26 December 2008

20 December 2008

Our adventures are coming to a close. . .

So last thing you knew we were still in mainland Europe, right? Ha! You're waaaaaaaaay behind. We're in Dublin now.
But from Madrid, we went on to Paris. It was nice, but dreary. Saw the Pere Lachaise cemetery (Jim Morrison is there, plus Oscar Wilde, plus a bunch of other famous people). Had an omelette at a Jim Morrison themed cafe. Visited the Louvre- it was much better than I'd remembered, and I could appreciate more of it. Went through Notre Dame, St-Sulpice, St-Germain des Pres, all that good stuff, plus the Eiffel Tower (we could only see about half of it, though, because of all the fog). We actually took a couple of videos, but the wifi in this hotel is probably not going to allow me to upload them. It's blocked facebook and tuenti and I can't believe it's allowing me on here now.
Oh I need to add that the Madrid Metro system really puts Paris' to shame. I am already missing Spain so much.
From Paris we took a train out to St-Malo, which is a little coastal town that used to be big with pirates and explorers and stuff. The hotel there was nice, but it did not offer internet. Disappointing.
Thursday we took a bus up to Mont-St-Michel, which I'd loved before but wasn't quite as impressed by the second time. It's still really cool, and you should go visit it, but maybe when it's a little warmer. I don't have time to go into the history of it now but wikipedia should fill you in.
Friday we spent in St-Malo, walking around and seeing the beaches and stuff. The sun came out for the first time since we'd gotten to France, and it warmed up. Then we flew to London, and on to Dublin. And here we are now.
More later.

14 December 2008

La Guernica existe- la he visto

So let's see. . . the last three days have been ridiculously busy. I finished up my finals, picked Mom up from the airport, took her out to get bocatas at Bar Los Bocadillos (love them!) walked her around Madrid a bit that night, and finally dropped her off back at her hotel.
Friday was also really, really busy. I came by her hotel that morning with some lunchy food to drop off, and then we went out towards Sol. I wanted to hit up a chocolateria that's kind of a big deal, but it wasn't open yet, which was a little weird. We got chocolate and churros at a Cafe y Te instead, and it wasn't bad.
Then I took her on a really random tour. From Sol I wanted to find Plaza de Espana, which I've gotten to before from there, but only with other people. I was pretty sure we were going in the right direction, though, but we ran into some things I didn't expect- like the Palace. So that was pretty cool. And then from there, you just hang a right, maybe detour through the Sabatini Gardens, and you're at Plaza de Espana.
From there we strolled down Calle de la Princesa to Arguelles and beyond to Moncloa, and I gave her a little tour of Parque del Oeste and my school. Then we took buses (because the view is better) to Retiro, and took a brief walk through there (it would take days to see all of that park). We walked back towards Sol, stopping to get a snack. I am happy to see that my mother is now just as obsessed with tortilla espanola as I am.
After that I had to leave her for a brief while so I could go to my program's goodbye lunch. They served us wine, and I think I am now officially the most tacky person in the world for ordering Fanta limon on the side and mixing the two so I could stand the taste (I don't think I will ever like plain wine, be it red, pink, or white).
The whole thing was a little sad. I'm really going to miss a lot of those people, especially our exceptional office staff. Angel was named our single favorite thing about IES, and Diego, the new guy in the office, was one of the people we most wished was single (I couldn't agree more).
Eventually I made it back to my mom so we could get into the Prado during its free hours (oh, if you're ever in Madrid, the Prado is free for everyone from 6-8 Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 5-8 on Sundays. It's all closed on Mondays). We'd allotted both Friday and Saturday nights for this, which is good, because we only got an hour. We were up on the top floor Friday night and saw mostly Titian stuff.
Yesterday, Saturday, was primarily spent packing. That was so hard! I think I went slowly because I didn't want to leave our perfect little apartment. Now that I don't live there anymore I can tell you more about its location. Well, the boy who lived in an apartment three floors below us said his senora told him their property value (for a tiny little apartment) was 1.2 million! I'm not sure if that's in euros or dollars, but that's kind of a big deal! She said it was in the Salamanca district, but other maps I've seen puts it in the Rios Rosas area. So who knows. Either way, it was in a very safe, very nice neighborhood, and I'm really going to miss it.
So then we hit up the Reina Sofia, which is the big contemporary art museum. I've been there before, and it was just as painful the second time. (Just so I don't get any more of these rabid Spanish commenters telling me to stop discriminating against their people, all modern art makes me feel this way.) Basically what I told my mom was that modern art, like surrealism and cubism, makes me want to break the paintings' frames, take the shards of glass, and stab my eyes out with them. Yes, that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea. We did find some rooms that we both liked, though, with stuff that looked like it was probably from around the turn of the century (when it turned from the 19th to the 20th, to clarify), painted with much more pleasant color schemes.
The main reason we went was to see La Guernica, which is a really big deal. They've given it its own room. And they have postcards in the gift shop which say 'The Guernica exists- I have seen it!'
Then it was back to the Prado, where we saw pretty much everything else I wanted to show her. I gave her a chronological tour of the Spanish monarchs from the Carlos V of the Habsburg family through Fernando VII (one of the Bourbons, I think?). Then we dashed around in the last ten minutes trying to see Fra Angelico's Annunciation (look it up, it's beautiful), Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, and all of that famous stuff. It was so hard to fit everything I've learned into 3 hours at the Prado, considering I'd spent 20 or 30 something hours in there with my class.
We chilled out at the hotel last night and made guac. Now: on to the Rastro!

11 December 2008

Mom's here!

That's it, I'm too tired to write anything else. Just to let everyone know. She's here. I cried when I saw her. More later hopefully?

07 December 2008

"Our ancestors must have been very hardy to go about in nothing but a shirt and a rug"

