Alcalá de Henares

Alcalá de Henares

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

¡Por fin!/Finally!

Today is finally the day!  My parents and Nate are, as I type, on their way across the Atlantic via Delta  headed towards Madrid Barajas airport, terminal #1.  Today has been a rather strange day, being as it was my last day of classes and also the day before my very special visitors arrive.  Lots of emotions.

I woke up feeling not so great about exams because I put about 1 hour worth of studying into my two exams today.  That might be being a little too generous even.  So off I went to school, feeling a little nervy about the tests.  Took the first test, waited to see the grade, little surprised at the A written in red ink at the top, but hey I'll take it.  Next test, same professor, same material, so I'm expecting a similar score.  Proof to show that studying abroad doesn't actually require studying?  Broma (joke) but seriously, best finals ever?  However yesterday I had my grammar final and that took 3 and a half hours, so I guess it's not all easy.  Vamos a ver...

But indeed, today was a great day.  After school I came home for lunch and when I opened the door, the smell of fresh baked seafood paella filled the house.  Wonders.  I also had the opportunity to call my dad's cell phone because I had enough money on my Spanish cell to make a phone call to the US because normally this is just too expensive but I figured, shoot dang, may as well use the money.  It was good to talk to them, and they were in the Grand Rapids airport getting ready to head out.  Sooo ready for them to be here already!

After our little chat, I decided to make some cookies for my host family and my friends.  They turned out pretty good and it was fun talking to my host mom in the kitchen as I was making them.  She's so cute!  She wanted to know every step, every ingredient.  And it was also a good way to practice my conversation skills, and I definitely feel improvement since my 4 months here.  Great success.

Tonight was a little bittersweet because I had to say goodbye to some of the people in my program.  We had dinner at El Pollo de Alcalá, the first restaurant that I ate at waaay back on that blistery January day. Only this time was different.  I felt like I was meeting up with old friends, in a local restaurant, not jet legged, and overall feeling pretty comfortable and confident in my surroundings.  I guess that's what 4 months of living abroad can do to you.  It was sad to say goodbye and I know the hardest goodbyes are yet to come, so I have to gear up for those.  But it's not adios, sólo hasta luego.

Well I should probably sleep since I'm getting up in 4 hours, but I guess the surprise at the end of the train ride is worth the early morning.  I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve, but somehow I feel like the ending of this will be so much better.  So much better indeed.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The End of Semana Santa

Day 11: El fin

So we've finally come to the end of Semana Santa (thank goodness, my fingers are falling off from typing and re-typing things).

Today we spent our last day exploring Girona for a bit.  I have to say that I really did appreciate going here because it wasn't filled with tourists.  It was just a sleepy little town and we found a Cathedral and another church.  After the churches, we tried to find a Roman wall and climbed to the top.  The little path wound through the hill and I felt like the Von Tropp family, only Spanish version.  The hills were alive, but not with the sound of music.  They were alive with beautiful flowers and trees and every once in awhile, a colorful house would appear.  It was beautiful.  Very impressive.

After our adventure up the hill, we went back down (obviously) and found a little market where people were selling what looked like anything they could find in their houses.  I bought some old post cards of Girona because they were antique looking, kind of like the city.  I'm going to have to find a way to display all of the post cards that I have acquired throughout my trip!  I also found a Lola Café and decided to get a pick for Norm.  So here ya go Norm!

We had to head back to our hostel to collect our things and then head to the airport.  At the airport, we caved and got McDonald's, but hey there's not many options in an airport in our defense.  Our plane was a little late getting in, so we had to wait around.  In my boredom, I took a picture of my backpack that I lived in for the past week and a half.  It was definitely full and very heavy, and I was glad to finally be able to live out of a closet, not a suitcase.  I don't think I could fit another item in that backpack.  I'm just glad that it was never weighed because I think it would have exceeded the 10 kilogram limit.  But really, not another thing was going in that backpack.

Even though Semana Santa was possibly the best vacation of my life, I was glad to be going "home."  Because at "home" I knew that a clean room, fresh sheets, clean clothes, and a hot shower would be waiting for me.  And I was right.  This is what I came home to.  Wonderful host mom.

Hello Mediterranean...

