Lucky

Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting at Starbucks (per usual) reflecting on the past week with my family that flew by faster than you can say patatas. It feels like just yesterday I was picking them up at the airport (chocolate napolitanas in hand), anxious to spend a week showing off my temporary home. They were only here a week, but as I am sure they can attest to, we squeezed in a few weeks of activity… and food.

Dylan’s favorite find? Churros and chocolate. I only had it one time before they got here but now can successfully say I have sampled it at four different places and it really is crazy how each place tastes just a little bit different. Mom’s new jam? Tortilla española and pisto. And my dad really tried to embrace the Spanish culture, refusing to order cafe con leche at Starbucks like the rest of the family, and instead, heading to Pans & Co. next door like a “true” Spaniard.

I was the most antsy I have ever been in my life waiting for my family to get here. It is the first time we have had a week to spend together since I graduated from high school, and besides the few hours of class that got in the way on Tuesday, it really was like a normal fall break like I remember! I ate the best meals I have had in months, travelled to Sevilla, and enjoyed the time we all go to spend together sans cell phones, TV, and all those other silly distractions that interfere with togetherness at home.

In Madrid we spent time in Retiro, la Reina Sofia (art museum I wrote about before), el Museo de Prado, la Plaza Mayor, and they even got to meet my señora! We spent Tuesday and Wednesday night in Sevilla where we toured the amazing cathedral, Alcazar, bullfight musuem, intimate flamenco show and all the cute little side streets.

I could write for days about how great of a week it was but I am hoping my dad can guest blog it up with his description of the trip which would be both entertaining and give you his take on the whole experience. Here are some pictures that show you some quick highlights!

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Self time photo from the Rose Garden in Retiro

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Dylan and dad with one of the many gelatos we ate during the week!

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The fam with their calamari sandwiches

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Last night in la Puerta del Sol!

The last night, my mom said “You don’t know how lucky you are,” and the truth is, I think that I really, really do.

Day by Day

It seems like at the beginning of every week my friends and me have hopes of having a “Cultural Week” where we get out and explore new places. I tend to do that a lot on my own anyways, but they are starting to get motivation to do the same. Although I had tentative plans to head north to Galicia this weekend with Taylor, once we realized lots of people would be in town, we decided to save the trip for another time and stick around in Madrid. I was excited because although I absolutely love getting out and traveling, it is nice just to lay low in Madrid and not be so exhausted come Sunday. But seeing as we were staying here, I also wanted to make sure that we made the most of it, and overall, it was a very successful week!

For starters, on Tuesday night a group of us went to a hole-in-the wall bar called Cuevas de Sesamo. Walking along the street you would never know it was there, but I read online that it had really good sangria and was a favorite spot for locals. So I convinced people to go and see what it’s all about, and it ended up being so cool! It’s a darker bar and from what I can tell, mainly just serves sangria (or that is all that I saw on people’s tables). They have famous quotes on the walls and a piano player who just plays nice music while you hang out. I really loved this place and will definitely go back.

Piano man providing some nice background music

Piano man providing some nice background music

Wednesday afternoon, I met up with a friend to go to el Museo de Traje, or Clothing Museum. Students get in free which was a pleasant surprise and we just walked around for about an hour. It was arranged from oldest to newest and was more or less a survey of the fashion from Spain. It was definitely interesting and from what I hear, changes frequently so I will probably return at some point or another! After, I decided to go exploring in the district Malasana, which I read had great boutique shopping. I went and ended up finding some of the cutest stores with tons of great handmade jewelry, clothing, and shoes. I even found three vintage stores that had some really cool clothes, as well. My big buy of the day? Hummus! It is virtually non-existent here but I found it at a prepared food place and just could not resist. I immediately went out and got some vegetables to go with it and lemme tell you, I am a happy camper!

What is better than Grease in English? GREASE IN SPANISH. And yes, we are talking Summer Nights, We Go Together, Hand Jive mania. My friends had an extra ticket for Thursday night that I eagerly accepted. It was one of the most entertaining things I have seen here and just made me laugh how they did all that they could to emulate the movie from outfits, hair, to dance moves. The cast was definitely talented and it was a very well put together production, just very very funny. I am happy I got to see at least one musical while I was here, and Grease was definitely interesting to see and compare the translations from English to Spanish. One glaring difference between their musical theater and ours is how they do not feel the need to be as conservative. For instance, there was one song where the boys were dancing in a towel only, and then the angels in Beauty School Dropout were basically wearing bikinis.

