seen that, I'm pretty sure you can guestimate how small a dorm room is.

Vicente loves The Beatles, so he's always been blasting them throughout the store whenever I've gone in. He's such a talkative man, and knows me as the girl from Colorado (because he always reminds me that it means color rojo- the color red, in Spanish). I always find something I want to buy, and as I'm getting ready to purchase it and leave, he ends up somehow keeping a conversation going for twenty more minutes. He asks questions about the United States, and tells me about the strange people who come into his store. Today he told me I speak great Spanish, so I was once again reminded that I am not hopeless with the language.

Though that's my favorite store on the street, my friends and I often sit outside in the street for tapas and then go for gelato or froyo afterwards. It could just be because we're American, or maybe because we visit these places multiple times a week, but the workers all recognize us. I don't have friendships with them like I do Vicente, but at least they know our orders!

Right at the end of Calle Mayor is the giant Cathedral I mentioned a few posts ago. I usually stop in after shopping (to pray for forgiveness for my greed--hahahaha just kidding), mostly because I can never get enough of it. Each time I walk in, I see something new I hadn't noticed before, and it feels awesome to be in such a huge, historic place. Plus, the remains of two saints are there, so it feels extra special. Well, a few days ago, I realized I had become a regular.

See, there's this tour guide who guards the entrance to the church and he stops everyone who tries to enter. If you're there to visit, you can only stand in a certain area and look at the church from the door, unless you want to pay to look at it yourself or pay for a tour. For the first few days, this man would stop me each time, and I'd have to explain I was there to pray, or else he wouldn't let me pass. Only a few days ago did I realize that he no longer stops me, but recognizes me and nods me on through. I know this is a minor detail, but it really made me feel like I'm at home here!

So, yes, today was a productive day of shopping, eating, and church-going. I even busted out two essays! So if any of you were going to take me up on my previous offer, only the painter essay still needs a writer. Contact me for details.

It's weird to think we're already finishing up school. I really love it there, believe it or not. Sometimes it's just fun to stop and think that I'm in a completely Spanish situation. I no longer have to concentrate on what my professors are saying- it just comes naturally to me, and it's now weird when they speak English. And though my friends and I often just speak English or Spanglish, it's not uncommon just to switch to Spanish in the middle of a sentence, or yell Spanish greetings down the hallways. I mean, how awesome is that?!

Speaking of friends, I recently found out something cool about one of my friends here. I always knew she was from England, and I've been hanging out with her from the start of the program. Unfortunately it took me too long to ask if she knows any celebrities (a common question on my part) because...she does. Daniel Radcliffe, anybody? HARRY POTTER?!?!? Yeah, no joke here. They're pretty much buddies. This girl, Ayo, is so sweet and obviously very rich (she splits her time between Nigeria, Washington D.C., and England) and it turns out she lives in the same apartment complex-neighborhood thingy! She downplays it a lot, but when I asked her about how she knows him, she said they see each other out a lot and she's "taken a few pictures with him" and "he goes over to her friends' house a lot," etc. Six degrees of separation. I am *THIS* close to meeting him. Plus, she invited me to come stay with her at some point. This is happening, people.

Also, in the news today: one of my friends got mugged. He came to school with a black and bloodied eye, so of course it was the talk of the school. I asked him about it and apparently it started at a bar. He was chilling with two Spaniards, just chatting and being friendly. He said they were talking for about 3 or 4 hours, and then he thought it would be a good idea to leave with them. They were walking around a bit and ended up in a parking lot. He said the next thing he knew, he was lying on the ground after being punched in the eye, and they were driving off with his wallet. At 5am. And he had just withdrew 100 euro from an ATM. As bad as I feel for him, he was being a bit stupid. And he admits that. He wasn't very upset about the situation; he just said "It was a very expensive lesson."

Lessons learned: Don't go to a bar by yourself. Don't trust strangers. Don't leave with them.
I think I knew all those already, but maybe that's just me.

Oh, by the way, I checked the views on this blog of mine, and I've gotten 562 views since I started writing this. That's crazy! At least, I assume it is. I don't really know how statistics should look on blogs. And I don't know how that happened, but thanks for reading! And coming back. Or whatever it is you guys do. Because I just write.

P.S. In case you need a middle of the day pick-me-up, or just want to listen to an awesome song, here's my study music! Actually, it just came on and reminded me that I love it. Never gets old! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EJNR-0N0vo

Sunday, June 23, 2013

El Escorial, Valle de los Caidos, and Toledo- oh my!

Good morning!

It’s currently 9:45 here on this beautiful Sunday morning. Normally I think of any time after 9am as “mid-morning,” but I’ve been once again reminded that here in Spanish-land, this time is freakishly early.

I slept in as much as I could (body clock strikes again- 8:30 today) and decided to go for a walk so I could get out of the house a little bit. You know who else is out? Nobody. At all. Except for the few hobos who sleep in the street. (I think I’m now sitting on the bench-home of one of them…oops)
I ended up walking to church, since there’s nowhere else to go and I was planning on mass at 11:30. Turns out I got here even before the church is unlocked. So…if you ever go to Spain, don’t wake up early.

Today has got to be my homework day. I’ve been procrastinating a lot of it to travel and sightsee (and spend money).  Now I have three essays to write…fun stuff. But if any of you feel the urge to write about a) Franco’s dictatorship, b) the world of bullfighting, c) a famous painter, or d) all of the above, let me know!

So yeah, the past few days, I’ve seen a lot in Spain! Friday we took a field trip to El Escorial and Valle de los Caidos. El Escorial is the old palace, which still holds a lot of interesting history. For example, I saw the bed that King Felipe II died in. So, that’s something. I’m pretty sure his ghost is roaming around in the castle somewhere. Actually, now that I think about it, the majority of what we saw were catacombs and graves for dead people. I really don’t know how many bodies were in that place. Hundreds, I’m sure. And they were all famous Spanish royalty, too! Other than that, the palace itself wasn’t too outstanding. We toured with such a big group (four classes, so around 80 people) and our tour guide was a very nice but short and quiet old man, so it was near impossible to see him, let alone hear him. And we didn’t even get to see a lot of the castle. Most of it was closed to visitors, and the guards kept us on a very tight path. That was disappointing because I’m sure there were a ton of secret passages that I wanted to find.

Oh, and no pictures allowed inside. Why do most places prohibit those?! It frustrates me. It’s all so gorgeous and I want to remember it!

Speaking of gorgeous- the cathedral in the palace was incredible. Again, no pictures. L
I just tried searching on Google for some pictures, but I guess even professional photographers aren’t allowed to capture the place, because there were only a few, and even those were probably taken illegally. I guess you’ll just have to go to these places to see the grandeur!

Basically, it was huge, intricate, and old. And so cool.

Afterwards, we got two hours for lunch. Which was nice, but the town is as small as my neighborhood, so there wasn’t much to see or do. A lot of us just ended up sitting in the sun outside of the castle, which ended up being a bad idea because I felt something on my arm and turned to see a ginormous black spider crawling up me. I freaked out and hit it a lot and the next time I looked, I couldn’t find it’s lifeless carcass anywhere. The only logical assumption was that it fell into the coffee I had just bought. The coffee that I didn’t end up drinking because it most likely was polluted by a stupid spider. Since I couldn’t sit there anymore knowing spiders frequented that area of the castle, we moved to another sitting area where a lizard almost ended up on my lap. After those two traumatic events, I stood a good distance away from any foliage as we all waited to move to the next location.
Which wassssss…… Valle de los Caidos! This was another church (yeah, there’s a ton of them here) which Francisco Franco built (well, had people build) to honor the casualties from the Spanish Civil War. This was the first church I’ve ever been to that was UNDERGROUND. I thought that was awesome, even though the church itself seemed like the chamber of secrets from Harry Potter. Seriously, a bunch of us started planning ways the basilisk could escape. And it was surrounded by four massive angel statues, which were a tad bit creepy. Franco obviously didn’t like happy stuff that much. Speaking of the dictator- he’s actually buried there! I got to see his grave…woot. I took a moment to realize I was less than 6 feet away from this crappy “celebrity” of sorts.