Oh Scotland. That's where I was last weekend, and it was pretty cool.
It was pretty much just as cold as I expected. Actually, it was colder, because someone told me it would probably be about the same as it was in Madrid. Wrong.
So let's see, I stayed up all night in the airport, flew in to Edinburgh about 9:15. They have a really efficient customs system and my baggage was actually waiting for me when I got through it. That's probably the fastest I've gotten through any airport, ever.
Then I withdrew some pounds from an ATM. Ugh. The exchange rate is pretty awful. I don't want to talk about it. Then I found the bus to the city center and next thing I knew, I was on Waverley Bridge in the heart of Edinburgh, with the Scott Monument and the castle both visible to the west (wait was it the west? Well sort of off to the westish direction I could see things).
I wasn't really sure what to do because I'd told my hostel I wouldn't be in til noon, and it was only ten. (Edinburgh Airport is just too darned efficient.) So I wandered through a little Christmasy park that was set up right there, next to Princes Street. That's where the Scott Monument is, and beside it is a ferris wheel, which was either being set up or repaired as I was walking through. The Scott Monument is a huge, blackened, Gothic tower which was put up in honor of Sir Walter Scott, who wrote Ivanhoe and nothing else that I can immediately think of.
There were a lot of little Germany shops selling schnitzel and whatnot (I have no idea what schnitzel actually is) and general holiday goodness. I realized I could not simply wander for another hour and a half, so I decided to find my hostel. Turns out it's in an awesome area, like I may have mentioned already- right off of High Street and the Royal Mile.
So then check-in time wasn't til 2, which is when I decided to wait around in the lobby and post. That got old too, so I went out to get lunch. I found a baked potato place where they did vegan haggis of all things, but I wasn't brave enough to try it. Instead I got a baked potato with vegetarian chili and cheese on top. The chili wasn't top notch, but I do commend the Scots for trying.
By this time it was about 2, so I went back to the hostel to check in. I've always thought of hostels as being pretty small and a little run down, and the place I stayed in Venice, although awesome, was no exception. The High Street Hostel, however, was pretty massive. It had several floors of rooms, each room holding up to almost 20 people. The lobby was nice, with free wifi, and there was a lounge in the basement with pool tables and lots of seating. Each bed had a corresponding locker. I was assigned to room 3D, which was a fish-themed room. Therefore, my bed was named Bass, as was my locker. I put all my valuables in the locker and left my locked suitcase under the bed (no, I'm not a true backpacker) and headed out.
I'm trying to think of what all I saw the first afternoon. I think I went into a lot of the little shops and sampled a lot of shortbread (delicious!) I went down High Street a little ways in the direction of Holyrood, but I went back towards Waverley Bridge and Princes Street before too long, and I rode the ferris wheel because the Scott Monument was closed (I took a video of me up there but I couldn't post it) and then I started to feel pretty tired. Add to that the fact that sunset is right around 3:45pm there, and my day was over pretty quickly.
Oh! I did spend some time on skype in the hostel lobby that night. You know how much I've been complaining about Spanish guys and how forward they are, right? Well you would think I would be able to escape them in Scotland, of all places. WRONG. While I'm on skype, I can hear the guy sitting at the table next to me and the guy standing between us talking. First they're talking about one of the Asian girls at the hostel, and how she's pretty cute, and then they're talking about whether they prefer blondes or brunettes, and then they start talking about younger girls and how it's okay for a younger woman to date a man a few years older than her if she's mature (I should add that these guys were probably 35 or so). It was starting to make me uncomfortable, so I logged on to tuenti.com, which is basically the Spanish facebook, so that they could see I understood them.
Someone with tact might have ended the conversation at this point. Spanish men, however, have no tact. Instead, I realized that the conversation was becoming directly pertinent to me. They were saying things like, "How strange that a girl would sit at her computer for so long without saying hi to the people around her," and I could feel my face getting red. I didn't want to leave abruptly, because before the Spanish men had shown up, I'd been having an interesting conversation with a paleontologist from Leeds or Liverpool or somewhere in England. He was really nice and actually interested in the fact that I come from the heartland, because he's heard all about how it used to be a massive ocean with huge aquatic predators and whatnot. It's so cute when guys go on and on about geeky things that the girls around them either don't understand or have no interest in. It was a nice contrast from the Spaniards.
Oh, right, the Spaniards. Like I said, it was starting to get creepy, so I shut down my computer for the evening. I heard the creepers remark (in Spanish, of course) about how strange it was that a girl would be going to bed so early. Maybe she's sick, they wondered. With my computer under my arm, I said good night to the paleontologist. Then I turned to the Spanish men and told them buenas noches, and then I headed for the door before they could respond. Once I was back in my room, I dished to a couple of my roommates, because the Spanish guys had been talking about them too (creepers!).
I pretty much passed out as soon as I put my head on the pillow, and then I was up pretty early the next morning. My hair was a mess, but there was no time for a shower, because of the limited daylight. A plan probably would have been beneficial, but I had only a rough outline in my head of what I should see, and I figured my best bet was to go up the Royal Mile.
On my left I found St. Giles Cathedral, named for the patron saint of Edinburgh. Although a lot of it is pretty modern, it was still very nice inside. There was a lot of stained glass and a lot of beautiful carvings, especially in the Thistle Chapel. Look it all up.
So then I continued on up the Royal Mile. I did spend a little time in a souvenir shop with a kilt factory downstairs that you could tour (don't judge me; it was very informative). They had displays of really fake-looking men wearing kilts and tartans through the years. Did you know it used to be illegal for Scottish men to wear kilts? Blame the English, trying to crush their individuality. The display was accompanied by an audio track explaining everything, which is where the quote in my title comes from- in olden times kilts were wrapped around the waist, but there was excess fabric which was draped and pinned up at the shoulders. At night, when they were travelling, they could sit on the fabric, and then pull it over themselves to sleep.
I didn't have much farther to go on the Royal Mile, because I was pretty much at the end of it. Do you know what the end of the Royal Mile is? It's the castle. It's normally 10 pounds to get in to the castle (that's 15 to 20 dollars!) but because it was St. Andrew's weekend (patron saint of all of Scotland), it was free! How lucky is that? Anyway, it's pretty cool. I got to tour St. Margaret's Chapel, which is the oldest part of the current castle. It's named for a former queen of Scotland who arrived with a piece of the true cross. She was famous for her good works and was made a saint after she died.
I saw some of the royal chambers, like the quarters of Mary, Queen of Scots, where she gave birth to her son, King James (the king after Elizabeth I). I very briefly saw the crown jewels, and a dog cemetery, and I got to fight a guy dressed up as a soldier (the pic didn't really come out too well). After that I was about castled out so I went back down the Royal Mile.
There I saw a crowd assembled around a guy whom I could hear shouting but could not see. When I got closer, I realized he was dressed up as Mel Gibson in Braveheart. He was accepting donations for leukemia research to take your picture with him. I wasn't sure if his charity was legit, but either way, it was worth a pound to get a picture with him. He knew how to work the crowd- when a group of Egyptians came to pose with him, he said to them, "Ah, sons of pharaohs. Let me make you a deal. I have a wonderful wife- she's priceless- she's worth her weight in gold. But if you go to the museum and bring me the death mask of Tutankhamen, I'll trade you my priceless wife. It's a great deal." He also kept shouting things like, "I'm a wee bit prettier than Mel Gibson!" When I was posing with him, he was shouting things like, "Let's show them cold Scottish steel! Will you say aye?! Will you be brave in battle?! Will you be my wife?!"
(By the way, he was totally legit. I looked him up. Turns out he's been out on the Royal Mile almost every weekend and holiday for the past 10 years, and he's made tens of thousands of pounds, all of which he's donated to the Anthony Nolan Trust.)
Then I wandered some more. I realized it was about two, and I hadn't eaten in the past day, so I went into a Spanish bar, craving tortilla. I was a little disappointed, and I'm really glad I didn't try their sangria (at 5 pounds a glass, it would have had to have been pretty amazing). I realized there were still so many things I needed to do before it got dark, but first I had to drop things off at the hostel (yes, I spent too much money in Edinburgh. Blame the exchange rate. No, blame me).
After this, I had the daunting task of finding the number 15 bus to Roslin, and Rosslyn Chapel. You know Rosslyn Chapel- the place where Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou end up in the Da Vinci Code. Supposedly where the Holy Grail is hidden. It took a while, but I made it there, unfortunately just as it was getting dark. The chapel is also under construction, which was too bad. Oh, and you can't take pictures inside. And it's 6 euro to get in. But they do offer a free tour of the little chapel, which was so interesting and informative. I learned about the grail legends, and also about the origins of the chapel. It belongs to the Sinclair family, and the first Sinclair came over from France (with the name St. Claire) as one of the guardians of the aforementioned Margaret, who brought with her her relic of the true cross, which may yet be in the chapel. (That's also the origin of the name Holyrood Palace- it means holy cross.) So that whole thing was beautiful, and very, very interesting. Oh, the whole place is decorated with carvings of plants and things, and some of the carvings appear to show what may possibly be corn- carved like a hundred years before Columbus made it to America. It's possible that the Scots were talking with the Vikings, but for a long time there has been a persistent legend that one of the Sinclairs visited the Americas before Columbus (our guide said that he was 'not convinced'). Then again, the carvings could just be stylized depictions of lilies or strawberries (I'm not counting that out).
There are plenty of other stories to tell about that amazing place. Some you can probably find on wikipedia, some I can tell you if you really want to hear them. Anyway, I eventually made it back to the city, and wandered about Princes Street for a bit before heading back to the hotel to shower and sleep.
The next morning, I got an amazing breakfast from my hostel for a pound ninety, which I thought was so worth it. Juice and milk and cereal and croissants and rolls with jam and butter might not seem like much, but I thought it was amazing. They had also offered free hot chocolate in the lounge the night before. All in all, I enjoyed the High Street Hostel. They had pretty exceptional shower facilities, although I'd been warned that the hot water sometimes runs out . That didn't happen with me, but I think I showered pretty late.
I went back down to Waverley Bridge to catch my bus back to the airport. It was a double-decker (awesome) and I decided I wanted to ride up in the top. As I was taking the stairs up, I heard a sound I'd been dreading: the Spanish language. Talking about me. I knew what was coming next: whistles. What was really great was that this was a totally different group of Spaniards. Makes me want to come home right now.
Flight home was uneventful, and Barajas impressed me with speedy baggage claim and customs. It was a good weekend.

28 November 2008

I'm in SCOTLAND!

