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!



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.


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!


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'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!


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.


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!


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,

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!