Also, you got into the church through this ginormous tunnel, which really reminded me of something from Star Wars. And since the church was built into a hill, the edge of it was a cliff with an awesome view, so we all took a good amount of time for pictures and such.

Afterwards, we jumped in our buses and went back to Alcala. It was in that moment I realized how much I missed public, easily accessible bathrooms.

After arriving, it was time for tapas, ice cream, and shopping! Because you can never have enough of any of those.

So that was a fun Friday. Yesterday a group of us went to Toledo! Not Ohio, for those of you who were planning on making that joke. Toledo is a popular city in Spain that is full of history (though aren’t they all?) and is most known for an amazing cathedral, castle, and El Greco, who is a famous painter you might have heard of.

We got up early to catch the 9am train to Madrid, only to find out our group of 4 had somehow grown to a group of 10. You know how with larger groups it becomes more difficult to go places and stay organized? Well, that definitely happened to us. Some people were running late, so we missed the first few trains, and didn’t get to Madrid until a half hour after we had planned. Then, we had to buy our train tickets to Toledo. That’s where things got really interesting. After trying every kiosk outside the ticket office (along with about thirty other tourists), we came to the realization that not a single one was working. You’d think they would have put a sign on them to notify us before attempting a million times. We’d go through all the steps, and then find the operation would be cancelled for whatever reason. Keep in mind that this station is huge and busy, so we were trying to fight off the other ticket-wanters, keep all our stuff from being stolen, figure out the machines, try other machines when we were unsuccessful, and keep everybody together while we tried to decide how to get our tickets.
We finally realized that we had to go into the office for them. Our first clue should have been the fact that everybody was in there. It was this tiny, windowless office, stuffed with people. We could barely move. That phrase “could barely stir them with a stick” was very appropriate in this situation. We kept trying to fight our way to the desk whenever they became open, only to realize that we had to pull a number. So I did. Number 768. They had just called number 710. And there were two people working. So we were all getting a bit frustrated, as we were hoping to catch the 10:20 train, which was no longer possible. Then four of the people in our group decided to find a bus to take to Toledo, so they left to find their own way there. Meanwhile, we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We ended up waiting an hour and a half in that tiny office for them to call our number. By then, the next train we could get on was the 12:20, which meant we had half an hour. We were just about to pay for our tickets when the undecided group ran up to us, having realized the bus was actually far away and more of a hassle. I felt a bit bad for the man at the counter, who then tried to find some seats together on the already crowded train. I guess everyone wanted to go to Toledo yesterday.

After all that waiting and frustration, we went to Starbucks. Not some nice little café. A Starbucks. It just seemed like the best stress-reliever at the moment.

A few hours later, we were finally in Toledo. It was all laughs and happiness for a few minutes, before we were divided on whether to walk or take the bus from the train station to the middle of the city. That’s when we split up, probably because we realized a group of ten people who all wanted to do different things just didn’t work out. So, some of us walked and some rode the bus, but we all planned to meet up at the Cathedral. However, once in the city, a few girls decided they just wanted to sit down and eat somewhere, even though we had just stepped foot in the city and hadn’t seen anything. So, the group split again, and we went to meet up with the others at the cathedral. But then we got lost. And there was nobody around who we could ask for directions. And it was HOT- as in 100+ degrees. And we didn’t have water. Sounds like nothing could go right!

But somehow, we found the cathedral and the others, after a confusing and rough start. However, once there, a few people decided they didn’t want to pay to get in, so they left to explore on their own. The few of us who were left went for it, and it turned out the cost of admission also gave you a headset and audio tour! Plus, you could take pictures in this church!

Thankfully, the audio tour was in English, so I could actually understand most of it. The cathedral of Toledo is one of the main examples of Gothic architecture, so it had high ceilings and a lot of intricate design. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, because there used to be a church there before, built on a place where a Cardinal saw an apparition. There’s even an area that includes a stone from the original church.

The audio tour was a bit confusing, because the guide given to us wasn’t clear on where we should be standing when we listened to a specific section. So I now know a lot about the church, but I don’t really know what facts match up with which area. Kinda defeats the purpose, but oh well. We ended up just walking around. They have this giant gold monstrance which was over ten feet tall, which everyone wanted to see. It was hard to get a good picture when I had to reach over everyone’s heads. We also saw some more tombs and paintings, which, though gorgeous, are starting to become commonplace now. The most amazing part of the church (in my opinion) was the retable behind the altar. It stretched to the ceiling and depicted scenes from Mary’s life. On either side of it were buried a few monarchs.

After the church, we ate at a restaurant nearby. By that time, we were so hungry that we literally just walked into the first place we saw. It turned out to be a more expensive place than we thought, and ended up having a three course meal that lasted two hours. I also didn’t know what anything on the menu was. Not because it was in Spanish (there were English translations) but just because none of those words seemed to go with each other and make food names. It was weird. Somehow I had this rice pasta for my first course and then I thought I ordered pork for my second, but when it came, it looked really odd. I was eating it, and thought it tasted okay, until I let one of my friends try it. She told me it was definitely veal.

Ummm…okay.

It’s not that I have anything AGAINST veal. I had never tried it before. But something about it has never made me WANT to try it, so I had a moment of “oh my gosh am I seriously eating veal” that apparently was pretty funny to watch.

Luckily, I had rich chocolate cake for dessert which I KNOW I like.

Unfortunately, after lunch, we had to go back out into the heat. We decided to go visit the museum of El Greco, which was actually his house that they had converted into a museum. It took us forever to find it, but I guess we could just have followed the crowd of tourists, since that was apparently where everyone goes when they visit Toledo. Next door was a whole other building, which housed his most famous work “El entierro  del Conde de Orgaz.” But guess what? You had to pay 2.50 euro just to see that one painting. Since I don’t really care too much for Greco’s work, I was perfectly fine with passing over that. The others agreed and we went to his house, which was free.

We were then forced into a tight line as we shuffled behind everyone else through the house. It wasn’t that big, so there wasn’t too much to see. A lot of his paintings were hung up throughout the house, but we doubted they were actually his since they were not guarded or protected whatsoever. Plus, some of the exact same works were in the cathedral that we had seen earlier, and those were behind steel bars. So, we bypassed most of the art in Greco’s house. How funny would it be if it turned out those were the real ones?

We did a little bit of shopping afterwards, but everything there was so expensive, and we had to get back to catch our train. Once we were on the train, we all instantly fell asleep. I guess the long day really took a toll on us!


So now, only 5 days left. Ahhhhh I shouldn’t even say that. I don’t want to think about leaving yet. There’s still more adventures to be had!

And here's some pictures! Most of these are stolen from Google.

At Valle de los Caidos- temple of Loreto!

Entrance- long hallway (the lights were out when we were in there)

The dome

At El Escorial- this is one of the collection of caskets (aka group of dead people)

Another view of Valle de los Caidos

El Escorial- these are only a FEW of the caskets of past kings/queens

El Escorial from the air (obviously I did not take this one)

Opposite side of Valle de los Caidos- that's the tunnel entrance in the back, and at the bottom of the picture you can see Franco's grave. Unfortunately, you can't see the creepy angels. And this picture kinda makes the place look nice and friendly. In reality, it was one of the most eerie churches I've been in.

Cathedral in Toledo

Toledo Cathedral

Altar in Cathedral

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Just Another Day in Paradise

As of today, I have officially completed 75% of my Spanish schooling! That sounds so weird to say, mostly because it's been flying by. And I'm definitely NOT counting down to when I have to return. Alcala now really feels like home, and I'm already wondering how hard it will be to leave! But, unfortunately, plans have to be made to get to the airport next week, and we've already started wrapping up our courses; both of which remind me that 7 days from now I will be back in Colorado. Crazyyyyyy.

