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.