Monday, January 26, 2009

León (lion) was more like a cordero (lamb).

Saturday I visited León, Espana. León is located in the northern part of my province (a two-hour bus ride) and is sized around a little more than 100,000 people. It appeared to be more modern than Valladolid, and people were very, very welcoming! Our intent was just to roam the city & enjoy anything that looked interesting…we had the entire day!

Our first moments were spent strolling, peacefully along the Bernesga River. Finally able to breath fresh air was a contrast from the city! We stopped for a cup of café & made "plans" for the day.

We wondered towards the Plaza Mayor (city center) but were distracted by the beautiful Catedral de León. Beautiful! The ceilings & structure were a sight but the stain glass windows were the most impressive part of this church. (This was only one of few churches we visited throughout the day).

After the church, we passed by plenty of interesting buildings- like this one that looks like a castle, but, as we later found out, is a bank. Oops.

León has a grand procession of religious people (although their garb is almost identical with that of the KKK) during Semana Santa, or Holy Week. These seashells mark the path of the religious people during that time.

We also stopped for a quick “pick-me-up”…walking around the city really started to wear on us by late afternoon. I ordered a glass of orange juice- made from this machine! She just poured a dozen oranges in there and presto! 100% orange juice MMmmmm.

We then found the Musec which is a Modern Art Museum. We finally found it after a 40 minute trek only to find it closed until 5. Once we returned, we were informed it was closed due to changing exhibits. Haha. So we got creative ourselves outside of this very, very colorful building and made friends with a random traveler from Japan :)

It wasn't our lucky day, either, for viewing the Plaza Mayor. Once we finally found it (on the opposite side of town), we were greeted by an interesting culmination of smells from the prior market... so we got to view the remnants - awesome. Haha.

To end our night we went out for our first, true, Tapa experience. With the purchase of a beer, you’re entitled to any type of Tapa. Here’s a picture of the first round. So good! And only 2 Euro for all that :)

We boarded the bus, after a nice night-stroll down the river and headed back home. León was a very pleasant city, with nice people, great food, and enjoyable sights to see. It’s possible that I'll return at the end of Spring in order to visit the caves and other outdoorsy things León has to offer!


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hola Queridos!

School's been even more awesome as of late. The program has organized various extra-curricular activities for us; so I’ve enjoyed attending all the events. For example, one night they showed a Spanish movie. They also have “intercambios” which is basically for students of English or Spanish; spend four minutes talking in English & then four minutes talking in Spanish…then switch. So in one night I get to talk to 5 or 6 different people!

The Spanish people who attend are of all different ages and levels; some are studying English to teach it, others need to maintain minimal English skills for their work, and others just plain like it. It’s a great opportunity, as you can imagine, to network & meet other people…which is exactly what I’m doing!

After the hour is up, they provide juice and snacks, and a time to swap email/phone numbers. Luck kind of struck me again because I asked a guy about sports facilities and he not only was able to answer my question (which was like a Eureka moment for me), he took me to the place..the place I had only been looking for the last two weeks! Sweet :) I've been so fortunate to meet nice people here.

Also - the weather has been much nicer here - 50 degrees some I've been able to get out and explore El Campo Grande which is a park that's convieniently right next to my apartment. I was running through, gawking at the beautiful scenery, detailed pathways, greenery, fountains, and then...out of no where... a peacock! Can you believe it?! I love it here!

My camera made love to Segovia.

Wow! Talk about a sight to take your breath away!! We took a Saturday trip to Segovia, Espana.

Two professors from my University took us on "mini-tours" of the city. It's beautiful. Mainly I got to the aqueducts which are the arches you see in the pictures. These were constructed by the Romans many, many years ago. Impressive thing is, they’ve remained standing all these years with nothing more than gravity holding them in place…no martyr, no superglue, no nails, just pure genius. Also got to view my first castle!! Although it was rather cold inside, there was a lot to see. Below is the bed where we learned that the newlywed King & Queen were expected to "create a child" (quite often the wedding also marked the first time they met), If the King could not, you know...perform, they would have to find a new Queen. The twist was that there were people watching them, documenting for history, if the King could or couldn’t. The things I’m learning here !

We also climbed to the top of this castle, I forget how many steps it was, but they were narrow and, well, a little scary. Atop, though, was so worth it. I captured some really great photos!

Aside from the aqueducts and castle, the city was full of other historical buildings, entertainment, awesome views, and the first bubbler I've seen all trip! Segovia was very, very beautiful.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vamos Valladolid! Basketball in my city :)

Hola queridos!

