Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Last Post




The kids we taught English to!






This is the last post, and I am writing it here from Brookfield, Wisconsin with strep throat so it is kind of anti-climactic. As they all say, the end was bitter sweet. The last week seemed like a dream, not really real, but yet full of excitement to see my family again. It was hard to say goodbye to my host family. That is, I don't think my miniature poinsettia quite embodied all of the emotion and feeling I wanted it too. I exchanged besos y abroazos and emails with them, and I wish them all the best in starting with own law firm! The hardest, however, was saying goodbye to my new friends. I had shared so many memories and moments with them that it was hard to say goodbye, especially to the ones who live so far away. The program had a final lunch for us at a swanky hotel, but it didn't really offer much closure. We did, however, get a great picture with our super dreamy political science teacher! And on that note, academically, I really did learn a lot. Although my fondest memories are not that of the classroom since my classroom really become Europe, I learned a lot about Spanish culture, the literature, the political structure, the language, the food, and more about my country from their perspective, which is reason in and of itself to study abroad!

So was study abroad worth it? Yes
Do I wish I could have stayed a year? Yes, although I would run out of money.
What is your favorite memory? Not a fair question
Biggest advice to others? Study abroad in a country with a foreign language; it's really cool to be able to dream in it at the end!

Thank you to all of you who followed me on here and kept up with my adventures. I look forward to seeing some of you over the holidays! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!





Copenhagen was the perfect break I needed from Spain. It´s not that Spain was growing old, but I was extremely excited to see my good friend Ghariza who was stationed in Copenhagen studying abroad. My time with her was amazing to say the least.

First of all, Copenhagen is extremely expensive. Just a brownie can cost you 20 Danish Kroner! I was lucky enough to be able to stay with Ghariza´s host family in a suburb of Copenhagen. Palle and Christa let us use their kitchen and all their facilities. Needless to say it was nice to cook for myself since I hadn´t been able to for 3 months. Fish fish fish and beer beer beer! We ate a lot of fish, but that´s good because I like fish. The Copenhagen Christmas beer is excellent also! haha So the food and drink were great! Have you ever heard of an open faced sandwich or glogg??

Copenhagen is very different from Spain. Not only is it way colder and rainier, but the people are taller and bigger. Oh, and they speak a different language, but almost everyone speaks English, which was nice. I remember the first day I met Ghariza´s host dad we sat there for 3 hours talking about American politics in English. It was great!

During my stay I was able to see the nightlife of Copenhagen, which is quite lively might I add! I also got to meet up with a few other Macalester students and spend the evening on the town, which is always a highlight. I saw an uneventful soccer game one night in which both teams failed to score, but the atmosphere was great! I also saw the famous Mermaid statue, the royal guard that cracked a smile, and some beautiful Protestant churches. What stands out the most is how much Copenhagen looked like an image out of a Christmas story book. The brick buildings and the lights really transform it. Too bad I could only see the famous Tivoli amusement park from the outside! Most importantly, I caught up on some sleep and just relaxed and chatted with a great friend. I can´t thank Ghariza enough for this wonderful trip!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pais Vasco




Pais Vasco...it might just be what heaven looks like. This short weekend trip to the northern regions of Spain tops all of the beauty I have seen so far. This trip made up for our troubles in Italy. We spent one day in the tiny city of fall laden Bergos and then headed north to the coast to the heaven like city San Sebastián. Bergos was the epitome of fall. Their cathedral was quite impressive, and the people very friendly. For instance, we stayed in a hotel outside of the city center, and one of the managers drove all 7 of us into the city the next morning for free.

San Sebastián was my favorite, however. We spent the night of our arrival on the town and ate tapas and drank wine and cañas like the true Basque. The next day we hiked to the top of a hill to a huge statue of Jesus at the top. The vistas were absolutely gorgeous. It was also surprisingly warm for November by the ocean. Only a soft autumn wind reminded us it was nearing winter. We ate gelato and took an old funicular up to the top of mountain that had an old amusement park for kids. My friend Margaret and I embarked a quick boat ride around the top of the mountain, but we didn´t have to much more time to enjoy the child age amusement park. The day was amazing. Besides a mad dash to catch our 6 hour bus ride back to Madrid, the weekend was absolutely gorgeous. I also hope to be able to return to San Sebastián sometime in the future.

p.s. Yes, I had to get a picture with a cow

Italia



Italy...the land of ancient ruins, pasta and bad transportation...

