Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The End.

As of right now, I have just under 36 hours left here in Spain. One day. Would would have thought that time could and would pass so quickly? (Even though that is just what my mother told me in December)

Am I ready to leave? Yes and no. I'm ready to see my dog. I'm ready to sleep in my own bed again. I'm ready to drive my car and not be reliant upon public transportation. As far as school is concerned, I'm ready to return to IWU and be away from the ever-crazy Fundación. I'm ready to go back to eating dinner before 10 pm. I'm ready to be back to air that smells like spring and not like cigarette smoke. I am ready to be free of the thousands of creepy pigeons that reside here.

Yet on the other hand, I'm not ready to go back to a place where there is nothing to do, especially after 9 pm. I'm not ready to leave behind the little stores where the people know my face and exactly what I want when I walk in - such as the bakery where the lady always calls me ¨cariño¨ (it's like saying "darling" or "sweetheart") or the butcher/deli where they men always flirt and flatter me. I'll miss the fresh produce. I'll miss the museums, the park, the shopping. I'll miss the food. I'll miss the rich culture that surrounds me everywhere I go. I'll miss being surrounded by the Spanish language. As much as I hate the pigeons, I'll miss being entertained by the males doing their funny mating dances that remind me so much of men in bars. Most of all, I'll miss my family here. I'll miss cooking dinner with Carmen every night and having that time to catch up and find out about each others' lives.

Yet I know that the experiences that I have had here will stay with me forever. I'm coming back home more independent, more courageous (heck, I've taken the metro at 1:30 am by myself - if that isn't courage then I don't know what is) and more sure of myself and my Spanish. I know that if God wills to send me to another country some time in the future that I can handle it and be perfectly fine. I know that I can even handle living in a big city if I have to, although if given the choice I sill prefer my small towns. I'm coming home with new friends, new family, new cultural quirks (I apologize in advance for the Spanish colloquialisms that may slip into everyday conversation). As if I wasn't quirky enough.

Good semester? Understatement. Am I going to miss it here? Undeniably. Am I ready to have another experience like this one? If that is what God wants for me, then you bet.

So for now, folks, that's it from Spain. I'll be seeing you at 2 pm on Friday at O'Hare Airport, terminal 5. I expect to see big bouquets of flowers. Just kidding.

Un beso,

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The List

The other day my friend compiled a list on Facebook of things that will make her think of Spain, omitting the obvious things like Flamenco dancers, paella, etc. At any rate, I decided to make my own list and share it here with you. *A few of these are courtesy of my friend*

- So-called "French" baguettes
- Heinously ugly pants (parachute pants, really ugly jeans)
- Heinously ugly men's hairstyles that I formerly thought died with the '80s and '90s (the mullet, rat tails, one long dreadlock on a otherwise shaved head)
- People dressed like Eskimos in near-80-degree weather
- Olive oil
- Futbol (soccer) and crazy soccer fans
- Clotheslines/drying racks
- UHT milk: AKA, milk that never has to be refrigerated
- Smokers
- Tiny dogs wearing coats/sweaters
- Staying out so long that you hear the same songs twice, even though you know there are other songs from which the DJ could choose (The Spaniards' favorite: "My dream is to fly over the high")
- Fish staring at me from my plate
- People who get louder and speak faster when angry
- People who get louder and speak faster when not angry
- Free newspapers (and never understanding how that works)
- Public transportation and being confused by it
- Accordians
- Gypsies
- Crazy motorcyclists weaving through rush-hour traffic
- Motorcycles parked on the sidewalk
- Illegal street vendors
- Oranges
- Terrible customer service
- "Petty" theft
- Terraces
- Discount airlines
- Bizarre alcohol combos (Coke and wine, beer and lemon Fanta)
- Custard-filled pastries
- Having to hunt to find the nutritional information, which may or may not even be there
- Being given said information in terms of 100-gram portions, even if said food is packaged in 225 gram serving-sizes
- Always getting at least one receipt copy
- Television programs starting at odd times (10:20, 11:50, 9:35...)
- Tiny elevators
- People running you over to get down the escalator faster

Just a short list of the many things that, from here on out, will cause me to think of Spain.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Luck o' the Irish

Ah, Ireland! I can honestly not tell you how long I have wanted to go there, and this past weekend I finally did! (Although I'm sure my mother has wanted to go there longer, but only because she's older than me...)

Cassie and I flew out Friday morning and arrived around lunch time in Dublin. (And by lunch time, I do not mean the middle of the afternoon like in Spain - Yes! A country with normal meal times!) It took a while to find our hostel though due to the fact that, unfortunately for us, neither of us has ever figured out how buses work. In any country. Seriously. We thought we were on the main street...turns out we were quite a ways away. Luckily a number of Irish men took pity on us as we stood on the sidewalk looking at our janky map torn out of Cassie's Europe guide book and pointed us in the right direction. I do say a number of Irish men though as each time we were only able to follow their directions for about two blocks before we got confused again...

At any rate, we finally arrived at our hostel and took the afternoon to visit the National Gallery, which was free (it was apparent why), get the best Chai Tea Latte I have ever had, flirt with the two guys working at the coffee shop and explore Trinity College in the rain, hitting up a couple of pubs in Temple Bar later that evening.

A few words about our hostel: It was not until the middle of the night on Friday that the words "12 person mixed dorm" actually connected in my brain when I woke up to the sound of a man coughing. It was at that point that I became concerned about the shower situation. The reason was this: there was one bathroom for the 12 people, with one toilet (luckily with a stall door), one sink, one shower that had a clear glass door (no curtain, nothing to block you off from the sink or toilet area) and no lock. As I was the first one up I was able to shower quickly with no issue of men walking in on me. Unfortunately poor Cassie was not quite as blessed. That's all I'll say about that.

Although they did serve a really good breakfast.

So Saturday we had reservations to go on a bus tour through Wicklow County. I was so excited to be getting out into the countryside; granted, we gave up seeing the touristy sites in the city, but I really have probably seen enough castles and cathedrals to last me a lifetime. I wanted to see some of what God created. It was amazing. The tour stopped at DunLaoghaire (Dun-Leery) Harbour just outside of Dublin, a coffee stop in Avoca where we had the best Pear and Vanilla scones with the best raspberry jam, a stop in Sally Gap where a number of films have been done (and at which point our bus driver/tour guide was handing out shots of whiskey...), a lunch stop and a tour of Glendalough, a 6th century monastic settlement. Glendalough included such things as this incredibly old cemetery (they didn't start labeling the graves until 1720 and there were a ton of unmarked ones), the remains of a church built in the 600's and one of the only buildings left in Europe with a stone roof. And the oldest Celtic Cross standing in Europe (erected in the 800's or the 8th century, I can't remember which. Either way, it's really old). Did you know that the Celtic Cross has never been acknowledged by the Vatican because the circle originally represented the sun, as the sun god was one of the pagan people's main gods and pretty much all of Ireland was pagan before they started converting them to Catholicism (the point of the monastic settlement, in fact). Now you know. Oh, and we drove through the peat bogs. I had never seen a bog before (and really, where would I have?) and it was pretty cool, though I did find the idea of a bog hole kind of freaky. It was sad that the heather wasn't blooming or else everything would have been gorgeously purple. But it was still amazing as it was. All of it. I have never seen such shades of green in nature before. God's creation blows my mind.

That night we spent a large chunk of time camped out at this tea and coffee place (a different one from before), then decided to call it an early night. Sunday brought a wee bit of shopping, napping in St. Steven's Green and walking around the city a bit before flying back to Spain.

So to sum up why I am in love with Ireland: Gorgeous green everywhere. The Irish people really are some of the nicest you will meet. Their scones rocked. Loads of tea. Peat bogs make the world a more interesting place. Lots of sheep and brown bread.

