Wednesday, August 11, 2010

En fin

Well, here it is: my final blog post. Not surprisingly, it is long over due. I have been home for over four weeks, and it has taken that long for me to catch my breath, and settle in to a different life.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

Twain's words struck a cord with me; I am confident that my time abroad was worth the challenges, the sacrifices, and yes, even the high balance on my credit card (though some days I struggle convincing myself of that one!). And, at the risk of sounding vain, I am proud of myself for what I did.

It is still unbelievable: I lived in Spain. My semester abroad came and passed, and here I am, back in the United States, preparing myself for another (and my last-yikes!) year at Bellarmine.

How does it feel to be back? Good. It is strange, but a good feeling. I was ready by July 14. It wasn't that I was unhappy: not even close. I think saturatedis a better word. I missed my family, friends, and country, but beyond that I was ready. There is a Spanish phrase which describes my months abroad well: "buen aprovechado." The meaning is difficult to translate exactly, but it is to say time well spent. I took advantage of my time in Europe and looked forward to coming home.

Since being back, I have answered so many questions, generally along the lines of: "Did you enjoy it? What was the best part? Is it good to be home?" The answers are as obvious as the questions: "I cannot choose one part that was the best, it was all amazing and I am happy to be home." Two people have asked me more specific questions, questions which forced me to reach beyond my trite, though honest, response: "It was wonderful, challenging, yet amazing."

I will being with the first. My friend Paul, who spent a semester in Australia, asked me to tell him everything. Quickly realizing the magnanimity of that task, he corrected himself and said: "tell me your top five-the best things you experienced." It took some thought (I have never been good at making decisions!), but here they are (in no particular order):

1. Learning Spanish
2. Paragliding in the Alps
3. Being in Europe throughout the World Cup, and celebrating (big) with Spain
4. Meeting people from all over the world (literally)
5. Seeing Pope Benedict XVI

The other question I was asked took me by surprise, simply because it was unexpected. I am accustomed to answering the usual questions, but when a family friend asked; “Sarah, what did you learn?” I paused for a moment, but the answer came quickly-it was not a difficult question; in fact, I learned so much, where did I begin?

Laughing, I responded: “A lot of Spanish!” But then I added, “I learned so much about other people, other cultures. But beyond the obvious, I learned even more about myself. The greatest lessons I encountered taught me about my self and humanity.”

I learned to laugh at myself. I learned that mistakes happen, and life goes on. I learned to adapt. I learned that failure is a fact of life-sometimes my best effort simply may not be enough (believe me: that was a difficult lesson!). I learned that people see and experience all things differently. I learned that history is relative. I learned to let people surprise me. I learned that "smiling and nodding" can sometimes lead to confusion...and sometimes interesting conversation. I learned that asking questions the first time makes things easier in the long run. I learned that sometimes a smile can change a person's day more than change in her outstretched hand. I learned to keep (relatively) calm and carry on. I learned that culture is not bound to a single country, nor a country to a single culture. I learned that despite differences in languages, traditions, customs and habits, we are all humans: and I believe this is the most powerful unifier.

It was a simple question, and perhaps it was not asked with the intention of provoking such thought, but I welcomed the opportunity. I learned more than I ever expected to learn, and I had great expectations.

As I mentioned before and will most likely forever say, sometimes it still does not seem real. I laugh when I say things like: “When I was in Berlin…” or “I met a Swiss man while I was in Seville…”

But it was real; it happened. And though lately I have been pining for more adventures (and perhaps an escape from “reality” I am finding here in Louisville) and missing my friends and life in Salamanca, I know my time abroad, and all the lessons learned, will forever be with me. That is the thing about all experiences: they happen to us, they change us. And for better or worse, we are never really the same.

I thank you all (though I don't actually know who-if anyone-read much of this blog) for your thoughts and prayers throughout my time abroad; it would not have been such a wonderful experience without the support of my friends and family. And I feel it is appropriate to thank those who put up with my emotions throughout the adventure-before and after. I know I was difficult!

There is a strange sense of finality in ending my blog; a feeling of which I am not particularly fond. But I will forever be grateful for my months abroad, and I know one day I will return.

Un abrazo muy fuerte.

Sarah

Friday, July 9, 2010

What was I thinking?



I don't know what came over me. I have never had a strong desire to go bungee jumping, sky diving, paragliding or other such things. Probably because the thought of being that high makes me ill. As I was perusing my options while here, I saw the page on tandem flying. I looked at it, chuckled to myself: the thought of me, in the air? Yeah right.

And that's what did it. I considered the reasons to not do it, and the only reason which came to mind was that feeling in the pit of my stomach, my fear telling me not to do it. But you see, I have this strange attitude towards fear. I have trouble allowing it to hold me back. Now. This is a change, likely due to the fact that I faced a huge fear by moving to Spain for six months, alone. I survived that and know that it was worth all the fear and anxiety. Now I feel that there is no reason to let fear get in the way of me doing things. Anything. Including running off a mountain.

So that's what I did. It took me two days to think it though and get up the courage to even inquire at reception about how to make it happen. The sweet girl working that day asked if I was nervous, and of course I said yes. She assured me that it was safe. Then she giggled and said: "But I don't do it. Haha"

Okay, thanks.

She called and scheduled me an appointment, even printed off the bus information and gave me a discount card. It was as good as done.

And so I embarked on this adventure. It didn't really hit me what I had gotten myself into, until I saw the yellow parachute gliding well above my head. That is when I started to scratch my scalp.

But there was no backing out. Lois, the instructor, introduced himself and quickly saw my nerves. He asked if I was nervous and I said "yes, very nervous." He said: "Goot. It very goot." I don't know if he was trying to assure me that it was going to be good, or if it was a good thing I was nervous...

Either way, I bought my lift ticket and climbed inside the little car to head up the mountain. Climbing the mountain surrounded by a sturdy box made my heart pound, and I couldn't believe I was actually going to be in the air, attached only to a parachute, from this height.

But I was wrong. I got out of the lift only to find another one, heading further up the mountain. My instructor quickly followed me out of another car. I looked at him and only pointed towards the other lift. He said: "Ya, we go up more." Luckily my stomach was empty; I wanted to vomit.

But up we went, Lois trying to make small talk, and assure me that it was good I was nervous...

We got out and set off for a small hill, sloping towards...nothing. Just the ground, thousands of meters away. He attached everything, including my harness to his, and told me all I had to do was walk when he told me to do so. I was expecting we would have to run off the cliff at full speed. We took a few steps to the right, then a few more, and suddenly the wind filled the parachute and we were in the air! I screamed (I had previously warned him there was a good probability of that happening) and kicked my feet, covering my eyes for just seconds, before I realized I was flying. After that, I squealed in amazement. I hardly stopped laughing the whole flight. It was incredible. Absolutely incredible. I would do it again in a heartbeat.



Check out the video I posted yesterday (below the post about my hike) and look at my photos on Picasa!

Now it is time to get ready for another hike and my last day in Austria!

I will be home in FIVE short days. Unbelievable.

Love,
Sarah

P.s. I saw the woman from reception on my way back. She asked how it was. I told her how amazing it was, and that if I can do it, she can do it. She said she just might.

"What are men to rocks and mountains?"


I have always loved that line from one of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice, but being here really makes me wonder! Just kidding, men.

It is amazing, though, looking out my window at the mountains! It doesn't take much of a hill to excite a mid-western girl like me, but this area is just beautiful.

The weather kept me inside most of my first day: it was raining off and on, and rather chilly. But I certainly needed a low-key day, and certainly enjoyed the time to catch up on my pictures and my blog.

On Tuesday I set off for a hike. I asked the woman at reception to recommend a hike, maybe an 1.5-2 hours or so. Six hours later, I returned. But the majority of my delay was intentional, I promise. I did head the wrong direction when I left the hostel, but that only set me back about twenty minutes. I also had difficulty finding the trail, but about an hour after my initial departure, I was on my way.

This particular trail was only about a 45 minute walk, and when I reached the end I hadn't even sat down to eat my picnic lunch yet, so I kept walking through the village and found the beginning of a national park on the other side. I walked a bit into the park and found a tree stump next to a stream: perfect spot for a picnic.

Energized after lunch, I ambled along another 2 hours. And then I reached the end of the national park, and was about to turn around, but then I decided to head towards Talschluss, unsure of the trail and the endpoint.



I still am not sure what I was supposed to find, other than beautiful glimpses, at the end of a challenging climb up part of the mountain!

Most of my walk was on a fairly level path through the woods, and I loved finally feeling like I was hiking in the mountains! That night my back was telling me something different, but it was well worth the sore muscles!

And the perfect ending to a lovely day? Watching Spain beat Germany to make it to the championship game of the World Cup on Sunday! I will be back in Spain just in time for the game (I hope!) and cannot wait to witness the madness!

Thursday, July 8, 2010



Here is a clip of my latest adventure! Paragliding!

I'll post pictures soon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Venice: Sunny and Sweltering



From Berlin I flew to Venice, Italy, to meet up with friends from Salamanca. (If you want an entertaining story about my flight(s) to Venice, just ask me. Right now time and my pride prevent me from publishing it).