An adventurous four of us here in my program decided to take advantage of the 6 day puente, a long weekend, as they call it here in Spain and head to Italy. Perhaps it was too ambitious of us to try to do 4 cities (Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan), but we did it anyway!!

Rome, where the tourists and the bishops rome. The first night in town we ate dinner in a hole in the wall Italian restaurant with a super flirtatious waiter translating between a mix of Spanish, Italian and English. The food and wine were absolutely delicious, and we scored some free cake and gelato for just being 4 young women alone. Rome had charmed me. The next day we walked around saucer eyed through the ruins of the forum where Julius Caesar walked and meandered through the Colosseum where the gladiators fought and Nero looked on. Our last day in Rome we visited the oh so small country of the Vatican. The Vatican museum was outstanding. I finally got to see Michael Angelo´s Sistine Chapel. Absolutely amazing! St. Peter's was also breathtaking!

That night we whisked ourselves away to Florence, a city of the Renaissance in all it´s glory. We arrived at our precious little B&B tucked around the corner of the river. The place was absolutely adorable, nothing like the other hostels we had stayed in before. The next day was full of taking in The David, the Duomo, the Uffitzi museum and hundreds of sculptures and painting in between. I saw Velasquez's Las Meninas, tons of paintings by Botticelli and Rubens just to name a few. I was art overwhelmed, as I tried to recall the Renaissance era in from my AP Europen History years.

It was in Florence that some of our traveling woes started. We first missed our bus to Venice, because we went to the wrong bus stop. Let me tell you, this bus stop would be hard to miss. We had to get a bus the next day. We had to take a separate bus out to the stop in the middle of no where, literally on the side of a country road. That unexpected night in Florence we re-planned the trip since every other bus, train or plane we had booked was time conscious on the prior. After spending a lot more money than we had planned, and temporarily losing one of the girls in our group to her own travel itinerary, we finally had it all figured out...or so we thought.

The next day we arrived mid-day in Venice. I love Venice. Unlike Florence, Venice is not a city of museums or art; instead, it is a city of canals, bridges and shops. Even though we only had 6 hours in Venice, I enjoyed every second. We saw the duomo in Venice, which was one huge mosaic laden building. We saw many a gondola and many a Venician mask. We also saw the sunset over the waters, which was priceless. I hope to go back to Venice some day. Well, when the hour drew near to when we had to catch our train to Milan, we finally caught up with our other deserted friend. I thought it ironic that she had a 7.50pm train and we had a 7.44pm train to Milan. Why would they schedule trains so close to each other like that? When we arrived at the station, our train was not appearing on the departure boards and a sick feeling hit my stomach. We ran to the information kiosk and the woman said the earliest we could leave with our current tickets would be the next day at 5am (our flight home was at 8am) so we ran to the ticket window and paid an extra 18 euro to get our ticket "validated" to we could leave that night. This was the cherry on top of the trip. haha

We spent a sullen train ride to Milan and arrived at around midnight in the city. We were supposed to arrive at around 2am and just stick it out in the train station, until we would catch a train at 6am to the airport, but since we got there a lot earlier we got to spend some awfully uncomfortable hours in the freezing cold train station. We did, however, walk about 3 miles each way to see Milan's duomo, eat some fast food Italian, and see all of the closed designer shops. We couldn't wait to get on that bus to the airport. Needless to say we were all exhausted and fed up with transportation.

It was great to get back to Madrid, but I did learn some critical lessons about trip planning and Italy. It really was an amazing trip, that just pushed us to our limit a bit! But, at least we were't being chased by lions in the Colosseum.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Surreal Sur




It´s called a puente, basically, one of the best inventions on earth. Well, that´s an overstatement because the Alhambra is probably the best inventions on the earth, but a puente (bridge) means a long weekend here in Spain. For instance, Monday would be a normal day, but Tuesday is a holiday so practically all of Spain takes a long weekend.