Also, after seeing three different shows here I have caught on to the trend that curtain calls are much longer than I am used to. It seems as if each person bows at least 5 times and you are expected to clap the ENTIRE time. This curtain call contained an encore and I almost felt like I was watching the entire show again. Regardless, it was so much fun!

I’m in a class here called Art in the Prado for which we have five visits to the Prado that count as class. We had our first one Friday and I was excited to finally get to the Prado. We have been studying El Greco so spent the two hours focusing on his paintings and it was definitely rewarding to see the paintings in real life that we have been analyzing in class. Next time, I definitely want to stick around the Prado after our class and see more but after I went and met up with Taylor for a picnic in Retiro that has been on our to-do list. The weather is still amazing here and it was so nice to relax and read in the outdoors. The trees are also all changing colors and it really made me feel like fall was coming! We also walked around the park because she had never been to it and this time, the Crystal Palace was open which was awesome because it was under renovation the last time I went. It was gorgeous inside and just a really cool structure.DSC00834

We also ran into the Fallen Angel statue, which is said to be the only statue of Lucifer in the world. It when he fell from heaven and just one of the many statues around the park!DSC00840

After, we went to the American Store that sells over-priced American goods like Peter Pan peanut butter and Funfetti frosting. Although I was not intrigued by any of the offerings, Pat was happy to see they had Ramen so picked up some of that. That night, Taylor and me went back to Malasana to go to a restaurant that I read had the best burgers in Madrid called Home. Even though it’s essentially a small burger bar where the menus come printed on brown paper bags, you have to make reservations but it is so worth it and definitely one of the best meals I have had here!

Salamanca is a city in Spain that is most famous for it’s Plaza Mayor and University of Salamanca. They also have two cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and New Cathedral that are gorgeous. It is a train ride away that takes two and a half hours so it is an easy day trip, although I hear that it is a lot of fun at night too since it is such a student-town. Taylor and me decided to go for Saturday afternoon since we had it free and both wanted to go while we were living here. We got in and began our sightseeing with the cathedrals, which were so large and pretty. After, we headed to the Plaza Mayor for lunch and to people watch. I absolutely loved their Plaza Mayor. It’s bigger than the one in Madrid and is infested with people, but unlike tourists that flood the one in Madrid, here, it is all locals just relaxing during the afternoon. We then went to the University for a quick tour and it was so cool! I cannot believe students actually attend the school because it just seems too historic and beautiful to be used for actual class. We walked around a little bit more, and ended up back at la Plaza Mayor where there were lots of parades going on. Overall, I loved Salamanca and could totally see why people would go there to study.

The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca

The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca

Today we went to a bullfight! It is the last one of the season so made sure that we got to it because I know I would have regretted studying abroad in Spain and never seeing a bullfight. I am not too sure I actually wrapped my head around what actually takes place during a bullfight, however. There are six bulls and three matadors that are the main players. They go one by one and each bull takes about 25 minutes to kill. They begin with men getting the bull riled up, then two men on horses take the first jabs at it with a spear, and then finally the matador comes to finish the job. Each round is different, depending on how upset the bull gets and how good the matador is at stabbing it. For instance, one bull died after only one stabbing, while another one took about three. All of it depends on the skill of the matador. One of the scariest moments of the fight was when one bull escaped the ring right in front of us. The man in front of me spilt his drink everywhere, and people started running for the door, scared that the bull was going to come to our section. I grabbed onto Taylor for dear life, and prayed that I would escape unscathed seeing as I am not quite sure I could avoid its horns as well as the matador. The whole idea of bullfighting is definitely disheartening when you think about the fact that so many bulls are killed weekly all around Spain for recreation. It is definitely hard to watch the first one, but by the end you get used to the blood and grunting coming from the bulls (whether or not that is a good thing, I’m not quite sure). However, tonight at dinner I talked with one of my senoras son-in-laws about the art and value of bullfights. To them, it is a symbol of life and truly an art form. There are very famous matadors (that can make 120,000 Euro per fight!) that are very skilled at the artistry of the fight to the point where spectators are moved to tears. Although we did not see any of that tonight, we definitely got a taste of an ancient tradition unlike anything I have ever seen.