Yep, the title pretty much says it all. But before I say anything about that, there are still some things from the last few weeks I've forgotten to mention.
Between my two theatre classes, I'm going to plays every week. Last week it was Don Juan: El Burlador de Sevilla. I think you all probably know what that's about. What you may not know is that in Spain they are big fans of gratuitous nudity. It was a scarring experience. Then it started to get really, really boring, though, and I started to fall asleep in my seat. I would not recommend it.
Tuesday night we had a sort of Thanksgiving dinner set up for us at the Hard Rock Cafe by IES. First course was a sweet pumpkin soup, which was very, very good, and then for the second course, everyone else had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, with a little bit of 'cranberry' on the side. I got a veggie burger with a really good salad on the side instead. I asked my waiter if I could maybe get some cranberries too and he was like simultaneously shocked and amused by that, but gradually he regained his composure and said he would do what he could.
So I was eating my veggie burger, sort of picking at it because the cheese on it was a little overwhelming, and it was a lot of food, and I turned to the girl next to me to complain that Sebastian had forgotten about my cranberries.
"You spoke too soon," she told me.
"What are you talking about?" I asked her.
She nodded to my plate. There, right in front of me, was my cranberry sauce! It had not been there a second before. So if you come to the Hard Rock Cafe, heads up, because their waiters are a little sneaky. I know it doesn't seem like a big deal, but it seriously blew my mind. Like I looked up and looked back down, and it just appeared. And I was sitting with my back to a pillar, so Sebastian had to do some serious maneuvering. And he spoke both English and Spanish fluently. Amazing.
Oh but it was not actual cranberry sauce, because I guess they don't have bogs in this country. Instead it was some other fruit of the forest in a red sauce. It wasn't tart like a cranberry but it was still really good.
Dessert course: apple cobbler. There was so much going on in that cobbler- apples, flaky crust, ricotta or some sort of filling, pecan topping crust thing, vanilla bean ice cream. . . wow. I did not even come close to finishing it. It was just too much food.
I mentioned the other night that I was going to a baile de mascaras. I was wrong though; that was the name of the play: Baile de Mascaras. And it was really pretty great. It was sort of a retelling of the Spanish War of Independence as viewed by a mental patient who sees other mental patients doing interpretive dance. So you had Napoleon, Ferdinand VII, and Goya all dancing around on stage, in a mix of ballet, flamenco, and modern styles. I really, really enjoyed it, and I think I'm going to kick Bodas de sangre to the curb and take my mom to Baile de mascaras instead.
So that's what's going on with me! Right now I am waiting in my hostel lobby to check in but I think I will just leave my stuff here and get something to eat or go exploring or something. Later!

26 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

So I know everyone on my mom's side of the family is over at Grandmom's tonight for Thanksgiving and I wanted to make a little video to say hey! I had planned to shoot it at the Prado before class but, silly me, I was running late as always. So I just shot the video in my room, looking like a slob. At least you can't really see what my room looks like right now. Sorry if I sort of ramble on. I do that sometimes, in both Spanish and English. I hope the sound is okay- I tried to record myself doing my famous dance to Miley Cyrus' 'See You Again' and it was cutting in and out.

HAHA! Now that the video has uploaded I can see my face and it looks like I'm crying. I promise I'm not crying; that's actually the face I make when I'm happy. I actually look like that guy who yells, "Leave Britney alone!" but it's not like that at all.

I hope you enjoy it! Love you all! Later!

video

25 November 2008

Toledo!

Okay well I am getting behind so let me try to catch you up.
Let's see, not last Friday but the one before IES went to Toledo by bus. It's only about 45 minutes out of Madrid. One of the interesting things about Toledo is that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have all been prominent there throughout its history.
We pulled into town around 10 and our bus driver dropped us off in an alley. There was a minor incident as we exited because one of the girls had been wearing her seatbelt (Angel insists) and then when she unbuckled it and it rolled up, it took the hem of her shirt with it. In short, she was trapped. Two of us stayed to help her while the bus driver tried to kick us off the bus because we didn't know how to explain the situation. I feel like it probably takes a very specialized vocabulary to communicate to a Spanish bus driver that your friend is trapped because her shirt is stuck in a seatbelt.
Finally she ripped herself free and we walked into town. There a few of us got the marzipans that the city is famous for (overrated!) and then IES regrouped and we headed to the cathedral.
Okay, this cathedral is the real deal. They've got just about everything you could want in a Gothic cathedral. As usual, we did a tour, and the tour guide was all like, "What do you notice most about this cathedral?" and I casually raised my hand and answered, "The light," like I'd done it a hundred times (and it's beginning to feel like I have) even though what really struck me was all the space inside.
They say that the cathedral is built on a spot where the Blessed Virgin descended and handed off a garment or something. There are many murals and paintings and reliefs within the cathedral depicting the event, and there's also, within a small, dimly lit glass case, the stone upon which her holy feet stood.
There was a massive mural of St. Christopher. Points to me for being the only one in my tour group who recognized him- other people thought it was Jesus, but why would Jesus be carrying a haloed figure on one shoulder while lacking one himself? Seriously classmates, up your game.
And then there were gilded chapels radiating around the head of the church (I can't remember what the English term is but in Spanish they call it the head, and I'm sure you can imagine that it's the head on the cross). There was some really beautiful artwork here, like gilt sculptures and more depictions of the Virgin descending from Heaven.
It was really one of the more beautiful cathedrals I've ever been inside. The Spanish Gothic style generally doesn't impress me as much as the French style, but they were definitely trying in this case. They even had a tiny little rose window.
After that it was on to the Synagogue del Transito, a converted synagogue which now serves as a Jewish museum. The main hall was pretty beautiful, with tile and carved wood, and pillars. Up where the women would have originally prayed was wear the museum was, and it had a lot of really interesting things, like old Torahs, the pointers (I'm not sure what a lot of these things are called in English or Hebrew, but I sort of learned some of them in Spanish), shofars, and old ceremonial outfits worn by Berber Jews in their desert weddings and such.
Then we headed to a certain church- I don't remember the name. It is the location of El Greco's masterpiece 'Burial of the Count of Orgaz.' It's a huge painting, probably like 15 feet tall, and it's even more amazing in person. I don't know how much you may know about it, but it really is pretty famous, and many consider it to be El Greco's masterpiece. It was very, very beautiful.
Next we visited the Monastery of St. John of the Kings. This was also very cool but we were starting to get worn out. Thankfully they gave us free time after this.
By this time it was around 2, and we went out for lunch in little grupos. The two girls I was with both wanted to eat, fortunately. After that, though, we wanted to go crazy with souvenirs.
However, we weren't counting on siesta. Almost everything was closed from 2 to 5 there, and unfortunately, we had to be gone before 5. I would have liked to have looked a little longer at different shops, but I'm nevertheless pretty proud of the gifts I bought.

I have to apologize because I fell asleep multiple times while writing this! I know my syntax is probably also off but that's just because I'm so exhausted. So please excuse me.

23 November 2008

Silly Berlusconi!

While I was flying around Italy, the airline provided us with complimentary newspapers. I grabbed one both days that I flew so that I could look like an Italian. At that point, Obama was still front-page news, along with a headline that said something to the effect of 'Berlusconi committs a gaffe against Obama' or something like that.
I don't know how big of a deal this was in the US, but the paper was the first mention of it I'd seen. Because the article I was reading was in Italian, I didn't quite get all of it, but I could see that the article quoted Berlusconi as having said basically that Obama was young, handsome, and bronzed ('abbronzato' or something like that).
Apparently this was a big deal because by saying this, Berlusconi suggested that a black man couldn't become president, or that the American people wouldn't elect anyone with skin that was more than tan. When I read American articles on the quote later, especially editorials, they seemed to portray the Italian people as supporting Berlusconi, but the article that I read listed other offensive or insensitve quotes he'd made. I sort of got the impression that the Italian people, or at least the more fairly liberal media, are rolling their eyes at Berlusconi and saying, "Not again," to themseleves.
I don't know, I just thought it was interesting. I still have the paper and will probably cut out the article.
I've got so much I've been meaning to write about- I hope I get around to some of it today.

17 November 2008

My run this morning. . .