In the meantime, I'm still learning so much about Spain. For example, "pechuga de pollo" means "chicken breast." My Spanish host mom made it for lunch the other day, and unfortunately I had no idea what "pechuga" meant. What ensued was a pretty awkward situation in which she had to explain to me that it meant breasts.

Also, there are soccer fields everywhere. I mean, I always knew Spaniards love their soccer. But now I know they REALLY love it. Instead of playgrounds and basketball courts, they have soccer fields outside of their schools. Because why not.

What's really annoying is that my internal body compass is always wrong. I usually pride myself on having a general sense of direction and knowledge of which way I'm facing. But here, I'm always so turned around! It drives me nuts. Because we'll be following a map that tells us to go North, but we'll end up having to walk in the complete opposite direction that I thought it was. So yeah, can't wait to get back to Colorado where the mountains always tell me where West is.

In other news, school today was mostly normal, which means awesome since, you know, it's Spain. And we had another field trip today! My art class went down to Madrid to visit el Museo de Sorolla, which is the artist Joaquin Sorolla's old house that has been converted into a museum that displays his works. It was all really interesting to see, but it wasn't my favorite style, though most of the other students claimed it was the best we'd seen so far. I guess we just have really different opinions... I like art with a lot of detail and meaning, like at the Museo del Prado yesterday. Sorolla's style is notable for visible, rapid brush strokes and a combination of random colors, which is pretty much the opposite. And almost all of his paintings were variations of the ocean, often with similar women walking in front of it. Nevertheless, he is an awesome painter and I'm glad we saw the museum!

I guess this is field trip week because I'm going on ANOTHER one tomorrow! A few classes are combining to take a trip up to El Escorial, which is north of Madrid. You should look it up! Wikipedia has a great article on it, so I've included the link here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Escorial

It sounds like it's basically a famous palace equipped with a monastery, basilica, and remains of past kings (dead people-awesome). We're also going to head over to the Valley of the Fallen, which apparently is a monument built to honor the fallen of the Spanish Civil War. I heard Franco is also buried there, which is pretty interesting, I think.

In between all of the fun, I've got to find a bit of time to write 3 papers and prepare a presentation before Monday. Sometimes I forget there's a school/work component here! :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Time to catch up on blogging...

I'm starting to feel really guilty that I haven't updated you all on my adventures in...a long time. Not that I expect anyone to be disappointed over my absence, but I do have some awesome stories to share, and I have a feeling that this composite is going to be veryyyyy long. So, get comfy and prepare yourself for a lengthy entry.

First, I want to say how excited I am about two things that happened today.
1) WE HAD A FIELD TRIP. I haven't been on a real field trip since...middle school? Elementary school? Either way it's been a long time.
2) IT WAS TO EL MUSEO DEL PRADO. The significance of that might be lost on some of you, so let me explain.

The Museo del Prado is an art museum in downtown Madrid. But it's not just ANY art museum. It has one of the world's best collections of European art and is one of the most visited sites in the world.

Obviously, I went with my art class. We met at the train station, our teacher bought train passes for us, and then we all jumped on board to the city. Going somewhere with a class still seems pretty weird to me. It felt so strange walking through the streets of Madrid with one of my professors. But cool, in an odd way?

Anyway, it was kind of frustrating because the museum limits the time large groups can stay in the building. Although there was only 20 of us, we were only allowed to stay there for an hour and a half. THAT IS SO NOT ENOUGH TIME. Due to our time constraint, our professor had to rush us around from section to section, and we only saw one of the many buildings that comprise the Museo del Prado. In case that doesn't explain it clearly: the museum was ginormous. I can't even describe it adequately. It was wonderful! There was so much history and notable works of art all in one place! I had a nerd moment when I saw the Velazquez section (he's my fave).

One of the best parts was that almost all of the works we've been studying in class are kept in this museum! So after spending the past few weeks obsessing over minuscule details in paintings, we got to see them up close!

Well, I was excited about that haha.

This is definitely the best class I have ever taken. It's interesting, challenging, and the professor is amazing. At the museum, we all got these headsets, which corresponded to a microphone he had. As he ushered us through the halls, he would tell us about the paintings we were passing, which was extremely helpful since basically every school in Spain decided to go to the museum today and the noise was pretty loud. At each painting, we would take turns speaking into the microphone and summarizing to the class what we have learned about each work. I noticed that other museum-goers started following us around and listening in!

We were able to see works from all the major movements we've studied. I could tell you all about it, but you probably don't want an art lesson right now. Major painters' works were there, of course. Velazquez? Goya? El Greco? Hopefully those are ringing some bells...

Las Meninas has always been one of my favorite paintings. There's so much significance in it, as well as interesting aspects and hidden details. Here it is, in case you have no idea what it looks like:
 

^I SAW THAT IN PERSON TODAY. I STOOD LITERALLY ONE FOOT AWAY FROM IT (before the security guard walked around to make sure I wasn't too close). It's huge, btw.

I could continue ranting about my excitement, but I guess you guys get the picture (haha, kinda punny?).

Anyway, I'll move on now. Basically, I had a fun time at the museum, which I was very excited to go see. Tomorrow we're going to another one!

I guess I should have kept blogging each day, because I honestly cannot remember what happened the past two days. School and...more school. With afternoons in the plaza. I really like this routine I have here.

SO, now it's time to recount my weekend (because I know you're all dying to hear it)! Here we go:

Friday: Woke up at 6:30......A.M. Enough said. We had to be at a certain spot to catch the bus to Asturias. I didn't really know much about this trip or Asturias or anything so I kinda just showed up, hopped on the bus, and waited for the surprise! The bus ride was fun...ALL 8 HOURS OF IT! Granted, it went by fast, but I can't sleep on buses/airplanes/etc., so I either talked to people around me or looked out the window while other people slept. It was interesting to see the landscape change, since Asturias is in the mountainous part of Spain.

One thing I really noticed: Spain is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, breathtaking. The pictures I took don't do it justice. I can honestly say that I have never seen a single place in the United States (I haven't traveled any where else) that compares to the Spanish countryside. We even pulled the bus over at a few stops so we could all get out and take pictures.

Asturias itself is known for being green. Since it's in the north, it gets a lot of rain, and reminded a lot of us of a rainforest. So we were in the mountains. Surrounded by green trees. With the beach at the bottom. That's practically the best combination. Ever.

Once in Asturias, we went straight to the capital, Oviedo, where we got a tour from one of our directors, and then free time to explore. Asturias is known for their apple cider (since they apparently have the best apple trees due to the climate), which is served in an interesting way. Since it's natural and bottled without gas, it's exposed to air when poured, and given a zingy taste. Basically, when a waiter pours cider, they extend one arm as high as they can above their head, and hold the bottle up there. The glass is held in their other hand, extended toward the ground. The cider splashes into the glass, and the extended exposure to the air gives it a bit of fizz. I wasn't a huge fan of the cider, but I kept getting more just so I could see the waiters pour it! They never missed the glass.

Asturias also specializes in cheese, and is called "the land of the cheeses". Naturally, we sampled a lot of cheese when touring the city. Fun fact: They love Woody Allen there. Shops are named after him and there's even a life-size statue of him there (he was really short). He won a movie award there, and Asturias has been mentioned in a couple of his films.

One last interesting thing about Oviedo (other than the drunk passed out on the bench- I'm sure you all saw that picture): There are many, many statues. I don't know what it is about these Oviedans, but they love them. They also love the body, and every main part of the town had a statue depicting some part of the body. The one in the most central location? A butt. Yeah, Oviedo has a giant butt statue. Don't worry, I got a picture!