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So when I sat down to write this blog, I did not intend to describe each and every day but now that I have, I realized that it was a very productive week and I am absolutely exhausted! This week should be a lot calmer as I anxiously wait for my family to get here

Soakin’ up the sun one final weekend!

Happy Dia de la Hispanidad! Yeah. I don’t know the significance either but it gave me the day off of school (not that I usually go to school on Mondays anyway…) but a chance for my other friends who do actually attend school to also have the day off! Knowing that I wanted to take advantage of our good luck, I looked up cheap flight tickets to anywhere that had an airport! After throwing around some options, me and my friend Anna decided to head to Palma de Mallorca which is on the island of Mallorca of the Islas Baleares.

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Nobody really seems to know what those are from the states, but basically, two groups of islands are part of Spain- las Islas Canarias and las Islas Baleares. Most people recognize the name of the island Ibiza which is also one of the Islas Baleares. Mallorca is the capital of the Islas and Palma is the capital of that! Ok moving on from the quick geography lesson…

We arrived on Friday night about two minutes before our hostel closed down the reception desk which was extremely lucky seeing as we had already paid for the room that night. Our hostel ended up not being too shabby, although I think it is safe to say we got pretty spoiled in Lisbon, which may not have been the best first hostel experience seeing as every other place probably won’t be as nice. Either way, we had a nice room with two twin beds, our own bathroom, and a balcony with a view of the ocean!

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

When we asked for a good place to eat dinner around the area, the owner looked a little incredulous and pointed to a place across the street called “Snack Cristian’s Bar” that looked a little sketchy. So we left the hostel, and instead hit up the Chinese restaurant next door. After some Beef and Brocolli and Sweet and Sour Chicken, we were quite satisfied and headed back to the hostel to go to sleep.

We woke up early on Saturday and ate the breakfast that they provided which was not bad at all! Since the weather was a little cloudy, we decided to get the sightseeing out of the way and headed to the city center of Palma (we stayed in a town outside of Palma called S’Arenal) on a bus that only took about 25 minutes. Once there, we did a two hour walking tour that I had copied down from the hostel. It took us all through the city and past the main sights. The gem of the city is definitely the Cathedral that we opted to go inside of and explore. It was absolutely gorgeous from the inside and out. And even though it strictly said no pictures, that did not stop most people.

Cathedral from the outside...

Cathedral from the outside...

... and the inside.

... and the inside.

Next, we got tickets for an old train to the town of Soller that is North of Palma. It is known for it’s orange, lemon, and olive trains, and was such a nice place. From the city we took another old tram up to the Port of Soller which was breathtaking. We enjoyed a very tasty lunch overlooking the beautiful port. We both decided that we could take our honeymoon there, but after reading the Ryanair magazine on the way over, I decided I am honeymooning in Greece, but I would say Soller would be a nice second option.

Anna and me at the port!

Anna and me at the port!

We then took the tram then train back to Palma. Then the bus back to S’Arenal to relax and rest since we had a busy day. We decided to order pizza, buy a cheap bottle of wine, and sit on the beach for the evening and it was splendid! We went to bed that night with crossed fingers that the weather would be nice enough to spend the day on the beach.

And it was! Around 10 we took the five second walk to the beach and enjoyed a very nice day of reading and relaxing on the beach, with a quick break at a restaurant on the boardwalk for lunch of pizza (for Anna) and Weiner schnitzel for me! Now let me explain…

One funny part of S’Arenal is that it caters to German tourists. Literally every place has a sign in Spanish and English or sometimes just one (and it is usually German). It was so funny to get a taste of the German culture and see just how big of an influence they had over this town. However, I did meet one Irish man and he let me know to one side of Palma is where all the Germans stay and the other side is where all the Irish and British tourists stay (hence the reason he opted for our side!)

Before I left, I went to my favorite book shop and traded in the book I bought last time for “A Million Little Pieces” which is just one of those books that everyone always read that I just never got a hold of. However, I did not realize just how depressing this book is. For those who don’t know, it is a memoir of a recovering drug and alcohol addict. Although it is very good and interesting, it is not the kind of book you want to read while relaxing on the beach. So instead, Anna and me perused our hostel bookshelf and pulled out two British romantic fiction books that we both started and finished during our day. While Anna enjoyed hers, mine was not as good, but hey, it just added to our International experience.