On a slightly less jolly note, this will be my last weekend in Spain as we fly home next Friday morning. At least one final blog to come before then.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Semana Santa

Ok, so I know I've been a bad girl and did not blog while Momma and Daddy were here (outside of Momma's guest blog), but I was not able to put my pictures on my computer and, as you will see soon, pictures were necessary to this blog.

Since I'm now attempting to cover 10 days here, I'll just give you a list of the top 5 highlights of the week:

5. 2/3 of the family ending the week with the stomach flu. Yeah, I know, not exactly a highlight. Saturday I had it, Sunday Daddy got it. And poor Momma was stuck in the hotel room with us, wishing she could run away. Lots of reading time, anyone? Boo, hiss.

4. Interesting taxi rides. As previously mentioned in Momma's entry, on the way to the hotel from picking them up from the airport, we ended up with the one old fart in Madrid who did not have a GPS in his taxi and had never heard of either our hotel or the street it was on. So what does he do? Pulls out this book that was like an index of every street in Madrid. Now, I'm not entirely sure what this book was supposed to do to help him, as I never actually saw a map, but we did find the hotel, so it must have done something. Later in the week we had to take another taxi due to the metro being broken and ended up with some guy who was very interested in asking me all about who I liked better, Bush or Obama? The Spanish are quite interested in our politics, though I don't think they are quite as gung-ho about their own.

3. Almost seeing ancient torture instruments. Tuesday we took a day-trip to Toledo, which was far more tourist-packed than it had been in January. We took the train, only we all got on and sat down without considering that we probably had assigned seats on our tickets. Luckily we realized that we were dip-wads in the wrong seats before anyone else any rate, while in Toledo we kept seeing these signs for this exhibition of ancient torture instruments. I really wanted to go, but kept getting poo-pooed by a certain parent of mine. We did try to find it before we left but that labyrinth of a town foiled me just like it foiled me at 11 pm in January.

2. Picnicking in Retiro Park. I'm pretty sure Momma would live there if she could. Now, Retiro is quite huge and there were about a million people milling around, yet what amazed Momma and Daddy (and me at some point, though I've gotten used to it) was how clean the park still was even after an entire day of literally thousands of people walking around it. Also, they were having some sort of special sculpture exhibition, so I of course took the opportunity to pretend to be a number of statues. Unfortunately the pictures are on Momma's computer, so you won't get to see me looking oh-so-attractive. A let down, I'm sure.

1. Santa Teresa's dead finger. Yes, you read that right. Wednesday we took a train to Ávila, a little town in Castilla Leon. This time we knew to look for our own seats. Anyway, this town´s main saint was St. Theresa - she apparently lived there for a large portion of her life. I encourage you to Google/Wikipedia her - she was a totally bizarre woman. As a child she and her brother ran away in the desire to be martyred by the Muslims. Their uncle caught them and brought them back home before they succeeded. Anyway, in Ávila, there is the Convent of Santa Teresa, and next door is this little room with a variety of items that belonged to her, including the ring finger of her right hand. Yes, there in a little glass - no formaldehyde or anything - sits her 400-year-old finger. Apparently once she became a saint they decided to exhume her body, cut it up and divide the pieces between her admirers. I guess this finger sat by Franco´s bedside for a number of years. What a freak. Anyway, you were not supposed to take pictures of it, but if you think Momma and I were going to pass up having pictures of the dead finger, you´re crazy. We were delighted. Disgusted, yet delighted.

I love my life. I also love that my parents were equally entranced by this finger as I was. Or at least Momma was - I think Daddy was more entranced by how entranced we were.

Other events of the week included touring the Royal Palace, shopping, and seeing a Semana Santa procession (interesting in and of itself). Good week - nice to relax and get to see Momma and Daddy.

Less than three weeks left here! So hard to believe.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Julie Chronicles

¡Hola! This is Julie. I’m borrowing Stephie’s blog so that I don’t have to make my own! We arrived Friday morning after a long plane ride, highlighted by no sleep and a long layover in tacky JFK airport that clearly has had little done to it since Kennedy was shot. Somewhere along the line, we lost Thursday night and flew into Spain as the sun was rising. I had a window seat, and as I looked out on the terrain, my thought was “gee, those clouds are pokey clouds” and then I realized that I was looking at mountains. Ok. Apparently, I’ve never flown over mountains. As we approached Madrid, we saw perfect squares of little green dots, which reminded me of polka-dot swiss fabric, and then realized that these were groves of olive trees. They were very cool looking. I also remarked that as you fly into Madrid, you realize that there are NO houses. None. All that you see are lots and lots of apartment houses intermingled with other buildings. Anyway, we arrived safely on the ground around 9 AM and happily greeted Stephie, who was waiting patiently for us. We then got a taxi and somehow found the one taxi in Madrid who did not have a GPS system and did not have any idea where our hotel was. We finally found it (and he graciously turned off the meter while he figured out where he was going), and checked ourselves into our home-away-from-home for the next ten days.

I had gotten a burst of energy by this time, so Stephie, Jerry and I headed out to see her school and pick up her clothes from the apartment. We found a place to eat that had great food! Apparently, Franco was this poopy, mean dictator that everyone hated, but one thing that he did was declare that the restaurants had to make a daily menu that included for one low price an entree, a drink and a dessert to save people money! So, for that alone, Franco deserves a gold star. Anyway, I got a dinner with veal, Russian potatoes, and some other good stuff, dessert and a Coke! Now, if you are a Pepsi person, you won’t like Madrid, because they serve Coke. Considering that I think that Pepsi is awful, I’m pretty dang happy that when I order a Coke, I get a Coke. PLUS, it’s served in a bottle! I was so happy. It took me back to when I was a little girl and would go to the mill on a Saturday morning, and have Daddy pull out a Coke from his machine. Jerry and I decided that something happens to the taste when it is canned. They serve it cold in the bottle with a tall glass of ice and a lemon slice. Delicious!! Then, a yummy dessert! The downside is that you are pretty dang stuffed, and you really don’t need that dessert, but you’ve paid for it, so you feel obliged to eat it. Plus, you walk it off hoofing it everywhere. So, it’s like not even eating dessert, calorie-wise.

Today, the three of us headed to Plaza Major, the Royal Palace and other cool places. We shopped and just generally wandered around. Another wonderful meal, which we all three got Paella and then the second course was a leg of lamb, followed by flan for dessert. All for about $15 each. A country that loves carbohydrates, lamb and dessert! And the pastries!! Clearly, my goal of returning to Metamora fatter and more broke is coming true!

I wish that you were all here with us enjoying this trip, but since you aren’t, I’ll eat a pastry for each of you! Stephie will write more soon. Adios!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Musings from across the pond...

(Yes, I realize that is usually used in relation to England, but I still find it applicable here...)

Some things I've been thinking on recently:

1. No matter what the weather is doing, the Madrileños are complaining about it. I seriously thought that this was just a cold weather thing, as it truly was colder than the average winter when we arrived. Yet they continued to complain about the cold when it got to be 40 degrees...50 degrees...55 degrees...and then when it hit around 60 or 65, they started complaining that it was too hot. I also thought for a while that this was just a Carmen thing, but it appears that it is fairly widespread.

I would like to point out, however, that when they are complaining about the heat, most of them are still dressed in long pants, layered long sleeves, and perhaps a scarf and boots to top it off. Seriously, put on some sandals and a t-shirt. It truly does wonders for the heat factor.

2. Spanish has taken over my brain. Clearly this is more of a me thing than a Spain thing, but recently it has come to my attention that I no longer know how to spell a variety of words in English - I can only seem to come up with their Spanish spellings. This isn´t too bad until I try to message my poor mother and she has to continually tell me how to spell things correctly...

3. While Spanish drivers are crazy, they actually do give pedestrians the right-of-way. Any time there is a cross walk but no light, the pedestrian always has the right-of-way. Randomly cross in front of a car in Peoria, even at a cross walk, and prepare to be road-kill.