After the city, we went to the outskirts where we took a short hike to this old church. Unfortunately, I missed the story of it, since I was among the leaders of the group (yeah, go ahead and make some snarky comment haha) and we didn't realize the church was the destination. We ended up climbing way more than we needed to (on uneven and overgrown terrain- you'd think we would have caught on) and didn't realize our mistake until we noticed the group was no longer following us. By the time we retraced our steps and reached the group, we had missed most of the history! Oh well, at least we got to see a better view of Oviedo!

After fun in Oviedo (which I concluded is just a very strange, cute town), we jumped back on the bus to head to our destination for the night, Cangas de Onis, which is a tiny town nearby. We checked into our hotel, and immediately discovered it didn't have wifi. Imagine our disappointment. We're all addicted to our phones and the Internet, which we can't access anywhere but our Spanish homes. We just spend a whole day on a bus and were incredibly Facebook-deprived. So once somebody realized the restaurant next door had wifi, which hotel guests could obtain a password for, we spent a ridiculous amount of time huddling in the tiny hotel lobby, attempting to connect to the wifi network that was crappy at best. I'm sure it looked rather strange.

Once we gave up on the Internet, a bunch of us took a tour of the tiny town, which was actually pretty awesome. They don't have many sites of interest, except for this bridge. It crosses the Sella river, and hanging from it is a cross with the Alpha and Omega signs. (Side note: I love seeing Catholicism/Christianity everywhere here!) Naturally, we climbed down to the rocks near the river and took a bunch of awesome pictures as the sun set, trying desperately not to slip and fall in. After way too many close calls, we decided to go back to land and explore the town. There really wasn't much else to see, except for shops (most of which were closed at 11:30pm- or as they say in Spain, 23:30) and bars. Hungry, but trying to avoid the bar scene, we walked around looking for a restaurant we could go into. Unfortunately, we were all over-hungry and indecisive, so we stood around waiting for someone to make a decision while our stomachs rumbled. Finally, we made the unanimous decision to go to the nearest place, which just so happened to be this American-style restaurant. The menu consisted of items like chicken fingers, pizza, and cheeseburgers (aka hamburgers with cheese). Which is what I decided on.

One thing I really love about Spain- your food comes quickly (your check comes slowly, but that's another topic). We got our food almost instantly, but we could tell it was freshly made. And it was all surprisingly delicious! The burger was better in Spain than any I've had in America. Don't ask me how...

That weekend there was a festival going on in the town. We walked around a bit after eating, but it hadn't started yet. We figured we were just a day early. NOPE. Just 3 hours early. Spaniards love having fiestas late at night/early in the morning (it's kinda their thing) so the party didn't start until 3am. They were kind enough to let us know it had started though, with a chorus of drunken singing and shouting that woke us up. I'm now thanking that inner voice which told me back when I was packing to bring earplugs.

Saturday was kayaking day! Yeah, I thought it was random too. I didn't realize I would be going to Spain to go kayaking, but cool. It was all organized perfectly, which was a great plus. We just drove up to the kayaking place, and they quickly distributed our life jackets, paddles, and bins. These bins were for us to put our sack lunches (which we all had from our host families) into. But it turned out there was some special surprise and the company had provided lunches for all of us! And who doesn't like free food?

The kayaks were for two people, and I was with my friend Haley. The very second we pulled our kayak into the water, it tipped a bit and some water ended up on my seat. We couldn't figure out how to dump it out (kayaks are pretty awkward), so I just sucked it up and sat in it. Looking back now, I'm laughing at how much of a sacrifice I thought that was at the time. By the end of the trip, we were all soaked from head to foot!

Anyway, Haley was sitting in front of me, and as soon as we pushed off from shore, I realized that she had a giant spider on the back of her lifejacket! (Giant= "small" in normal people terms) So I calmly said, "Haley, I don't know how to tell you this, but you have a spider on your back."
Well, turns out she's super afraid of spiders, like me. So Haley erupted into screams and paranoia, shouting "GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF". She didn't move though; she kinda just sat there freaking out. Unfortunately, I was more than an arm's length away from her, and couldn't move because the kayak would tip. The result? Two girls gliding down the river in a kayak, one screaming at the top of her lungs while the other repeatedly hit her back with a paddle.
I'm sure the fishermen on the banks enjoyed that.
This story has a happy ending though: I eventually killed the spider and we threw its lifeless carcass overboard. And, in case you're wondering, I did not hurt my friend by hitting her- she was just thankful I managed to kill the spider. So, all's good and spider-less.

The next thing we had to conquer on this trip was the freezing cold weather and water. The temperature was in the mid 50s and cloudy. AND COLD. I guess that has something to do with being in the mountains. As a result, the water was freezing as well, and we were all wearing shorts, tshirts, light rain jackets, and water sandals. Due to our apparel, the kayak trip quickly became a don't-get-wet challenge. None of us succeeded. I think it's impossible to go kayaking and not end up drenched somehow. Thankfully, Haley and I didn't tip over and fall out, though 3 groups did.

So we spent 5 hours meandering down the river, stopping every now and then for a break on the side of the river. I got to whip out the "peeing in the woods" skills that I learned through my brief stint as a camp counselor last summer. Yay?

I would definitely say that the kayaking trip was one of my favorite parts of the summer so far. Not only is kayaking great fun, but we were doing it in the most beautiful location I could ever have imagined. I wish I could have taken pictures, but I decided not to risk the whole iPhone-falling-into-water thing. Just picture a lightly flowing,winding river surrounded by incredibly tall mountains which are covered in the greenest trees imaginable. Plus, it was a bit foggy, which gave the whole area a nice look, and made it all seem a bit more magnificent.

At the end there was a bus waiting to take us back to our hotel. It turned out we kayaked 29 miles! A lot of people complained about being sore/tired...but I didn't really feel anything. Maybe that's a sign I didn't work hard enough?

After showers and wifi-time at the hotel, a few of us went shopping! I bought a dress I probably don't need (IT WAS ON SALE, MOM) and we ended up collecting a mish mash of food for dinner. Since we were very tired (lack of sleep, 29 miles of kayaking, ya know), a few of the other girls and I bough random bits of food, such as bread, cheese, strawberries, etc., and had a movie night in our room. Yeah, it might sound a bit weird to spend a night in a foreign county watching tv in a hotel room, but I'm glad we did it. We pushed the beds together, placed all the food on them (there was a LOT) and just took whatever we wanted. Luckily, The Incredibles was on Spanish Disney Channel, so we watched that while chatting and relaxing from the day.

Sunday was BEACH DAY! Yet another one of the best parts of the summer. We went to Gijon, which is the largest city in Asturias, and spent the day, well, doing whatever we wanted. I think all of us ended up on the beach, though. It was really cool, because Gijon has a ton of tall buildings and activity, with just a single street separating those from the beach. Which was a bit odd, considering fully clothed business-people were walking to work right behind us while we were lounging around in the sand. Most people just laid in the sun all day, but a few of us chose to actually spend time in the Atlantic Ocean, which is something I've always wanted to do. My family went to the beach once when I was young, but I haven't been back since. I can't explain how happy I was just swimming in the Atlantic Ocean right next to one of the most famous cities in Spain. Let's just say: it was awesome.

The weather was great, too. At least for the most part. It got a bit cloudy when we were leaving, but it didn't bother us too much. One thing that did bother us was the amount of elderly men in speedos....*shiver* I never want to see that again.