My pride and joy of the day

My pride and joy of the day

That night, we headed back into Palma for dinner, but not before watching the sunset from our beach.

DSC00816It was absolutely gorgeous. Once we got to Palma we walked around for a good amount of time, hoping to find some Mallorcan cuisine that was not going to bust our bank. That turned out to be pretty difficult, and we ended up eating at an Indian restaurant that was SO good and the inside of the restaurant was actually very ornate. I feel like we stumbled upon a little gem in Palma.

Chinese? Pizza? Indian? Not your typical Spanish food but we decided that in the end, we really needed a break. You can only eat paella and tortilla so much. One thing that we did do was try what Mallorca is really known for which is a pastry called an ensaimada. It is a sweet doughy croissant type pastry with powdered sugar on top. Although I failed in getting a picture of ours, here is one I found online!

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Everyone was bringing these home from the airport today and it was funny watching people try to stuff their big round box of ensaimada into their one bag allowed on the plane.

And now we are back in Madrid and back to the school grind tomorrow! If you can call it a grind.

Silencio!

So I got one of the greatest texts of my life yesterday afternoon from my friend Anna telling me that they snagged me a ticket to see Casa de Bernarda Alba that night with their theater class! The group from Furman takes all of their classes together and since they have been in this theater class, they had a special field trip planned that I was quite jealous of. I’ve read and studied Casa de Bernarda Alba for multiple classes (including Advanced Acting where we attempted to do it in English!) and seeing it live felt like the perfect reward for all the time I have invested!

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So alas, I met up with the group that night and we journeyed to the theater. I pictured it to be pretty standard, but this was nothing of the sort. Instead of the huge auditorium we went to for the flamenco show, this complex was once an old slaughterhouse called el Matadero, giving it a very urban feel. Once we entered the theater, I was surprised yet again. It was almost in the round but instead, had a a long rectangle of a stage in the middle and then 10 steep rows on either side of the long rectangle. Basically, you were looking at the other half of the audience the whole time that was a mirror reflection of you. But it really wasn’t distracting because you were focusing what was going on on-stage the whole time. Hopefully that makes somewhat of sense.

Either way, it was SO cool to not only see a play, but to actually be familiar with it beforehand. Also, some of the actresses in it are really famous here in Spain so that was cool too. It was extremely well done and I won’t bore you with details, but it was a pleasure to enjoy!

Tomorrow I head out for Palma de Mallorca with my amiga Anna. We are planning on relaxing on the beach and exploring the island which should be a blast!

Lovin’ on Lisbon

Just got home from Portugal! It’s weird how I can say that so nonchalantly seeing as I was in a completely different country and it only took 50 minutes to get there. Anyways, a group of 8 of us went to Lisbon for the weekend. I got there bright and early on Friday and we left Sunday morning. Although it was a quick trip, it was definitely enough time to see what we needed to see.

I got there at seven in the morning (Travel Tip: Do NOT book flights that leave at before seven in the morning). Although I am glad that I got to spend the day exploring the city, the whole leave the house at 3:45am to take a taxi to the airport because the metro isn’t running is not ideal. In return, I ran the whole day on an hour of sleep but thankfully, the excitement of being in a new place kept me going!

So the night before I did lots of Lisbon research to decide how I wanted to spend my day since the rest of the group was not arriving until four in the afternoon. When I first got there, I grabbed a map and set foot for the bus that would take me into the heart of the city. I decided to go as far south as possible and work my way up. I first saw the Se Cathedral.

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Then while wondering I ran into Castelo de Sao Tome. I knew that this was something I needed to see so waited for it to open and then waltzed around the castle for about an hour. It was so neat and had the best view of the city from the top.

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After, I proceeded to get lost on some side streets but knew I just needed to keep walking north. It was pretty hot so an escape to a museum sounded nice. I went to Gulbekian Museum which was a private art collection. Turns out it was free that day which was a pleasant surprise and I walked around looking at all the different art. It was a pretty standard museum but it also had a garden outside that was really pretty.