Day 10: Down by the Boardwalk...

Today I woke up and headed down to the free breakfast in the hostel and I ran into people from Hope!  What a small small world.  It was fun chatting with them, one of the girls is studying in Liverpool and another in Rome.  Out of all of the places to meet up, Barcelona, and out of all of the hostels, the little Barcelona Dream hostel way out of the city.  Once again, small small world.

Today we went to find the Olympic stadium.  Little did we know that the "real" Olympic attractions were back in the city.  We found a stadium that looked semi-important but it was pretty abandoned and run down so it was a bit of a disappointment, seeing as we were expecting this grand stadium.  Haha.  So this is a picture of me and my friend Nicole, confused as to why the stadium looked better in our friend's pictures. Maybe because the real stadium is back on the other side of Barcelona?

After our Olympic stadium fail, we headed down to the beach.  Perfect weather: Sunny and not too hot and not cold.  Perfection.  We saw the cutest family, a dad and son playing soccer and get this, they even had color-coordinating outfits!  Perfect little Spanish family.  We sat and people watched for awhile and then headed down to a boardwalk.  I think this picture of Nina and I sums up our relationship nicely.  Lots and lots of laughs together and I'm going to miss her when I have to leave.  Luckily she lives in Iowa, which isn't too far from the great state of Michigan.

After the boardwalk, we stopped at a little restaurant to get lunch.  We wanted paella and actually had to search to find a restaurant that would serve paella and not just tapas.  But of course, where there's a will there's a way, and we ended up finding a small family owned restaurant and we all got seafood paella.  It was delicious!  When in Spain, one must eat paella.

After the day at the beach, we had to head back to the hostel to gather out stuff to head to Girona.  We decided to stay in Girona for the night because we wanted to be close to the airport the next morning.  And why not see one more city in Spain?  A lot of our friends made fun of us because we would be staying in Girona, but we didn't care too much since it was an opportunity to explore a new city.  So a little note to everyone:  Girona is not just the home of a Ryanair airport.  It is actually a charming Spanish city.  Quaint, overlooked city, a nice place to relax after the busyness of Barcelona.

For the night, we got ice cream and people watched.  If you can't tell, I love to people watch.  It's fun to see people going about their daily activities and imagining if you lived in the city as well.  Just something I think is fun to do.  After the ice cream, note after not before, we headed for some dinner.  We caved and got some Domino's pizza because we were all craving American pizza.  It was definitely worth it!

Later that night we were informed that there would be a procession (parade) going through town because it was Holy Week.  So we staked out spots on the bridge so that we would be able to see.  It was a rather strange event.  The people in the parade really did look like the KKK, and I was fascinated by all of the people in the parade.  I feel like all of the citizens of Girona were in the parade because it lasted over an hour!  The parade itself represents the different stages in Jesus' life and it was definitely different than celebrations in the United States.  I guess the hooded costumes freaked me out the most, but I'm glad that I was able to see it.  I thought that since I had left Spain for Semana Santa that I would be missing out on the processions, but who knew that in the little town of Girona, I would be able to witness one of Spain's most popular events.  Girona, you're awesome!

After the procession, we were feeling a little tired and we wanted to get enough sleep to be able to get up early and explore Girona a bit more.  Successful day.

Gaudí's like a melody in my head...

Day 9: Gaudí

Today was another long day of walking around Barcelona.  Good thing I have a pair of trusty flats to get me through all of these adventures.  Yay Steve's!

We started off at the market again because I wanted to take pictures.  So I brought a tiny clutch for money and my camera so I wouldn't have to worry about being pick-pocketed.  So many fun things to look at, it's easy to see how pickpockets could make a fortune here!  People being distracted by all the enticing fruits, the gummy wall, the chocolates.  Ahhh wonders of the market.  Don't get me wrong, I still love the Farmer's Market in Holland, but this place was in a different league of markets.  So of course, more fruit smoothies was also a must.  I have to say, I got a blackberry one and it was not very good.  So I had to get a different flavor directly after to wash away the bad blackberryness of the other one.  Strawberry/rasberry/pineapple was a much better combination.  But here's some of the pictures and I can't wait to go there again with my family and Nate when we go to Barcelona!  