I've been intending to update but times just goes; guess that's old news now, but still true all the same! I've approach my third week in Spain & I truthfully can not believe it. Parts of my day are now habitual & feel comfortable; then there are moments where I am a complete stranger to this city & culture :)

Went to my first basketball game (No soccer hotties yet, Cathy...I'm working on it :). This is my first time without a cell phone since, cripes, the 8th grade; of course, this makes life a little more difficult. A few friends from the program decided to go to the game but had entered prior to me arriving to the stadium (so I may have been a few minutes late ;) I was prepared to ask the ticket-giver where a group of Americans were sitting, as I was sure he'd remember 10 people trying to speak Spanish.

But then a funny thing happened; luck struck again! As I'm reaching for my money, a man approached & offered me a ticket. Initially, I thought he wanted to buy the ticket for me, in which case he was probably expecting something "special" in return, so I politely declined the offer. He pursued again. This time I thought they were counterfit & was looking for Ben to catch him. Nope, wrong again. Just a nice stranger who gave me two free tickets, in the ninth row. Awesome right?!

The game was fun and rather similar to games back in the states; fans, dancers, cheers, concession food, mascot, etc. The video is from their halftime show - two kids shooting baskets...the winner received a jam. Haha!

It's ironic because their colors are purple & gold (just like Stevens Point). We're in the second league, so it wasn't no where near NBA calibur, but it was enjoyable all the same. I also made friends with the mascot, a monkey. Haha..I'll save those stories for home :)

Valladolid won the one point. It came down to two free throws with seconds left on the clock...the other team could have won had they made both shots, but the guy missed both!! Fans were jumping up & down, making the loudest noises - & of course, I was right alongside them!!
It was a lot of fun...great memory! Besos!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brrrr! People here don't believe it can be THAT cold there!

-40 degrees! Serious?!

I don't think I've ever had frostbite, but I don't think that would be fun...
Hope you're staying warm!

Here's something that may bring you a little cheer: It's a video from the first time we tried authentic Spanish Paella at a restaurant in Toledo, Espana. It also, unintentionally, captures food falling out of Kat's mouth towards the end. Enjoy...we laugh every time we watch it :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dreaming in Spanish.

Queridos –
I had to officially declare today “Update Blog Day” before anything else happens or I won’t be able to keep up! This is going to be Spark Notes version [ not that I would know what that is ;) ], otherwise this update would be a novel.

We have/had snow here. They’re accustomed to cold (cough, 20˚ F is "cold") but not the snow. Madrid & southern cities are experiencing record-breaking amounts that have left thousands of people stuck in their houses. It’s funny here because they lay down cardboard in buildings, or throw newspapers on the ground, to keep one from slipping – reminds me of Big Daddy covering up his “son’s” accidents.
Our Welcome Dinner, for International students was phenomenal. In total, the dinner lasted a solid 2 hours, complete with several rounds Tapas (like hors d'oeuvres), sangria (wine), steak, desert, and musical entertainment. They ended up coming around our table (both sides) and sang two songs – it was too much fun :)
Classes are awesome! The professors seriously make it fun; of course there’s a lot of learning too!

Los penguinos came to town - that is to say, some 18,000 motorcyclists were in Valladolid for the weekend. 18,000 is a lot, but was significantly less than the typical 30,000 that come (another result of snow in the South).

Exciting news! My roommate informed me that I’m talking Spanish at night, in my dreams! Of course, it’s not as exciting for her, nor do I have any recollection of these dreams, but it’s exciting all the same :)


Friday, January 9, 2009

School & such

Hola :)

Well, I'm officially enrolled in school here (as an International student of course)! Our 40 minute trek to our building from home took an hour our first day, but we made it on it took us an hour and we were 5 minutes late. There are so many streets here, it's too easy to get disorientated. Fortunately, I'm not afraid to ask for directions and the people here are, in my experience, are willing to help.

My classes are going well...small in size...and the professors seem very excited to educate. I'm in class, more or less, from 9'30 AM until 14'00. Then we return to our home, where "comida" is ready for us to eat, then we can take a nap, go on the Internet, or talk with our host mom...basically nothing stressful. It's much different here because all the small stores (which is a good 90%) close from 14'00-17'00 for lunch/siesta.