Remember that time I mentioned Spain doesn't have public restrooms? Well, there are some, but they're very rare, and you have to pay for them. So there we were, four girls and a guy, walking around in our bathing suits and towels, amidst fully-clothed Spaniards, trying to find some place to change into dry clothes for the bus ride home. We finally found a restroom, but it appeared as though we had to pay for it. One girl put in her money, but for some reason the bathroom took it and didn't open the door. She got mad and started pulling at the door, and we all crowded around, trying to help somehow. I guess the group of Americans struggling to open a bathroom pulled at the heartstrings of some passerby, because a crowd developed around us. Finally, one old man came up and, without a word, pulled a clear piece of plastic out of his pocket. He slid it through some sort of reader, and the door popped open. He told us it would only open that once, so us girls decided not to take any chances, and all jumped in this tiny, one-stalled public bathroom in the middle of the street, together. We all quickly changed in the little privacy we could get, knowing full well that the door would only stay closed for a specific amount of time. Thankfully we were all able to change and appear decent before the door swung open to reveal us all to the world.

The reactions of people nearby when four girls climbed out of a single bathroom were hilarious. Cody, our friend who was waiting outside for us, apparently had a few funny interactions when people came up asking if he was in line for the bathroom and he responded by saying he was waiting for his friends. Everyone wanted to know why "friends" was plural and how many girls could fit in that tiny, public bathroom.

After that lovely bonding experience, we stopped at a restaurant for some quick food. However, it turned out it was a fancy, sit-down restaurant that gives you way too much food and cost way too much money and takes way too long to bring you your bill. So, we almost missed our bus. By some miracle, we made it, and the rest of the day consisted of an 8 hour bus ride back home, with just one stop. Fun times. By then, we were all exhausted and a bit irritable, so we were ready to get back. So, naturally, we got stuck in traffic and ended up arriving back a little bit later than planned. As in, 10:30pm-ish. Which, granted, isn't late in Spain, but then came unpacking, homework, dinner, and showering before the early school day on Monday!

All in all, it was a great trip and fun week! Pictures will be coming soon- I wanted to post them along with this blog, but they take a bit longer to sort and upload, and I've already spent multiple hours typing all this out. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to get that all done, so check back then! Now for homework and bed...I don't think I'll ever get enough sleep here!

Hasta mananaaaaaa

Monday, June 17, 2013

I'M BACKKKKKK (Did ya miss me?!)

Hello avid blog readers!

Sorry I've been MIA the past few days. Turns out there wasn't really wifi in our hotel this weekend. Grrrrr.

Anyway, I promise a LONG description of my weekend will ensue, hopefully within the next few days. Unfortunately, I'm just unbelievably exhausted right now, and don't have time to blog about the trip (which was absolutely amazing, so you should def come back to read about it). So, stay in suspense, my friends.

In the meantime, I don't want to leave y'all without some sort of Europe-y paraphernalia to read, so I've decided to include this link to one of my favorite websites of all time, Buzzfeed. I think this addition to their website coincides perfectly with my travelling, since I now agree with basically EVERYTHING on this list. So, just pretend it's me who came up with this incredibly hilarious and true account of 35 Things You Appreciate About America After Living In Europe (Spain).

Enjoy!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/lucyh3/35-things-you-appreciate-about-america-after-livin-147h

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Day 15 in a foreign country

You will never believe what amazing occurrence happened today. I FOUND A FROYO PLACE! I was just walking down the street in the 100 degree weather, wishing for something cool, and immediately saw the glorious sign saying "Frozen Yogurt." There were only four flavors to choose from (the best being natural-aka regular) but it was great just finding my favorite thing in the world in Spain. I'm guessing the rest of my money will now go to this place.

Just kidding. It'll go to clothes, since I also discovered a ton of new stores today. And everything is so cheap! I got a pair of designer sunglasses today for 1.50 euro! And a dress for 6. I'm pretty proud of those purchases!

Speaking of that dress (which I'm sure you'll all see eventually), I have a (somewhat) funny story to tell. I was standing by the rack trying to decide which color to get (one size fits all, btw!) and a lady came up and admired the dress I was holding up. She started talking about how pretty all the colors were, which further complicated matters, as I already had issues making up my mind. So, I ended up asking this lady which color would look best on me. She pondered it for a moment, searched through the options, then had a friend come over and they both color-analyzed me until they picked out a mint-green color. It probably wouldn't have been my choice, but they said green was my color, and I need some more of that in my wardrobe anyway. So yeah, mint green dress!

I ran into some girls from the program in the Plaza (because now, I don't make plans. I just go there and find people to do stuff with) and we got TAPAS. That's now one of my favorite things to do. Can we please bring that over to the US? In the middle of a long, hot day, nothing beats sangria, french fries, and a pork-kebab. Plus, it was a perfect way to celebrate after finishing exams!

By the way, those were a piece of cake. I rocked them. Of course, I haven't gotten the grade back yet. But I rocked them. I really didn't need to study as much as I did. Oh well.

So now I have a break from homework/classes, I've had a fun day out with friends, and I'm ready for our program trip tomorrow! We are going to Oviedo, which is the capital of Asturias, which is in the north of Spain. There's a lot to see in the city, so we're going to go on a few tours, and then we have a kayaking/beach trip on Saturday! Apparently it's very cold and rains a lot there, so that should be fun...

I'm not bringing my computer with me (because we have to pack LIGHT-pshhhh, isn't everything I brought to Spain considered packing light?!) so you guys might not hear from me in a few days. Unless, of course, I end up blogging from my phone or someone else's computer. But I wouldn't really count on that if I were you. Lo siento!


P.S. The program directors found out I'm a lifeguard, and are now joking that I'll be able to save everyone when they fall out of the kayaks. Let's hope I don't have to save anyone, ok?
P.S.S. Someone pointed out today that in two weeks, we'll be back home. Follow this link for my reaction. (Make sure your sound is turned up LOUD) :)
http://nooooooooooooooo.com/

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Midterms ALREADY?!

Yup. It's that time again. Study time. Well, actually, now it's blog time as I don't think my mind can handle any more cramming. But since midterms are tomorrow, I've been spending most of today reviewing what I've learned the last two weeks and hoping I do well.

Don't get me wrong- I really love my classes. Boy does that sound weird to say. But I do. I love them more than I do the ones back home. They're interesting, go at a great pace, and are even a bit challenging. And my professors are both awesome, which makes class even better. But in 40 hours of school, we have managed to learn a TON! We fly through a century each day, so there's a lot to remember. Wish me luck!

For once, I really haven't been the only one stressing over midterms. Everyone I have talked to is at least a bit worried, especially those who don't have much Spanish experience. We've all been going to cafes to study together, so at least we get to be social while we work!

I've got to take a minute and be a bit sappy and emotional right now, especially since I haven't really addressed my time here overall, yet. But as my 14th day away comes to a close, I have to say how much of an amazing experience this has already been. I'm glad I have two weeks left, because I absolutely love it here! It hit me the other day as I was walking down the street. I just suddenly realized Wow, I'm actually walking down the street in Spain! I don't count my blessings as much as I should, but this would definitely top the list right now. I am having the time of my life! I love my classes, the program, and my friends. I really am friends with everyone here, including those from other schools. We always greet each other with excitement, as if we're old friends. Everyone is just so excited to be here and help each other out. And it's just so cool hearing everyone speak Spanish and be able to understand it! And communicate with them. I have also fallen into a rhythm here that I love. The walks to and from the school, studying and shopping in the Plaza, hanging out at the cathedral, travelling all over, all these opportunities, and the general atmosphere are all perfect. For once, I'm at a loss for words because I can't adequately express how happy I am here. I feel at home! So Mom and Dad- don't worry about me. Also, can I not come home? ;)

Okay, moving on!

Since I've been making a lot of observations lately, I decided to go ahead and share some things I've noticed:

1. There are a ton of "stray" dogs here. Aka ones on leashes that I want to adopt. In fact, everyone takes their dog everywhere, even into stores and restaurants. It's good for me, because I get to pet all of them. But it still seems a little strange in my opinion.

2. All the dogs I've seen (which is a LOT) are all well-behaved. Some times, when they're too big to go in stores, their owners just drop their leashes and the dogs wait for them outside. Nobody tries to take the dogs. And I've seen this happen many, many times.