So after the market, we went back to the hostel to get some stuff and headed off for another day.  My friends Alexa and Sarah left to go to Valencia, so it was just Nina, Nicole, and myself.  We found another market, only this market contained furry little bunnies.  I wanted one, but I don't think my host family nor customs/immigration would have appreciated my new little friend.  Thus I had to restrain.  We also found a souvenir shop that was called "Souvenirs Laura" so of course I had to take picture by that.  Random things you find.  

We wanted to see some of the Gaudí architecture and headed off down Las Ramblas, the street with some of the Gaudí stuff.  I wish I would have known more about Gaudí before I went to Barcelona, but I was still very impressed with his works.  Most of his works are located in Barcelona, but there are a few more outside of Barcelona as well.  

We got to the first Gaudí house but decided not to go in because it was a super long wait.  We continued down the street and passed some of the designer stores, like Burberry and Chanel.  This is the first time I've seen these stores in Spain, and I guess I haven't explored Madrid enough since I'm positive they're probably there as well.  But we made our way to the next Gaudí house, Casa Milá and the wait wasn't terrible, so we decided to go in.

I'm so glad that we went in!  I used my Universidad de Alcalá student card and even received a nice little discount.  The house was very interesting and set up as if someone lived there.  It was fun walking around the complex but the best part was the roof.  I'm not exactly sure what the statues are supposed to be, but they were cool to see up close.  We also got a nice view of La Sagrada Familia, Gaudí's church in Barcelona.  

After the Gaudí house, we went to see La Sagrada Familia.  It was enormous!  They've been working on it for I believe over 100 years, and if you can't tell from the picture, they're still working on it!  I was told that the original blueprints that Gaudí made were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, so the final product probably won't even be what Gaudí had envisioned.  Bummer.  But after the enormous church, we headed off to see the Arc de Triomphe in Barcelona.  It is supposed to look like the one in Paris, and I assume that the one in Paris is better looking since it's the original.  My friends and I joked that this one was the knock off but whatevs.

So I've come to the conclusion that Barcelona wants to semi-be like France since it has this french influence in the language and also has an arch like France's.  News flash Barcelona.  You are still part of Spain, and thus should take pride in that.  I had a discussion with my director about Barcelona and she says that she can't support their football team or the city for that matter because they don't take pride in being Spanish.  Come to think of it, I never once saw a Spanish flag during my time in Barcelona.  I guess the equivalent would be having New York say that they'd rather be free from the United States.  Analogous situation (haha Analytical with Herrick), no but still frustrating for some Spaniards.  I guess seeing as I love the Spain, I find it hard to not want to be part of this country so rich in culture and history, but I guess this problem goes way way way way back and will probably continue to be a debate in the future. Oh Barcelona, you and your desire to be different.

But back to Semana Santa adventures.  After seeing the Arch, we headed back to the hostel to collect our things and then went off to a different hostel.  This hostel was further out of town and a little harder to get to.  We had to take the metro, but the metro was "being repaired" when we were there, so an announcement came over the system in Spanish that said that we had to get off the train and get on a bus.  Good thing my friend Nina is good at Spanish and understood this.  So we took the bus to the area that the metro would have stopped at and found a sign that told us where our hostel would be.  Lies.  Lies lies lies.  The sign sent us off in the wrong direction but we did eventually find the hostel and it was really nice!  

That night we were kind of tired and decided to hang out around the hostel and just chill.  We were excited to hit up the beach the next day!

Barca, Barca, Barca

Day 8: ANTM goes to Barcelona (again)...

So today was a long long day of walking and exploring the city.  We got up early and went to Spain's largest fresh market, La Boquería.  Lots and lots of fruit, lots and lots of fruit juices, and many strange meats.  "Fruit land" was fun, but fish/sheep head land was not so fun.  So I stayed in "Fruit land" for most of my time.  I was informed that the strawberries were huge, so when I got there I was expecting strawberries the size of your head.  Ok well maybe not that big, but pretty decent size strawberries.  I wasn't able to take too many pictures because I had my purse and was paranoid about being pick-pocketed so I mainly focused on picking out the best smoothies and biggest strawberries.  Hundreds and hundreds of wonderful strawberries.  Strawberry heaven!  I bought a bunch with the plan of eating them in Parque Guell, our next destination.

