Although it's just been 4 days, I'm already starting to think in Spanish. Crazy, huh? It's even hard for me to write this in English, because I now have a tendency to stick to Spanish. I guess that's what happens when you are completely surrounded by a language! I can't imagine how it will be when I return to the United States at the end of this program.
The last few days have been incredibly busy! Yesterday we went to Madrid! It was so much fun. Our host families all took us to the train station at 10am (the program is so organized, by the way. All the host families know exactly what to do) and one of our professors, Fausto, served as our tour guide. He showed us how to use our train passes, which trains to take, and gave us a personal tour of Madrid. Even passerbys stopped to listen to him!
The trains were very nice-nothing like in America. They were comfortable, and are a main source of transportation over here. As a result, the train stations are super busy! Before we left the station, we stopped in the bathrooms. Turns out Madrid doesn't have public restrooms (aghhh) so you have to go when you can. The train station restrooms were pretty gross, though. None of them had toilet paper, but thankfully a few of us had kleenexes!
One of the coolest things about the train station was this turtle area. I guess it was sort of a display, but it was full of turtles of all shapes and sizes! So cool! It was huge, and spanned an entire length of the train station!
We began the day with Fausto's tour. We went really fast, with him just showing us important locations. We saw El Museo Reina Sofia, which is an art museum that holds Picasso's most famous work, El Guernica (which I was dying to see), el Jardin Botanico (Botanical Gardens), Museo del Prado (another art museum), El Congreso de los Diputados, and more!
We ended up at a restaurant, El Cuervo, where we ate as a group. I had a mixed salad and chicken, which was probably the best option on the menu, unless you like fish, soup, shrimp, gaspacho, tuna, green beans, or asparagus. Dessert was perfect, though- chocolate ice cream on a hot day!
That's another thing- it gets really hot in Madrid! That morning was bitter cold, and many of the Spanish moms told us to wear jeans and heavy jackets. However, it warmed up quickly, and we were left a bit miserable!
After lunch, we all split up and were allowed to do whatever we wanted! Some people went shopping while others went to the bar. My group started by riding the metro back to the place we started at (we had to change the metro twice- and got very confused in the process. Thankfully, we had Cody and Russell with us who were able to direct us), and went first to the botanical garden. It was like nothing I had ever seen before! There was an incredible amount of plants and flowers, and it was all gorgeous. We walked all around the park. After we saw everything, we went to the Museo Reina Sofia. All I wanted to do the whole day was see Guernica, and we finally did! It's a painting that we have studied a lot in school, so seeing it in person was amazing. It's huge! It takes up an entire wall. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures of it. Also, a man had a seizure while we were looking at it. That was interesting.
When we got bored of the museum, we went to a cafe and had a snack. I had some churros. Next door was a Starbucks, which took away from the experience a bit. I also saw my first Spanish McDonald's while in Madrid!
We went back to the train station at around 8pm, and it was a half hour ride back to Alcala. We all called our parents on the way back so they were there to pick us up when we arrived. Here the sun doesn't set until around 10pm or a little after, so we have plenty of time to enjoy the day!
When my Spanish parents picked me up, we started driving back to the apartment, but saw a large group of people on a blocked off street, so Teresa and I got out to see what was going on. It turned out to be a parade for the feast day of Corpus Cristi! There was a ginormous altar in the middle of the street that was surrounded by people and rose petals. Everywhere, the street was lined with people. A bit further down were some priests and altar servers which led the procession, followed by groups of people with banners bearing various images of Mary and Jesus. I asked Teresa what they were, and I believe she said the people were going to keep Jesus company.
The procession seemed never ending! We were around a corner, and I kept waiting for the end, but it never came! I couldn't count how many flags/banners there were! I think Teresa got bored because she ushered me down to the corner before it was over. I figured we were leaving, but as we turned the corner, I saw the biggest pedestal I have ever seen that was holding the Eucharist. I'm not sure if pedestal is the right word, but I don't know how to describe it. It took about 18 people to carry it on their shoulders! It was all very amazing. They stopped near us for prayers, incense, and a song (two marching bands were there) before continuing on. When the people were able to pick it up without moving the Eucharist, everyone clapped. There were many, many priests as well, all decked out in their vestments. Aside from the incredible experience, I was really glad to see the procession because I wasn't able to go to church yesterday since we had been so busy. I felt this kind of counted.
When we got back to the apartment, Teresa and I watched the world news and then went to feed the cats. Since there was a new kitty, Teresa had bought special kitten food during the day. When she feeds them, she makes sure to do it discreetly and at night. When I asked her why, she said the people don't like her feeding the cats. Apparently they don't like the street cats, and don't want them to survive. A woman came out on her balcony, saw us, and ended up glaring at Teresa until we left.
Dinner last night was chicken...again. I'm already sick of it. I guess it's popular here!
I finally went to bed around 1am, after dinner. I'm pretty sure I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
TODAY WAS THE FIRST DAY OF CLASSES!
And it was such an experience. Both classes are entirely in Spanish, which is a bit challenging. My first class is Great Spanish Painters and is from 9am-11:30. The professor seems nice, but the entire class was a lecture, and we already have a ton of homework. We covered an entire century of art in one day!
We then had a half hour break where one of my friends and I went to the cafeteria for cafe con leche and some pastries. Afterwards, back to classes! My second one is about Traditions of Spain and is chocked full of assignments. The first is a group project on a community in Spain, due this Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, I have my first essay due. I think I had forgot that I was going to have to do work here...I just want to go explore more!
Teresa was there to walk me back to the apartment when I got out of class. We were talking on the way back, and it turns out she has been a part of this program for 12 years, and has had the same number of students. Apparently last year's didn't know how to speak Spanish and they had to draw pictures in order to communicate! Suddenly, I don't feel as much pressure!
Jose and Teresa's grandkids are here, since they come over during the weekdays when their parents are at work. Both are boys, ages 7 and 3. They're so cute! Right now they're watching the Spanish version of Spongebob Squarepants.
Lunch was spaghetti and...chicken. It's a sign of generosity when they give me so much food, but I feel obligated to eat it all since they don't keep food. It all goes into the trash if I don't eat it. Today they asked if I would like some bread. I said no, that I was fine, but they still cut me a giant piece anyway! We drank wine with the meal, but I didn't really like it.
Now it is my siesta! In half an hour, I have to be back at school as Cristina and Fausto are going to take us all on a tour of Alcala. Hopefully we'll be able to buy phones as well. They're actually really necessary here, especially since Teresa always needs to know my plans.
One random thing that I think is interesting: for breakfast both days, Teresa has given me a croissant, a banana, and...a Kit Kat bar. I think she thinks it's a breakfast food in America.
Also, french fries come with everything! They love them here.
Here's some pictures, but for whatever reason they're out of order. Sorry!
Outside of one of the many cathedrals in Madrid...apparently there are a lot of weddings here because it's so pretty.
The main gates to Madrid.
One of the palaces
A statue depicting Don Quixote and Sancho.
Fausto teaching us about the trains.
Museo del Prado