4. Though the drivers can be trusted, the motorcyclists cannot. You know in those movies about big cities how they´ll show some motorcyclist weaving his way through traffic, not staying in any real lane, or driving up on the sidewalk like a crazy-person? Turns out, that actually happens.

5. The dogs here are better behaved than the children back home. I may have mentioned this before, but there are lots of dogs in Madrid, most of which are tiny, wear sweaters when it is cold, and frequently get walked without leashes, yet never stray from their owners. What is more, the owners will go into a store or restaurant and leave their dogs waiting for them on the sidewalk outside, where they sit patiently, without moving. This continues to blow my mind.

Momma and Daddy countdown: 4 days!!!!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Canterbury Tales

Sorry, couldn't resist the obvious title.

This weekend brought a nice long break for us students: Thursday was a national holiday celebrating some saint (please do not ask me to remember which one) and, simultaneously, father's day. Thus, no classes. And for whatever marvelous reason, we did not have classes on Monday either, giving us all a 5-day break. Woot! So I took this opportunity to fly up to England and visit my friend Sam (we went to middle and high school together, he now goes to ISU) in Canterbury, where he is studying for the semester.

I have to say that it is a testament to our friendship that I made the trek to Canterbury to visit him. Not only did this trip require a flight to London, but once at the airport I had to hop on a train to the train station, then from there take an 1 1/2 hour train ride to Canterbury. Exhausting.

The weekend gave me the chance to recover though. Apart from seeing the Canterbury Cathedral, we spent the majority of the time relaxing and simply seeing a bit of the city. On Sunday, Sam, myself, and his friend Jessica (also an ISU student studying there) decided to take the bus to Whitstable, a little town on the coast. Now normally this would have been a 20-30 minute bus ride, but because it was Sunday, there was only one bus that had to go to every bus stop in England, thereby making the trip last over an hour. Once there, we walked along the beach, ate some traditional English food (and some ice cream...) and generally lazied around. It was when we decided to catch the bus home that things got interesting. We got to the bus stop about 10 minutes before the Sunday bus was scheduled to come. As we are sitting there waiting, this bus drives by us without stopping. We didn't think too much about it until this English couple came up all distressed that the bus had driven by without stopping...and it was then that we realized that it had been the bus we needed and that the next bus would not come for another hour. When we finally got the next bus (and all of us with full bladders, though we could not find any open public bathrooms, darn Europe), it ended up being the longest, bumpiest ride in the history of the world. We literally crawled off the bus over an hour later, all of us with headaches and feeling rather sick. The other passengers did not appear to be faring any better.

Yet despite the worst bus ride of any of our lives, I had quite a nice time in Canterbury. It was great getting to catch up with Sam and just spend a weekend relaxing and not worrying about a schedule or homework or anything else.

Momma and Daddy countdown: 9 days!!!!!!!!!! =)

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Vente conmigo a vivir..."

Short geography/history lesson: The southernmost tip of Spain is only about 2 feet (ok, really around 2 miles, I believe) from the northernmost part of what is now Morocco. This means that in the year 711, it was extremely easy for a decent-sized contingent of Muslims to cross over to Spain and take over fairly quickly, with the exception to this being the northernmost sections of the peninsula. In 718 the Christians started fighting to take back power in the peninsula, though it took them until 1492 to actually succeed fully at this. During this time the Muslims centered themselves in the south of Spain, specifically in the part that we now know as Andalucía, with their capital being Córdoba. Though the Catholic Kings and the Inquisition did a pretty good job of getting rid of anyone who was not a Christian, Muslim influences remained - and still remain - throughout Spain and are strongest in Andalucía...

...which is where I just spent the past week! We (our program) set out early Tuesday morning and after a nearly 6-hour bus ride (gag) we arrived in Córdoba. After a lunch at which we were served salmorejo, a variation on gazpacho and a specialty of Andalucía (I was one of about 2 people who actually ate and enjoyed all of it), we visited the Mezquita-Catedral: the Mosque-Cathedral. This building was a mosque that was built in 785 and enlarged a variety of times by several Muslim kings. When Córdoba was reconquered by the Christians they consecrated the building as a catholic church and in 1523 they idiotically began covering up some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen and made the center section into a Baroque-style cathedral. They should have been shot. Luckily, they only did this in the very center, so the majority of the Arabic architecture remains and oh, boy is it something to behold. I decided at that moment (and throughout the rest of the trip) that I definitely prefer the old Muslim architecture and art to the overwhelming gaudiness of the Christian/Baroque stuff.

After visiting the Mezquita-Catedral, we hopped back on the bus and drove another couple of hours down to Sevilla, where we stayed for the next two evenings. We spent a lot of time walking around the city, both with the whole group and then later with our art teacher. The weather was absolutely perfect the entire time we were down there - perfectly sunny and high 60´s/low 70´s. Sevilla is full of orange trees (which you cannot eat - they are incredibly bitter and are actually used for cosmetics) and beautiful gardens...I was so excited to see some vegetation! Wednesday evening we got to go to a traditional Flamenco show...I tell you, I have no idea how they move their feet so fast and with such passion. It is exhausting just to watch! By far the coolest thing we did while there, though Cassie accidentally ordering fried sardines was a close second. You eat the little suckers whole (head and all); I did try one and they actually aren´t too bad so long as you don´t think too much on what you are actually eating. Mmm fish eyes...delish...

Another favorite Sevilla moment: Wednesday morning we visited the cathedral, which is the biggest cathedral in the world. Now, when we go on these trips we are accompanied by Fundación professors who act as our tour guides. Cassie and I (as well as several other girls) are particularly fond of Andrés, who has gone on several of these trips with us, and we always try to be in his group (not only is he incredibly interesting, but he has this very soothing voice that almost purrs when he says any word with an R in it...). At any rate, apparently in Spain the ¨official tour guides¨ are overly territorial about all of these historic places, thinking that they are the only ones who should be allowed to give tours of them. While at the cathedral, we had one particular woman, one of these ¨official tour guides¨, seek Andrés out and interrupt our tour twice to try to tell him that he should not be allowed to give a tour. The second time she literally tried to tell him that we could not be in a certain part of the cathedral (though we clearly could), and his response was (roughly translated), ¨This is a cathedral. It is not anyone´s territory. I am a professor with my students; now leave us alone!¨ When she stomped off like a 3-year-old, he sarcastically called after her, ¨¡Aw, pobrecita!¨ (Oh, you poor little thing...) We felt he deserved a round of applause because we just wanted to drop-kick her, crazy woman.

Thursday morning we headed to Granada. Thursday we mostly had free time to wander about the city and take in some of the glorious sun by the river. Friday we visited La Alhambra before heading home to Madrid. La Alhambra is apparently the most visited place in Spain. It is more than just a Muslim palace - it is a mini-city within Granada. It is also one of the best preserved Arab palaces anywhere, especially when you consider how old it is. For example, in one of the rooms the original tile was replaced when the Christians took over, yet Chuck pointed out that even though it was replaced hundreds of years after the palace was built, it was still two and a half times older than our own country. That kind of stuff blows my mind.

In conclusion, when I am Queen of the World, I am going to have my winter home in Sevilla. Woudn´t want my summer home there because it gets far too hot, but I´m sure it would be about perfect in winter. You are all invited to visit.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"In my next life, I'm going to be a Fado singer"

This weekend brought about a trip to Lisbon, Portugal with my friends Cassie, Amy and Jamie. We left dark and early on Friday morning - our flight left at 6:50 so Cassie and I had to catch a taxi to the airport around 4:45...gaaah - and arrived in Lisbon a little after 7 am their time. Despite a flight full of obnoxious Spanish teenagers and a bus ride full of the same teenagers and a *major* creeper (poor Cassie was stuck sitting next to him), it became apparent upon arriving at our hostel that we were going to have an amazing time. This was mostly because the hostel was absolutely amazing: clean, quiet, really nice, helpful people, *and* it included a full breakfast, including crepes! I have rarely been happier.