I've had difficulty adjusting to not having my friends near, to not knowing where I am, nor having anyone to really answer my questions. So yesterday afternoon I spent a couple hours wondering about the city trying to find a cafe. To my surprise, cafes here are also restaurants, so people are loud, talking, and SMOKING. Augh. I just want comfy seating, wireless Internet, and good needless to say I was feeling a little disappointed yesterday.

That was until the night. It was my first Thursday here and we live in a "university town" so I was very curious to see the night life and hopefully meet some Spanish people. We waited until 23'00 to go out and found that it is true that people don't really go out until midnight. I went with my friend and she was ready to turn back..but I had a good feeling so I made her wait just a little longer. I found a guy and asked him where the students party and he gave me directions. As we're walking down the street, we didn't take a right (because it didn't look like a place to turn), in the meantime he'd met with his group of people (two girls, sisters) and were walking behind us, he stopped in the street and waved for us to go there. I'm so glad that we did. After introductions, they invited us to go with them, and the rest is history :) Haha. We went to a bar and had a great conversation (in Spanish!) and basically, long story short, they recommended a Cafe for me (and what I'm looking for) and also where all the bars are ;) Also, the guy works at a discoteca (dance club) and they invited us to go out with them on Saturday night!!

I was on such a high!! Meeting them reaffirmed that if there's a will there's a way : ) It's also now that I'm realizing why International students are always so appreciative of my assistance back I know it's worth a million euros.

I think tomorrow (if I don't have too much fun tonight, we aren't going until midnight) I will try to find the cafe that she recommended. Also, my next will is to find a team here. I have such a desire to play futbol...I also want to learn handball (it's popular here, too).


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Que tal?

I am writing to you from Valladolid, Espana ... about 2 hours north of Madrid. This is where I will be living for the next five months!

Today I met my host mom, she is a widow, who lives here alone (although she has a boyfriend and daughter). She lives in an apartment on the tenth floor, but there's an elevator so it's okay :) My roommate and I have our own room, with our own closets, and we share a bathroom. There's also WIFI (wireless Internet) which is huge here because Internet isn't no where near as accessible as it is in the states. We're at least a 20 minute walk from the University.

It's very different living in someone else's house, yet trying to get used to living here (ie..moving in, etc). For lunch we ate eggs, sausage, and rice. For supper we had chocolate with rascon (it's a type of bread that's special during the holiday season).

Tomorrow I'm taking my placement test for classes...that begin Thursday! I've been telling my friends that they can be jealous of me for being here, but not too much, because I have to start school so early. Plus, we have two more papers to write on the museums/history we whitenessed the last days in Madrid.

Oh! I should mention, too, that I got to see my best friend, Antonio! He drove me around the city and showed me the sights, then we went to a bar, had a mojito, and tried to realize that we weren't dreaming! It's so great to see him again and I am in the process of making plans to see my other friend from Spain soon as well.

Hasta luego amigos!
Feliz Cumpleanos Dad :)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Estoy en Madrid :)

Hola todos!

There's so much to tell... I don't even know where to begin?!

I made it fine into Madrid, Espana! Actually, the 8 hour initial flight, 5 hour layover, and then 2 hour flight into Madrid went very was great to finally be on land and safe. Thanks to Aunt George's travel tip for the Germany Airport, our group was able to get recharged with free coffee & tea compliments of Lufthansa Airlines :)
We are staying in the middle of city, although it's pretty basic. I'm in one room with two other girls, three beds, one shower, one "toilet". I use "toilet" because, well, there's not seat nor is there toilet paper! This exemplifies one of the first things I already miss about home...
Our hostel is in a great location though, only about a five minute walk from the Plaza Mayor (which is the city square, bustling with activity). It's breathtaking here, sometimes because of the sights and other times because of the smell :) The food has been good so far. Today I tried Paella which is a typical dish in Espana and although I was prepared for the seafood, I was not prepared for the seafood to still be fully enact (i.e. had to shell the crab and my shrimp still had eyes!) As hard as I tried, I couldn't get over the fact that I was decapitating my food...

So far we've went to El Prado (a very prominent art museum), Flamenco dancing, and also spent the day in Toledo walking through ancient streets and churches. We have an art/history professor from a University here, who is our tour guide. She loves to talk and I'm very pleased with the amount of Spanish that I've been able to understand. Either tonight or tomorrow I am planning to re-unite with one of my best friends from Madrid & on Tuesday we will leave for Valladolid, the city I'm going to be living in for the remainder of the semester.

I hear the weather in Wisconsin hasn't been the kindest...hope all is well :)