Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Friday, 25 September 2009

Hiking in Northern Spain

Last weekend our group journeyed to Northen Spain. We left for the train right after class and arrived around 10pm. We were told that we would have to take a taxi to our hotel, which was in a small mountain town. We got 3 taxis and began our ride through the mountains. One car sick girl puking in a bag, a serenade by our taxi driver, and a 200 Euro taxi ride later, we made it to our hotel. Luckily, the serenading taxi man was a nice guy and cut us a deal so we only had to pay half price, 100 Euro, per taxi, which cut down on costs significantly.
One of the unfortunate things about picking such a small town in the mountains is the fact that the bus schedule through there is almost obsolete (as we found out the night before). The upside is that it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We arrived at dark so we weren´t able to see the mountains until morning. I woke up and DeeDee pulled open the curtains to let me see the view from our window and I was immediately wide awake. The town had about 10 houses total and they were all old and picturesque, with the mountains in the background. We began our hike at about 10:30, had lunch on the side of the trail, encountered 2 locals who let us look through their telescope at the wildlife they found, and arrived at the peaks at about 2pm. The hike was almost completely uphill, with some inclines as steep as 70 degrees, and the weather was slighty chilly and rainy, which kept us cool. The views were breathtaking and the silence (except for the occasional sound of cow bells as we encountered them on our walk, standing in the middle of our path but completely oblivious to us) was amazing. We think we hiked about 8 miles in all. After taking some pictures, we returned to our hotel and scrounged for dinner, as we were too cheap to buy it from the hotel (some of us had sandwiches our Spanish moms had packed, others had cereal, meat and bread, or PB and rice crackers). We rested, drank some cheap 1 Euro wine (never again! It was HORRIBLE!), and watched Harry Potter in Spanish before heading to bed.
We headed out early the next morning, rested briefly at our houses, then went to Noche Blanco in Madrid, which is a festival where all the museums are open for free all night and there all street performers and the like for entertainment. We didn´t go in anywhere because the lines were so long but it was a neat experience just the same.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Segovia and El Rastro

One of the best things about the program I have chosen (besides the fact that all of my scholarships transferred!) is that we only have class Mondays through Thursdays, which means that I will be able to travel from noon on Thursday until Sunday evening.
We left from Alcala Friday morning at 5:00am to catch the first train to Madrid, and then another one to a town in central Spain called Segovia. We made it just fine to Segovia, but realized we had missed the last bus that went from the train station in Segovia into town. The next one was in 2 hours. Being college students, we decided we were too cheap to pay for a taxi and opted for walking the 7k (which I believe is about 4 miles) into town. So here are 12 American college students walking down the road at 9am in the morning, literally in the middle of nowhere. There was a train station behind us, a black top in front of us, and cows and horses in brown dusty fields everywhere else. At one point one girl thought she saw a tumble weed. It turned out to be a plastic bag, but it would have been so perfect if it was acutally one. After about an hour and 15 minutes of speedwalking down the road to nowhere, we finally made it to town.
The main attraction in Segovia are the aqueducts. They were built in the first century without any mortar or machines and still stand perfectly. It was incredible how well constructed and big they were--the arches run for 9 miles and are about 100 feet tall. I took some pictures, but of course it won't do them justice.
We also saw the Alcazar castle (where Queen Isabella was proclaimed Queen), La Cathedral de Nuestra Senora, and various other buildings that had incrediblely beautiful architecture. I'll attempt to put some pictures up here, but as you can tell I'm not great at keeping up with this blog.
On the bus ride home, we all fell asleep. When the bus stopped the first time in Madrid, 4 of us suddenly woke up and confusedly thought we were supposed to get off then. As we were standing outside, one of the other students woke up inside the bus and realized this was not our stop. We had to bang on the bus doors and ask the driver to let us back in. We truly are the ackward foreigners here.
Friday night was Alcala's Oktober fest, which really just amounted to people drinking huge beers in the town bull ring. Not exactly the cultural experience of Germany's Oktoberfest, but still entertaining.
Sunday morning was spent in Madrid at El Rastro, Europe's largest open air flea market with over 3500 shops. It's sectioned off into different types of things, from electronics to antiques (my favorite!) to clothing to artwork. I definitely recommend going there if you are ever in Madrid on a Sunday, though not if you don't like crowds. And you have to be very careful of pickpocketing.
Nothing too exciting this week, mostly just catching up on school work after a long weekend. Tomorrow after class we're heading to Northern Spain to do some hiking. One of my friends and I bought a bottle of wine for our group to share on the trip. I got carded. The drinking age here is 18. I'm 21. Welcome to my life. ;)