Lisbon is apparently one of those cities that tourists either love or, more frequently, very much dislike - mostly, I believe, because it is not really known for anything spectacular. Frankly, I think this is exactly why we all loved it so much. We did not feel remotely compelled to do or see anything specific, which allowed us to spend our two days there casually exploring and simply taking in the atmosphere of the city. We started out our adventures by taking a short train ride to Belem, an area just outside of the main section of the city, and locating a very famous bakery that is known for their custard tarts. I don't know how I keep ending up in cities with famous pastries, but it turns out that I have no problem with that. These little tarts were AH-mazing...we had some from other bakeries which were quite delicious as well, but these were warm and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar...yes, you should be jealous.

From there we decided to actually see something, so we checked out the local monastery and Belem Tower, which apparently used to be a political prison. We then had lunch at a pita place we had passed earlier (friggin' amazing pitas) and hit up the Royal Coach Museum. Yes, royal coaches as in Cinderella - only not made from a pumpkin. I really don't see why we don't still use coaches at least when it is sunny and nice outside...I sure would.

That afternoon brought a visit to the Oceanarium and a nap, then it was time for dinner! For this I was particularly excited (yes, more than usual) because we had gotten reservations at a little restaurant called Fado Maior where we were supposed to be able to hear some very good, traditional Fado music (best to just look it up online). Turns out this restaurant is owned by this little couple who has been married for over 50 years - he used to be the president of the National Fado Association and she was once considered one of the best Fado voices in the country. She was completely delighted when we all ordered traditional Portuguese dishes (so delicious) and he was tickled pink to teach us about Fado...they only spoke Portuguese, by the way, so all conversation was conducted with them speaking Portuguese and us speaking Spanish, yet we could still understand each other. It was a beautiful thing.

In fact, the only thing more beautiful was the music itself. I've inserted a video of one of the women who sang. The picture is terrible (it was quite dark while they were performing), but you don't need to be able to see her - just listen to her sing. It was like I discovered a part of me that I didn't know was missing. In my next life, I'm coming back as a Fado singer - it moved me that much. By far the coolest thing I've done in Europe, perhaps in my entire life. I wish I could go back and take you all with me.

Day two mostly brought a lot of wandering around the city and getting a little bit lost several times - though we never really had much of a destination, so that was alright. We spent quite a while exploring Saint George's Castle and searching for a tile museum that we never found, but did encounter a great antique shop where I was able to buy some really authentic 18th and 19th century tiles (Lisbon is known for it's tiled facades. They are really beautiful). That evening was spent at the hostel's kitchen table drinking tea and talking and laughing for hours...basically a perfect end to a fantastic weekend.

This week we are going with the Fundación to Andalucia (we will hit up Córdoba, Sevilla and Granada), the portion of Spain most known for the stereotypical ¨Spanish¨ culture. I am very excited, particularly to see some traditional Flamenco! Another lengthy post to come soon...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

They have a famous dessert?!?

Ahh yes, kiddie beans. I did go somewhere that has a particularly famous dessert. But first...

Thursday night we were given the opportunity to go to the theatre. Now, when I signed up for this I had no idea what I was going to be seeing, but when have I ever turned down going to the theatre? Especially when it was FREE? Yep, I was pretty excited. Turned out that we were at the Teatro de la Zarzuela - Zarzuela is a type of Spanish musical theatre, done mostly in operatic voice but with the spoken lines of a musical. The show we saw was called La Gran Vía...esquina a Chueca, and was a remaking of a traditional zarzuela show called La Gran Vía. In the original show, the residents of Madrid are protesting (in costumes that represent the various streets of Madrid) the construction of Gran Vía, one of the biggest streets in Madrid. In this version, the residents show up (in costume, again) to protest the rumor that Gran Vía is going to be destroyed. It was a lot of fun, and since it was a comedy it was not a huge deal if we missed a few things here and there (which we inevitably did). I approved.

Yesterday (Friday) our program took a day trip to Segovia. We started out visiting El Palacio Real de la Granja de San Ildefonso - a royal palace so named because it was once a big farm that some king - please don´t ask me which, their names get all jumbled in my head - bought as a sort of retreat, then built this palace in somewhat the style of Versailles, minus the immensity and the vast amounts of gold. After the royal palace it was off to see the aqueduct. The aqueduct in Segovia is the best preserved Roman aqueduct remaining in Spain. It is absolutely incredible - they did not use any cement or anything else to hold the stones together, and you can still see the holes from the gripper-dealies used to put the stones in place. During our free time we climbed the stairs up to the rest of the remaining Roman section of the city - great view.

Speaking of free time, I definitely took that opportunity to sample Segovia´s famous dessert - Ponche Segoviano. It basically consists of a layer of custard, topped with a layer of pound cake with a cinnamon-y sort of filling in between, all covered with marzipan. One of the main ingredients is brandy, which gave it this great sort of spice-cake-like spiciness. It was amazing and kind of reminded me of Christmas. I totally need to go back with Momma and Daddy and eat some more in everyone´s name. :-)

It was also during this free time that we had time to eat lunch. Cassie and Jackie decided that they would split their meal in order to save a little money - only then it turned out that the waiters ended up giving them smaller-than-normal portions and were incredibly rude. Not cool. Then, because I still hear my mommy´s voice in my head, we all used the bathroom before we left, only to discover that instead of toilet paper, they had dispensers with what were basically a cross between a napkin, kleenex and a paper towel. This blew our minds.

After free time we headed over to check out El Alcázar - the old castle, used a lot by Queen Isabel in particular. This was seriously one completely legit castle, though I also learned something: all of these years this princess has wanted to live in a castle, when it turns out that they are FREEZING! I´m totally not moving there any time soon.

Next weekend: Lisboa!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Searching for Sardines

This afternoon, after class, a group of us got together to study for our midterm tomorrow. Afterward, one of the girls, Claire, wanted to know if anyone was going to check out the Burial of the Sardine, the traditional ceremony that marks the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent. I wanted to go but neither of us was sure of where this was happening, so Claire called Amy to see if she knew where it was. She said that she thought she did, so we made plans for the three of us to meet at the Puerta del Sol a little bit later. Upon meeting, Amy said that her Spanish teacher had told her that it was going to go through the Plaza Mayor, just a few minutes away. Perfect! So off we headed in the direction of Plaza Mayor.

On our way there, we began to notice quite a few "borrachos" - drunk people. As we approached the plaza, we also began to hear loud, drunken singing. Interesting. We get to the plaza and discover a group of at least 200-300 people, all wearing the jersey and colors of the Liverpool soccer team, all drinking copious amounts of beer and all singing loudly and unintelligibly. The ground of the plaza, normally spotlessly clean (Madrid is an incredibly clean city), was littered with an uncountable number of empty beer cans and broken beer bottles. Small soccer balls were also being tossed about.

At this point we were rather confused, so Claire walks up to this one guy (British, as they all were) and asks him what all of this was.

"What is it?! WHAT IS IT?!?!” he and his friend incredulously replied.

I feared for our lives for a moment or two then. They did explain to us that they were all Liverpool fans (duh) and they were all together before the Liverpool-Real Madrid game later today. Claire then asked how they all knew to come to the Plaza Mayor. At this they looked a bit stumped until I made a crack about them simply following the scent of the beer (rather strong, as you can imagine). At this they brightened considerably and said, “Yeah, yeah!!” Oh, man. We tried asking them what song everyone was singing, but at that point the original guy we were talking to went into a drunken jig, so we decided to leave them to their jigging and beer.

We did conclude that the apparently somber Burial of the Sardine probably wasn’t going to be making its way through all of that, so we tried asking one of the many policemen where it was. He gave us a pretty vague description that included the metro stop Principe Pio, only we were not entirely sure that that he knew what he was talking about. At that point Claire and Amy ended up heading towards Plaza de España for the heck of it and I headed home (I was hungry and needed a snack...). We decided we did not really feel like going on a wild goose-chase when we had gotten our dose of culture – albeit different from what we had originally planned on – about five minutes earlier.