I loved Italy when I went during spring break, and was glad to return, especially to Venice. And because I love small towns, and water, I enjoyed this city. However, it is run down. It appears as if there is no attention paid to the upkeep of most buildings, which is sad. Because with the canals and the breathtaking views of the ocean, there is so much potential for an incredible city.

We toured the cathedral and the famous Piazza de San Marco and spent the rest of our time winding through the confusing streets, all the while looking for any bit of shade and water fountains to escape the heat. It was over 95 degrees with 95% humidity...so basically I didn't stop sweating the whole time I was there. And I am used to hot summers, so I am not sure why I was so surprised by the heat here. I think it is because I rarely spend all my time outside in weather like this. Or if I am outside, I have the relief of an air-conditioned building or a pool...but only stores are air-conditioned. We did luck out with a room with two oscillating fans which helped a bit. And the open windows drew in a multitude of mosquitoes who feasted on me. I must have sweet blood; after one night in Venice I counted 15 bites, just on my two arms! And I woke up with another fat eye, due to a bite just below my eyelid...Oh, and as we were cleaning before checking out we found an insect repellent that plugs into the wall. But it was sitting on the floor...The whole time I thought it was an air freshener. Oh well, I could certainly have worse issues!


I took a bus through the Alps into Austria where I caught a train to Badgastein. I settled in last night and awoke to find myself nestled at the bottom of the mountains.

Unfortunately, it is chilly and raining (a far cry different from Venice yesterday!). But at least I had time to finally catch up on pictures and this blog. I think I will still head out on a bike this afternoon, in spite of the rain. I just wish I hadn't left my warm clothes, and rain jacket, out of my suitcase. And what makes this trip a little sweeter is the upgrade to a single room. It is nice to not only have my own space but also to know I will be here more than 48 hours. I will make my way back to Spain on Saturday or Sunday before coming home on the 14th! It is so soon, I can hardly believe it!

Poor but sexy...

...is how the current mayor of Berlin described the city. I will share my description later.

World War II is one of my favorite periods of history to study. Therefore, being in Berlin was a treat, in that respect. And the city itself has endured a difficult history. And the mayor is correct: there are economic struggles (but this is true just about everywhere), and this is evident.

My first day I took a bike tour to orientate myself with the city. We saw many sights and heard a great history of the city. We went to Check Point Charlie, the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing, the area where Hitler's bunker was (where he killed himself), The Reichstag, The Royal Gardens...and much more.


After the tour, I took in a few museums (which are free on Thursday evenings) and then went back to my hostel for a good night's sleep. That was hard to come by, due to the size and general atmosphere of the hostel, but I did my best!

I awoke early (sort of) on Friday and took in a few more museums. I went to Topography of Terror, which is an open air museum on the sight where Nazi headquarters used to be. There is also a building with an extensive history exhibit, which chronicles the rise, height, and fall of Nazi control in Germany and Europe. I learned so much there!

Next I toured the Jewish History Museum, which covers the religion and people throughout all of history. Again, this museum was huge and offered an abundance of information.

The last museum is underground, beneath the memorial to the Jewish people killed during WWII. This was by far the most powerful. I bought an audio guide which added depth to already extensive exhibits. There was a room which had excerpts of letters and postcards people wrote to loved ones from camps and ghettos, usually when death was imminent: they were last words, and written without certainty that the intended recipient would ever receive their farewells. The words reflected hope, fear, sadness. I couldn't hold back my tears. Another room had fifteen boards which followed individual families, explaining the background information, what members survived, etc. Then I walked into a blank room that had audio clips sharing stories of individuals. The last room highlighted different internment, work, and death camps. At this point, I was emotionally and mentally overwhelmed, and could barely take in anymore information. I listened to an audio clip of a woman who thought she would be helping her sons and mother survive by requesting they not be forced into the working group. It was later she realized that if you didn't work, you were killed. And so she lived the rest of her life knowing she sent her loved ones to their deaths. I am sorry to share such a sobering history; even as I rewrite it, I have tears in my eyes. I experienced quite a reality check; I was reminded of my blessings: education, religion, family, friends, and above all, my freedom. Freedom to live my life abundantly, to pursue an education, an occupation, worship God, share experiences with my family and friends. How easily we forget all we have!

I was told if I wanted authentic German food, to dine in the oldest neighborhood in Berlin: St. Nicholas. I did, and enjoyed a delicious meal: The Berliner, washed down with a big red beer.

After that, I was sleepy and ready to head back to the hostel to sleep before my early morning flight to Venice, Italy!

Now, back to my humble opinion about the city...apart from the history, I was not crazy about Berlin. People rave about the architecture, but I think I have been too long entrenched in grand Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque architecture to appreciate the newer architectural styles of Berlin. There are certainly impressive buildings, but much of the city reflects the economical challenges. I guess I didn't really feel the "sexy" vibe...but, it was certainly worth the trip to experience the history!

Amsterdam is interesting...



Architecturally, Amsterdam is a beautiful city. As much as I enjoy seeing the big cities like Paris, London, Madrid...I really love wandering pretty, smaller towns. Amsterdam fits that bill. The canals, the colorful buildings, and all the bikes make it fun to see.

My friend Stef (from Australia, but we met in Salamanca) met me in Amsterdam for the afternoon, which made it that much sweeter!

Call me a prude, but that being said, I think the famous (perhaps infamous?) Red Light district (which is highlighted on any city map) and the lifestyle it promotes detracts from the beauty of the city. That, and the smell of pot wherever you go. Let's just say Amsterdam isn't a city I would put on the itinerary for a family vacation...

It does hold the Secret Annex, where Anne Frank, her family, and two other families hid during the Nazi occupation and WWII. Having read her diary many times, being in the rooms made it much more real for me. It was no longer a story, but a reality. I want to reread her diary, because I was reminded of her strength and hope for such a young girl in such a horrible situation. And to think that there were people in situations 1,000 times worse!

Next stop: Berlin!

The Outskirts of Paris: Versailles and Giverny

My first stop after saying goodbye to Salamanca was Paris. I went during my spring break, but was unable to visit Versailles, Giverny (where Monet lived and painted his water lilies and other paintings), as well as the key art museums: The Louvre, Museé D'Orsay, and L'Orangerie. I spent just two full days in Paris (though I love the city and could still spend more time there!).

Giverny:

I elected to take a tour bus trip to see both Versailles and Giverny in one day. It was a bit pricey, but I think it was worth the money and the peace of mind. We spent the morning at Giverny, a small town about an hour from Paris. Monet was traveling elsewhere by train, passed in front of the property, and decided to move his family there. He spent the second half of his life there, creating the amazing gardens surrounding his house. After losing myself in the tranquility of the gardens (in spite of the many tourists, we drove a short way to another small village to eat lunch in a building that was once an old mill. So simple and beautiful.

Versailles:

And then we drove to Versailles, about an hour and a half from where we were. It was a hot, hot day, and the palace was incredibly crowded, two factors that detracted a bit from enjoying the palace, but I was still able to soak up the luxury of the rooms...but I still cannot imagine living there! The French have an intense history, and if only they could have found a bit of a balance, rather than going from one extreme to another. But, I am no expert; I always say there is a reason I am not in charge. And one thing I have learned from my travels is how relative history is; yes, there are facts, but the facts effect each person differently, and therefore many different "histories" emerge. More on that later.

The next day, Sunday, I spent in the art museums, and finished with a picnic under the Eiffel Tower: wonderful, and surreal.

I realized, while submerging (and maybe overwhelming) myself in art, why I love these museums so. Art, like history, is very subjective. A single event, or moment, or person, or object can be represented in so many ways, depending on the artists opinions, societal status, time period, religion, and other factors. Also, art has the ability to inspire so many feelings. Fear, joy, sadness, reflection, peace, laughter...it is an amazing thing. And art transmits life; though it is literally the capturing of a person or moment, a painting or sculpture gives life to the most ordinary, the most plain person or object.

I love art. And therefore my weekend in Paris was (expensive) but well spent!

I learned a few phrases in French, and this one sums up the city well: Paris est magique!
Sarah

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I'm sorry!

Hello! I am so sorry I have not updated you all in awhile..life has been a bit crazy! I left Salamanca to travel a bit before heading home. Today, I am in Amsterdam, which from what I have seen is different than other cities I have visited (and I am referring to the architecture, not certain activities that are common...). I will spend today here and off to Berlin tomorrow!

I have much to share with you all, and I promise to catch up on my stories soon!

Only two weeks and one more day!

Love,
Sarah

Andalucía

Hello dear family and friends. I know it has been AGES since I have written, and for that I am sorry. My hiatus does not reflect a lack of intention, but rather my busy, hectic life the past few weeks. But let's see...I'll begin my harried catch up with my trip to Andalucía.

Andalucía is the region in Southern Spain. It is known for the hot climate, remains of the Arabic influence, and flamenco, among a number of other things. I planned a quick trip to Sevilla, Cordoba, and Granada. I took a night bus that left Salamanca at 1:00AM. I thought this was the best use of my time, but in retrospect, sleeping on the bus left me weary for the rest of my trip. And because I saw three cities in three days, it is difficult for me to sort out the trip in my mind! I was still able to enjoy the sights, though.