I like to go running in the mornings here, mostly because it is the only time I'm not busy. This morning I was out at 7 (that's pretty darn early for me) jogging and doing softball drills and stuff. And I pulled my quad. But that's beside the point.
I have for you another example of how weird and over-confident Spanish men are. So while I'm walking back to my apartment, limping slightly, I hear someone laying on a car horn next to me. I turn and there are two boys in the car, waving at me. Silly me- I thought they needed directions, so I went over to talk to them.
Clearly they were just coming back from a night out- their car reeked of alcohol. They asked me if I was out for a run this early, I said yes. They asked where I was from, I said the US. They told me I was very guapa for an American girl (I'm still trying to figure out if that was a compliment or not), but that I should go running in the daytime to get some sun.
Then they told me that an American girl and a Spanish boy make a good pair, and asked me if I agreed. I said sure, and then made a graceful exit.
I continued on down the street and crossed at a red light. While I was limping across, I heard another horn and looked to my left. There, in a tiny little car and a bad sweater, was a man making kissy faces at me. I looked at him for a moment, never slowing, and when I reached the other sidewalk I just looked up and shouted, "What is wrong with this country?!"

16 November 2008

View in Venice

This was the view of the street right next to my hostel in Venice! Note the cocky gondolier and his distinctive swagger. Fascinating!

(I didn't notice this at the time, but there appears to be a lot of shouting going on so you may want to turn your volume down before playing. Enjoy!)

video

Venezia: Finding Mimo

Alright. At long last, my highly-anticipated account of my adventures in Italy. Here we go.
So I had a 6:05 am flight out of Barajas. There's a direct Metro line up there which is pretty easy for me to get to. Problem is, the Metro stops running at 1:30 each night, and doesn't start again til 6 am. What most students do in similar cases is wait up at Barajas all night, and I decided I would rather do that than pay 30 euro cab fare to get up there.
I nearly missed that train, though, because I left my packing to the last minute. I had to wait like 5 minutes for a train out of my station, which put me on edge, and I literally ran to get on the very last train to the airport for the night. Then I realized I had no idea what terminal my flight was out of. When I heard some boys near me on the train speaking Italian, I asked them what they thought I should do, and they told me they thought that all international flights (besides ones to Portugal, which apparently don't count as international because they are on the same peninsula?) went out of a certain terminal, so I followed them to that terminal, and luckily it turned out to be the right one, or I might have had to walk around for a while in search of the right one.
There I was, waiting around in the vicinity of the ticket counters, at 2 am. Plenty of other travellers had had the same idea, and all around me were people watching movies on iPods, listening to music, and napping. I tried to make use of my time by finishing up a few unsent postcards I'd found lying around my room and by watching some clips on my camcorder. There are some hilarious moments on there of me and Cousin Sam dancing around at Easter, and of Gracie teaching Emmy how to feel empathy for other dogs. It was nice.
Sometime around (after, I think) 4:30, the ticket counters opened up. I was pretty proud of myself because I kept my conversation entirely in Spanish, even though I think the Alitalia chick started it with 'Hello' because of my passport. I love it when they ask you if you'd prefer an aisle or window seat (I always choose window).
Then it was on through security, where two drunk pijos from some other country (Portugal? France?) harrassed me pretty much all the way through. I think they had to get searched though, so that made me feel better.
After that it was more of the waiting game. I desperately wanted to set up my laptop near a supposed wifi hotspot near my gate, but Vodafone, in a moment of genius, had neglected to supply us with any outlets. I really needed that internet too, because I realized I had totally forgotten to write down the address or directions to my hostel. I even considered calling home to have someone check it for me, but ultimately I didn't do anything but wait for my flight. I just about fell asleep too.
Finally it was onto the plane. I was pretty much exhausted, and nearly broke my rule of never sleeping on public transportation. The flight attendants seemed to think that when I spoke Spanish, I was trying to speak really bad Italian, and used slow, broken English with me instead. How patronizing and embarrassing.
I connected in Rome. After initially waiting at the wrong gate for like 30 minutes and then panicking, I realized that my flight was not boarding at its scheduled time and got some food. Then I waited some more, because this Alitalia flight was two hours late. I thought I was in luck because I saw an internet station, but it ended up being broken, and just ate my two euro piece.
Eventually we got rolling, and after about an hour or so, I began to see lagoons and swampy things out my window (yep, I chose window seat to Venice too). I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love being around water, so I was super excited to spend a weekend in a place where there are canals instead of roads.
When I got into the airport, it was a nice long wait for our luggage, and then finally I found an internet station so I could figure out where I was supposed to go next. Then I bought a bus ticket (plus return) and a one-way ticket for the vaporetto, which is a water bus- Venice's only public transportation.
The bus trip was uneventful, just a 20 minute ride to the square at the edge of the city, Piazzale Roma. From there I caught my vaporetto, the number one (yellow line).
The view from the vaporetto is pretty great. I'm used to being underground when I take public transportation, so to be able to see the canals and the beautiful and old houses built on them was a change.
I'm pretty sure I saw a vampire on the vaporetto. I am slightly embarrassed to admit this, but it's true- I am a Twilight fan (I blame Gracie) so obviously I am an expert on vampires. This guy was too good-looking to be human- he had these long, dark curls and very intense eyebrows and a perfect face. I pretty much stared at him as he walked by me. I could already tell Venice was going to be awesome.
My stop was Ca d'Oro, named for a famous mansion on the Grand Canal. From there I walked down the first main street, crossing three bridges, to arrive at my hostel, which was on the Campo de la Maddalena (Magdalene Church Square). It was pretty legit- I even had to cross a bridge to get to the front door. I did have a tough time finding it though, if only because I overlooked the most obvious, location, thinking there was no way it could be in such a great spot.
Once inside, I met Mimo, the man with the plan, and got more or less unpacked. I was staying in a room with ten other girls, which I had never done before. I'd never stayed in a hostel at all, actually. But I could tell that this one was going to be pretty great- it had better be, because hostels in Venice are like 3 times as expensive as hostels in other, less touristy cities. I knew I was getting my money's worth from the get-go, though, because I could see a gondolier out my window.
I decided to explore the city a little. I hadn't had much to eat all day, so the first thing I did was hit up a pizzeria I'd seen on the way to my hostel. I got a slice with artichoke, pepper, and mushroom on it, and ate it out of a piece of paper. It was great.
Then I went on my way. I don't know why I did this, but I basically tried to get lost. I'd meant to buy a map but somehow hadn't really seen any (or probably hadn't been looking hard enough). I have a decent sense of direction, so if I start out from one place, I can usually tell which way I need to turn to get back towards that place no matter how many turns I've taken. I just wandered, and took pictures, and it was nice.
Eventually I ended up back near the Grand Canal, and there I bought an apple for dinner and a map plus guidebook. By this time it was after four, and starting to get dark. I flipped through the guidebook, and remembered that one of the things I'd wanted to see was the Jewish quarter (well, not a real quarter, but a ghetto, actually). Looking at the map, I realized I'd probably gotten very close to it earlier, and thought maybe I would go check it out again the next day. Then I saw a guy in a black suit and a fedora with little glasses and remembered that it was Friday evening, and the sun was setting. The Jewish quarter would be closing soon for Shabbat. So I rushed over there (Venice is way smaller than it looks on the map), but by then it was sundown, and everything was closed. There were a lot of kids playing pickup soccer out in the square though, and they were adorable.
The Jewish quarter/ghetto is pretty interesting because, until just a couple of centuries ago, it was exclusively Jewish. It was basically cut off from the rest of the city, and the only way to get to it was by crossing a bridge. Because it was seperate from the rest of Venice for so long, it has maintained a rich culture and is well known for that.
I headed back to the hostel, intending to take a nap before Mimo served dinner at like 8:30. I slept through it, though, and woke up around 11. I took advantage of the fact that no one was on the computer, and got on facebook and sent a message home. Then I heard other guests arriving and jumped into bed because there was no way I looked good after having just slept for 5 hours.
I slept until 7 or 8 or so the next morning, and took a stroll around town before breakfast. Then Mimo served us eggs and biscuits (that's cookies to you, but I was eating with a bunch of Aussies and they say biscuits) plus eggs. And then I took off again.
My intended destination was St. Mark's Square and all that touristy goodness. There was a lot to see along the way though. I stopped in at a couple of churches. The awesome thing about some of the old churches here is that they have original artwork by some of the great Italian/Venetian artists, like Titian, the Bellinis, and Tintoretto. Like stuff any museum would kill for.
I didn't really have much of a route planned out- like I said, I have an okay sense of direction so I was just like "Well, I should probably bear right, but not too far right. . ." but because Venice is waaaaaaaaaay smaller than it looks on a map, I walked all the way to the eastern edge of the island in like 30 minutes. It was a nice view, at least, and it was easy enough to get back on track.
Before I knew it, the domes of the most touristy parts of Venice were in sight. What can I say? The Doge's Palace was pretty cool from the outside, but I didn't feel like paying 10 or 12 euro to get in. I headed to St. Mark's Basilica instead. It's free to get in and just walk around the church, but 4 euro to go upstairs to the deck and museum. They were totally worth it though.
Then I walked around the Square, and eventually I went for gelato. It was pretty good, but maybe not as great as I'd expected. I did like that it seemed very light, while ice cream can normally seem a little heavy.
I continued on towards the Accademia Gallery. That was an experience. The Gallery of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, or Gallerie dell'Accademia (I think?) is an art gallery full of famous art and masterpieces. They had several rooms that were just altarpieces or other religious art, and then a lot of the other pieces were religiously themed as well. I saw several pieces that I'd reviewed in my art history classes, such as (I'm not sure about the names in English) Madonna and Child Enthroned with Sts. Job and Sebastian and Feast in the House of Levi. They also apparently have a sketch of da Vinci's Vetruvian Man (I'm not sure if there's more than one or if that's the real deal) but I didn't see it.
I spent a while in there, but had to leave eventually. What else happened in Venice. . . oh yeah, a dog with a cast on its leg (ironic because I'd just watched Grace putting a paper towel roll on Emmy's leg as part of those empathy exercises), I had some more pizza (delish!), also had some more gelato (way better this time!), tried a Bellini- the official cocktail of Venice, made from sparkling wine and peach puree (meh, it was okay), and evertually made it back to the hostel with some time to spare before din din.
Mimo made us a nice dinner of pasta. I had a good conversation with the other girls (we sat at one end of the table while the boys sat at the other, and each party totally ignored the other). The three of us who were American griped about how much we miss Forever 21. The other two Americans were from North Dakota and Colorado, so we were all fairly Midwestern. The other three girls were Aussies. When one of them heard where I was from, she mentioned that when she was 10-12 she'd lived in the same area because of her father's job. How random is that?!
We all sat around talking for more than two hours, until Mimo told us he was taking us out. There had been a lot of wine consumed at dinner (not really by me, because as I have made clear, I am not really a fan of wine by itself) so just about everyone was up for that. We headed to a square, carrying the leftover wine bottles with us because, unlike in Madrid, that is totally legal in Venice. There we got some typical Venetican cocktails- I forget what they were called, but it wasn't the Bellini. We thought the party was there, but it turned out that was just Mimo's way of pregaming, and he led us next to a club. We did nearly get lost along the way though, because I was hanging back with a couple of really funny Aussie boys, and we had to sort of search to refind our party, which led me to quip, "We're finding Mimo!" (I know, I am too funny.)
We waited outside the club for a while before we learned that it was 12 euro to get in. During the wait, a couple of the American boys started beat-boxing and freestyling, and they were legit. The Italians had no idea what to think of that, but I think they liked it.
Since none of us had 12 euro to spend at a club, we all went back to the hostel, which was super close because, again, Venice is super small. We ended up just hanging out and talking well into the night, and it was awesome. Or should I say Aussome? (I apologize for that.)
I woke up around 7 the next morning so that I could walk back to Piazzale Roma. I left my key next to the computer, because Mimo doesn't like to wake up before 9.
It was nice to have a quieter Venice to myself for the walk. I took some more pics, but very few of them came out like I wanted because it was pretty grey. (I still haven't found an overcast setting on my camera yet. I know that's good lighting for portraits and stuff but not for landscapes.)
Arrived at Piazzale Roma, took the bus back to Marco Polo Airport, and then promptly waited around for a flight that was 2 hours late. I was a little upset- I would have had time for Mimo's breakfast had I known.
Because we were two hours late to Rome, I had to sprint through the airport to catch my flight back to Madrid. It didn't help that my flight had switched gates since my ticket had been printed that morning in Venice. Then that plane (which, I should add, was ghetto fabulous- there was one seat that didn't have a back) sat on the runway for well over an hour. I didn't mind that because I figured it would give my suitcase time to make it onto our flight. Wrong. I arrived in Madrid Sunday evening, but my luggage did not. Grazie, Alitalia.
I eventually got my suitcase back, but not until 3:30 pm the next day, after enduring two classes sans makeup or straightened hair. I felt disgusting. All in all, though, a great weekend. My only regret is that I never ended up taking a picture with a gondolier. I guess I'll just have to go back soon.