I have to say that it was pretty crazy seeing how worked up and excited some of those people get over their fútbol though. I knew from our class discussions that there were some super-obsessed people – there always are, with every sport and every team – but I did not imagine anything like that. Frankly, as someone who does not do sports, I have a hard time even understanding the way that they get so obsessed. I would never have guessed that so many people would fly down from England to Madrid to see a game – and in the middle of the week! Don´t these people have anything better to do…like work? I suppose not, or if so they just care far more about fútbol. It is just all totally beyond my comprehension. I am glad I got to witness that, though, if only so I can actually know that these people exist (I speak of them as if they are aliens or something).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

This ain't no Putnam Co 4-H Fair parade...

And indeed it wasn't. Now, I make reference to the beloved Putnam Co 4-H Fair parade because up until today it was, believe it or not, the biggest whoop-dee-doo parade I had ever been to. Guess that's just proving how small-town I am when we used to put our lawn chairs out the night before to reserve our spot and know they wouldn't get stolen...

Anyway, so right now, for those of whom, like me, had no idea, is the time for Carnival - think Mardi Gras, only far more tame. In fact, apparently Madrid's Carnival celebrations are really nothing spectacular. Some of my classmates went this weekend to Cadiz to check out what is supposed to be a great Carnival celebration, but believe it or not I was completely content to limit my Carnival celebrating to checking out the parade earlier this evening with Cassie, a much-needed diversion after spending a good portion of the past couple of days studying for our upcoming midterms.

There was quite a crowd of people there to watch the parade. Apparently this is the time for kids to dress up, like Halloween for us, so quite a few kids and some adults were in costume. Cassie and I had a front-row spot until right before the parade started. I lamented this for a bit, and then realized that many of the people in the parade were wearing scary masks and was no longer sad to have a row of people between me and the scary people. Turns out the theme of the parade was "Carnival of Monsters for Monstrous Times", which really explains the scary people right there. At any rate, it was quite interesting to see all of the people in the parade in their various costumes - some of which made sense, most of which didn't. The parade ended with a 20-meter-long dragon ridden by a "royal horsewoman". In all it was a fun and interesting experience, though I do not plan to expand my Carnival experience much beyond that as it would be like going out on Halloween - and frankly, I do not really wish to run into a bunch of freaky people in masks on the streets of Madrid late at night. Cassie and I may check out the Burial of the Sardine on Wednesday evening - apparently it is quite the tradition for ending Carnival. I'll be sure to blog about it if we go. And yes, when I say Burial of the Sardine, I do believe I really mean sardine. As in the fish. There's really no explaining some traditions...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Paris holds the key to my heart?

Eeeeeeeh, wrong. I'm sorry, you are not a winner, please try again.

Ok, so that is not to say that I did not have a good time in Paris this past weekend. Quite the contrary - it was a very fun experience. Yet I just did not feel that Paris was quite all it is always made out to be. Examples follow.

The 6 of us arrived in Paris around 7 pm on Thursday night. Now, we had bought cheap airline tickets, so the airport we arrived at was quite small. In fact, it was far, far smaller than even the Lesser (Greater) Peoria International Airport, if you can believe that. We were still not too phased by this and proceeded into the airport where we were immediately confronted with a ticket booth to buy a 13 euro one-way bus ticket. Now, we thought that this was a big pricey and inquired about the metro or a taxi - turns out, we were over an hour outside of the city and it would have cost over 200 euro to take a taxi! Well, that 13 euro bus ticket suddenly sounded pretty good.

So after a 70-minute bus ride, we arrive in the actual city, found a metro and navigated our way to the hostel where we then found some pizza (I was starving and did not care that pizza is not very French) and crashed. The next morning I awoke and attempted to take a shower. I have to say, I have rarely been less sure of my cleanliness after getting out of the shower. There was practically no water coming out of the shower head and what water there was was spraying in every possible direction but towards me. Also, the water shut off every 30 seconds. Needless to say I opted out of a shower the next day.

So the 7 of us (we had joined up with a friend of two of the girls the night before) headed out in the rainy-snow mixture around 9 towards the Bastille. The Bastille was apparently very significant to the start of the French Revolution, and I don't know what I was expecting but it was not a monument in the middle of a roundabout that you can't even walk up to. What a let down. We then hopped on the metro towards the Pantheon. This is an old basilica that now serves as the final resting place of many of France's significant historical figures: Voltaire, Rousseau, Louis Braille, the Curies, Victor Hugo and my personal favorite, Alexander Dumas. I promised dead-Dumas that I would read the Three Musketeers this summer. I'm sure he cared greatly.

After the Pantheon it was off to Notre Dame. Amy, one of my travel companions, and I decided that we thought it would be bigger. Not to say that it is not impressive and beautiful, but it just has always been portrayed as being overly huge. The inside was much more impressive, if you ask me. Though the crappy weather was a downer the rest of the day, the gloominess really added to the mystery of the inside of the cathedral. I could definitely worship God there (though they would probably be reluctant to let me since I'm not Catholic).

At this point it was time for lunch at a little cafe where I had some pretty decent quiche and had to pay 50 cents to use the bathroom. I was pretty irked by this fact, considering I was not sure when I was going to find a public restroom next (they are not as common in Europe as they are in the States) and I really needed to pee. Jackie and I ended up going in together so as to save a bit of money. I will say that it was the only completely clean, acceptable bathroom that I found the entire time I was in Paris (it actually had a soap dispenser AND soap - imagine that!), so I guess it was worth paying for.

After lunch the majority of the group went to see the catacombs, which is apparently where they dumped all of the beheaded bodies during the Revolution. Jackie and I were not so interested in seeing a bunch of dead people (because you do actually see them), so we opted to go to the Arc of Triumph (another let-down if you ask me, plus it was bitterly cold) and then shopping down the Champs Elysees. Pretty much every store was far out of our price range, but it was fun to look nonetheless. We also took a delicious pastry break where she had a chocolate-banana tart and I had a take on coconut cream pie. Yummmmmmmm.

We had agreed to meet the rest of the group at the Louvre at 5:45, since it is free for students on Fridays from 6-9:45. Emily, who had been there before, told us to meet at this glass pyramid by the entrance where you buy tickets. Jackie and I took the metro, got off, followed the signs and ended up by this glass pyramid that came down into the building and was right next to an entrance where you buy tickets. Great!, we thought. Here we are! So we wait, and wait, and wait, and the rest of the group never appears. After a couple of very confusing phone calls and much frustration on both ends, it turned out that we were at the wrong glass pyramid. Apparently the one we were supposed to be meeting at is the very famous entrance to the museum. Well, this country bumpkin had no idea and neither did Jackie. In retrospect it was all pretty humorous, but then we were also rather sleep deprived.

At any rate, I did get to see the Mona Lisa - she's much smaller than I would have expected and was frankly too far away to get a really good look at her. My favorite painting in the place was one of about two Monets that they had. I was disappointed to learn that every van Gogh ever painted is at a different museum about 5 minutes from the Louvre. In general, the Louvre would have been a much more interesting experience if I had had someone with me who knew anything about art and could have told me about what I was seeing.

At this point we still hadn't seen the Eiffel Tower, but by golly everyone was determined to get it in that day. We ended up getting there around 10:30, bought our tickets to the top and got on the elevator. We got to the first level and I was already higher than I ever wanted to be. I ended up getting separated from the rest of the group on the actual elevator to the top and ended up with these British girls, one of which was as freaked out as I was. We were both about having a heart attack, only her's was with an accent. The top consists of two levels: a lower one surrounded by windows which did not freak me out too much and then you climb the stairs to get to the actual observation level. Yes, is is enclosed with wire mesh but no, I still did not feel particularly secure. I stayed up long enough to take about 5 pictures and then went back to the glassed-in area. That was enough of that. I much preferred the view from the ground, which really was quite impressive.