Sevilla:

In Sevilla I enjoyed the Cathedral, one of the largest in the world, built on the site of a Muslim mosque. Attached to the cathedral is La Giralda, what was once a minaret and now serves as the bell tower, and offers incredible views of the city. Instead of stairs, the hike up La Giralda is on an incline, because horses were used to reach the top when it was used as a minaret. Considering its height is 343 feet, I was thankful, even though I was not on horseback.

After the cathedral I toured Alcázar, the old Moorish Palace, which changed hands over the years. Construction began in 1181 and lasted 500 years and is a combination of Mudéjar and Renaissance styles. It is indescribable, as I quickly found Muslim architecture and decoration to be.

Exhausted from the trip, I bought a sandwich and sat in the square facing the cathedral, just relaxing and people watching. There was quite a bit to see, because filming for a movie is being done in Sevilla right now, and I think I heard the movie has Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. I didn't see the stars, just a few car stunts. After regaining some energy, I ate dinner and took in a flamenco show.

The show was different than I expected (though I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting), but impressive nonetheless. We were entertained by a guitarist and vocalist before a female dancer came into the room. Her flowing skirt made quite the spectacle, but I was blown away by the male dancer-his feet looked like a blur as they moved so quickly. It was a dramatic show, which I think is typical of the art.

I shared my hostel room with mosquitoes, and woke up with a swollen eyelid due to a generous bug. But then I was on to Córdoba!

Córdoba:

I spent the least amount of time in Córdoba (literally just a few hours) while I toured the famous Mosque (La Mezquita). The mosque, built upon an old Christian Visigothic church (which was built in 600AD) came into being as a Muslim place of worship in 784AD. In 1236 the mosque was taken into Christian custody and converted into a cathedral. It was not converted, though, so much as added to: the chapel was literally built in the center of the original mosque. The result is an incredible combination of two very different architectural styles. It is something to see, and I don't really know how to describe it well. Hopefully my pictures will help you understand, thought they do not begin to do it justice.

I climbed aboard another bus, destination: Granada, which may be my favorite of the three cities. It was certainly the hottest!

Granada:

Granada's claim to fame is La Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress. It is the most well-known example of Islamic architecture in Spain. Construction was finished during the 14th century. Granada was one of the last cities occupied and defended by the Muslims. More than a palace, it is a complex of strongholds, living areas, and beautiful gardens. Again, I cannot begin to describe the complexity and detail of the architecture in these buildings. And the setting, atop a mountain, offers incredible vistas of the region.

I climbed a hill opposite La Alhambra to watch the sunset on the area and saw the buildings and mountains glow red as the sun slipped away. Incredible.

An interesting fact I learned later: Napoleon attempted to bomb La Alhambra during his reign. There was a malfunction with the bombs, and the area was safe. Residents say it was a miracle it was not destroyed.

The next morning I spent touring the rest of the city: the cathedral, royal chapel, and just enjoying the sunshine. And then I began my trek back to Salamanca!

One day I hope to return to the south of Spain...it is a beautiful area.

Make sure you look at my Picasa page to see more pictures from my trip!
http://picasaweb.google.com/seh.spain

Sarah

Friday, June 18, 2010

La corrida de toros



I can cross something else off of my Spain "To-Do" list: see a bull fight.

Actually, I started the morning by completing another item on my list, which was to visit El Museo de Art Deco y Art Nouveau Casa Lis. I passed this museum nearly everyday (it has a wonderful stained glass wall which looks over the city) and always said: "Someday, before I leave, I will visit the museum."

As strange as it is to say, my days in Salamanca are drawing to a close! And so I have made my list and am checking it twice!

The interesting connection is that right now there is an exhibit of Picasso's pieces involving the bull and bullfight. An aficionado for the sport, he created several works of art honoring the game. The exhibit is visiting from The Picasso Museum in Barcelona. I had no idea that I would get a preview of my afternoon!

So, back to the bullfight...I am able to say I am glad I went. Though many would disagree, I do believe that it is a part of Spanish culture, and for that reason, I am happy I took part in a long-standing tradition.

That being said, I have no interest in going to another fight. It may be my mid-western roots, or growing up with a number of farm animals for pets, or my brother's endeavor in the cow/bull business, (I suppose there are a number of reasons) but I did not enjoy watching the bulls be slowly killed.

I still do not understand fully the progression of the fight, nor the terminology. I do understand that it is a form of art, a type of dance, a tradition Spain has held for centuries. After awhile, my cringes became less frequent, and I was able to see the event as a Spaniard does. I realized that it is simply a difference of viewpoint, that causes me to cringe while someone else to cheer. I was sitting near a grandmother and her grandson of 4 or 5 years old. As the matador came into the ring riding a horse, she exclaimed: "Look, Juan, at the beautiful horse!" When the bull entered the ring she remarked, "How ugly!" At this point I realized that I am used to seeing a bull as an animal: not remarkable beautiful or praiseworthy, but another animal on a farm. (I am not ignorant: I understand that we in the states raise bulls for meat...) While the Spanish people (not as a whole, but in general) are accustomed to the bull being an ugly, threatening beast. It is a matter of habit.

I will spare you the gory details of the day and instead remark about the weather...it rained, but luckily, the stadium was not full, and we all scrambled to the "sombra," the covered area.

I took a lot of pictures, and at one point asked myself: "Why so many?" I think it was a distraction. Watching from behind the lens was a way to distance myself just a bit. I will post them soon!

I did leave early (after 5 or 6 bulls) to watch the much anticipated England-U.S.A. game, which did not disappoint. And on my way home I heard such loud noises, it sounded like bombs, much too severe to be a storm. The possibility of fireworks did not hit me until I saw the sky light up. I love, absolutely love, to watch fireworks. I walked until I had a decent view, and sat down on the sidewalk to enjoy the remainder of the show. A nice ending to an enjoyable day. I was saddened by the thought that I will miss The 4th of July celebrations this year!

I hope you all are enjoying a lovely June.

Un abrazo.

Sarah

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Una cosa más...

Tengo una cosa más sobre mi cumpleaños para deciros. Tuve que mostrar mi identificación en dos barres. No sería tanto extraño, pero la edad mínima para beber alcohol en España no es 21 años. Es 18 años! Jajaja. Me hizo reírme. La gente siempre me dice cuando tengo 40 años, apreciaré parecer más joven!

One more thing...
I have one more thing to tell you about my birthday. I was carded in two different bars Saturday night. This wouldn't be so strange, except that the drinking age in Spain isn't 21. It is 18! Hahaha. It made me laugh. People always tell me when I am 40 I will appreciate looking younger!

Felicidades

Twenty-two has been my favorite number for years (since the days I wanted to emulate my sister Ana in every way, so I copied her as much as I could). But turning 22 was a bit strange! Everyone wants to turn 18, to be an "adult." And after that we cannot wait to be 21-we all know why. But after 21, comes 22...that just sounds different. But, I'll take faith in the fact that this year will bring wonderful things, since it is, after all, my favorite number.

This birthday was also different for obvious reasons: I am in Spain! Away from my family and close friends. I did have a very nice birthday weekend. I celebrated my last few days as a 21-year-old in London, then came back to Salamanca to "salir de fiesta" (go out) with my friends Saturday night. Sunday, my birthday, was a beautifully sunny day which I spent quietly. I took a walk with a friend before she left Salamanca to travel with her sister. After lunch I had a little siesta and talked with my parents. Ana and Doug had sent me a birthday surprise (the new Michael Bublé CD-the only thing that would have been better was Michael himself! Ha). And my parents surprised me with money for walking shoes to get me through my last few weeks in Europe. And I had so many happy wishes via email and Facebook, I was reminded how blessed I am with family and friends.

In the afternoon Stef called me and asked for my help with her luggage. I walked into her room, snacking on some chips, and three of my friends came out of the bathroom singing "cumpleaños feliz." You know me and surprises, I love them, but I am so easily startled...I nearly choked on my chips! They gave me a sweet gift, a scarf to add to my growing collection, and a pearl necklace to match my ring and earrings!

It was a bit of a sad day as two of my close friends left Salamanca for the summer...it was a reminder that my time, too, is coming rapidly to a close! In fact, in exactly FIVE weeks from today, I will be on American soil for the first time in 6 months! Crazy. And though I am so very excited to see my family and friends, it is hard to think that my semester abroad is almost over. But I have so much to be thankful for, I cannot be sad!

Un abrazo,
Sarah

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"What are men to rocks and mountains?"

If you know me well, you know my favorite author, without a doubt, is Jane Austen. My dear little sister might say I border obsession. My trip to London has always included seeing Jane Austen's home and museum, and that is how I spent my Friday.

I read online to take a train to Alton, and from there catch a bus to Chawton, where the family home, and now museum, are located. I left the train station, but saw no signs of the bus I was to take. I decided to walk in the direction of tourist information, certain someone there would point me to the house. But before I found tourist information, I found a sweet looking used bookstore. A sucker for book stores in general, it was the collection of Austen works in the window that lured me in this time. I picked out a few books, very old, hard bound copies of Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice, and a book of letters written by Austen (though I was hoping for a complete set of her works). I chatted with the sweet lady at the store and she asked if I knew how to get to the house. I said no, and she replied that it was an easy walk. She said after about a mile down the same road, I would come to a grassy area, and there I would see signs for the house. That sounded easy enough.