14 November 2008

More updates to follow soon, I promise

I've been meaning to post all about Venice ever since I got back from there but before I can do that I have to edit all the pictures I took there. Right now I've got it down from about 400 to around 300 but I've still got a long ways to go. Let me just say right now though that it was very beautiful and I really enjoyed my time there.
Then after that I need to post about Toledo, which we just visited yesterday through our program. It was also pretty cool but a lot smaller than I'd expected.
So now you've got all that to look forward too (if I ever get around to it). My weekend is pretty empty, though, so it should happen soon.
I miss you all!

10 November 2008

Ah, noviembre en Madrid

So let's see, the last week was just grand; there was a lot of homework and some midterms, and some midterms to hand back, so that was nice. Our Prado teacher gave us back our midterms with a preface to the effect of, "It's obvious not everyone knew the vocab words, or at least didn't know them as they pertain to art, etc, etc, and I could tell many of you did not do the reading, etc, etc, in short, the grades are not high." Then he passed around the grade sheet (I was warned they do that here) and I could see that no one in the class had gotten anything lower than a B-. I'm still not sure if he was messing with us or if he considers those to be legitimately bad grades.
Two Thursdays ago, the theater classes went out to a performance of Bodas de sangre, a classic play by Federico Garcia Lorca. The production we saw was fairly stylized, but very entertaining. I would certainly recommend it, and am looking at ticket info for when my mom comes to visit.
On Tuesday, our ceramics class had a field trip which pretty much got me out of class all day, except for Prado class. We went to two museums sort of in my general area which I will have to remember to take Mom to when she comes. They were both very small museums, but they had a lot of high-quality art. They were both also very cold, unfortunately. Did I mention that this has been the coldest October/November ever recorded in Madrid? No joke.
Tuesday night was an extremely exciting night, with the elections and all. I guess there were all night watch parties around Madrid. Whatever people say about Obama, the world really is excited for him to be president. He represents hope and positive change to people who don't even know anything about his platform. Most of all, he is not Bush, or anything like Bush, and that is enough for them. There were even 'Goodbye George Bush' parties on Wednesday night, with free entrance and drinks for Americans. I would have maybe gone if I hadn't needed to write a large paper and if I didn't have a 9 am on Thursday mornings.
Wednesday night was eventful, though, because my Creative Writing class went out to the theater. We weren't seeing a play or a musical, we were seeing a 'spectacle,' according to our teacher. It was called Comeme el coco negro (accent on the first o) and it was sort of like a cabaret experience, with feathers and stick-ons and drag queens and huge headdresses and the like. But it was funny, not shady. You could show up any time between 8:30 and 9:30, but 9:30 was what was written on the tickets, and then about 15 minutes after that, the performers took their 'final' bow. We were told the performance was over and that it was time to go. For the next hour or hour and a half, the whole thing was sort of like a comedy act or maybe just a play performed as they were 'striking' the set, and we got to help them. We folded curtains and helped to transport the props outside via fireman-style bucket brigade. It was really, really funny. The cast was really funny, and really versatile, so you would start to realize that the little girl up there on stage was really an actress who had been running around in a leather outfit with a huge, Shakira-esque wig just a few moments before, and before that, she'd been at our row, speaking perfect English with an Essex accent. She was really surprised when we made conversation with her, and she asked us where we were from. When we said the US, she was like, "Oh wonderful! Congratulations on Obama then!"
They also gave us bocadillos, although they had meat in them, so I did not partake. All in all, I would highly recommend that spectacle.
Alright, that was the last week. Next up: weekend in Venice.