The next morning we all headed out bright and early (and a little grumpily) to Versailles. Now, this was definitely the one thing that was every bit as cool as everyone always says. I have never seen anything so massive or shiny. It was too bad that it was not warmer and we didn't have more time because I would have liked to have seen the gardens in bloom, but even so it was absolutely amazing.

The flight back, unfortunately, turned out to be a nightmare. The airline we flew (the cheap one) allows you to have one carry on, purses included, that can weigh only 10 kg. The people in Madrid did not care about any of this, but the people in Paris sure did. Jackie and I were just over the 10 kg and the lady, who thought her job was the most important in the world, told us that we would just have to check our bags. Heck no. Not for an extra 20 euro. In the end we did some switching around of some things and a little trickery (Emily, who already had her boarding pass, took my purse to "put into her bag", and then I just put it back into mine once I had my boarding pass) and got through. Then, as we were standing in line to go through security, a different man insisted that three of us (me included, of course) put our bags into the little blue box to make sure they fit. Kristy told him that we had just done this five minutes before, but he didn't care. Turns out that you have to put my bag in upside-down for it to fit. Go figure. So as we are doing this, another lady comes up to us and starts yelling at us in rapid French and when we didn't understand her, she just started yelling louder! Turns out she wanted us to "MAKE A BETTER LINE!!!", though we were really just being pushed along by the crowd and had a few problems accomplishing this task. By the time we got through security, my hair pins had set off the beeper, Jackie's bag had been searched and we all decided that we hated the French. I have never been so glad to be in Spain in my entire life. Sure, I can only passably speak the language but as it turns out, that is far more than I can do in France! Every time someone in Paris spoke to me in French I froze, giving them this deer-in-headlights look. I couldn't remember a single phrase to say to them! Luckily they quickly picked up on the fact that I could not speak one word of French and usually slipped fairly easily into English.

So, in general, here is my impression of France in comparison to Spain: it is dirtier, the people are snottier and the famous monuments are not quite all they are cracked up to be. Perhaps my expectations were just too high, but why not? I was supposed to be in the most romantic city in the world!

I love Madrid.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jesus speaks Spanish, too

This morning I was finally able to make it to church here in Madrid. My ever-amazing mother had done some emailing and somehow came up with the name of an Assemblies of God church here, so that's where I headed.

Now, on the church's website it said that pre-service prayer started at 11; worship service started at 11:30. I opted for just the worship service, though as it turned out I ended up having my own sort of pre-service prayer on the metro. That is not to say that I thought I was going to be mugged or anything; rather, I was not feeling so secure about the train itself.

Allow me to explain. Various lines have various different types of trains, some being newer, others older. The newest ones come equipped with little television screens proclaiming the wonders of taking the metro, screens to tell you what stop is coming up next and a little lady that comes over the speaker before each stop to tell you what stop it is and what other lines it corresponds with. All quite nice. In order to get to the church, I had to take a line I had never used before. This took me to a portion of my metro station that I had never been in before. Apparently you can get to the platform I needed using an elevator - which does not simply move vertically, but in a diagonal line. Not only in a diagonal line, but slowly, and with lots of creaking. As it was Sunday morning, I was the only one in said elevator, which made me nervous. I later learned that you can reach the platform via escalators as well and will choose this option for obvious reasons next time.

So I get to the platform, wait for the next train, and when it arrives it is older than any I had ridden on before. This would not have worried be the least bit had it not made the world's scariest noises while it was moving and shaken like it was possessed when it went around corners. I think at one point it gave me whiplash.

And I had to ride the thing for 7 stops. Jesus got quite the earful about this.

The church itself was in a slightly sketchy part of the city and is very small, but the people were quite nice. It is pastored by a missionary and his family, originally from Florida. They have a daughter around my age who introduced herself and the pastor insisted on making sure they had my name and contact information so that they could have me over in the next few weeks. The service was led mostly in English, with a little Spanish here and there. They had little audio things for those of whom only speak Spanish so that they could understand better.

Also, there were a couple of cute American boys, one of which is from Naperville. Small world.

All in all, good experience. Despite the scary metro ride, I will most likely return.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Gaudí, fruit markets, and some really great shopping

I´m alive! I´m sure some of you have been thinking that I must have fallen in a well over here, given my lack of posts in the past couple of weeks, but I am indeed alive!

Tuesday through Thursday of this week was our group trip to the beautiful city of Barcelona. We headed out Tuesday morning on a high-speed train, which got us there in just over 3 hours instead of the usual 7. Upon arrival we went to our really nice hotel and had some free time, which my friend Cassie and I took to get some lunch at a tapas bar (I made the mistake of sitting down in front of some tapas that looked like they had come straight from the ocean...), ice cream and do some window shopping. Our hotel was situated in one of the really great shopping areas of town...quite dangerous, but incredibly fun. I ended up having to buy myself a blue leather jacket; I just couldn´t resist.

That afternoon we visited La Sagrada Familia, an enormous church (not cathedral) designed by Gaudí. He spent pretty much his entire life working on it, and got so obsessed with it at the end of his life that he ended up living in the basement and stopped taking care of himself. Because of this, he looked so much like a vagabond that when he was hit by a car and taken to a hospital (I think this is what actually killed him), no one knew it was him for several days. At any rate, they stopped working on the church soon after Gaudí´s death, I believe due to lack of funds, and then a new architect picked up the project in 1988. He spent several years researching what Gaudí wanted for the building, though there is a definite difference between what Gaudí did and what has been done recently. The church is scheduled to be finished in 2025. I went up in one of the towers and about had a heart attack - the view was great but it was incredibly high up. I might have been ok except that we were supposed to take the spiral staircase back down. Unfortunately, I have issues making my feet work on small, tightly wound spiral staircases that are several stories in the air. Luckily, I was able to sneak back onto the elevator that took us up in the first place. Boy was I glad to have my feet on the ground again...

After the Sagrada Familia, we drove over to the Parque Guell, a park also designed by Gaudí. The only downer is that by this time it was almost 7 pm, so it was getting dark and kind of chilly, making the park much less interesting to all of us. It would be a really great place to visit during the spring when it is warm and sunny, however. That night we had dinner at a fairly nice restaurant, where I got the lamb and was severely disappointed to discover that they have no idea how to make lamb like Julie Swope. The dessert, however, was good - Crema Catalana, a cross between pudding and creme brulee and, obviously, a very Catalonian dish.

Wednesday dawned bright and early with a fantastic buffet breakfast provided by our hotel (can anyone tell that I was excited by the food on this trip?). I had a small plate of real breakfast food (eggs, etc) and then had about 2 plates filled with just a variety of pastries. Yum. We then set out for Casa Batlló, a house in Barcelona designed by, you guessed it, Gaudí! Gaudí had this thing for designing everything in his houses, so everything from the ceilings to the doorknobs were very interesting. They gave us these audio guide things to listen to while we toured the house, only I certainly did not have the attention span to listen to it that day and instead took a bunch of pictures. I told Cassie to alert me of anything interesting.

From Casa Batlló, we strolled through the Gothic District, which makes up a large portion of town. Barcelona, unlike Madrid, was an extremely important city in the Middle Ages, so it actually has a large, very important Gothic District. We also strolled down Las Ramblas, one of the biggest, most important streets in the city. There is a very famous market just off of Las Ramblas called the Mercado de la Boquería where I could have lived forever. About half of this market is just rows and rows of various fresh fruit vendors. I had the best fresh pineapple-coconut juice there. I seriously think that is what Heaven may be like. They also had candy, chocolate, dried fruits and was amazing.