Five friends and I decided to take advantage of this puente and travel to Southern Spain. Granada, Sevilla and a day trip to Córdoba kept us on our toes! I have never seen anything as beautiful as these three cities. The mountains were breathtaking! And, the weather was gorgeous! I couldn´t believe I was wearing shorts in late October! This is quite the feat for a native Wisconsinite!

It´s hard to say which city was my favorite since each location was similar in terms of the Muslim influence. There is no place better to see the interactions between Christianity and Islam. Imagine, a church placed within the striped double fortified Roman arches of a mosque! In general, the cathedrals, mosques, alcazars, and gardens all were amazing! I was, however, blown away by seeing the burial place of Christopher Columbus in Sevilla´s cathedral. They had moved his body three times before so I guess I came during the right decade to see him!

So many highlights of the trip, but here are a few...

The tea, teariffic!! Our second night in Granada we went to a local tea bar for, of course, tea and hookah. I ended up buying my own little loose leaf tea strainer the day after. The owner was so great. He came right over, sat down, and asked us lots of questions. That was one huge difference between Barcelona, more or less northern, and southern Spain. Just like the US, the South (and the midwest, of course) is much friendlier.

Did you know that the idea of tapas originated in Granada, which we enjoyed being the starving broke college students we are! Speaking of food, don´t eat the oranges in the trees on the road!

A final highlight was the flamenco show in Sevilla. I made sure I bought my own fans the next day in Sevilla since that is where they originated from!

Note to self: you can save so much money by buying food from local family run grocery stores! Don´t be afraid to peek in! Also, bring classy Halloween costume next time! It´s starting to catch on here!


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Barcelona, Gerona y Toledo




The adventure continues! What a crazy two weeks! !Qué rápida pasa el tiempo! We just finished midterms, and I can hardly believe it! Oh, and I´m now 21 years old.

Just two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to receive a visit from my family. The weekend they arrived, jet lagged and weary, we went to Barcelona and a northern coastal town called Gerona. First, my family got a chance to meet my señora the night before we left, which went surprisingly well even with me translating in between. The really connected. The power of body language is real!

The next day, on our way to Barcelona, we took the seamless high speed train called the Renfe, which got us there and back in three hours flat. Taking the Renfe is a great way to see the Spanish country side, and the train has way more leg room than any plane I´ve ever been on! I would recommend it!

When we arrived at our hotel, I acclimated the family to the idea of tapas and gelato. The next day was quite the adventure as we bused around the famous areas of Catalan speaking Barcelona, but my favorite area no doubt was Monseratt. We took a funicular (cable car) up to a stunning castle that once served as a look out. What a feast for the eyes! I didn´t think it could any better than the view of Barcelona´s coast line, but it did!

After a quick visit to the aquarium and Barcelona´s famous Gothic quarter, the next day brought even more delights! We took a small group tour of Spain´s Costa Brava and made a quick stop in the ancient city of Gerona nestled snugly in the mountains. The city was once known for its Jewish quarter, which we had the opportunity to tour. We also walked along the city´s outer wall, which had views that would make your jaw drop. Winding streets were spread out before us, while the mountains blocked us in. The best was still yet to come. After making a quick stop in a cobblestone village perfectly maintained from years before (with 800 year old olive trees), our last stop was a small coastal town called Pals. This view might just be one of the prettiest things I´ve ever seen in my life. Imagine white washed walled houses contrasting against the bold blue of the ocean just a few yards from where you´re eating a late lunch of seafood. Absolutely breathtaking! (see above)

It was hard to head back to land locked Madrid with the ocean so close. While I had to head back to classes for the week, my family took a four day tour of Granada, Sevilla, Córdoba and Toledo. Unfortunately, when they returned, it looked like Blake´s cold had spread to the rest. It was time to go home! After saying our goodbyes, I took Blake to one of the most famous tapas places in Madrid called El Tigre and headed back to my señora, while the family left the next day. That next day, my program took a day tour to Toledo, the once capitol of Spain. It´s yet another breathtaking city in Spain surrounded by huge bluffs and natural stone walls. I could spend days eating mazapán and taking in the history. One highlight, however, was the viewing of Grego´s famous painting, the Conde de Orgaz, which was amazing. I remember studying it in high school, so it was incredible to see it in real life.