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After, I was hungry so sat down at a café and tried to prolong my break as long as possible but that can be hard to do while traveling alone. By this point, I was exhausted and so decided to just go to the airport and wait there for my travel companions. I ended up waiting a couple hours and it was nice just to relax but I was definitely anxious for them to get there! Once they did, we made our way to our hostel. It was definitely so much nicer than I imagined hostels to be. She greeted us with Toblerone, they had breakfast everyday, a lounge with a big screen, movies and videogames, free Internet and the beds were rather comfy! We also had a 10-person room and since there were 8 of us, we all stayed together and it was like a giant sleepover. We all took time to refresh ourselves and get ready for dinner. We went to a place recommended by the hostel with Portuguese food that was AMAZING. I had read that Portuguese bread is really good, and it really was. I got a fish and rice dish that was so flavorful and spicy, I could have ate it all day!

After, we went to a hotspot in the city center with a bunch of different bars and places to pop into. We were all pretty tired so called it an early night so we could have a productive day in the morning.

We started Saturday in Belem, a little neighborhood outside of the city center that you can take a tram to. There is a famous pastry shop there called Pasteis de Belem that specializes in just that. It was a warm vanilla custard tart that you add cinnamon and sugar to and eat! I wish I could have brought some home.

DSC00724After, we walked the boardwalk and saw the famous Tower of Belem and some other cool sights. Then, we took the tram back to the city, had a delicious lunch, and the girls wanted to also go to the castle I ventured through the day before. So while they did that, I explored the flea market that they have every Saturday. Getting there was an experience. While the man at the hostel said that it was right around the castle, as I started walking there I realized that was not the case. I kept asking people for directions (thankfully, most people speak English there) but kept feeling like I was going in the wrong direction. While getting directions from the owner of a shop, an old man (probably around 70) walks out waving his arms to follow him. I then proceed to walk him for about ten minutes. All the while, he keeps trying to talk to me in Portuguese (which I clearly don’t understand), while also throwing in some Spanish words so that I could maybe understand him. I was definitely relieved when we arrived at the market because the more we walked, the more worried I was that he did not understand where I wanted to go. There were so many people there selling all sorts of knick knacks, I didn’t have any cash on me or else I could probably have spent a little of money. Then we all reunited for some ice cream before we returned to the hostel to refresh ourselves for the rest of the evening.

We had, yet again, another wonderful meal at a restaurant situated on a steep walkway towards the same area we went to the night before. I had the chef’s special of the day which was an almost scramble of fish, potato, egg, and some other stuff. After, we walked around a little bit and ended up at a karaoke bar which provided solid entertainment for a little bit! Eventually, our walking all day caught up to us and we were not able to stay out for much longer.

Today, our flight was delayed three hours and we were so excited to hear we got a free lunch in exchange. Thinking that it was going to be really good (because we ran into a friend who got placed in a 5 star hotel the night before and a 60 euro breakfast from the same company for his cancelled flight) we were not that upset. However, the lunch was not good and we were all very antsy to get back to Madrid by the end of the day.

This was also my first experience with Portuguese which is a very interesting language to listen to. I read that it is the 6th most spoken language in the world which is fascinating to me. Although I could read most signs since it is very similar to Spanish, it still sounds nothing alike. We were all so relieved to get back to Madrid and hear Spanish again. But like I said before, thankfully, Lisbon is rather touristy and caters to all languages so it really was not too hard to get by!

So that was my weekend, definitely jam-packed but I am so happy that we made this trip. On the agenda for this week is the start of actual classes, then I head to Palma de Mallorca on Friday for the weekend.

I am rather sad about Madrid not getting the Olympic bid. They were so ready and it breaks my heart thinking about all the hope that they had but I presume Rio de Janeiro will be fine as well… Madrid 2020?

From the Olympic Rally the weekend before the decision was announced!

From the Olympic Rally the weekend before the decision was announced!

Free week!

So good news is that I made it through my finals! Don’t know my grades on them but nevertheless, they are over! That also means that I have a week off before I start my normal classes on Tuesday. I have celebrated by wondering around and doing things like getting my nails done, exploring a English bookshop/cafe, eating sushi (FINALLY!), crepes, and going out!

Today we took a quick 30 minute train ride to Toledo to explore for the day. We ate lunch in the plaza then walked around for about 3 hours and saw the beautiful cathedral, museums, and other hidden treasures. They also are famous for their mazapan so of course we sampled some of that! It was sooo good. Toledo is such a beautiful little town and I love the cobblestoned alleyways.

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It was nice to get out of Madrid for the afternoon and explore a new city! I have to make this short because I have to leave for the airport in 4 hours to go to Lisbon, Portugal! I will be sure to write when I return!