02 November 2008

Adeus a Lisboa

We were met once again with a delicious breakfast on Sunday morning. Well, if I were being picky (and I usually am), I would probably say that the Saturday morning breakfast was slightly more awesome, because on Sunday morning there was no apple jam or mushrooms (the lack of mushrooms was probably for the best, though, as they were seasoned heavily with garlic).
But I digress. We headed out to the Metro, taking 20 or 30 minutes to get everyone hooked up with an all-day transportation pass, and proceeded to ride it for two stops before exiting at Restauradores. Then we had to catch our next form of transportation- not the quaint little trolleys that Lisboa is famous for, but a stretch tram, which was good because there were like 30 or 40 of us in this group, and it was still a tight squeeze. And there was no a/c. And we were on this tram for maybe a half hour. Maybe more. Some people's pockets got picked. Some people just got really sweaty. I might have been one of those people. Not attractive.

Our destination was the monastery of the Jeronimos, an order begun by St. Jerome. The story about him is that one day he saw a lion with a thorn in its paw, and even though everyone else was like, "You're crazy, don't go near that lion," he did, and he took the thorn out of its paw, and the lion was so grateful that it pretty much protected him forever.

The monastery was a spectacular white structure, with a cathedral or church connected to a cloister and dorms and halls and everything. The cloister was especially amazing, as it was two levels, and had a fountain in the courtyard. There were also gargoyles, and carvings of people and dragons. You can also see Portuguese water dogs carved into the stones.

After that we were free to get lunch and explore the area. This specific area of Lisboa was Belem, the Portuguese name for Bethlehem. We walked across the street and over to the waterfront, sitting in the shade of the Monument to the Discoverers and watching yachts and sailboats on the river. Nearby was the April 25th bridge, which was built by the same firm that constructed the Golden Gate Bridge, in the same style. It was very lovely.
Then it was off for lunch. I am ashamed to say that I had McDonalds for the first (and hopefully only) time since I've arrived in Europe. A fruit and yogurt parfait plus a diet Coke. Embarrassing.
We had to be meet at the monastery at 1:45, and our group was actually the only one to arrive on time. I'm glad we did get there early, though, because our guides had bought us the famous Belem pastries to try- they are like little custard tarts on which you are supposed to sprinkle powdered sugar and cinnamon. Everyone got one, and then there were a few left over, and our group converged and decided that we should all get seconds. So we did.
Then it was back on the packed tram, and I began to regret that second pastry almost immediately.
We got our bags from the hotel and loaded onto the bus. There were a few minutes to spare before we had to depart for the airport, and in that time we watched a Formula One exhibition occurring right outside our hotel (I totally don't get Formula One, but it's supposed to be a big deal I guess). Then we took off for the airport, watched one of the Die Hard movies dubbed in Portuguese, and had Pizza Hut (it was too good!). And eventually we made it back here to Madrid.
So what else is new. . . hmm, well this is apparently the coldest October and November on record for Madrid, so that's nice. I find the cold by itself to be refreshing, but when there's rain with it, it's just miserable. And there's been a lot of rain.
Saw a play Thursday night- Bodas de Sangre by Federico Garcia Lorca. It was very stylized but very interesting, and I enjoyed it very much. One of the actors was so good-looking (even with a Michael Jackson-esque fake nose and white face paint) that I realized that it is imperative that I get a Spanish boyfriend. I'll let you know how that goes.

30 October 2008

Sintra is for Lovers


The next day, we woke up bright and early (I did, at least; my roommates woke up about 15 minutes before we had to be at breakfast). Let me tell you, the Hotel Marques de Pombal serves a mean breakfast. They had scrambled eggs (some with parsley, some without), mushrooms, sausage, bacon, ham, etc, and then there was a variety of yogurt, and a lot of bread and pastries (these were free, fortunately), some cereals, juices, cheeses, all that good stuff. I personally love scrambled eggs with mushrooms and croissants so I went a little crazy. Oh and also I went crazy with the almond pastries with apple jam. Delish.

The plan for the day was to day trip to Sintra, a neighboring village and municipality. It's a pretty quaint area. I guess they could totally have city status if they wanted, but they keep refusing so that they can keep township status and be more appealling to tourists or whatever. We got there in our tour bus, but after that we had to wait for a local bus to take us up to the first castle, Palacio da Pena. While we were waiting for that bus, I took a few pics of some hydrangeas that were behind us.

The bus took us up steep hills, through a very mystical-looking forest, to the front gate of the castley area, and from there we had to walk up through some more mystical-looking forests to the actual castle. Pena isn't very old, as castles go, but it does have a rich history. I guess the legend goes that a super long time ago, the Virgin Mary appeared on the same hill, and eventually there was a monastery built on the site. Like everything else in the area, the monastery was ruined by an earthquake in the 18th century, and the area was untouched for a while. Then one day the king came riding through and was like, "This would be a sweet spot for a castle." So he built one, employing all sorts of random architectural styles, and today it is Palacio de Pena.

What were some of the sweet things we saw there. . . oh yeah, a 360 view of everything, a big huge monster carved over a doorway, lots of tiles, a forest that looked a lot like Narnia, that kind of thing. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the palace unfortunately. (Not that that stopped half the people in our group from totally ignoring our tour guide and trying.)

After that we trekked back through Narnia down to the village, and we got a little break to do lunch and explore before our next tour. My group got lunch at a little restaurant run by a guy who called us his "American babies" and insisted that we try the almond tart (it was very, very good). Then we hit up the souvenir shops- I bought a little pin that says "Sintra is for Lovers" which I thought was just about the best thing ever, plus a gift for a certain sister's boyfriend.

Then we regrouped to vis the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, which is quite a bit older than Pena, but less pretty. There were a lot of beautiful tiles inside of it, though. One of the rooms, the Magpie Room, is so called because the queen caught the king kissing one of her ladies-in-waiting, and to stop all the rumors, the king had the ceiling and walls of this entire room painted with magpies, one for each woman at court, and in their beaks they carry the motto "Por bem," or "for honor." I'm not really sure why the magpies though. . . did they have Heckle and Jeckle back in the 16th century?


Then we got back on the bus and headed back to Lisbon. . . or so we thought. We drove out to the coast, to a place called Cabo da Roca, or something like that. It's the westernmost point of mainland Europe, and it's 140 meters above the sea. We all hopped the fence and sat on the edge of the cliff to try and be the most western of all. It was amazing. To the north we could see some of the coastline, and one of the girls asked me if it was the United States.


We could only stay twenty minutes, and then it was back to Lisbon. Everyone separated to go out to dinner and such, and I met up with this awesome pirate.


Pirates are really big in Lisbon, turns out. There was a pirate exhibit at the pirate museum in Sintra, we passed a pirate holding a menu for a restaurant in Sintra (standing next to a scuba diver and a shark), we saw the Pirate Bar on one of the main streets in Lisbon, and then there was this pirate in front of a convenience store. There should be that many pirates everywhere.