It was a sunny, hot day, and I set off on my walk. I found the grassy area, and just beyond it a roundabout leading away from town. The signs I saw pointed down a highway. A bit confused, I cautiously crossed the roundabout and began walking down the shoulder of the highway, through prickly grass. After about a quarter of a mile, without seeing anything promising a museum, I convinced myself I was wrong and walked back to the grassy area. There was a map there, and as I was studying it, trying to figure out where to go, a girl about my age passed by with a bag from the Austen House gift shop. She kindly told me how to get there, which is what I originally thought: walking along the highway, for about 25 minutes. So I did just that, wearing flimsy flip flops, carrying my purse, now heavy with the books I purchased, in the hot sun. I had to laugh at myself.

Eventually, I came to the village of Chawton. I saw someone unloading a service van, and asked him if I was walking in the right direction. He said: "Oh yeah, just across the street. Do you see it?" I thanked him and walked passed the van, only to realize that I was literally, just across the street from my destination. I toured the house and property, which was modest and well-kept. And then I had a cup of tea across the street at Cassandra's Cup (Jane's sister and closest friend was Cassandra). And then I set off on my trek back to Alton, to catch the train back to London.

I arrived in London, hoping to get lucky with a last minute ticket to a show at the Globe, but due to issues on the Tube, I was late. Instead, I toured the Tate Modern. Modern art isn't my favorite, but there were some neat exhibits. I collected my luggage from my hostel, checked my email, and then went to the airport for the night, so that I would be able to catch my flight in the morning.

The next morning was an adventure in itself...I will summarize it by waiting in line over an hour to check-in, being rushed twenty minutes before my flight through the line, depositing my luggage on a different belt (which is why it did not arrive with my flight) and then running, literally, through the airport. I found my gate as I heard over the intercom system: "Last and final boarding call for flight EZ7545 to Madrid. The gate is now closing." I yelled across the waiting area: "Please wait!" And somehow I made it on the flight, thank goodness.

London was quite an adventure, to say the least! I cannot wait to go back some day.

We Live and We Learn...Even About Public Transportation

I am a fan of a bike tour company known as Fat Tire. I discovered the tours in Barcelona, took two tours in Paris, and was looking forward to a tour of London. (They also have a branch in Berlin; if you take a tour in all four cities you get a "Fat Tire Junkies" t-shirt!) I appreciate the tours because in a few hours we see a lot of the city, and I have a better idea of what there is to see, and I feel a bit less overwhelmed. The tours departed in London at 11:00 and 3:30. Wanting to use our time wisely, we planned on the 11:00 tour. We consulted the map of the subway system, and found our way there. Unfortunately, we had to change lines, which delayed us. We arrived at the meeting point just in time to see the tour take off, and were told to come back for the afternoon tour. A bit disappointed, we sat down to consult our map and make a plan B for the morning. We found our location: directly north of Kensington Gardens. Remember where I said our hostel was located? Just south of Kensington Gardens...which means, we spent nearly 40 minutes on the Tube, when we could have walked there in about 20 minutes. If only we thought to look at a map...We had a good laugh at ourselves (later in the day, of course).

We spent the morning wandering the royal gardens, and then went to a small cafe in our neighborhood to eat lunch. As we were eating outside (luckily the rain from Tuesday subsided and we had sunny days), a girl about our age walked by with her parents and told them to take the table next to ours. Christie and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: it was Amber Tamblyn, from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies! We were a bit starstruck! We decided against interrupting her lunch with her parents, and settled for the knowledge that we ate lunch next to her in London, of all places.

After lunch, we finally made it on our bike tour. I thought walking in London was a bit dangerous because of the opposite flow of traffic. And biking in big cities like Barcelona and Paris certainly sent adrenaline through my veins. But combine a big city, crazy drivers and driving on the opposite side of the road? Talk about high blood pressure that day. But it was fun! The tour guide offered a lot of fun, interesting information about the city. Like, if Guy Fawkes had succeeded in his task (he sneaked 15 barrels of gun powder into the parliament building), not only would that beautiful building have been destroyed, but also Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and other buildings in the surrounding area. London as we know it wouldn't exist. And besides the buildings, every member of the royal family was there that day ("Remember, remember, the 5th of November"), and all members of parliament: the entire future of the country would have been completely different.

Another fun fact: security surrounding Buckingham Palace is terrible. In 1980 someone entered through an open window, walked into a number of rooms (there are over 600 total!) before finding the mail room. Going through the letters and packages, he found an expensive bottle of wine and drank it all. Then, continuing to wander through the palace, he found the queen's bedroom, entered, and sat on her bed. A few minutes later, she awoke to find this stranger staring at her. Rather than screaming and running away (like I would have) she calmly asked him what he was doing in her room. He said he just wanted to talk to her. She noticed he had an empty cigarette box, and asked him if he would like her to get some more for him. The queen called down to the maid and asked her to bring a box to her room. When the maid arrived, she reacted as would be expected: screamed and called the police. The British law, however, prevented the judge for charging the man with breaking and entering, because the window he entered was open, he didn't break anything. The only charge made against him was theft: the bottle of wine he drank.

After the bike tour, we wandered back to the hostel to relax for a bit before dinner. It was then that we realized two people from our bike tour were also staying in our hostel: what a small world! We later met them for dinner and to see London's night life. What we found was a far cry different from the scene Christie and I are accustomed to in Spain: restaurants and bars close at 10:00 (the dinner hour in Spain!) and the one "club" we found closed at 1:00! I am sure we missed the student area, because I have heard of a bigger nightlife scene in London. But it did make us laugh, compared to the Spanish habits we've formed.

Thursday we did more walking and sightseeing: we saw the Tate Modern, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, the London and Tower Bridges, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster and Big Ben in the daylight, etc. In the afternoon we set off for traditional high tea in the Orangery at Kensington Palace. We originally went to a cafe in a hotel, at the suggestion of someone at the hostel, but we were not impressed with the setting nor the service, and so we left before securing a table, deciding to splurge at the Orangery. It was a good decision: the tea was delicious, as were the deserts, and the ambiance was simply lovely. The building was all white inside, with high ceilings and miniature orange trees on the table. Through the window we had a view of the gardens and palace. For dinner we ate fish and chips, washed down with a good beer.

Friday morning we parted ways, Christie heading to Camden Markets before catching her flight home to the states, and I set off for Jane Austen's home. But I will relate this adventure in another post!

Who knew I could write so much about one trip?

London's Calling

London: what a city! Active, engaging and modern, yet there is so much history present as well. It has the same feeling I found in cities like Paris and Rome: simply iconic. Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace...and so much more.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you about my trip and arrival. My flight left from Madrid early, before any buses left from Salamanca. Which meant I had a slumber party in the airport. It wasn't horrible. I had my laptop and movies, but by the time I arrived around 1:00am, I was so exhausted I didn't really need anything to help me fall asleep. I found a relatively quiet, slightly dim hallway and set up camp. I was as smart as I could be: used my duffel as a pillow, put all my valuables in my backpack, and secured that with my luggage lock, and kept it near me. At one point, I heard a strange noise and opened my eyes to see two police men in a golf cart, driving down the hallway in reverse (at first I thought it was a dream). They spoke to someone at the other end of the hallway, and at that point I was expecting them to tell me I couldn't stay in this part. They approached me, stopped, but didn't say anything. I turned over, opened my eyes, smiled and said as sweetly as possible, "¡hola!" Again, they did not reply right away, but then smiled and told me to be careful with my belongings. I explained my methods, and they nodded, paused again (maybe they hadn't yet had their coffee break?) and then instructed me to put an arm through my backpack straps. I did, they nodded their approval, and drove off. Strange. In retrospect, maybe it was another dream. I did wake up in a panic at one point, certain that someone had stolen my camera. But I know that was just a dream. I guess I should be thankful they are concerned!

Now, my arrival. You would think that my fiasco in Morocco (not having the hostel address and struggling to find a place to sleep, in a not so safe country...) taught me a lesson: WRITE DOWN IMPORTANT INFORMATION. But maybe it takes a few experiences like that to really learn a lesson. Because, I arrived in South Kensington with clear directions on how to get to the hostel, but without the exact address, telephone number, or even the name. Embarrassing to admit? Yes.

And it was pouring rain. And I was carrying my purse, my backpack (with my overweight laptop), and my over-packed duffel bag...Though my directions were "clear," the street I was supposed to take happened to be more of a path between museums, and of course I didn't find it. When I finally found the street of my hostel, I had no idea which direction to turn (the house numbers were arranged strangely). I finally found it, soaked through, and exhausted. Because my friend Christie was arriving later that afternoon, and I couldn't check into the hostel until 2:00pm, I changed into fresh clothes and set off to explore the neighborhood a bit. We were less than a block from the south border of Kensington Gardens, near the Flower Walk. Even in the rain, the flowers were so lovely. Then I wandered into a darling little neighborhood with a variety of restaurants and shops. I found a designer thrift store, where I couldn't afford the labels even at second-hand prices! But then I found another thrift store that is operated through a charity which supports orphans in Romania. I found some souvenirs there, and didn't feel too bad about spending money, because the proceeds went to a good cause!