3. Dogs hacen pis in the streets. I guess because there isn't any grass in the city, but it's still a bit startling when you're walking behind a person and their dog, and then they let their pet just stop and pop a squat in the middle of the sidewalk. Now I'm never sure if those wet spots I typically walk right over are actually water or not...

4. These people are AWESOME at parallel parking. I don't know if I've posted any pictures in which it's obvious, but I have only ever seen parking along the street. I'm sure they have parking lots somewhere, but every parked car I have seen has been parallel parked. This would be a nightmare for me. Plus, they have no concept of personal space, so the gap in between cars is around 6 inches. Good luck pulling away when that's the distance you have to work with. I've seen them do it before. It takes forever.

5. All Spaniards wear their wedding rings on their right ring finger. Interesting.

6. Everyone is nice. Everyone. I have yet to meet someone on the street who hasn't said hello to me in some way. Plus, they actually hold doors open for you.

7. I have definitely become the snack girl/translator in my second class, Traditions of Spain. Today during a break two people turned to me and asked, "Did your family give you too much food for you to eat by yourself again today?"

For your enjoyment, here are some photos from today!
Saw this "car" on the way to the Plaza. It's only a one seater...and I thought it looked interesting.

Studying in the Plaza :)

The back side of the school.

Back of the school



Coffee with studying!

Monday, June 10, 2013

So someone asked me for directions today...

They asked me in Spanish and I was actually able to converse with them and tell them accurately! At least, I hope it was as successful as I think it was. I never saw them again, so I assume they found their location...

Since it was such a nice day, I decided to get out of the apartment and go to the plaza to study after class. Because, you know, MIDTERMS ON THURSDAY. Eeeek. How are they already so close? Despite the fact that I'm in Spain and I like learning, school is still school and I despise tests and homework. The stress is settling in.

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed studying in the plaza, I don't enjoy the sunburn I got all over my left arm. Turns out the sun is pretty hot here. Oh and you know what else happened? Funny story...Teresa made some sort of spaghetti for lunch today, and of course I spilled some sauce on my white shirt. I didn't think much of it, and simply used my Tide to Go (product placement- endorsements, please?) to wipe it clean. But apparently I didn't wait long enough for it to dry or whatever, because as I was leaving the plaza, I saw the sun had some sort of reaction with the Tide and now that part of my shirt is a different color than the rest. Greatttttt.

Speaking of Teresa and food- she is so very generous that I always have more than enough to eat. And each morning she gives me a juice box, a croissant, and a Kit Kat to take to school with me. However, I never usually eat these because my friends and I go to the cafe, and pasties with cafe con leche always sound so delicious that I have to buy them. I've tried telling Teresa this, but in her generosity, she keeps insisting I keep them for later. As a result, I have a collection of these items in my backpack that I've been lugging around. Today, I finally made use of them all, though! In my first class, one girl was complaining about how she doesn't get much food since her Spanish mom prepares very little. Another joined in saying she is never given any breakfast. I opened my backpack to reveal my stash, and their eyes grew wide. So, I ended up sharing with them. Later, in my second class, this one guy who sits near me was getting very irritable and cranky. I overheard him tell the professor that he was just very hungry. I told him I had snacks, but he at first refused them. Minutes later, he asked to take me up on my offer. So now I think I'm like a vending machine. But no one pays me.

Anywho, time to get back to studying!

FOTOS!

So it came to my attention that some people either don't have a Facebook or don't access it much, so they aren't able to see the pictures I've been uploading. To compensate, I've decided to include some pictures from the past few days, just to give you an idea of what Madrid looks like!

Here you go!


See all these pastries?! This is why we always eat them...there's so many!

This isn't even all of them.

Buildingsssss



PUERTA DEL SOL!

My. Worst. Nightmare. (Patrick, Minnie, Mickey)

CAN YOU SEE THEM IN THE BACKGROUND? BECAUSE THEY ARE THERE.

THEY JUST WALK AROUND CASUALLY.






The metro station has been redone to publicize The Great Gatsby.

The theater entrance for the flamenco

Plaza de Cervantes from the theater

A dancing celebration in the plaza (it's a little after 10pm in this picture!)

Where I went to study this afternoon- the plaza!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Spanish Adventures!

And so the adventures in Spain continue!

Thankfully, I have been able to actually get some sleep, so I'm feeling much more rested! I think it was much needed, especially since I've been so busy, and about 5 hours per night just wasn't cutting it.

Yesterday a group of us went to downtown Madrid! I'd say we are now masters of public transportation. We didn't even have to ask anyone if we were on the right train!

Once in the city, we did the most logical thing and immediately located the nearest cafe. Coffee and pastries in the morning is kind of a requirement for us. After we were satisfied with way too many different types of pastries and cafe con leche, we made our way to the Museo Reina Sofia, which we had seen a week ago, and which holds El Guernica. This time, we wanted to see the temporary exhibit, which was all about Salvador Dali. Unfortunately, all of Spain wanted to see it as well, so we had to wait in line for ages. Though this was around 10am, by the time we got our tickets, we wouldn't be able to enter the exhibit until 2:30pm! (By the way, our school ID gets us into all the museums for free, including temporary exhibits, which usually cost more!)

So in our free time, we went...SHOPPING! In my personal opinion, shopping in the streets of Madrid is one of the best things in life. There are so many interesting stores, a lot of great deals, and a ton to see while spending your hard-earned money like crazy.

And, yes, we went to another cafe.

We also walked through Puerta del Sol, which is one of the "best known and busiest places in Madrid" according to Wikipedia. Seriously, you turn a corner and BAM there's a million people. I really like it, though! There's so much to see in just this little area. Including one of my worst fears: people in costumes. (Side note: Yesterday morning, I ate a banana with a sticker on the peel. Gingerly, of course. But still. So many new experiences here.)

Thankfully, one of my friends had been there before, and since he knew about my aversion to costumed figures, warned me before I saw them, or else I might have had a conniption fit. I don't know why, but people think it's a WONDERFUL idea to dress up as giant Spongebobs, Mickey Mouses, etc. and walk around the area doing...whatever they do. I didn't make eye contact. I just knew they were there, surrounding me. I positioned myself between my group so I didn't have to watch out for them grabbing me. The worst part is that there is SO many of them!

Once we made it through the challenge of walking past the sea of creepiness, we got to shop more, which made up for the previous terror. And before we knew it, it was time to return to the museum for Dali. This time, we decided to take the metro over there (haha that's kinda a pun, since the metro is actually underground). And that was one more experience in which we mastered public transportation, though it did take way too long. We walked all over the metro station trying to find the right train. I think we ended up missing the one we needed three times before we realized our mistake.

By the time we surfaced, it was raining. Yeah, so much for the whole warm-summer-in-Spain I was expecting. I was thankful I had brought a rain jacket AND had the sense to bring it with me. Since we were so cold, had 15 minutes before we could get into Dali, and needed to use the restroom (remember: no public bathrooms!), we went to a Starbucks. At least this time we had good reasons for more coffee?

The Dali exhibit was really interesting to see, and I'm very glad I was able to! They had so much of his work; so much so, that if he had any more paintings, I would be shocked. The exhibit took up a whole floor of the museum, and I know that doesn't give you much of a sense of size, but trust me, it's large. It took us about an hour to get through, and we didn't even stop to look at everything. We kinda just kept the same quick pace throughout. Mostly because we realized that we weren't really huge fans of Dali. The whole surrealism thing...not my favorite. The best part for me was seeing La persistencia de memoria, which I'm sure you all know. That was the only Dali painting I knew!

Afterwards, it was late afternoon and we were all pretty tired, so we took the train back early. I got back to my place at 5:30, and as soon as I laid down on my bed, I was out. I woke up at 7:30 to quickly change and run to the theater for a flamenco!