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

My first week here

I've been told that my blogs lack the details that the readers want, so here are some random details about my life here.

I'm living in an apartment in a room smaller than our dorm rooms at Butler. With no air conditioning. And it's 90-98 here everyday. And my walk to school is 20 minutes in the sun. The crazy part? I love all of that! The more different it is from the US, the more I like it because it means I'm getting a more unique experience!

I'm certain I've walked more in the last week here than I have the last year (with the blisters to prove it!). On the other hand, I've also probably eaten more. I feel sick almost every day from eating everything my mother gives me. It's hard for me to say if typical Spanish food is good, because I've been eating all vegetarian meals. I've had many dishes with fresh veggies, pasta with an oil dressing, cheese and tomato sandwiches, paella(a popular spanish rice dish that usually has seafood in it), and bread (which they eat with pretty much every meal). The fruits and veggies are much fresher than in the US. Spainards typically eat a lot of seafood, though I of course haven´t. I was also very saddened to hear that peanut butter is almost impossible to find here, and as I usually go thorough a can of peanut butter a week at home, this has been quite an adjustment! :)

I've hung out with some Spanish students throughout this week. They really want to practice their English and we want to practive our Spanish, so it works out perfectly.

I've signed up for classes and so far they all seem interesting. I'm taking comparing US and Spain, Spain in Images (A Spanish film class), Spanish Poetry, and Icons and Traditions of Spain. Spain, Spain, Spain, SPAIN! I'll be an expert on it by the time I leave.

We are currently in the process of planning all of our weekend trips in Spain and to other countries. Pretty soon my blog will turn even more international! This weekend it is off to Segovia, just a few hours on train!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Safe and sound in Spain

So I know this is quite late, but I've noticed that I've repeated a lot in the emails I write and that it would be better to just start a blog. I didn't want to do this because I don't want people to feel obligated to read it, but for those of who are interested in stalking me or for those who simply want to read this once and then forget about it, here is my blog.
I arrived safe and sound in Spain almost a week ago, though it seems like a month ago. I actually had very little culture shock. No crying here! I love my host mom. My only complaint is that she feeds me soooooo much, and that's not a bad complaint to have. In Spain, it's rude to not eat everything that is given to you on your plate. I know my mom wouldn't care if I told her I didn't want it, but I'm attempting to do things the spanish way as much as possible. I'm even eating breakfast at 11 am, lunch at 3pm, and dinner at 10pm! I have only seen my host brother for about 2 hours total because he lives with his dad most of the time, but he seems nice.
So far I've been able to understand more Spanish than I expected. My mother and professors speak very clearly, but it can be difficult to talk to people on the street because they speak faster and use slang. I'm not very good at speaking, but I can at least communicate what I'm trying to say.
So far, I've only traveled around Alcala (my home city) and Madrid (about 30 minutes from Alcala), though 2 other Butler students and I tried to find our way to a Walmart type store in Madrid on Saturday. We took the bus we were supposed to, but an hour later ended up back where we started. So we got off and asked an old man. He told us how to get to it a completely different way than we were told during orientation. 4 hours later we made it there. Quite an interesting learning experience. If any of you are ever in Spain, DO befriend little old men who will help you find your way. :) We found out later that the first bus makes a complete loop around the city back to where it started and then goes on to the store, so you just have to stay on it when you get back to the beginning. Well, now we know. And have some very hilarious memories!
I have lots more to tell, but won't bore you with too many details. Just know I'm safe, having a good time, and meeting lots of people from lots of different places. Hasta Luego (See you later!)