Christie arrived that afternoon, and, both tired from travels, we took a (what we intended to be short) nap. And then, with blood sugar levels low from no lunch, we set off for a big dinner. Not acquainted in the least with the city, we chose a familiar sounding area and got on a bus, heading for Trafalgar Square.

In an attempt to avoid the rain, and possible fainting spells due to hunger, we ducked in a warm-looking pub. We waited anxiously to be served, and finally realized that we place our order at the bar. After dinner, energized by our meal, and our long nap, and pleased that the rain had subsided a bit, we headed towards Big Ben. This was after finding the street we needed on our map, and walking around the entire square (which is more of a really big circle), asking for directions multiple times, before realizing that the street we wanted was, in fact, the street where we dined. Oops.

Well, to avoid a novel-like post, I will finish relating my adventures a bit later!

Confused, Yet Comfortable

I went to London last week, and fell in love, with the city! It was an amazing trip, and I wasn't ready to leave on Friday.

But it was strange. I arrived in the airport and everything was in English. I bought my train ticket and didn't have to think about how to say "ticket" in Spanish, or "Do you speak English" in another foreign language. I asked for directions without thinking. People spoke to me and I didn't get confused or flustered. I happily responded, excited to completely understand! Except for the fact that after five months in countries where English is not the first language, it was a very odd feeling, to be speaking English.

That being said, there were times I heard people speaking English, but would have sworn it was a foreign language! The accent is so thick it was difficult for me to understand.

Please do not misunderstand me: one of my favorite things about being in Europe is being exposed to so many different languages. As much as my Spanish has improved, I am still far from fluent, and therefore it was just refreshing to hear my native tongue. In fact, we heard Spanish a lot while in London, and each time this happened, Christie and I looked at each other and smiled. And, our second language came in handy when our hostel roommates (4 German guys) were speaking animatedly in German, and laughed, then stopped to ask us if we understood German (which, though I cannot understand sentences, many words are similar to English, so I understood the gist of their conversation, though they did not want us to!). Christie and I then started speaking Spanish to one another, our sort of small revenge!

I will write about my actual London adventures in another post!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

John Deere

God must understand my bit of homesickness, and is sending me small signs...

The most exciting was yesterday, when I went for a jog. I was running along a fairly busy street (remember, Salamanca is a small city) and saw...A TRACTOR. Yep, a true, big ol' green John Deere. And it wasn't in a field, it was driving down the road, approaching a stop light. I thought for a moment I was back in Roanoke. Or anywhere in the midwest, for that matter.

I love the little things that make me smile!

Friday, May 28, 2010

I'm alive

Well, I survived exams! But before I exhale, I wait to see my grades. I have no idea when they will be posted (as I've mentioned before, the university system is very different in Spain). Keep your fingers crossed! They were more difficult than I anticipated. Vamos a ver.

It is strange: with the end of exams comes a sense of finality. Yes, I have a month and a half left. Yes, I am ready to see my family and friends. But at the same time, I am not sure I am ready for this adventure to be over! After years of planning, I cannot quite comprehend that my semester abroad is almost a thing of the past. So very strange...

But, now that exams are over, the travel planning begins! More adventures await me here in Europe. And I know that as this great chapter ends, there are only more wonderful experiences to come. My time here has been so wonderful, both challenging and inspiring, it would be impossible to say that the experience will ever end. It has changed me for the better, (with the risk of sounding trite) and will therefore be with me always.

My thoughts and prayers are with my dear family now more than ever, and with my whole heart I wish I could be home to share hugs and tears while celebrating my uncle Bob's life.

Un abrazo y un beso.
Sarah

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Countdown

I found this handy little gadget to track the rest of my days here! Please don't misunderstand-I am not wishing away the days, at all! I have many adventures left and cannot wait to see more of Europe! At the same time, the thought of seeing my friends and family after 6 months is incredible...so this is all in fun. Plus, I am often asked how long I have until my return, and you should all know that math-even simple counting-is not my strong suit!

See you in fifty-five days!

Love,
Sarah

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Drum roll please....

My return date is drawing near: exactly eight weeks from today! And though my brain should be focused on studying for exams, I have let myself start thinking about all the wonderful things I miss about the good ol' red, white, and blue...(please excuse me if my list appears odd...it is strange the things you start to miss when you are gone for a long time!):

1. MY FAMILY (there is a whole separate list of things I miss about my family)
2. My friends (another list)
3. My bed
4. Fresh vegetables
5. Being in the same time zone as the majority of the people in my life, and being able to call them from my cell phone, whenever I like
6. Driving
7. Diet Dr. Pepper
8. Jeopardy
9. Watching TV shows in English, on a television
10. Eddy, my cat. And the other animals at home.
11. Cooking
12. Speaking/hearing English regularly
13. Not seeing ham everywhere
14. Free water
15. Eating earlier
16. Healthy breakfasts
17. Chips and salsa
18. My dad's enchiladas...yum.
19. My semester grade being composed of more than the final exam
20. Whole grains
21. The radio
22. Picking flowers from my parents' gardens
23. Not feeling foreign
24. The English measurement system...I hate conversions
25. Using the twelve hour clock

Now, I would hate for you to think I am wishing my time away! I am in love with Europe, and so grateful for this amazing opportunity...And so, to balance my homesick-list, here is a list of things I will miss about Spain and Europe (and some are the opposites of items on the previous list, which just means I wish I could have the best of both my worlds!):

1. My friends
2. The laid back culture
3. Taking weekend trips to different countries
4. Speaking Spanish regularly
5. Tapas
6. Sangria, calimocho, agua de Valencia...these are all tasty drinks!
7. The history
8. Tortilla española
9. Dos besos
10. Meeting people from, literally, all over the world...each day
11. ¡Siesta!
12. Going to mass in churches older than the United States
13. All the amazing architecture
14. The Euro bills
15. Being able to walk everywhere I need to go
16. Having a whole week to study for exams, and three weeks to take them
17. The art museums
18. Taking pictures so often
19. Wine being cheaper than water
20. Drinking wine with lunch
21. Seeing beer in vending machines and at McDonald's
22. My cleaning ladies : )
23. La croissantería
24. The nightlife
25. The fashion

There are many more things I miss about the states, and will miss about Europe! I am sad to leave, looking forward to my European travels, and estatic to see my family and friends again!

Now...back to studying! Thanks for your prayers.

Love,
Sarah

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Long time, no posts....

Hello! I cannot believe it has been over two weeks...well, it is believable considering the travels and studying (or attempt at studying) I have been doing in the past few weeks.

Lena (friend from Bellarmine) arrived on Monday, May 3, and our adventures started! We stayed in Salamanca until my classes ended on Wednesday, and on Thursday we headed to Santiago de Compostela...

A beautiful, small city. The Cathedral is an amazing example of art and architecture (with a huge incense burner), but what is more impressive is the reason Santiago de Compostela attracts so many tourists. This city, the cathedral, precisely, is the end of The Way of St. James. A pilgrimage technically is any walk which begins in one's home and ends at a pilgrimage sight, and therefore, there are many paths to Santiago (there is a path through/leaving Salamanca). The traditional pilgrimage begins in France (with The Pyrenees), and follows the route St. James himself walked. His remains are kept in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. A mass is held for the pilgrims everyday at noon, and on Fridays the large burner is usually used. We were lucky enough to be able to attend this mass (well, the first fifteen minutes we had to wait outside, because the church was filled, but then we were allowed in and able to observe the mass. The most enchanting part of the city is the number of pilgrims still making the trek, which can take weeks to months. And for purely unselfish reasons...simply to walk in the footsteps of a saint, and grow closer to the Lord. I have added this to my dream list: finish El camino de Santiago!

After this adventure we spent two days in Porto, Portugal. I fell in love with Portugal when I went to Lisbon, and found the same charms in Porto. I must admit, I prefer Lisbon...it just had a cleaner, more colorful feel. But we spent our time well and took in all the sights (while learning to navigate the city bus system!). We tried the famous Portuguese sandwich but I cannot say it was our favorite meal...We enjoyed a picnic on the beach, and though it wasn't warm enough to even consider swimming, there is something so inspiring about the ocean, it was a lovely day. Lena was able to see first-hand the European obsession with "futbol" when we walked into a plaza to find disgruntled fans angry with all the fans of the winning team celebrating by honking horns, waving flags, yelling taunts...the police were also hanging out in the plaza, keeping an eye on things, thankfully.

From Porto we took an early flight to Madrid to spend our last two days before Lena left for the United States. I was very excited to see Madrid, because up to this point all I knew was the airport, and I knew that well. I was expecting a big city feel, but the neighborhood of our hostel was busy, but not overwhelming. We took in the Royal Palace, the Cathedral, the Prado, the Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de Santa Ana, Parque del Buen Retiro (this park is absolutely amazing-I could have spent an entire day there!). A sucker for art museums, especially after taking two different art history classes in Spain, I loved the Prado, but there was so much to see it was a bit exhausting! I plan to go back to Madrid to see the other art museums. And revisit the park...