Our last stop before lunch was the Picasso Museum. Though Picasso was born in the south of Spain, he lived the majority of his life in Barcelona and this museum is dedicated to his life and early works. Though his most famous works are his cubist stuff, he actually was an extremely talented impressionist and spent most of his career trying to find his niche. Though I have never been a big Picasso fan (outside of the bizarre fascination I have for ¨Guernica¨), I now have a much bigger appreciation for him after having seen his early works.

For lunch we went to a café called 4gats, the café where Picasso used to eat all of the time. Unfortunately I was not only sick but we also had a limited selection of the menu to order from, so I cannot give a full description of the restaurant, but it was pretty cool nonetheless. Our afternoon and evening were free for us to do as we wished, so Cassie and I ended up doing a bit of shopping (what else) and getting some fruit for dinner at the amazing Mercado.

Thursday we drove to a small town about an hour outside of Barcelona to visit Las Cavas Freixenet, a winery that specializes in making Cava, a specific type of sparkling wine. We got to see the old wine cellars and the new part of the winery where everything is now done by machine. We were also given a glass of Cava to try after the tour. Though it was better than any other wine I´ve had, it was at that point that I decided that I just do not like wine. Oh well. At least I tried it so no one can say that I´m an ignorant fool.

Next weekend: Paris!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Welcome to the Big City...

Well, I was officially inaugurated into the big city today with the experience of having my purse stolen.

Yes, folks, that's right. The entire gosh-darned purse and everything in it. Gone.

My friend Cassie and I were eating lunch and I had set my purse down on the floor by my foot. Now, I know we've been told not to do this, but the restaurant was practically empty and the small-town girl must have come out in me. At any rate, that's where it was. So Cassie and I were eating and this man came up to us to ask us about where the nearest metro station was. Apparently there was a second man behind me (though I never saw him and Cassie only caught a glimpse of him) who must have swiped my bag while we were talking to the first man. Neither of us saw it happen. There was a mother-daughter couple (from Madrid) who were seated near us. They saw both men and though they didn't see it happen either, they were fairly sure that was what happened. It did make me feel better to see that up until this happened, the daughter had had her purse on the floor too.

At any rate, as you can imagine I started freaking out. Here I am, 20 years old, and all I could think was, "I want my mommy, RIGHT NOW!" Luckily, Cassie was able to tell me what I needed to do. If it were not for her, I would probably still be standing there in the middle of the restaurant wondering what to do. Cassie was able to get me back to my apartment, where I was then able to find the number for my bank and call them to get my credit cards canceled. She also went with me to the police station to file a report. I told her that next time we are out - be it at a bar, restaurant, or the world's most expensive shoe store - that anything she wants is hers. I owe BIG TIME for helping me. I know this wasn't how either of us planned to spend our day.

At this point in time, I am still waiting for Visa to call me back so that we can set up a time for them to deliver my emergency replacement card. Chuck, our program director, is supposed to call me tonight to tell me what to do in regards to the ID and medical insurance cards that were issued to us through the program. When I get back to the states I will have to get a new driver's license. Momma went out this afternoon to get me a new camera (I guess Circuit City is closing and so everything is incredibly cheap) and she will mail that and a new flash drive, which was on my keyring, to me ASAP. Carmen is going to see what needs to be done as far as keys and new locks for the apartment go. As soon as I get my replacement credit card, I have to go out and buy a new purse and wallet and metro pass. Fortunately, I had left my passport and 50 euro in my desk drawer, so I still have my most important form of ID and a little bit of emergency cash.

In case you were wondering, this was not a fun experience. In fact, it sucked.

I, however, am back to breathing like a normal human being and my heart has stopped beating quite so rapidly, which tells me that the worst is over. Now it's all down to basic paperwork.

Also, I'm exhausted but cannot go take a siesta until Visa calls me back. Agh.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Work, Classes and Other Official Business

Alright, so I know that several of my blog-followers have been asking me about classes. Yes, I am indeed taking classes and not just sight-seeing, though the program allows plenty of traveling and sight-seeing time for us by having classes only Monday through Thursday, giving us three-day weekends almost every week (I say almost because we have class on one Friday to make up for classes we will miss when we go as a group to Barcelona for three days).

As far as what I'm taking, my schedule is as follows:
~Art in the Prado Museum: I have this class 2 days a week; every Monday morning we are in the classroom and almost every Tuesday afternoon we meet in the Prado museum so that we can actually see the things that we are learning about. This is somewhat of an art history course that will focus on Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, the three most important Spanish artists on display in the Prado (Picasso's famous "Guernica" is housed in the Reina Sofia, which is dedicated solely to contemporary art). I think I will do ok in this class (which shouldn't be a huge amount of work) so long as we stick to history and avoid a lot of actually artistic technique stuff. Aye.
~Spanish Culture and Civilization:This class also meets 2 days a week and is the class that will require the most work. We have two group projects, a midterm and final exam, two short papers, an oral presentation and we are required to go to at least one Spanish movie and *maybe* a theatre production as well, though I'm a little fuzzy on that one. The projects should be interesting - one is about a street in Madrid, the other is about a specific topic with ours (I got a good partner for both) being gastronomy and the Mediterranean diet - though they require us to go out and talk to random Spanish people. We'll see how that goes.
~Studies in Cultural History: This class meets one day a week and is basically a Spanish history class, focusing on the end of the 19th century through the end of the Spanish Civil War. We have 3 teachers: one who will teach the majority of the classes and does the history stuff, another who will do 2 classes on art and another who will do 3 classes on literature. We have 3 papers (one on each of the topics), but no tests and one of the papers can be in English while another is only 2 pages.
~Inventing Spain:This class meets 2 days a week and is taught by Chuck, the IWU professor leading our program (all IWU students here are required to take this course). We are basically talking about the formation of Spanish identity since the end of the Franco dictatorship. This class is pretty much as easy as they come - we are required to keep a journal, which I'm already doing, and at one point we have to do a short interview with a native Spaniard and write about it in our journal as well as read this novel-like textbook. Chuck isn't even sure if he is going to do any tests. Hallelujah. I should still learn quite a lot here, though.

While here, I have the opportunity to teach English to Spanish children (they say children, though the age range can be quite wide). I started doing this this evening; I am teaching for a family with 3 kids: Fernando, 18, Mónica, 14 this Wednesday, and Marta, 11 this Friday. Fernando is getting ready to go to university to study to become an industrial engineer and is in the midst of preparing for what are pretty much the Spanish equivalent of the ACT or SAT, so I will not be working with him until those are over in another month or so. For now I go on Mondays at 6pm for an hour and a half - 45 minutes each with Mónica and Marta. When I start working with Fernando I will work with him for an hour on top of that. I get paid 12 euro an hour (you can figure out the exchange rate), so I´ll be taking home a minimum of 18 euro a week, which is pretty darn good considering pretty much all I have to do is talk to them in English. I think that next week the mother, also Mónica, is going to give me a list of objectives that she would like me to try to meet with each girl. The mother is very nice and the girls are extremely sweet; Mónica and I spent her time talking about everything in Spain and Madrid that she says I absolutely have to do. She has already told me that I have to go shopping with her. Marta´s English level is a fair amount lower so it is a little harder to get her to speak in only English. She has this collection of printed Kleenex (apparently these are big here? She has all sorts of them, from ones with cartoon characters printed on them to ones for specific holidays) and she gave me some of them at the end of the time today. I certainly didn´t expect to be putting Kleenex in my Spain scrapbook, but it was super sweet.

SO! Now no one can say that they don´t know about the more official aspects of my life here in Spain...=)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I'm in love.

Today was the day that I became enamored with this city. I hadn't really gotten a chance to do much exploring of the city outside of my own neighborhood up to this point, so I decided to explore some of the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor today. These are two of the most important places in the city as they are pretty much smack dab in the middle and are surrounded by shops and restaurants.