I knew nothing about flamenco, other than that girls wear big, fluffy dresses and dance. So I was surprised to find out it also includes singing and lots and lots of stomping. We were in a very small theater, so it seemed incredibly loud. But it was definitely interesting, and all the performers were so talented! I once heard that to experience Spain, you need three things: tapas, sangria, and flamenco. Now I've taken part in all three!

We walked outside after the flamenco to find a group of apparently Castillian dancers putting on a show in the middle of the plaza. We stopped to watch them for a while to cultivate our artistic experience more. It was a really fun atmosphere- the live music and dancers, a setting sun (at 10pm!), a crowd of people, and the smells of various different restaurants. Our stomachs won over our desire to gawk at the dancers, so we went to this crowded restaurant for dinner. It was supposedly one of the best, but it wasn't my favorite. It's three gigantic rooms with just tables and chairs. They have high ceilings and a ton of TVs, all of which were showing a soccer game. As a result, the place was packed and LOUD! Because they get really into their soccer here. We had to go up to a counter to order our food, but the menus didn't have descriptions of the plates, so we just had to guess. When we tried asking the person taking our order about some of the food, he either couldn't hear us or couldn't understand our Spanish (maybe both?) because we didn't get any answer. We went to pick up our food from another counter and I discovered that the thing I had ordered (which resembled pizza) was actually toast piled high with cream cheese and topped with uncooked salmon. Yeah. Not to mention it was about 15 inches long and 10 inches wide. So I peeled off the salmon (after TRYING it first :D) and ate some toast with cream cheese (though I'm confident it had some other ingredients). Then we went to a gelato store, so all was remedied!

We walked around the streets eating our gelato and window shopping. There were a ton of people out and the weather was perfect! We eventually realized that staying out later would mean walking back alone very late at night, or paying for a taxi which could get expensive. Plus, they were pretty scarce since the whole plaza and side streets were blocked off. So, we all went our separate ways at around 11:45.

Today, I slept in. Which I felt was much deserved. Though sleeping in for me is now apparently 8:30, since I woke up then feeling refreshed. I had plans to go to the Cathedral this morning for mass, but it was still too early, as the first mass on Sunday starts at 11:30am! Nevertheless, I went for a morning walk and ended up at the church at around 10am, and just looked around and hung out until mass started. Now THAT was an experience. First of all, nobody showed up until 11:30 exactly, and those were the early arrivals! I had picked a pew about six rows back from the front, which turned out to be the first possible one I could sit in, since the first ones are apparently invisibly reserved for the children. Their parents walk them up to the front until they find their friends, and then let them sit wherever they want in those pews. And despite the plenty of pews in the church, people like to take plastic chairs from the back and place them randomly throughout the open areas of the cathedral.

There also weren't any song books or anything like that. The congregation doesn't sing; only the choir, which was made up of girls much younger than me, sang. And they didn't sing typical church songs, but very upbeat ones which involved clapping. There were no instruments. Also, we didn't have a second reading.

We had three priests on the altar. One was much older, and just sat in his chair for the duration of the mass. The others seemed to share the priestly duties, which baffled me. Plus, there was one hearing confessions at the side of the church. It was the same one who I had been to before, and I saw him look at me once. Fairly certain he recognized me and laughed a bit.

I hardly understood any of the responses people were giving. And I couldn't really understand the priests, due to a combination of their rapid spanish, gruff voices, and microphone problems. I just kinda said what I knew in English under my breath.

Another interesting aspect was the lack of kneeling. Maybe it's because the kneelers were wooden and pretty uncomfortable, but we either stood or sat the entire time, with the exception of about two different times, though both were but seconds long.

Communion was humorous, since there was no observable rhyme or reason to it. A large percentage of people there didn't go to communion for whatever reasons, so they just sat back, while everyone else piled into the aisles. I followed the lady sitting next to me, which was a good call, or else I would not have known what to do. There weren't any lines, just kind of a big mob, and we pushed our way through to get to the front. The priests were doing their best to distribute the hosts to the many hands that reached out to them. There was no blood of Christ. Once you've received communion, you turn around on the spot and push your way back to your seat, despite the flood of people baring down on you.

After the final blessing, the priests don't process out. They just turn around and walk off the altar, so we all left immediately. The church was absolutely freezing cold during mass, so I had this great idea to go to a cafe and get some coffee afterwards. Apparently everyone in the church also had that idea, because they all swarmed to Calle Mayor with me. It wasn't just freezing in the church though; I think the temperature must have been in the low 50s, plus it was cloudy, so it was a cold day. I hadn't checked the weather before leaving, so I had stupidly worn a summer dress and sandals. I was literally the only one in the mob who wasn't wearing jeans, boots, and dark colors. Talk about standing out! As if being American wasn't enough, haha.

So here I was, shivering and hugging myself to keep warm, speed walking down the stone street, trying to find a cafe. By now, I know where almost all of them are. However, each one I walked by was closed! It was like a nightmare. I just kept wondering why not a single cafe would be open at 12:30pm. Well, it turned out there was one open. One. And by the time I arrived there, all those people who bypassed me while I stood pitifully at all the closed cafes were standing in a line that went out the door and around the block. Yet, I stood in that line.

And it was worth it. My cafe con leche and chocolate pastry were heavenly. I found a table in the back, pulled out some homework, and actually got a lot of reading done. While I was sitting there, one of my friends actually found me and joined in on the homework party! You can't imagine how awesome it feels to run into someone you know in a foreign country. It was like I officially belong here now!

The rest of the day I spent lounging around, doing homework, and wasting too much time procrastinating on the internet. I even watched some Spanish tv with Teresa and Jose! It's really funny, because they love American movies here, and they just dub the voices in Spanish, even though the mouths are obviously saying something different. We watched a bit of Mrs. Doubtfire and then some interview entertainment show which I never really figured out what it was about. Learning that Jose really likes American movies, I asked him which was his favorite. His response? Rachel Ray.

Not exactly a movie, but alright then!

It's funny, but Jose doesn't realize that I understand days are shorter in the winter and longer in the summer. I'm pretty sure he doesn't think that occurs in the United States, because he goes into long descriptions about how the amount of daylight changes based on the months. I listen patiently, and when he pauses for me to ask questions, I mention that it's the same in America. However, he continues explaining this phenomenon for ten more minutes or so. This has happened quite a few times.

After a few hours of tv (they watch a lot here), Teresa and Jose invited me to go on a walk with them. We went down to this lake nearby and walked up and down the path next to it. It was really pretty, especially since there's a ton of green trees around it! We also stopped by an exercise park with all these neat, simple machines. Honestly, if they had those in America, I'd exercise nonstop. It's hard to describe them, because they're nothing like I've ever seen before. But they were all fun!

Since we got back, I've been attempting to find motivation to finish a presentation for tomorrow. Must...do....work.... It's weird to think I also have midterms this Thursday. Gotta start studying!

Hasta luego!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Best. Day. Ever.

Why was it the best day ever, you might ask? Well, good question. It's because I went to the most amazing place I've ever been: Segovia. I loved this place so much that I did not want to leave. It's seriously the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life. The architecture, scenery, and general atmosphere was astounding. I was in such awe, just walking around. But before I go into all the details, I should give all you interested readers an account of the journey.

As I said yesterday, a few of us were hoping to ride on the bus with the group going to Segovia, but we weren't able to because it was full. Instead, we decided to get ourselves there and then join the group. Getting there itself was an adventure! I had plans to travel with 3 other girls, so we met this morning at the train station at 8:45. I had no idea how to get to the train station, so last night I took a picture of the location via Google Maps with my phone and used that to navigate. It took about a half hour to walk there, which wasn't bad considering it was a beautiful morning and I was in Spain.