I came back to a large study load...I have my first exam on Tuesday! I am trying to stay calm (and not scratch my scalp too much) and just take it one day at a time...prayers are greatly appreciated, however!

Though I vowed that I would not take the time to blog or post pictures before Tuesday...I am always looking for an excuse to put off studying, so I hope you enjoy! And I hope I pass my exam...

I am missing you all more each day!

Un abrazo.
Sarah

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Reality Check...

No quiero deciros pero me olvidé de soy estudiante...ahora realidad ha llegado hasta mí. Tengo que estudiar. Mucho. Para vivir aquí es muy diferente que Louisville y hasta ahora no he tenido hacer mucho tarea cada día. Y ahora es difícil para estar en modo de estudio. Mis examenes empiezan el 18 de mayo, con iconografía-lo más difícil. Solo tengo que aprobarlos pero tengo mucho miedo...agradezco sus oraciónes! Cuando regreso a Louisville, los 19+ horas de clases que tengo serán muy difíciles....pero, no me puedo quejar: este semestre es increíble y vale todo.

¡Feliz día del Derby! (Soy casi una chica de Kentucky, después de todo!)

Un abrazo.
Sarah

I hate to tell you all this, but I forgot that I am a student...and now reality has set in. I have to study. A lot. Living in Europe is a far cry different that living in Louisville and until now I have not had to study much each day; the final exams here make up our grades. And now it is difficult for me to turn on my study mode (I'm not sure I ever had this mode, actually). My exams begin May 18, with Iconography-the most difficult. I only have to pass them, but I am very worried...I appreciate your prayers! When I return to the States my 19+ credit hours will be difficult. But, I cannot complain: this semester is worth it all.

Happy Derby Day! (I am almost a Kentucky girl, after all!)

Love,
Sarah

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Cheira bem, cheira a Lisboa"



Lisbon, Portugal: what a lovely city. I traveled there last weekend with friends from my residence. One friend, Jorge, is from Portugal, about 45 minutes from Lisbon. Since he was spending the long weekend (we had a holiday on Friday, not sure the reason, but I didn't complain!) at home, he offered to take Christina, Stef, Nico, and me to his city, and we took a bus into Lisbon.

Our hostel was very close to the city center and was actually an apartment converted into a hostel, so if was very comfortable and cozy.

Friday morning we took in Saint George's Castle, which afforded very beautiful of Lisbon's sweet, red-roofed buildings. After lunch, Jorge met us in a square and showed us a bit more of the city before guiding us to Belém, a nearby neighborhood known for a monastery and delicious pastries. We toured the monastery, walked down to the waterfront, saw the Belém Tower, then went to the bakery to sample the sweet Pastéis de Belém. The monastery is actually the origin or the pastry recipe, the same recipe used today, over 200 years later.

The buildings in Lisbon are covered in beautiful tiles, so the whole city just radiates beautiful colors. I loved it. There was an earthquake in 1755 which destroyed almost the entire city, so it has a "newer" feel than places like Salamanca.

We had dinner in a nice, traditional Portuguese restaurant. My grilled salmon was quite yummy. But, what was traditional about the meal was the singing that took place. About every 30 minutes, the lights were dimmed and two guitarists and one vocalists serenaded the clientele with three Portuguese songs. The last song, the most well-known, was a sing-a-long: the audience was asked to chime in with "cheira bem, cheira a Lisboa," which means "it smells good, it smells like Lisbon." After awhile even our group of foreigners was singing along.

Enough about the food.

We saw most of the sights in Lisbon on Friday, so Saturday was a bit more relaxed. We went to Placa de Comercios and found a lovely market with all sorts of unique, hand-made gifts. We found a delicious Brazilian buffet for lunch, and then walked off the large meal, discovering other plazas and parks. And a few other stores...

Sunday we awoke early and caught the bus back to Jorge's town and then hit the beach! It was a beautiful, sunny day....but not quite "beachy" temperatures. We did, however, enjoy the sun, the sand, and the freezing ocean waves. We ate lunch, stopped by Jorge's house (his mother made us a delicious flan!), and then piled into the car to drive back to Salamanca.

I was expecting to be able to communicate with the Portuguese in Spanish, but was surprised. Most people understand Spanish, but respond in Portuguese. If I asked a question, I could generally understand the response, because the two languages are similar. But, as in most of Europe, many people speak English, as well.

It was a weekend well spent! Sorry I took so long to write about it...reality hit when we got back, and I am realizing just how much work I have to do between now and exam time...yikes! I would prefer to stay on vacation...is that possible?

I am taking this weekend to get a hold on my school work, and then my friend Lena from Bellarmine is coming to visit next week!

I hope you all are well, enjoying Spring and looking forward to Summer!

Un abrazo.
Sarah

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We're not in Kansas anymore...

In fact, it felt as if we were in a completely different world...

Mary and I went to Morocco this weekend, and what an experience we had!

We flew into Casablanca on Friday and took a train to Marrakesh. Our plan was to take the train at 7:00, since we arrived at the station at 6:30. We sat down to wait, and waited and waited and waited...Finally we realized that the train was delayed two hours. But our train never came, so we just took the train at 10:00. So did everyone else. Mary climbed aboard before me, and after fighting through the crowd I saw her turn around and say: "Well, it looks like we're standing."

There was standing room only on the train...

We were disbelieving, but a conversation with a man standing near us convinced us that this was normal, for Morocco. Our first lesson was that Moroccan efficiency is not quite up to par with Europe, and far from the United States.

The second lesson we learned was about 45 minutes later, when a young man sitting in the cabin near us gave his seat up for Mary. The Moroccan people are very friendly and welcoming. They were surprised that we didn't speak any French (Morocco was a French colony, so after Arabic French is considered the national language). We were told many times that French is spoken in the country, not English. We were able to find people who spoke just enough English to get us by.

We arrived, completely exhausted, in Marrakesh around 1:30. There was a slight complication with our hostel (it's a long story...) but we finally found a place (it wasn't exactly The Ritz...) to sleep for a few hours before waking early on Saturday to join our tour.

We got in the tour van around 7:45 and started driving towards the Sahara Desert, through the High Atlas Mountains. As a girl from the mid-west, you can imagine my delight at seeing real mountains! Incredible.

There were 15 people total on our tour, mostly students like Mary and me, but a middle-aged nurse from France (who also lived in the U.S. for 14 years and therefore was our translator and adopted "mom" for the weekend) as well as a family from France. We drove all day, stopping to take pictures and eat lunch. One of our stops was at a Women's Cooperative where they harvest almonds and extract the oils to make cosmetic and cooking oils. The women work for about 5 euros (~$7) a day. And I complain about making $7 an hour. Reality check.

Around dusk we arrived at our last stop where we bought water, used the restroom, and bought scarves which were wrapped around our heads and faces to protect us from the desert sands. And then we met our camels! We rode for about 2 hours, away from the "city," into the Sahara.

We reached our camp and were ushered into the common tent for dinner. It was cooked by members of the Bedouin tribe, and it was delicious. Soup, vegetable stew, mint tea, and oranges for desert. The tent was made of oriental tapestries, in deep turquoise and magenta colors. It was lit by candles and oil lamps, hopefully you can picture the ambiance! After dinner the instruments came out and we were entertained with traditional music. Then they let us try the drums.

It was off to bed, then, because we had an early start in the morning. One of our hosts walked us to the makeshift bathroom tent (I heard rumors of snakes, so I was glad for the company). And then we settled into our beds; a sort of mattress inside a tent. There were 4 mattresses in each tent. I can't describe how amazing it was to see the stars, so far away from any sort of light pollution!

I woke to dogs barking in the middle of the night...I learned in the morning that the dogs are there to guard the camels. Apparently, "camel trafficking" is a bit of an issue.

After breakfast we mounted the camels and rode for about 45 minutes, until we reached a road and our van driver met us there. We spent the day traveling through the mountains again, back to Marrakesh.

Mary and I took a train to Casablanca and found our hotel and were finally able to take showers, which was a great feeling! The joy that brought was clouded a bit later by the news that flights back to Europe were being canceled right and left. Mary was informed that her flight to Milan would not be leaving in the morning. Unsure of what Monday would bring, we decided to take advantage of real beds and get a good night of sleep.

In the morning we went to the airport, contemplating our options. We have a family friend who is always positive-he has a wonderful presence-and when you ask him how he is doing he always responds: "I am blessed, challenged, and overcoming." His words popped into my head at just the right moment and helped Mary and I keep our wits about us, taking the day one bit at a time.

My flight was still on schedule for Madrid, thankfully. I felt awful leaving Mary, not knowing how, exactly she was going to get to Milan. She had on a brave face and handled the situation well. She found a flight to Tangier, in northern Morocco, just across the Straight of Gibralter from Spain. So she flew there, crossed into Spain, took a train to Barcelona, and by the time she reached Barcelona she was able to fly into Milan...