We had to take the metro once again to get to Parque Guell because it's a little farther from the center of town.  This park was inspired by Barcelona's famous architect Antoni Gaudí and it was amazing.  It didn't take us long to figure out that this was where America's Next Top Model season 7 was filmed!  The one with the wedding dresses if you are an avid watcher like myself.  So of course a ridiculously obnoxious Tyra-like photo shoot had to happen.  So practically 200 pictures later, we were feeling pretty satisfied with our sillyness/ridiculousness.  I was a strawberry model for one of them, obviously.  If you couldn't tell, I love strawberries!  Probs my fav.  We sat for awhile looking out over the city, soaking up the sun and people watching.  It was a relaxing time, and I started in on the strawbs to discover that half of them were moldy!  Saddest day ever.  But the ones that weren't were pretty delicious, so sunniness and strawbs made for one happy Laura.

After our park outing, we got some ice cream, which just continued to make the day oh so great.  After ice cream, a couple of the girls went back to siesta and Sarah, Nina, and I continued our exploration of the city.  We headed towards the port area and saw some chair lift things from a distance.  We decided to walk towards them to see if we could take it up and sure enough, we found it and had a nice little ride to the top.  Once at the top we had a great view of Barcelona and also the Mediterranean!  I was able to see where our cruise ship will leave too, so that was exciting as well.  Only 8 more days!  But we explored a fort like thing, had another obnoxious photo shoot and called it a day.  It was really windy, and wearing a dress was a difficulty but Nina and I managed to make it work with the help of a couple of hair ties.  Probably not the most fashionable look, but we were desperate.  After our exploration, I crashed due to exhaustion and couldn't muster up enough energy to go out for the night.  But we still had another whole day in Barcelona, and I knew it would be another long walking day, so I head to prepare myself right?

End of England...Beginning of Barca

So once again, the blogging has begun.  This week is exam week/last week in Alcalá, so I figure I should probably inform all the folks back home what happened in the month of April.  First to end Semana Santa finally!!!

Day 7:  Last day in London

Our last morning in London, we got up early to walk around.  We saw Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, and Notting Hill.  I vowed that I would see Notting Hill after watching the movie so so long ago, and it was cool to see and I wish that we would have had more time to explore this section of town.  We also found where most of the embassies are located in London, and they were pretty impressive.  It was fun to see all of the different countries, like Russia, Turkey, and other smaller countries that I've only heard of once or twice before in my life haha.  It was pretty rainy though, so we weren't too thrilled to be walking around in the rain once again, but hey we were in London so we were going to make the most of it!

After collecting our stuff from the hostel, we headed towards the center of town to take a bus to the airport. Before departing, we wanted one last attempt at a British guard picture (Neville was just too lame/awkward).  So we walked to Buckingham one more time to see if we could find a guard to get one more London pic with.  Mission fail.  No guards were out.  Sad day.

So we headed back to the bus station, got our tickets, were informed by the ticket lady that we were "wasting her time" because we all paid separately when we were going to the same location.  Sorry but it's more convenient for us to pay separately.  Needless to say, her English accent was not so nice at the time.

So off we flew to Barcelona.  It was sad to leave England and I'm hoping to go back sometime in the future because there are so many more things I would like to see and do in and around the city.  However, for a first visit the city definitely exceeded my expectations and this was definitely the funnest trip that I've taken.


So our plane actually arrived in Girona, a small city located about an hour outside of Barcelona.  It was sunny and warm, and we knew we were indeed back in Spain.  It felt good to finally see some sunshine!  We hopped on a bus and made it into Barcelona pretty easily.  The city looked huge as we snaked our way through the tiny streets, and I was hoping that we'd be able to find the hostel.  We took the metro to get to the hostel and were reminded instantly that we were not in "Spain" anymore.  Barcelona has this thing that they want to separate from Spain and be an independent country, partly because they speak a different language in Barcelona.  They speak Catalan, which is literally a mixture of Spanish and French.  It was a little shocking to look at the street signs and not be able to understand them completely.  But we managed to find our hostel, and we met up with two of our other friends from our program.  Reunited at last!

