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!