Bem-vindo a Lisboa

So. Last weekend we had an optional excursion to Lisbon, Portugal, and I went.
And it was awesome.
The adventure began Friday morning when we hopped on the Metro and took it up to Barajas. My roommates like to tease me for trying to be punctual; I can't help it if I don't want to incur the wrath of Ángel and María Jose. Somehow they left before me and I still got to the airport 15 minutes before they did.
We were flying TAP, and they treated us pretty well. I got a window seat, which was great, because I love window seats. Even better was the fact that I had three Portuguese boys in the seats to my right. Miguel, João, and Guy with Eyebrows kept me entertained the whole hour-long flight, and they even taught me a little Portuguese (it's similar to Spanish, but closer to Galician- basically it sounds like Spanish hidden under a Russian accent). Any time you see that tilde over a letter, like over the a in João, your voice goes all nasally. Try pinching your nose. Also, there are a lot of j and z sounds- that's the part that reminds me of Russian. So any time you see a j, just say it like you would in English.
In Spanish, the tilde is only used on the letter ñ, like in cumpleaños. In Portuguese, on the other hand, the tilde goes over vowels, but they still have an enye sound, indicated by the letters nh, as in the name of Brazilian soccer great Ronaldinho (pronounced ro-nal-DI-nyo).
But enough about the language; let's get back to me.
So we arrived in Lisboa and got on a bus and went to our hotel, the Hotel Marques de Pombal (I know there are some random accents in there somewhere but I am too lazy to try and figure out what they are). It was a really nice hotel in a really nice area, with a metro stop maybe 20 yards from the front door. We got up to our rooms, my roommates and I proceeded to have an epic fight, and then it was off to explore the city.
For some silly reason, our guides thought it was necessary that we take the metro for two stops before walking a half hour up a big hill. This was silly because a) the distance that we travelled by metro takes approximately 6 or 7 minutes to walk, and b) it took probably about a half hour for everyone to buy these single-use metro tickets and figure out how to scan them. Anyway, we ended up seeing some really cool squares, then some sweet alley ways, then a few drug dealers, then an ancient Roman amphitheatre mid-excavation, and finally we got up to São Jorge Castle.
This place was also amazing. It was built way up on a hill, so we had a great view of the city, and you could go up on all the ramparts and, needless to say, we took a bunch of pictures (well, I took a bunch of pictures).
There were a lot of cats around Lisboa. Maybe they have a rat problem or something. It just seemed like everywhere I looked, there were fat cats sleeping or lazing about. They were pretty much oblivious to us- some of the cats were just sleeping out in the open, which I thought was a little unusual.
Then it was back to the hotel to do our own thing. I went out with some friends in the direction of Bairro Alto, which had been highly recommended to me by the boys on the plane. I think we had a destination in mind, but after an hour or so of searching we just gave up and went into the cheapest restaurant on the street we were on.
In Spain, they like to give you bread with your food. It's a nice gesture, like, "Here. Have some bread." Not so in Portugal. If there's bread on the plate in front of you, and you want a taste, you better be willing to shell out some coinage.
We learned this when our ticket came. Every piece of bread, every accompanying single-serve container of butter, or cheese, or sardine paste, was marked along with our entrees, salads, and sangria. It was still pretty reasonable, you know, just not what we'd expected. So moral of the story: don't touch the bread in Portugal. Unless you are planning on paying for it.
Then we wandered a bit. Bairro Alto is famous for its nightlife, but it doesn't have a big city club scene feel- it was more like a neighborhood. People were socializing in the streets. We did have some dealers trying to sell us some stuff, but for the most part it felt pretty safe. Highlight of the night: running into some Australians, one of whom did a mean pterodactyl impression (or so he seemed to think). He tried to trade me shirts but I think he might have been just a little too broad in the shoulders to fit mine. We went with the Aussies (who were probably about 30, btw) to a club just down the street, where we danced until a few of the girls got super tired, then we retired to the hotel.

20 October 2008

Ain't no party like a Complu party. . .

It was a good weekend. Finally skyped my fam, which pretty much made my life, and was long overdue. (I realize there are plenty of people out there who did not understand that last sentence at all- well skype is a way to communicate with your family. It connects webcams so that you can see each other on the computer screen and hear each other too- that is, if your connection is good. So what I said was "I finally got to see the shining faces of my family on my computer screen, live, and they were doing the same with my face.")
Saturday night I went to a churchy sort of thing with an amiga. I liked it; the message for the week was about figuring out who Jesus was, which was nice because I would like to know more about Jesus. It was very intellectual; I think most of the message was taken from the Case for Christ which my friend told me is about an atheist who converts when he comes upon evidence for Jesus that he can't deny. At least I think that's what she said it was about. Anyway, it was interesting, and made even better by the fact that the man who was speaking was from somewhere in England. (The north? Maybe?)
On Sunday, those of us who had gone on the Salamanca trip were invited to a barbeque thrown by the boys we went with (their entire dorm, actually, but we didn't realize that). It was a huge party! They put glasses of sangria in our hands about as soon as we arrived and the cups were never empty but a few minutes before a first-year student was ordered to refill them. The whole thing reminded me a little of a frat party- the whole dorm sticks together, and they have their first year students do the sorts of things that pledges would do (pretty tame things generally, like get more sangria whenever asked and play drums and stuff like that).
The atmosphere was a lot friendlier than at most American college parties I've been to. Although there were tubs and tubs full of sangria, and case after case of beer, I didn't see a single drinking game, and there was no one puking in the bushes when we left. It didn't seem like they were drinking to get drunk- everyone was genuinely enjoying each other's company, and the great afternoon weather. We danced, we laughed, we took a lot of silly pictures. I maybe had a little too much sangria, but my balance is horrible all the time, so really, who's to say? And you can't blame me, because this was really, really, really good sangria.
Usually in sangria you find red wine and some soda, like 7-Up or Fanta, at a rough ratio of 1 part wine to 2 parts soda (this according to the cooking class we took last week. You can also add sugar to taste, and then of course there are chunks of fruits.
Well, this sangria was a little different. They had both red wine and white wine, plus Fanta, plus a LOT of juice, and fruit pieces. I've asked one of the boys for the ingredients so I can dazzle you all when I get home (and after my birthday, naturally). I promise you'll love it.
We were the only four Americans at this party, and there were hundreds of people there, so it was a great opportunity to meet people and practice our Spanish. Apparently sangria improves my accent exponentially- one of the boys stopped me mid-sentence and exclaimed, "Your Spanish is better than mine!" That was maybe an exaggeration, but I really am starting to pick up the different sounds, and I'm trying to remember which words they use here instead of the South and Central American words I've been learning for years. My ra told me she's noticed a big improvement too.
The party had to end sometime (around 9, because it had started at 3) and it was back to midterm studying. (I know I only have the one test this week, but it's the Prado class, and that teacher can be brutal, as I've mentioned.) Our boys have promised to alert us as soon as they plan another party, and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing them around campus (although with 100,000 students at the Complu, that may never happen). What a weekend!

18 October 2008

While I'm waiting for my family to figure out skype. . .

It's been a pretty good week- how is it already Saturday?
Classes went well this week; this next week is midterm week, but because I'm so artsy and am taking artsy classes, which are run by artsy people, who are notoriously non-conformist, I will only actually have one mid-term at the appointed time. All the rest have been put off, some indefinitely. I'm pretty sure Ceramics has no mid-term. Niiiiiice.
Took a cooking class on Monday. Am now expert at cooking tortilla, among other things. Hope you're all ready to be dazzled by newly-acquired skills over the holidays. You have 2 months to prepare.
Dropped music workshop. Mom was right, I'm not creative enough for that class.
Speaking of encouraging things my mum has said, allow me to present this conversation my mom and I had over AIM the other day:
Me: Yeah, so it looks like I will sending my jeans home soon, like I told you.
Mom: What, you are already tired of wearing them?
Me: No, I told you, they don't fit anymore. I am losing weight. I told you that.
Mom: You told me the scale there was broken.
Me: No, I told you what I weighed now, and you didn't believe me. You said the scale must be broken.
Mom: [no response]
So supportive! I still can't wait to talk to her though. Hope they figure out skype soon. . .

13 October 2008

SALAMANCA!!!

