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 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.

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 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,

Thursday, April 15, 2010


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.


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!


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 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 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,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Roma, Firenze e Milano


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 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!