No rest for the weary! I had previously signed up to go on a day long hike in the mountains with my church so the next day was spent in the mountains. A few of my friends came with me as we took in the beautiful creation. We ran across ancient Roman bridges, horses and absolutely stunning look out points.

The next week brought a reality check as midterms came out of no where. Even though I had to know all of Spanish history for one of them, I really am learning so much. The pieces of Spain´s history are starting to come together along with my speaking skills. I feel like my English is getting worse as my Spanish gets better! haha I´m also starting to really love my host family. My señora even calls me hija (daughter), which is probably just an expression, but still! Actually, my director of my program told me he had called Remedios to see how thing were going the other day and she said she wanted more girls like me to come in the future. And, to top it all off, tonight I had a super fun double date dinner with my Spanish compañero and my good friend Margaret. Our mix of Spanish and English was a hoot so say the least. I haven´t laughed that long in a while!

And I almost forgot what I did for my birthday! Since it was Monday, a school night, we had to keep it low key, but I had some of the best chicken I´ve ever had in all my life. My favorite high school Spanish teacher recommend a restaurant called Casa Mingo so 15 of us went to celebrate. Amazing chicken and cider! The fun didn´t end there, the next day we went to a Real Madrid fútbol game, which was the cherry on top. Although we were in the nose bleeds, the atmosphere was crazy! We all had our Real Madrid scarfs on, and got absorbed in the game, which, of course, Madrid won.

It´s now winter here, and even though I´m from Wisconsin, it´s necessary to wear a coat! Just as the seasons are changing, I feel I´m changing too. I can´t wait to see what the month of November will bring! Tomorrow we leave for our tour of Southern Spain!

P.S. Since I haven´t made a pun in a while, here is a Spanish joke for you: ¿Qué es la diferencia entre un hombre y un plátano verde? El platano maduro. (What is the difference between a man and a green banana?) The banana matures. Nothing against men....it´s just funny!


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Valencia







Last weekend we had the opportunity to go to Valencia with our program for an overnight trip. It was absolutely fantastic! The bus trip took about 5 hours, but on the way there we stopped at a castle for breakfast. Yeah, you know, just a CASTLE! The castle was in a little town named Cuenca, which is where my señora is actually from. The bus had to wind its way up narrow roads and under ancient bridges to ascend to this perfectly placed castle. For a while, I thought we wouldn´t make it! The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking as you can see in the picture above.

When we finally arrived in Valencia we could think of nothing better to do than swim in the Mediterranean since Valencia is situated snugly on the coast. The water was surprising warm, which made for a perfect swim! The waves were giant! It was a windy day so by the time sand had encrusted all of our towels gotten in our eyes we headed back to the hotel to wash it all off!

That evening we took a lovely historical tour of Valencia and stopped at a cathedral where they say the holy grail is! We then climbed 230 stairs to get to the top of it´s tower for a bird´s eye view of the city! That night we sampled some of Valencia´s finest Agua de Valencia, which is a mix of orange juice, champagne or cava, vodka and gin. We then danced the night/morning away at a local club!

Valencia, Spain's third largest city, is one of the best examples of a mix of old Spain and new Spain. This day was dedicated to new Spain. The morning started early with a trip to Valencia's aquarium in the Village of Arts and Sciences. The aquarium was one of the best I've ever seen with huge tanks dedicated to countless species of aquatic life. The entire Arts and Sciences Village is what Valencia is known for. The broad street that runs along Valencia's coast of the Mediterranean is full of contemporary buildings designed by architects such as Santiago Calatrava (yes, the same man who designed the Milwaukee Art Museum). After seeing an IMAX in Spanish and taking pictures with the life-sized dinosaur, it was time to head home, but not before we sampled paella!