I think that title sums it up pretty well.
Eight a.m. Saturday morning, we (and by we I mean some of my friends from IES) met at one of the all-boys dorms on the UCM campus, in a common area where some of the students were waiting for the cafeteria to open after staying up all night. They were trying to tell us about American shows that they like, like Heroes (they kept repeating, "Save the cheerleader, save the world") and Lost.
Whoever was supposed to organize us was late, and we ended up waiting for a half hour. During this time I realized that there were only 7 IES students going, all girls, and almost 15 UCM boys. It looked like it was going to be an interesting day.
The bus ride to Salamanca was two and a half hours, and it was drizzling when we arrived. That was unfortunate, because Salamanca is known as the Golden City- its sandstone buildings seem to glow in the sunlight.
First we visited the Old and New Cathedrals. They were so incredible, and the tour that we took gave us access to some pretty amazing areas- the rooftop and the upper ambulatory, for instance. I took so many pictures, and have added just a few of my favorites.
Then we checked out a little of the U of S campus, and saw a big library, and la Casa de las Conchas (rumor has it that there is a treasure hidden within one of the shells that decorates the house). By then it was around 1 or 1:30. The leader of the group took us to the Plaza Mayor, where we would commence our one activity for the rest of the day- a 'tour' of Salamanca's finest bars. (At this point I was like, "Um. . . I don't remember this being on the itinerary. . .")
The boys turned out to be really nice and really funny. By the time 8'o'clock rolled around, though, we were all ready to go. We loaded back onto the bus, but had to wait a while, because some of the guys had gone straight to the bars when we'd arrived and hadn't made their way back yet. When they did eventually find us, the guy who was maybe supposed to be one of the leaders took the bus microphone and made a speech in Spanish. At the end, he started talking in English: "American ladies. . . we hope you have good time today, even though the dwarf, and the rain. . ." (one of the Complutense boys was shorter than me, but he totally owned it).
We didn't get back to Madrid until 11, but the bus driver was nice enough to drop us IES chicas off at the bus/Metro stop nearest the UCM so that we wouldn't have to walk through the park.
Here is where my night began. One of my girls here had an invite from a Spanish boy she knows here (let's call him Spanish Boy) to a private party at a really popular club. He would be there with all his friends, and encouraged her to bring hers. That would be me. We were supposed to meet up with them at one, so we rushed home to get ready.
I know I've been over this before, but time is just different here. There were elderly women, women older than either of my grandmothers, passing me as I walked from the bus stop to my home, and it was after 11 at night. Some parties don't even start til after midnight.
We were late meeting up with each other, of course. There were four of us, all riding the Metro together. When we got to the station, we were dismayed to find that it was pouring. Thankfully, Madrid is big on awnings, so we were able to dash to the sides of the buildings and walk along relatively unbothered by the rain.
So we were late to the club, but this guy was even later. He told us he would be at the club at 2 instead, but ended up getting there at a time when we had left to hang out somewhere warmer, and then when we went back to try and get in, the bouncer would have none of it, even when the guy came out to try and persuade him. We would have to wait.
Two of the girls left- it was just my friend and me, huddling under an umbrella next to a bunch of trashy madrileñas. I wrapped my wet scarf around my shoulders in a vain attempt to keep warm.
Finally the bouncer let us in, grumbling about our passport copies, and we found Spanish Boy. We all danced for a while, and I met so many people that I started to get sick of air kisses. One guy started talking to me about US politics. He was Irish and Spanish and had donated 50 euros to Hillary Clinton's campaign and he was very drunk.
The club closed earlier than we'd expected- 4:30. The Metro wouldn't be open til 6, so Spanish Boy told us we could wait at his apartment nearby. That seemed totally reasonable, because it was both my friend and myself and Spanish Boy has been really nice. As we were walking there, I discovered that my cheap scarf had bled blue dye in pale streaks on my arms and shoulders and totally stained my hands. First order of business upon arriving at the apartment was to scrub that off.
This is the part where things got weird. Spanish Boy's roommate had arrived home and, long story short, started 'helping' me wash my hands and pretty much ambushed me. Let's call this guy Would-Be Latin Lover.
This led to some very awkward moments while we waited for 6 to roll around. It got more awkward when the boys told us that their Metro station is very small and doesn't open til 7. Mentirosos. Finally we made it out of there, and I slept until the afternoon.
I've got to say, nothing improves your Spanish vocabulary like social and awkward settings. People were complimenting my accent all day.

10 October 2008

Friday again. . .

Another lazy Friday. Nothing to do but sit around the apartment- that's not an exaggeration this time; I put all my clothes in the wash and didn't think about what I would wear the rest of the day, so it looks like PJs.
The school week went well, I suppose. In Ceramics, we glazed the pieces we'd made last week, and I'm pretty excited to see how a couple of the things I glazed turned out. Prado class was brutal, because of all the standing and walking around, and also because our teacher doesn't seem to know what time we are actually supposed to get out of there. But we are seeing a lot of cool things in that extra time.
I guess my Creative Writing teacher really liked the stuff I wrote for our writing exercises last week. I just feel much less inhibited when I write in Spanish. Now he has high expectations though, so I have to keep working in there. I need to get started on my mini-novela actually.
My Spanish music class was tough this week because the instructor thought it would be a good idea for us to have a jam session, and I had previously told him that my only prior music experience was on the piano (trumpet was not an option). How the heck do you jam on the piano?! That took me so far outside my comfort zone, and I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to take that class. We'll see what happens.
Yesterday I headed over to the U.S. Embassy to try and mail the completed absentee ballot request form that I had been given when Johnny Mo came to visit. After walking 20 minutes down Calle Serrano, being searched and having my bag confiscated, and waiting 30 minutes for my number to be called, I was told that my form was no longer being used.
At this point, I had already stayed longer than I needed to. I had rehearsal at 1:30 back at IES, and it was already about 1:10. When the woman behind the glass saw my face, she said, "Oh no, I can get you another form! Don't worry!" and then she took way too long getting me that form. "Now just finish that, and step back up here when you're done, and we can mail it for you."
"Can I just mail it myself?" I asked.
"But- but we can mail it for you!" she exclaimed, like why would I consider any other alternative when that was clearly the best option that had ever been created.
"I really have to go," I told her, and she gave me this glare that said, "Whatever," and shrugged her shoulders.
So I ran back out, grabbed my bag from the guards (I know that sounds like I just stold it and made a break for it, but I gave them my ticket and they returned it to me with no problems), and dashed to the street. It was 1:18. There was no way I was going to make it back on time taking the Metro- the walk from the station to IES is ten minutes by itself. So I did what any street-wise, big city living gal would do: I hailed a cab.
There's one thing I do love about cabbies and bus drivers in this town: for the most part, they seem to be on your side. The bus drivers especially- some mornings we will get on the bus and traffic will be brutal, and you think you're going to be late, but whenever the way is clear, the drivers will just floor it. Like I didn't know buses could hit the speeds that these guys achieve.
It was the same with this cabbie- I'm pretty sure he got me there in about 10 minutes. I ran to the theater and slipped through the open door. . . only to see that the only other people there were our instructor and one other student.

Eventually another girl showed up, but we had to just cancel rehearsal because two of the five of us were gone. I can't believe I took a cab across town for that, but I feel like our teacher's spirit would really have been crushed if only one of us had arrived on time.
What else is new. . . oh, I think I witnessed the self-destruction of a string quintet at Sol the other night. One of the violinists was out of tune or something and they just stopped right in the middle of the song, and he argued with the other violinist (I think) and then put his instrument away, and then they all kept arguing. The next night, they were only a string quartet.

I also saw an elderly couple dancing a tango played by this group. They're very interesting; they play at varying hours, and they play all kinds of music, from tango to swing to 'When the Saints Go Marching In.' The other day I even heard them skat. Not something I expected to hear in Madrid. I think it's really cool that the guy who plays primarily clarinet for them is probably about my age, and sometimes he switches it up and trades instruments with the saxophonist. Makes me wish I'd stuck with band in middle school.
What else. . . oh, I saw for the first time in this town someone who looks like they could actually be a competitive swimmer. It was a girl wearing a Roxy shirt (as I so frequently do). She had the broadest shoulders I've seen thus far in Madrid (before that, mine were the broadest).
That's not very exciting, but that's really about it. Plans for this weekend: watch the ALCS and listen to the Mules game! Plus IES trip to Salamanca!







08 October 2008

Short little update

I'm sorry I don't post as frequently, but it just seems like life here is becoming more mundane, and less like a vacation. I think that's a good thing- it indicates that I'm feeling more like a local maybe? I've really noticed that in the past few days I've become much more comfortable around people in particular- starting conversations, feeling a little more sure of myself. I've come to terms in that last few months that I'm shy (I know Aunt Becky will have something to say about that, but when I'm not with family or close friends it's true), so even being more outgoing around my classmates is a big deal for me.
I really do love to wander. Sometimes I take long ways home. It makes me happy to have streets and routes memorized, and to think that, should I come back in 20 years or so, I might be able to find my way around as if I'd never left. Sol in particular is becoming more familiar to me, and I'm frequently asked how to get around the area by tourists.
There's a part of me that really wants to sing on a street corner for money one of these days. Oh, I know I'm a horrible singer, don't worry, but I feel like it would make my European adventure just a little more authentic. I'll let you know if anything comes of that whim.
I'm sorry, but I'm just too tired to write any more (I was up at 6:30 this morning to go running). I'm sure I'll have more to say tomorrow.