Upon arriving by metro in the Puerta del Sol, I decided I was hungry and needed some lunch with which to start my adventure. After ambling down the street a ways, I ended up in the Plaza Mayor where I found a little restaurant called Museo del Jamón - literally, the Ham Museum. I ended up getting a combo platter with fried eggs (they eat a lot of eggs here and their usually fried/over easy. My favorite), some of the best ham I've ever had (it was a dried, cured ham I believe), french fries (great for sopping up the egg yolk), a little salad and these AMAZING croquettes - probably my favorite thing I've eaten here so far. I sat at the bar (always cheaper), so I got all of this for 5.40 euro.

After filling my tummy I went for a stroll around the Plaza Mayor. Never in my life have I seen so many restaurants. It's incredible. There were a ton of people out, and many of them were taking pictures, so I didn't feel so stupidly touristy taking pictures myself. There was quite a variety of street-performers and those people who stand there on a platform dressed up as something creepy all day long. I took pictures of them but refused to come within 20 feet of them because, of course, they scared the crap out of me. There was one dude who was covered in plastic fruit. I wanted to take his picture, but just as I was getting ready to he waved at me, which freaked me out so I ran away.

I spent quite a while just wandering up and down several of the streets. There are so many stores that it is somewhat overwhelming, but I figure I have several months to explore more thoroughly, not to mention several days with Momma and Daddy in April. I had to resist the temptation of stopping at one of the several ice cream places along the way, since ice cream seemed rather silly when it is still cool enough to be wearing a winter coat (though it has warmed up considerably and is far warmer than it is in the states). I feel that will be a necessary stop next time, though.

I bought my first Spanish newspaper today, so I should be finished reading it by the time I get home in May. Just kidding - it will probably only take me a week =). We have to have newspaper clippings for one of my classes and another teacher strongly suggests reading the paper, so I'm trying to be a good student. I'm hoping they'll have something interesting in the culture section that I can check out.

I believe it may just be time for a siesta! Imagine that...

Friday, January 16, 2009

El Escorial y el Valle de los Caidos

Today we all took an field trip (or excursion, as they call them) to a couple of rather historic places just outside of Madrid. We started our day at el Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial (or just el Escorial). This absolutely enormous (truly) building was built by King Philip II after we won his first big battle as king. In order to remember this great victory and to offer thanks to God, he had this part basilica, part monastery, part college, part library, part palace, part royal tomb built. This place was incredibly massive and probably the coldest building I have ever been in - it would be quite possible to get lost in there and still be trying to find your way out several days later and nearly all of the rooms were several degrees colder than it was outside (which I endured by telling myself that it was still warmer than it was back home =)). Continuing...

A most interesting fact-that-sounds-made-up-but-isn't about El Escorial is that the floor plan is in the shape of a grid, or grill, because King Philip was a major wierdo and had this obsession with martyr's and his favorite martyr, San Lorenzo, was cooked to death on a grill. True story. Also, there was a huge, shiny room (why won´t they let me take any pictures of the shiny things??) where the kings from Philip up to today are buried. The queens that produced a future king are also buried there. The odd thing was that the coffins were noticeably shorter than the average person (even for several hundred years ago), which was puzzling until we were told that the bodies are left out to dry for several years before they are put into these coffins. Lovely mental image associated with that one.

After lunch at a place claiming to have the best tapas (we didn't have any, although they did have really good sandwiches) and using the world's sketchiest bathroom at the bus station a couple of hours later, we were off to the Valle de los Caidos - Valley of the Fallen. This is a huge (there's no way I can describe to you how big this place was) basilica built into the mountains by Franco as a monument to those that died during the Spanish Civil War. At this point, however, Franco was in power (as he remained until his death in 1975), so this was really only a monument for his supporters. Usually churches and cathedrals evoke a sense of awe and majesty, yet seeing Jesus depicted in this building that Franco basically built as a monument to his own power was almost sacrilegious, especially given that both Franco and one of his biggest supporters are buried there. Basically, this place was totally creepy and we were quite glad to leave, though the view just outside was quite beautiful (once again, completely out of place with the building behind it).

I'm hoping to spend the weekend checking out the city a bit, since at this point I haven't really had a chance to wander much outside of my neighborhood. I feel a trip to El Rastro, this huge flea market held every Sunday morning, may be in order.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

La Vida Cotidiana - Daily Life in Madrid

So now that I've been here about a week, I've begun to notice a few things about daily life here that you in the states may find interesting.

1. Everything here is miniature-sized. The streets are narrower, the cars are smaller, the apartments are smaller...everything. My first real personal experience with this was in getting on the elevator in the apartment building (we live on the 6th floor) the first night. To use the elevator, you push a button that says "Ocupado" (busy), which will blink until the elevator arrives and then stays lit. You then have to open this door, which swings out toward you, and then a pair of small doors that open into the elevator. The elevator itself is approximately a 3-foot square, so these doors opening in cause quite an issue when you are trying to get more than one person into this box (although one morning we fit 3 of us along with my carry-on suitcase. It was quite the tight squeeze.) I have put a picture in here, though I doubt that you can get the full effect of how small this thing really is.

2. They really don't like bare feet. While in Toledo, we stayed at the Fundación building there - they had dorm-like suites, so mine was myself and another girl, each with our own room and a shared bathroom. One night Jenna forgot her keys in her room while she was showering, and since the doors locked behind you automatically, she was stuck in her towel. I offered to go downstairs and find someone to let her into her room, only I had just taken a shower myself and, without thinking about it, went out in my bare feet. This would not have been a big deal back home, but one of the directors made sure to lecture me about it. Jenna was glad I´d gone down to get someone because, as she pointed out, if they freaked out about my bare feet they would have lost their minds over her just being in her towel...

3. Living with a 14-year-old boy is most interesting. Having never really been around a boy of that age, I´m learning quite a bit. Just now, for example, he came into my room, plopped down on the bed and started talking to me (this happens frequently). Tonight the topic, among other things, was guns. Carmen was in her room on the phone, so he told me to follow him and showed me the BB gun that he bought but hides from his mother because she wouldn´t like it. She came out of her room while he was showing me so I had to pull a diversion tactic while he hid it again. I´m actually probably learning the most Spanish from him because he not only talks about completely random things with me (like BB guns) but also because he talks much faster than Carmen does (at least to me), so I have to pay much more attention. He´s a good kid though and we´re getting along quite well, though it´s interesting to hear his opinion on certain topics. The picture I´ve included is of the snowman he made when they got their huge snow (of 4 inches).

4. I love this country, if only for the amount of carbs they consume. It´s rare here not to have bread with a meal, and you know I´m all about that!! There´s this great bakery just down the street from the apartment where I buy bread for my lunch sandwiches every couple of days. Ohhh that is my new favorite place. Also, they eat a LOT of oranges. I had eaten more oranges just in my first 3 days here than I´d probably had during the rest of my life combined. We´re all getting used to smelling like oranges all the time, which is far preferable to smelling like smoke, which is generally the alternative. Carmen does smoke, but only a few times a day at most and she shuts herself up either in her room or the bathroom to do so. The problem with that being, however, that once she leaves that room smells like smoke for a good half an hour at least. I´m getting used to it though and I know that it could be worse. Apparently something like half of the doctors here smoke, which we find weird but they find completely normal.

5. They don´t seem to make shoes for people with big feet. I discovered upon arriving here that if I really wanted to fit in I needed a pair of black boots (which broke my heart, you know), only I had the worst time finding some to fit my big feet! I ended up finding a pair at this really fantastic leather store that is on the way to my metro stop. Also, the sale season here literally lasts from the beginning of January until the middle of March. How lucky was I to arrive now?

Friday we are all taking a field trip to El Escorial (this castle-y thing, I think - perhaps I should read that information they gave us about it) and El Valle de los Caidos - The Valley of the Fallen. This is a monument that Franco had built for those that died during the Spanish civil war, only because Franco built it it really only contains names of people he wanted it to contain. Highly controversial.

Also, I just booked tickets to go with a group of girls to Paris the 12-14 of February, making sure to actually leave on Valentine´s Day so as not to depress ourselves too much...