Despite the stresses of traveling, Morocco was amazing. Such an experience! We were not able to spend any time in the city of Marrakesh, though I would have liked to do so. But our desert expedition was like nothing I have ever done or seen. My first instinct was to wonder how these people lived like they do; donkeys used as a means of transportation of things and people, women carrying baskets on their heads (though there were not many women wandering the streets), children running barefoot and selling little creations from grass and other materials, people holding exotic animals and asking for money...it was all a bit surreal. But then I realized that these people have a functioning society. What they do and how they live, yes, it is a far cry different than what I know, but it works for them. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience.

I will work on uploading pictures soon, but tomorrow I am leaving for Lisbon, Portugal! I feel like I have barely been in Salamanca during the past month and a half. But don't worry, I am certainly not complaining!

I hope you all are doing well. I am missing the U.S. a bit more each day! And of course my family and friends...

Much love,
Sarah

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pictures

Also, I have uploaded all my pictures from Italy and France...enjoy!

I am heading to Morocco this weekend! I will be sure to update you all as soon as I return.

Sarah

Lunes de agua

España tiene muchas fiestas diferentes, pero el lunes pasado celebramos una fiesta de Salamanca, se llama "lunes de agua."

La tradición empezó en el siglo XV. En esta epoca había muchas prostitutas en la ciudad, y ellas "practicaban" con los estudiantes. El rey quería proteger la integridad de la universidad y por eso durante cuaresma él obligó a las prostitutas a salir la ciudad. Ellas quedaban a través del río Tormes. Una semana después de la Pascua, las prostitutas volvieron a la ciudad, y los estudiantes les esperaron a la orilla del río.

Hoy los estudiantes encuentran en la orilla pero no hay prostitutas regresando. Las clases son canceladas por la tarde y toda la gente come un picnic, bebe calimocho y otras bebidas y pasa el tiempo con amigos.

Me gustó el día porque podemos simplemente relajarnos. Es diferente de las fiestas en los Estados Unidos por que no hay nada para hacer o comprar o mirar. Sólo tenemos que estar aquí. Y comer "hornazo" una plato típico de esta día.

Escribí en español al principo porque a veces hay le tentación para traducir en vez de escribir...y ahora, traduzco en inglés.


Spain has many different festivals, generally reasons to cancel classes. This past Monday we celebrated a festival of Salamanca, called "lunes de agua" or Monday of Water.

The tradition started in the 14th century. In this time there were many prostitutes in the city, who "practiced" with the students. The king was disgusted by the practice wanted to protect the integrity of the university. Therefore, during Lent, he forced the prostitutes out of the city. They stayed on the opposite side of the River Tormes until a week after Easter. On this day, the students gathered on the river bank to welcome the prostitutes back into the city.

Today the students still gather on the riverbank, though there are no prostitutes returning from the other side. University classes are canceled in the afternoon, and everyone takes a picnic and drinks to the grassy riverbank and spends the afternoon eating, drinking calimocho and other drinks, playing music and just relaxing.

I like the day because the focus is on just being with each other, spending time together. It is different than festivals or holidays in the United States because there is nothing to do, or watch, or buy. We are just there. There is a typical dish called "hornazo" that is eaten on this day; it is a savory pastry filled with different meats.

I started this blog in Spanish because sometimes there is a temptation to simply translate word for word from English to Spanish, which is different, and easier, than me thinking and writing in Spanish.

I hope you all are well, enjoying Spring!

Sarah

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Paris...The City of Love



And I certainly fell in love...with the city! Paris is absolutely beautiful. We were lucky enough to have a couple days of lovely weather, too. Somehow I remembered a handful of French words from elementary school, and was able to humbly ask: "Where is...?" and when that didn't work: "Please, do you speak English?" I love adventures!

Like Rome, it still has not yet hit me that I have been to Paris, such an iconic place.

Our hostel was not exactly in the city center...in fact, we took the metro away from the city to the last stop. When we arrived to our hostel we wondered if we were really in Paris.

Then we went down town, saw the Eiffel Tower, and it all began to click. We really were in Paris.

We took a bike tour, with the same company we found in Barcelona, and of course enjoyed the afternoon, seeing the beautiful sights. The Tower, the Louvre, Tuileries Gardens, L'Arc de Triomphe, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Napoleon's extravagant tomb, Champs Elysées, Wall of Peace, Ecole Militaire...so much beautiful architecture, and history!

Charles de Galle. We knew right away he was important to the Parisians (every other street, plaza, park, etc is named for him), but we didn't know why. On our last night we learned that he was the president following World War II. The first day following the invasion of the allies (which thus ended the Nazi occupation of Paris) de Gaulle insisted on marching through the city to the building which had been the Nazi headquarters, illustrating the liberation of Paris. Though he was shot at by snipers, he finished his walk, signifying a stronger France.

France's history is a bloody one. Place de la Concorde is where all the beheading took place during the revolution. There was so much blood in the plaza that cattle refused to walk near it because they thought they were going to be slaughtered. Years after the revolution ended the mud surrounding the bricks was red with blood. It is a history of extremes: the hypocrisy of the royalty on one end, and the horrible vengance of the revolutionaries.

Our funds were running low by the time we reached Paris, so we did not take in the Louvre, Musée D'Orsay, Versailles, etc. I hope to return during my travels to take in all the art of Paris...

On our last night we took a night bike tour which was quite a lot of fun, and we certainly saw the city in a "different light!" (That pun was for you, Dad).

This spring break was arguably my best yet. Alright, there is no argument, I have never had a vacation quite like the past two weeks! I know I say it a lot, but this whole semester is just incredible. As Mary and I said many times: we are living the dream!

With the risk of sounding mushy, I know I couldn't be here with out the love, prayers and support of all of you at home. Thank you.

Je t'aime,
Sarah

Monday, April 5, 2010

Roma, Firenze e Milano

Buongiorno!

I am sorry I haven't written in awhile; I had difficulty logging into my blog, and my travels are keeping me busy!

Let's see...Rome: amazing. I fell in love with the city. There is so much incredible history, art, and architecture. The Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum, the Pantheon...all things I have studied and dreamed of seeing one day. Now I have!

The Romans were pretty impressive. Aside from ruthless persecution of Christians, they created quite a city. Imagine how difficult building the Colosseum would have been-the building is still standing, more than 2,000 years later!

Mary and I walked through the Roman Forum, which is a very, very large area with ruins of what was the main city in ancient times. Rome is an interesting juxtaposition: the new, modern city has been built around the ancient city; the way we live, work, and exist is very different than the way of ancient Romans, but they were real people, too. I am sure I am not making much sense right now, it is difficult to put these thoughts into words.

It is difficult to explain what I thought and felt while in Rome-it was very overwhelming. I had such a sense of awe the whole time I was there. It was refreshing and incredible.

Speaking of incredible: being in the public audience of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Each Wednesday he addresses the crowd gathered, prays with everyone, and offers his blessing on the people present, the loved ones (especially the ill) of the crowd, and any objects (rosaries, medals, etc). Mary and I left the hotel early, planning on attending mass, but when we arrived near the Vatican there was already long lines and a growing crowd. The pope was scheduled to speak at 10:30. We arrived at 8:00. We decided to get good seats and wait. It was worth it. I won't lie-I cried when he spoke. But the excitement of the crowd, the desire to listen and be in the presence of such a holy man, it was also overwhelming. There were thousands of people there, from all over the world, it was unifying. And left me with a sense of hope for the world. God is still present, working through so many people in so many ways.

We went to Florence (Firenze, in Italian) on Sunday. A lovely city; I remember my grandmother telling me how she loved Florence, and I understand why. It was great to be there, it made me feel a bit closer to her that day, and I wished I could have sent her a postcard. The basilica is incredible. The outside is made of beautiful green stone, and it is just amazing. So much detail, planning, and craftsmanship went in to these buildings. It makes me look at modern architecture and wonder what happened!

In Florence, I saw Michelangelo's David...wow. The size, the detail, the age...again, there aren't really words. This work heavily influenced the world of sculpture. The block of marble used was left behind the cathedral in Florence, untouched, for 25 years. Michelangelo saw it many times as a young person, and at age 26 was awarded the contract to create a sculpture. The traditional story of David and Goliath paints a picture of a small, timid boy. But Michelangelo's representation of David illustrates the strength of that young boy, a strength which allowed him to conquer great things, the greatest of which was probably his own fear. If only we could all find that inner strength-we all have it-and instead of allowing fear to guide us, we could live life courageously and abundantly, as we were meant to live.

We arrived in Milan late Wednesday night, and Mary and I spent all of Thursday getting some much needed rest and recuperation. Friday we took a train to the Cinque Terre. Rome took my breath away with its history and architecture, and the Cinque Terre took my breath away with its beauty of nature. Cinque Terre translates to "five lands" and is composed of five seaside villages. There is a path along the coast, in between each town (and a train system connecting the towns, as well). The weather was perfect, and the views, incredible. I could spend a few days there, hiking and taking it all in. The water was an amazing turquoise color, and the mountains, with charming little villages tucked away, painted the perfect picture.

I went to Easter mass at the Duomo in Milan, the second largest church in Italy, followed by La Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. In a week, I went to the three largest Italian churches! If only I could capture the beauty in my pictures, but it just isn't possible.