That night we walked around Barcelona a bit, super tired from the traveling, but happy to be in Barcelona.  Barcelona is definitely a different type of city.  It's the most modern city that Spain has, and it's very different from Madrid and Alcalá.  We got kebabs for dinner, thus beginning my kebab addiction.  After dinner we crashed due to exhaustion, vowing that we would hit up more of Barcelona the next day...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wake up at 6:58 A.M., bus leaves at 7:15 A.M., takes at least 12-15 minutes to get downtown...

Day 6: Megabus

Today shall be titled the Megabus madness.  Yes indeed, madness.  If you couldn't tell by the equation above, we had quite the situation on our hands.  Mary set her alarm for 6:00 A.M., so we would have enough time to eat breakfast and get the rest of our stuff packed up.  The alarm failed to go off, and my friend Nicole woke up at 6:58 and informed us, in choice English I assure you, the wonderful predicament that we found ourselves in.  We scrambled to throw the last of our stuff into our backpacks while Mary headed out to call a cab for us.  I luckily packed most of my stuff the night before and was out of Mary's apartment two minutes after waking up.

We had to wait a few minutes for the cab to finally arrive, and we hurriedly jumped in and waved a quick goodbye to Mary (sorry for the terrible goodbye).  My friend Nicole told the cab driver to go as fast as he could to get to the Aberdeen bus station downtown.  He took his sweet, sweet time in getting downtown and I was surprised to see the bus still sitting there when we arrived.  I took out my ticket so we would be ready to go, and when the cab stopped my friend Nina sprinted to the bus and told them to wait.  We were scolded for about a minute about the importance of punctuality and how we were supposed to be on the bus 15 minutes prior to departure and how inconsiderate we were blah blah blah.  Not a very good start to our morning.

So after the scolding, Nina showed the Scottish man her papers and got on the bus.  Nicole showed her papers and was also good to go.  That left me.  I went to give him my bus papers but they were no where to be found.  More choice English words.  So I told him I didn't have my papers, hoping that he would be understanding.  His response, "No papers, no traveling."  Shoot.  Biggest fail ever.  Normally I like Scottish accents but not now.  Nicole decided to stay with me in case I couldn't get on the bus because I had also left my cell phone at Mary's flat, a fact we discovered on our taxi ride.  Good friend.  So I stood there for about 4 seconds trying to figure out what to do.  Nina is on the bus and I am frantic.  Then the lightbulb went on and I remembered that I had brought a spare copy of all of my papers for emergencies.  What a thinker.  So I told the man that I had the papers but they were in my backpack and I could get them.  Too late.  The bus left.  More choice English words.  So Nina was on the bus by herself, and Nicole and I were stuck in the Aberdeen Bus Station.  Wonderful.

End of the story:  We caught another bus going to the same location as our original bus because I think the bus driver felt bad for us.  It left 5 minutes after our other bus, and everything was fine.  Nicole and I met up with Nina and continued on our way to the Glasgow airport.  The bus driver who yelled at us formally introduced himself at the bus stop but I honestly couldn't understand half of what he said due to his thick Scottish accent.  All I wanted was to get on the bus and sleep!  It was a rather stressful start to the morning, and I was relieved when we finally made it to the airport.

At the airport, we had another funny moment.  This was legit funny.  The security guy had to look at our passports and check our tickets and he looked at Nina's and said "Brilliant."  Mine, "Brilliant."  Nicole's "Not so much."  Wow.  Could this morning get any better at this point?  Nina and I shared a good laugh and reassured Nicole that he was just kidding.  So after all of the morning's activities, we were able to get on our flight and got back to London.

We found our hostel with relative ease.  It was located in a more residential neighborhood, close to Hyde Park.  We walked around at night and finally had fish and chips!  It was very good and I think I'm starting to like fish and seafood since being in Spain.  I also got a McFlurry on our walk, always have to have dessert after the meal.  It's the Spanish way.  We were able to see the affluent part of London on our walk, quite different than where we stayed before.  It's always fun to imagine what it would be like to live in other places, and strolling around this neighborhood definitely gave me time to fantasize and dream.  It was a good way to end the day that began with so much stress.