Once at the train station, we met 2 other girls from our program who were planning on going to Segovia. One of the girls was required to go on the trip for one of her classes, but had decided against going on the bus (for whatever reason). It was a great thing we ran into them, because they had no idea how to get to Segovia. They were planning on hoping on a train, which they assumed took them straight there. Unfortunately, that would have gotten them nowhere near Segovia. We had to take the train from Alcala to Madrid (about 45 minutes or so) and then buy tickets for another train to Segovia. That sounds easy, but when there's no guidelines and you have to figure out the process by yourselves in another country, it's a tad difficult. Especially since the train station in Madrid is insanely busy and confusing.

We ended up asking for directions at an information desk (pooling together our Spanish knowledge) and it turned out we had just missed the train. We had to wait an hour and a half for the next one. And unlike the public transportation train we had been using, this one was nicer and special, so we had to pay 10 euro each way.

In our wait, we all went to a cafe for snacks. I got a cafe con leche and neopolitan pastry, which was possibly the most delicious thing I have ever eaten. So it was already a good day. Side note: the public bathrooms here are disgusting. You need to bring your own toilet paper too, since they generally don't have any). Anyway, we had a good time chatting. Remember those students in my class who don't know much Spanish that I was telling you about? Well, the other girls had been talking to them earlier, and it turns out they have only had ONE semester of Spanish, whereas I have had about ten years of it. That explains their confusion in class. I can't imagine coming here with barely any Spanish background. It's hard enough with what I do know!

When it was time to catch our train, we had to go through a security-esque procedure. Our bags were scanned and there was high security. In fact, this whole special train was almost like an airplane. There were assigned seats, luggage racks, and comfortable cushions. It was so nice! There was a screen showing the progress of the train, and I noticed we reached speeds of over 250 km/hour! It took us through the countryside, which was gorgeous and full of cows. It also went through a bunch of underground tunnels! As soon as we got to Segovia, I could feel the temperature difference. It was MUCH colder and I was immediately thankful I had worn jeans and brought two jackets. I haven't been to Alaska, but it at first appeared to be what I imagine Alaska to be like: isolated and cold. There were a lot of mountains nearby which were partially covered in snow. We didn't know what to do, so we went to an information desk. It turned out we needed to take a bus to the middle of the city, and the next bus was supposed to be leaving any minute; the following one wouldn't leave for 2 hours! So we all ran through the train station to catch a bus, but once we reached the buses, we had to quickly find the one we needed, since there were so many and their numbers aren't prominently displayed. Of course, ours was the one that was jam packed with people, so we had to huddle together standing up.

The bus ride took us through more country (Segovia is very much isolated) and was without a doubt the bumpiest bus ride I have ever been on. It was necessary to hold on to as much as possible to avoid being thrown against people. Somehow, we survived without incident! We ended up right in the heart of Segovia, which is...duh duh duh- the aqueducts! Maybe you guys know more about Segovia than I do, especially because I knew nothing but the name before we arrived. But Segovia is known for their aqueducts, which I still know nothing about, but are very cool. I also know they're very old!

After a ton of pictures, we walked through their Plaza Mayor. There was some sort of festival going on, with speakers, food, and dancing. All this was surprising since it became apparent that it's not THAT large of a town. But we walked through, taking free samples of cheese and nuts, and admiring the area. I was so enchanted by the architecture and environment. It was all so old and historic. We had no idea where to go, so we ended up walking by a lot of churches and houses until we came to one of the other biggest attractions in Segovia: the cathedral.

OH. MY. GOSH. I have never, ever seen anything as magnificent as that cathedral. Nor as large and intricate. You guys just need to see the pictures. It was a large oval, and around the sides were various little rooms you could enter, which were full of what I'm guessing are old altars. (The one drawback to Segovia was that they didn't have any information/pamphlets anywhere). They were all gorgeous. In each of them was a headstone, so I'm thinking priests are buried there. You guys can probably Google all that I'm telling you and find more information. I would, but I am absolutely exhausted right now. Anyway, in the center was a current altar, since they still have mass there. There was also another section in a courtyard outside, but for whatever reason, we couldn't take pictures there. I can't even describe how beautiful this cathedral was. We spent hours there, and still didn't look at everything! I'll just let the pictures I took speak for themselves...

Afterwards, the two other girls left us to find the group. The one who was required to be there had been in contact with them, but they hadn't even arrived at Segovia until then! The group had gone straight to a neighboring city and ended up getting to Segovia at around 2pm. The rest of us decided we liked exploring on our own, and had already planned out our afternoon, so we chose not to meet up with the group as originally planned. Instead, we went to a park that was close by and ate the lunches our Spanish moms had packed for us. My mom is INCREDIBLY generous and had given me: one turkey/cheese sandwich, one pork chop sandwich, one Spanish omelette sandwich, a bag of cherries, some sort of chocolatey-bread dessert, a kit kat, an orange soda, and a water. All for lunch. Needless to say, I shared as much as I could force on the others, ate what I could, and gave a little to the birds and stray dogs that came to beg. During lunch, the little sun we had disappeared, and the clouds and wind came in. We quickly finished lunch so we could hurry on to an indoor location, aka shopping. All the stores are so cute and small, with a lot of hand-crafted items. We had a field day in them.

Afterwards, we made our way to yet another Segovian attraction: Alcazar, aka an amazing castle. This castle was one of the inspirations for the Disney castle, and was directly used as the basis for Sleeping Beauty's castle in the movie. So cool! They gave discounted tickets for students, so we went on a tour. Again, I was speechless. Again, I'll let the pictures show you how great it was. Mostly because I would go into so much detail and unfortunately don't have time for that right now. I felt right at home inside, mostly because I AM a princess. :)

We were able to walk through the different rooms and even went down to the dungeon! The castle even had a moat, which was empty, obviously. Unfortunately, we didn't get to go up the tower because it cost a little more than we were willing to pay. As we were leaving, our group was walking up and we got to talk to our other friends. In doing so, we were reassured that we took the better option in touring Segovia by ourselves. The group had only walked by the cathedral, instead of going in, and weren't spending a lot of time in the town. Plus, it was a huge group, and some people complained that they were moving slowly. The four of us were all so glad we were able to go at our own pace and see what we wanted.

We then just walked around to explore more. We ended up doing a loop of the whole city! As we circled back to the main square, we realized we could spare some time before the bus took us back to the train, so we went to a cafe nearby. We sat by a window upstairs where we looked out upon the main street and watched some little kids play soccer, despite the passerbys.

We were so exhausted by the time we left that we were all quiet on the bus ride back. Once we were on the train, we all fell asleep! Then we had the adventure of figuring out what train to ride back to Alcala. We ended up getting back around 8:50, which made a full 12 hours! It was raining pretty hard in Alcala, which made me glad I brought my rain jacket!

When I got home, I was surprised to see that Teresa and Jose's whole family was here! They introduced me to everyone, who were all nice. We had dinner, which was pretty interesting. The table was covered in paper plates full of food, and we all sat around it and just reached for whatever we wanted and ate it with our hands. It was mostly meat, cheese, and potatoes. Afterwards, we sat around talking and playing chess. Her kids were really interested in learning about the United States, and had taken a few English classes in the past, so they really enjoyed attempting to communicate in English! I enjoyed trying to decipher what they were saying! They also had many questions. It took me a long time to explain that Dallas is actually IN Texas!

At midnight, Teresa could see that I was practically falling asleep in my chair, so she told me to go to bed, as everyone will most likely be staying late. Tomorrow we're going to explore Madrid, so I have to wake up early yet again! As much as I love being a part of everything, I'm starting to feel the effects of busy days and around 5 hours of sleep each night!

I hope I gave a decent account of my day! I wish I could describe how amazing Segovia is, but I know I can't do it justice. I don't know if even the pictures can! Here's hoping!

UPDATE: Sorry guys, I don't have time to put all the pictures on here right now! I'm working on it, but there are a lot. Check my Facebook for them, though! They're up now! :)