Speaking of pictures, I promise to upload them as soon as humanly possible upon my return to Salamanca. But, I have a lot...thousands, in fact. And my spring break is not yet finished: Mary and I are heading to Paris tonight!

I hope you all are well. Happy Easter!

Love,
Sarah

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I'm Spanish...?

It is very interesting to be in a different country!

I arrived late last night in Milan, Italy to spend time with a close friend from Bellarmine who is studying here. We are going to Rome tomorrow for five days, and then
to France the week after Easter. Not a bad spring break...

The language difference is just strange. My instinct is to respond in Spanish (a good sign, no?) but it is more likely that someone here speaks English instead of Spanish.

In the check-in line I chatted briefly with three Italian people in Madrid on business, and then ended up sitting behind them on the plane. I was sitting next to a young Italian guy who was very fidgety. The group in front of us carried on an animated conversation with him, in Italian. I think they thought I at least understood a little of what was said, but I was completely clueless.

I did my best to sleep, though my neighbor probably didn't appreciate it: my head kept falling on his shoulder! At least I didn't drool on him...

It wasn't until we were waiting to exit the plane that this group of people realized I don't speak ANY Italian. After that I conversed with my neighbor in English and a little Spanish (he is studying in Madrid, and spent a year in Phoenix, Arizona).

Mary is in class right now, but I am going to take the bus to meet her near campus for lunch...which means I need to figure out how to buy a bus ticket. Google Translate, here I come.

As I said, we leave tomorrow for Rome! I will keep you posted on our adventures.

Ciao,

Sarah


Soy española...?

Es muy interesante estar en un país diferente!

Llegué muy tarde anoche en Milán, Italia para pasar el tiempo con una buena amiga de Bellarmine que estudia aquí. Mañana vamos a Roma para cinco días y luego vamos a Francia durante la semana después de la Pascua. No tengo vacaciones malas...

La diferencia de las lenguas es rara. Mi instinto es hablar Español (una buena señal, ¿no?) pero es más probable que alguien aquí hable Inglés en vez de Español.

En la cola de embarque he hablado un poco con tres italianos estaban en Madrid para negocios. Durante el vuelo me sentía detrás de ellos y al lado de un chico italiano quien estaba muy nervioso. Tenían una conversación entusiasmada en italiano. Creo que pensaron que hable un poco italiano, pero no tenía ninguna idea.

Intenté de dormirme pero muchas veces me desperté con mi cabeza cerca de mi vecino...oops! Por lo menos no babeé...

Cuando estabamos saliendo el vuelo ellos se dieron cuenta de de que no hablara nada italiano. En ese momento hablé con mi vecino en inglés y español (él estudia en Madrid y pasó un año en Phoenix, Arizona).

Mary está en clase ahora y voy a tomar el autobús para encontrar con ella. Este significa que tenga que comprar un billete. Google traductor, vengo.

Como dije, vamos a Roma mañana! Os diré de nuestras aventuras.

Ciao,
Sarah

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dos besos

I still am not completely accustomed to the tradition of "dos besos." Instead of a handshake or hug, the custom is to offer a kiss on each cheek. It is hard to forget when I meet someone, but I rarely remember unless the other person initiates.

Yesterday, though, my friend from Mexico sat next to me at lunch and, since I hadn't seen her for a few days, she gave me a kiss on one cheek. Me, trying to remember my Spanish manners, kissed her other cheek. She laughed and said, "I'm Mexican, we kiss once."

I replied: "I'm American. We don't kiss at all!"

We were sitting with a new friend, a Spaniard, who was interested in the differences. I explained that with my family and close friends a kiss wouldn't be uncommon, but that generally I greeted people with a hug, and if meeting someone for the first time I would offer a handshake.

After lunch, as my Spanish friend was leaving the building and I was walking upstairs, I just turned around and waved, completely forgetting our conversation about appropriate Spanish salutations.

Oops.

In any case, I will leave you with two kisses,
Sarah

Todavía no estoy acostumbrada a la tradición de dos besos. En vez de un apretón de manos o un abrazo la costumbre es dar un beso en cada mejilla. Cuando conozco a alguien es difícil para olvidarme, pero raras veces me acuerdo a menos de que la otra persona la inicie.

Ayer mi amiga de México sentó al lado de mi durante la comida y ya que no la he visto hacía algunos días, ella me dio un beso. Intentando de acordarme mis modales españoles, besé su otra mejilla. Ella se rió y dijo: "Soy mexicana, besamos una vez."

Respondé: "Soy americana, ¡no besamos nada!"

Sentabamos con un amigo nuevo, un español, y le interesaban las diferencías. Expliqué con mi familia y mis amigas mejores un beso no es muy raro, pero en general abrazo es más común. Y cuando conozco a alguien la primera vez yo dé la mano.

Después de la comida mientras mi amigo estaba saliendo del edificio y yo estaba caminando por mi habitación volví y le hice adíos con la mano. Me olvidé completamente de nuestra conversación de los saludos apropiados en España.

Oops.

Dos besos,
Sarah

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Segovia: City of Stairs



Stef and I didn't exactly have beautiful spring weather, but we certainly had a lovely day in Segovia.

The main attractions are a cathedral (as in every Spanish city!), a palace which belonged to the Catholic monarchs, and an impressive Roman aqueduct.

We reached the historical part of the city by climbing a large flight of stairs, hurrying past the road crew cleaning the streets with hoses (trying to stay dry), and wandering through a construction area...But eventually, by walking towards the cathedral steeple, we found ourselves in the Plaza Mayor. It doesn't exactly compare to Salamanca's Plaza Mayor (we've been spoiled) but it was pretty.

Historical Segovia, on a map, is laid out like a medieval ship. We started our tour in the palace: Alcázar. There is a tall tower-with 152 steps-that we climbed for the lovely views it afforded. It was quite a windy day! The staircase was steep and narrow-and a bit dizzying!

We walked back through town and sat in a small square to eat our picnic of fruit and bread. There was a cute little boy playing soccer by himself...he was quite amusing.

Energized after lunch, we went to see the impressive aqueduct. It was built 2,000 years ago and was nine miles long upon completion. It was made with granite blocks without any mortar, and is 100 feet high. It is still able to carry a stream of water, too! Stef and I had a hard time imagining the construction.

There was only one bus leaving Segovia for Salamanca that day, and after admiring the aqueduct we were left with about three hours to kill. We wandered the city more, had a snack, took pictures...Originally, we decided to skip the Cathedral (though I love discovering old churches, the cathedrals in the old cities are beautiful, but a bit similar), basically, we didn't want to pay. But after realizing we had quite a bit of time before our departure, we went in. As always, it was a lovely cathedral, simply stunning.

Weary from a day full of sights and steps, the bus was a welcome sight. And, we arrived in Salamanca an hour before we were supposed to, which is still a mystery. Not that we mind!

Pictures will be posted soon!

Love,
Sarah

Segovia: la ciudad de escaleras

No hacía buen tiempo de primavera, pero ciertamente Stef y yo tuvimos un día bueno en Segovia.

Las atracciones principales son la catedral (como en cada ciudad española), un palacio de los reyes Católicos, y el acueducto romano impresionante.

Llegamos a la parte histórica de la ciudad subiendo muchas escaleras, corriendo pasado los limpiadores de las calles con mangueras (y intentando de no mojarnos) y paseando por un áreo de construcción...Por fin, caminando hacia la catedral, encontramos en la Plaza Mayor. No puede comparar a la Plaza Mayor de Salamanca (somos consentidos) pero era bonita.

Segovia histórica, en un mapa, parece como un barco medieval. Comenzamos nuestro recorrido en el palacio: Alcázar. Hay una torre alta, con 152 escaleras, que subimos por hermosas vistas que ofrece. Había muchisimo viento! La escalera era muy empinada y estrecha, y un poco de vértigo!

Volvimos por la ciudad y nos sentamos en una pequeña plaza a comer nuestro picnic de frutas y pan. Había un niño pequeño y lindo jugar al fútbol sólo...fue muy divertido.

Energizadas después del almuerzo, fuimos a ver el acueducto impresionante. Fue construido hace 2.000 años y era de nueve millas cuando terminó. Fue hecho con bloques de granito sin ningún tipo de mortero, y es de 100 pies de altura. Todavía es capaz de transportar una corriente de agua, también! Stef y yo no pudimos imaginar la construcción.

Sólo había un autobús que sale de Segovia a Salamanca ese día, y después de admirar el acueducto, nos quedamos con cerca de tres horas para pasar. Anduvimos más de la ciudad, comimos algo, tomamos fotografías ... En un principio, hemos decidido omitir la catedral (aunque me encanta descubrir antiguas iglesias, las catedrales de las viejas ciudades son hermosas, pero son un poco similares, también), básicamente, no quisimos pagar. Pero cuando nos dimos cuenta de que teníamos un poco de tiempo antes de nuestra partida, entramos. Como siempre, fue una hermosa catedral, simplemente impresionante.

Cansadas de un día lleno de vistas y caminos, nos gustó para ver el autobús. Y, llegamos a Salamanca una hora más temprano, que sigue siendo un misterio. Pero no nos preocupamos!

Voy a poner las fotos pronto!

Un abrazo,

Sarah